How to get a job in cloud computing
Cloud computing is no longer IT’s next big thing, but something that’s already changing the way we work and communicate. Gartner suggests the worldwide market for public cloud services has increased by more than 20% since 2011, with spending on Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) due to rise by 41.7% between 2011 and 2016.
This has a knock-on effect: in March last year, IDC reported that cloud computing would generate 14 million jobs between 2011 and 2015. Whether you’re a seasoned IT professional or a recent graduate, there are opportunities to be found in the cloud.
Roles range from sales to software development, infrastructure engineering to consultancy, systems architecture to technical support. Perhaps the richest opportunities are to be found with IaaS and Platform as a Service (PaaS) providers – the companies that build and host the bare data-centre infrastructure to support private cloud applications and services, or those that provide an infrastructure, server and programming platform on which others can develop applications, such as Microsoft, Salesforce.com and Oracle.
IT administration and operations skills are extraordinarily valuable
Even within the area of infrastructure you’ll find several disciplines. “Setting up a service will require anything from portal to orchestration development, infrastructure hardware deployment and configuration,” says Mark Bunker, director of service management at cloud services provider Colt. “This is in addition to service management tooling implementation, mediation system configuration, network/firewall redundancy implementation and failover testing. Ongoing maintenance requires capacity monitoring, customer configuration management, carefully planned release and change management, as well as redundancy monitoring and routine failover testing.” In short, cloud computing needs the full gamut of skilled professionals.
Deploying and managing cloud platforms or infrastructure isn’t too different from deploying and administering the on-premises equivalents – although there’s an even more widespread reliance on virtualisation. Cloud platforms and infrastructure bring additional demands. As Kevin Linsell of cloud specialists Adapt puts it: “a challenging discipline is capacity and performance management, due to the fluidity of the cloud model”.
Cloud-based infrastructure must have the ability to cope with multiple tenants and scale provisions up and down, often rapidly. As Linsell explains, having a “shared infrastructure that’s consumed by such a large number of customers introduces new challenges to both the teams and the customers”. For example: security, changes and updates all need handling more carefully. “A relatively simple task such as a hardware firmware update now requires significantly more planning, testing and approval than it would in a traditional, dedicated single-customer
Bunker adds that it’s vital providers have access to a full range of IT skills. For example, simple on-premises migration requires skills ranging from “infrastructure integration capabilities in order to carry out the secure migration of applications” to “virtualisation skills for managing hypervisors and workloads”. It’s unlikely that one professional will have all the necessary skills, so they’ll work in multidisciplined teams.
If cloud computing puts more demands on IT professionals, it also transforms the way they work. “IT administration and operations skills are extraordinarily valuable, but now our developers and IT admins can be much more focused on the needs of their colleagues in the line of business,” says Adam Seligman, vice president of developer relations for Salesforce.com. “Instead of a discussion around cost, backlog, upgrades and migration checklists, conversations focus on what’s possible. How can touch applications help our employees do their jobs better? How can the data our customers want to access be available 24/7?”
Experience and qualifications
Companies are looking for experienced IT professionals, but there are also opportunities for newcomers, with Salesforce.com, for example, running a BizAcademy programme that helps young people develop the IT skills they need to work in a Salesforce environment.
Otherwise, a computer science degree is a start, as is experience running servers, networks and infrastructure, particularly in a shared and/or virtualised environment. In some SaaS or PaaS roles, deep knowledge of a particular cloud service stack – Amazon Web Services, OpenStack, Salesforce.com or Windows Azure – could also be an advantage; if you can’t get this professionally, personal projects and out-of-hours application development could help. Professional qualifications and certifications in cloud computing have emerged, with CompTIA, Microsoft, IBM and VMware all providing cloud-specific qualifications.