It’s time to think differently about how to develop cloud computing talent

The disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated business’ dependence on technologies, such as the cloud. The dial was always moving in this direction, but now the global economy is increasingly reliant on the cloud to facilitate remote working and as a result, developing cloud computing talent must now be taken as a priority.

How to develop this talent should also change, with a greater focus on learning and culture, as opposed to the tradition of IT outsourcing.

Commenting on this trend, Simon Ratcliffe, principal consultant at hybrid IT services provider, Ensono, says: “Cloud computing has challenged many of our long help preconceptions about IT. It has delivered flexibility, agility, freedom from capital expenditure, a safe world in which we can create an environment, experiment and tear it down again. So many of these changes, whilst driven by the underlying technology, mean we must think differently if we are to maximise the benefits.”

Cloud computing talent

A recent McAfee report found that 40% of large UK businesses expect their companies to be cloud-only by 2021, with 70% working towards being cloud-only businesses in the future.

Unfortunately, Fred Flack, head of talent academy at CloudStratex, points out that, still, “many businesses fall into the trap of outsourcing their IT departments, wrongly believing this makes them digital.”

He argues that this could not be further from the truth, as this “digital knowledge is leased, and any advantage they enjoy from it will disappear when they can no longer afford to pay, putting them right back at square one.”

As more businesses embrace a cloud-only model, which is accelerating in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, they have a “duty of responsibility to their employees to keep them upskilled or even reskilled where necessary,” according to Flack.

This does not mean paying lip service to digital training, but prioritising the development of cloud computing talent within the corporate strategy.

Flack suggests that this “involves making appropriate digital hires where possible, despite the difficulty of finding talent given the current skills shortage.”

He points out that another option is to employ IT training organisations who can educate and qualify staff in the first instance, with the aim of creating an internal digital knowledge hub and culture that encourages good practice and ultimately digital autonomy.

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A software development role

As cloud computing evolves, it will become something that more closely resembles a software development role, rather than an IT support role.

There’s still a skills crossover — they need knowledge around hardware, infrastructure and be able to trouble shoot, but businesses looking for cloud computing talent are essentially looking at developer roles.

Commenting on this changing role, Simon Utting, COO at Amito, says: “With the cloud environment becoming increasingly complex feature-wise, staying ahead of competitors, maintaining platforms and scaling requires consistent automation. This brings us back to coding. Make sure your team is on a pathway of continually developing these skills. There’s a huge gap around Linux talent right now so we’re looking at how we can plug that, given 65% of our client base run on it.

“Another shift is tying security into your cloud talent development — it’s going to be huge in the next couple of years as cyber security becomes more sophisticated — your team needs to know how to respond to it effectively. There’s a major learning curve ahead.”

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Culture and learning pathways

Similar to Flack, Utting also emphasises the importance of creating a culture of lifelong learning in his cloud business.

“Certifications help set a benchmark for a conversation, but we tend to verify during interviews. Personally, I’m far more interested in curiosity, a desire to solve a problem, being self-starters — this talent goes much further as you develop it,” he adds.

Sean Farrington, SVP EMEA at Pluralsight, also believes that developing and maintaining cloud computing skills once talent is in place is a challenge. Businesses “need the ability to accurately map skill levels and proficiencies within teams and put in place tailored learning pathways to address knowledge gaps,” he says.

Success in this requires a reassessment of how learning is undertaken. Pluralsight, for example, found that 40% of IT professionals prefer learning online, either through self-paced or instructor led courses, rather than in classroom-based setups.

Commenting on this, Farrington adds: “Companies are nothing more than the sum of their parts, and so business leaders must listen to the needs of their employees and implement an appropriate learning environment. In this case, the ability to upskill on demand and in bite-sized chunks is likely to keep cloud computing talent motivated, current and project-ready.”

Ratcliff  agrees that as businesses adapt their culture to embrace the cloud, they must also adapt their approach to developing the talent.

He says: “It is no longer enough to produce a list of technical requirements and pattern match applicants to skills. We must adopt a far more people-centric approach to recruitment and development right across the organisation. The speed, agility and freedom to fail provided by the cloud are worthless without an underlying culture that accepts this.”

Hyping the cloud

Pointing to the other half of the battle with developing cloud computing talent, Farrington suggests that cloud computing roles can be neglected in favour of more glamorous jobs in AI development or cyber security.

He continues: “Half the battle with developing cloud computing talent is showing bright employees that there is a long, enriching career in the cloud. As technology leaders, we must show them that the cloud is the engine room for tomorrow’s innovation; helping build our smart cities by underpinning big data, AI, IoT or 5G applications.”

Building a talent pool

Ratcliffe believes that because cloud technology evolves at such pace, looking for technical skills is a redundant exercise.

Instead, he suggests businesses and the wider community build a talent pool with a blend of individuals that promotes diverse thinking and a passion to learn new things constantly.

“The days of a couple of technical courses a year for staff are long gone. Learning is constant, consistent, on the job and flexibility needs to be built into the culture to allow for this,” he adds.

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is the editor for Information Age. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and cyber security.