Cloud careers: It's a seller's market

IT professionals who have learned to work across traditional borders are the hot ticket in the current cloud-crazy job market.

When David Grimes, CTO of managed and cloud service provider NaviSite, based in Andover, Mass., is looking to fill jobs at both the junior and senior level, he's not looking for folks who have stayed centered in a particular professional silo like application development, server management, network engineering or data storage.

Rather, he wants to hire someone who has trained across several of those IT disciplines.

"Moving forward it's going to be difficult to navigate a career in the cloud if you are solely operating within those traditional vertical alignments," Grimes says.

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Francesco Paola, vice president at consultancy Cloud Technology Partners, explains that burgeoning cloud concepts like software defined networking (SDN) and orchestration portals require IT professionals to have a solid working knowledge of the fluid, underlying cloud networking infrastructure, understand how cloud-enabled applications need to be built to ride on those rails, have insight into how server virtualization affects both of those parts of the picture, and be clued into how security can be wrapped around the whole shebang.

"In a cloud-based deployment, there can't be the kind of technology handoffs between silos in IT we have seen in the past. To achieve the efficiencies of a cloud investment, there has to be staff that can manage the layers of the cloud in cooperation with each other," Paola says.

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The exact titles for these new hybrid jobs -- as well as the set of duties to be carried out by the individuals who fill them -- are still in a state of semantic and substantive flux. Some, like cloud architect, cloud software engineer/developer, cloud systems administrator, do indeed make the "cloud" bent quite obvious.

While others - like DevOps, for example - describe which two old IT silos - straight development and straight operations - have morphed into a new line item in the cloud focused IT budget. And still others -- traditional positions like project manager, business systems analyst and network architect -- are evolving into jobs that require their occupants to work in the cloud daily.

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Joe Coyle, CTO of Capgemini North America, agrees with Grimes that IT people with cross-training have a leg up in the new cloud world. "I can no longer interview application developers solely based on their application development skills. I need to know how well they understand how those apps intricately map to the underlying cloud infrastructure it runs on and how they will react if that underlying IaaS needs to be changed," he says.

That said, "What people want and what they can get are two different things in this market," says John Reed, senior executive director of Robert Half Technology, a worldwide IT staffing firm headquartered in Menlo Park, Calif.

Reed says professionals who are experts in cloud computing, software as a service and virtualization are in high demand, but those with combined skills in server, software and networking are the most sought after in the current IT job market.

Reed advises senior IT staff looking for cloud talent to realistically set their expectations. "At this stage you're not going to find a cloud project manager who has five migrations under their belt. You'll be lucky to find them with more than one," Reed says.

More than a dozen CIOs, headhunters and IT training professionals interviewed for this article contend that veteran IT professionals who have had the time, inclination and opportunity over the past year or two to get cross-educated or pick up on-the-job cloud experience are few and far between.

Steve Caniano, vice president of cloud strategy and business development at AT&T Business Solutions, oversees both the company's growing cloud services business and a team of thousands of IT professionals supporting that venture. "There are just not enough folks that have mastered the cloud yet," says Caniano, who expects that it will be at least five years before the supply of cloud professionals will meet the demand.

"It's a seller's market. And for the foreseeable future, we are going to have to be willing to pay a premium to get this cross-disciplined cloud talent," says Grimes, adding that the best place to look for them at the moment is in the consulting world.

According to salary statistics published by several sources, Grimes is going to have to pay a good bit more.

Data collected by Dice.com, a leading career site for technology and engineering professionals, shows that cloud has been one of the fastest growing skill segments, with related job postings up 72% over last year. That comes out to more than 3,800 positions listed on any given day. To put that into context, overall tech jobs on Dice are up only 4% year over year.

Dice.com data also shows that cloud computing professionals in the United States this year will earn on average, $92,830, compared to the median $81,327 tech salary.

Robert Half Technology research, according to Reed, shows that cloud computing related salaries are continuing to rise between 8% to 10% annually, compared with 3% to 4% growth in the average IT salary. In research the firm conducted for its 2013 Salary Guide (to be released next week [Oct. 15]) the hiring environment is only going to be tougher next year.

The report states that as the pool of qualified candidates shrinks, and demand grows, competition for IT professionals with mobile, big data, cloud and virtualization experience will receive multiple offers and hold much of the bargaining power.

"Job seekers in traditional IT roles looking to advance themselves either internally or by moving out in this very favorable market need to repackage themselves with some level of cross-training," says Alice Hill, managing director of Dice.com. Hill says this cross-training can come from both external classes and certification programs or by seeking out on-the-job cloud project experience, especially if it's outside the scope of their existing job description.

Server virtualization vendors from Microsoft to VMware -- and every Linux-based derivative in between -- as well as wildly successful proprietary IaaS providers like Amazon and more open organizations like OpenStack have accessible training programs. These programs can help cross-train network staff about hypervisor internals and server administrators on why OpenStack's Quantum "networking as a service" project will impact next generation cloud deployments.

Capgemini's Coyle thinks good job candidates, from a practical standpoint, only need to have one flavor of formal vendor-specific training in each of the cloud platform segments. For example, if a DevOps candidate has picked up a certification in VMware, "it is a good indication that he's got an understanding on how a virtualization platform operates and can work on the job to apply that across a hybrid cloud where other hypervisor software is in use," Coyle says. Likewise, if she understands how Rackspace runs its IaaS platform, she can map that to Amazon's offering.

NaviSite's Grimes suggests that IT professionals should be selective regarding their cross-training. "Say you are a solid Linux system engineer and you want to dive into networking, you could work on a CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate) to get a broad understanding of networking and acquire a good base of skills. But going for, say the CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert), is going to put you too far up the Cisco stack, which would be overboard for this purpose," Grimes says.

Paolo advises that senior IT management can push the idea of cross training along by merging teams of complementary disciplines, like system administrators and network administrators, for example. "It also makes sense to seed these teams of seasoned professionals with recent college graduates who are more open to cloud computing and can be trained in this cross-discipline environment from the start," Paolo says.

Grimes warns that IT management must be watching for potential turf animosities and suggests nipping them in the bud with cross-discipline design sessions that both open the lines of communication and reinforce the message that the company is determined to break down traditional vertical IT divides.

Mark Herbert, CTO at intY, a UK-based cloud services aggregator that runs its U.S. business out of Florida, argues that while cross-training is a good idea, only hands-on cloud work can provide data centric personnel with the flow and pressures of working in a non-stop services environment that defines cloud computing.

On the job cross-training also offers insight into two irrepressible facts about cloud computing, says Brett Adam, CTO of rPath, an enterprise platform-as-a-service (PaaS) company in Raleigh, N.C., that recently published the "Enterprise Cloud Adoption Framework", a document that outlines some best practices for cloud adoption. "The first is that automation is good. And the second is with automation, comes a reduction of choice. So being an IT professional working in the cloud, you've got to come to grips [that there are] fewer choices on how you build your apps, how you run your network, and how that drives the business," Adam says.

If on-the-job training is not available, the low entry price of cloud computing also comes in very handy for cross training purposes, says Chris Brenton, a cloud security architect at CloudPassage, a cloud server security company. He advises IT professionals to take advantage of the 30-day free trial subscriptions most cloud service providers offer potential customers as an opportunity to work with a broad range of products.

Another avenue for hands-on experience is to offer to do pro-bono work for non-profit organizations that need technical assistance to run more efficiently in the cloud.

Proving your cloud chops on paper

We were able to identify just two third-party cloud knowledge certifications - ComTIA's Cloud Essentials and its new Cloud+ Certification and the Cloud Security Alliance's Certificate of Cloud Security Knowledge (CCSK) -- that carry any weight in the industry at this point.

However, having either on your resume is more a testament to general knowledge about how cloud computing works (in the case of the CompTIA certification) and the principles that IT professionals need to know to securely migrate operations to the cloud. Neither group claims that these certifications guarantee deep technical expertise in the cloud.

However, representatives of both indicated that future iterations of both prerequisite training and testing will move in that direction. Next year, CompTIA will be offering a Cloud Plus certification for which, Rick Bauer, a senior member of CompTIA's skills certification staff says that IT professionals will have to be "petty deep in the technical weeds" to collect a passing grade.

Neither organization will go on record to say exactly how many IT professionals have taken their tests or publish pass/fail rates, but both say that the numbers are rising rapidly.

Bauer did disclose that his firm was gearing up to administer between 500 and 1,000 Cloud Plus tests next year.

CSA's COO John Howie contends his outfit has seen a dramatic increase in people seeking out the CCSK in the past year.

"But an even better indication of the interest is the number of companies that are coming to us and saying they are requiring whole teams to become CCA accredited," says Howie, adding that the CSA responds to that by working with member training organization to complete on-site cloud training.

Burns is a freelance writer. She can be reached at cburns1227@gmail.com.

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