Steer your career to the cloud

Cloud computing creates new career paths for savvy IT professsionals

Dave DiMeo, service delivery network operations manager at Ford Motor has a mouthful of a title. And while the word "cloud" isn't part of it, it might as well be.

The service delivery network, what DiMeo calls a cloud, provides a way for Ford to mesh data from external vendors and information stored within the enterprise for delivery in real time to users of Sync, an in-vehicle communications and entertainment system. For DiMeo, the cloud model has opened new career opportunities.

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"Dave is a good example of a guy on the cusp. Originally an IT guy, he's now a part of the team delivering services [from the cloud] to the product delivery community for Sync," says Jim Buczkowski, Henry Ford technical fellow and director of electrical and electronic systems research & advanced engineering at Ford.

This alignment between IT and product delivery represents a significant step forward for Ford, he says.

"Traditionally, not much in the IT organization supported the product, meaning something built in or a part of the vehicle that customers really see and use. This has changed dramatically. Now IT and the product are very well connected because we're using capabilities built into the vehicle to access systems and data in the IT domain to allow us to connect to the cloud, assure the security and protection of information, and provide the uptime and quality of service needed to deliver the information to the vehicle on a real-time basis," Buczkowski says.

Moving away from the pure IT work on enterprise applications to delivering services for a consumer product has been "tremendously rewarding," DiMeo says.

Although perhaps not in such dramatic fashion, the rise of cloud computing in the enterprise is affording many IT professionals the opportunity to recast their organizational roles. Of course, becoming an enterprise cloud guru starts with an understanding of technologies like virtualization, server consolidation and flat networks, but also involves learning new technology and business skills.

"The day of focusing only on things in the enterprise are coming to an end, and IT professionals need to have skills to leverage systems that they don't own and that are outside the enterprise's control," says David Linthicum, CTO at Blue Mountain Labs, a cloud consulting firm, and cloud computing blogger at InfoWorld, a Network World sister publication.

"They need to understand how platforms are changing, how to get access to storage and compute on demand and how to leverage infrastructure and platform as a service where needs dictate those," he adds. And this goes for executives as well as staff.

"Executives who are innovative and willing to take a few risks are the ones who will succeed with the advent of cloud computing. They'll look like heroes as they take infrastructure costs down by running systems outside the firewall on the Amazon or Google cloud," Linthicum says. "And rank-and-file IT professionals will discover it's advantageous to their careers to learn about those cloud systems before they appear in the enterprise; they'll be rewarded for that - finding cloud-knowledgeable people is difficult today."

That creates a seller's market, as it were. "There are probably 50 cloud jobs chasing one candidate. That'll drive salaries up and people's value within the company will go up, too, plus they'll be able to hold onto positions for longer periods of time," he adds.

Job titles are even starting to morph to capture the growing importance of the cloud to enterprise IT strategy, says Pat O'Day, CTO at cloud host BlueLock.

"Where once we saw network architects we're starting to see cloud architect," he cites as one example. "This change implies that the person is now responsible not only for the architecture of the existing network but also connectivity and associated things to external cloud providers."

"I'm seeing cloud project manager and cloud strategist within some of enterprises, but more so within companies selling software as services," Linthicum says.

Case in point is Darren DelDuco, who is vice president of cloud services at Aprimo, an independent software vendor that develops and sells packaged software for marketers. With such a title, it's not hard to figure that DelDuco is responsible for the cloud-based infrastructure and operations supporting the company's hosted and on-demand offerings.

"I oversee all aspects of application delivery for those two product lines, including the business, pricing and go-to-market strategies relative to those cloud services-based offering," he explains.

What's in a name

Some enterprises may be reluctant to create new, formal job titles based on a heavily hyped technology like cloud, even though they are eager to have on board people who can do cloud architecture, develop on public clouds and who understand the intrinsic nature of a particular cloud platform, Linthicum says.

"We're not hearing of new cloud titles coming up per say," agrees Pedro Villalba, CTO at EmblemHealth, a health insurance provider in New York. "But if you have a technical architect in your organization, which we do, that job description will be changing or the portfolio of what that technical architect does is going to expand."

That's good news for IT staff members who want to establish themselves as cloud gurus, Villalba says. "A person will be more marketable when called a technical architect specializing in cloud computing. We'll keep the technical architect title, but add a specialty - server virtualization, cloud computing - with a hyphen."

At Concur Technologies, for example, you'll find plenty of cloud work under way but no cloud titles, says Drew Garner, director of architecture services for this Redmond, Wash., provider of on-demand employee spend management services. Over the last six months, he's overseen a four-person team of technical planners and project managers/designers that recently decided to move forward with a hosted private cloud.

As such, Garner says, "One of the product managers working for me has had to come up to speed with researching contracts, mostly from data center providers. Especially from an SLA standpoint, people have had to become mini lawyers."

Making a career in the cloud certainly entails more than growing your technical skills - though that is important, says Alex Zavgorodni, director of storage management at EmblemHealth.

"Technical skills will set the foundation for the IT team but the ongoing focus for cloud will be on project management, delivery capabilities and maturity, and an understanding of project life cycles," he says. "These will need to improve overall and solidify; we'll all fall short if we just focus on getting necessary technical skills to the people and calling it a day."

When enterprises progress into the cloud, leadership and communications skills are paramount, and a good understanding of and relationship with the business will be more important than ever, Villalba says. "If you're a technical architect, a network engineer or helpdesk support analyst working in the cloud space and if you're at a finance company, you need a good grounding in finance. If you're working at a healthcare company, you have to understand what drives healthcare and that business knowledge so you as technical specialist can make the right decisions for that company."

The good news, Linthicum says, is that cloud career development is getting due attention. Many enterprises are bringing in consultants for training, offering cloud courses on architecture and design and, sometimes, spending money on mentoring.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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