How cloud computing is shaping the IT job market

The last few years have been difficult for the UK economy, and those working in IT haven’t escaped feeling some of the pain. Innovation in technology rarely stops or even slows down just because the economy may be facing difficulties. It is fair to say that the pace of change in technology and the holding back of investment has led to a situation when transformation is now very much on the agenda for all companies. This is likely to come about through the use of technology such as cloud computing, which is now driving demand for those with very specialist skills.

A step change

Cloud computing technologies, networks and data systems that store data virtually are now one of the most talked-about topics in IT. Businesses are looking for more cost-effective and agile ways to build and operate their IT infrastructure. More efficient ways of sharing information and collaborating can offer real competitive advantage. This means cloud is more than just a passing fad, but a real step change for the industry. It’s changing the way IT professionals need to think and work.

As a result of this move towards virtualisation and cloud computing, the physical aspect of IT systems is reducing, and workers in IT may find themselves working less and less directly with large data storage units.

That’s why, if you’re looking to work with this emerging technology, you’ll need to be good at more abstract thinking instead, and an active imagination comes in handy as well. But you mustn’t forget to link it back to the needs of the business – you can’t only focus on which technology to deploy. You also need good project management skills to be able to take a vision, no matter how enormous it seems to be, and break it down into sizable chunks of actions.

Skills for cloud architects

To work as a cloud architect, you need strong virtualisation skills, automation and orchestration experience. Employers also look for recognised professional qualifications (ie CCIE, VCP, Microsoft SQL) and multiplatform experience. Strong “on the job” experience and showing you are keeping up with what’s happening in the market are really key. Understanding what analysts talk about, what vendors offer and what customers want is also crucial. Combining this with strategic understanding of the business goals alongside commercial acumen will help you stand out from the crowd.

Even though it might be reasonably easy to find people with the right skills for this sort of work, it can take a long time to bring them up to speed. This is because cloud is not necessarily the same everywhere; each company would use a different model.

Being able to advise a CIO on a strategic level

What we’ve talked about so far is very much working with cloud technologies at an operational level, but at a strategic level it’s extremely difficult to find the right people to work on cloud projects. People who can scope and define what customers want, and who can help organisations understand what solutions are right for their business are thin on the ground.

A recent report on employment and recruitment in the IT sector from recruitment agency Hays shows the market for hiring business-facing IT specialists is undergoing a rapid transformation, and it has become one of the fastest growing sectors in the UK. No wonder; these people help their clients add value to the business. But a different mindset is needed to be able to do this – you need to be strategically and commercially focused if the transformation is going to be properly adopted.

The Hays report indicated that throughout the downturn it has still remained a challenge to recruit the best workers in this field. We’ve seen this first-hand at Cable&Wireless Worldwide, and as a result we have recruited internally to keep up with the growing demand in our flexible computing team. It’s worth looking around in your organisation for the right role to help move your career along, but you have to demonstrate that you think both commercially and strategically. It’s easy to spot this mindset on a CV as candidates will clearly link their achievements to business requirements and goals. The ability to do that often comes with experience, but even new graduates should strive to think in this way from the very beginning. They need to understand that IT is not about the technology, but rather about enabling the business objectives.

Technology skills still crucial


Despite this, I’m not suggesting that knowledge of the technology itself is not important. It’s still crucial, as you need to speak to CIOs and other senior IT managers, but you don’t necessarily need to have a degree in IT or engineering. One of my team members is a chartered accountant and his ability to speak the same language as clients has proved invaluable. He’s able to tackle IT problems from a different angle, looking at the objective first and then the technology.

It might be worth investing in training such as Six Sigma to boost your understanding of business processes, or in financial management to learn the language of the boardroom. The list goes on, but it is much more focused on the softer skills today, alongside the technological skill set. You also have to understand your customers, so softer people and listening skills are extremely important – often not an area the IT trade is known for. I also like to send my consultants on media training.

There’s currently a huge demand for people with these skills, and I think there always will be. Newer technologies may well become available in time, but you’ll always need people who not only understand it at the operational level, but can think of it strategically as well.

Exciting times

There is significant investment in virtualisation and cloud computing taking place in IT, from SME to corporate level, and it’s a very exciting time to be involved in this industry. The next three to four years are going to see a huge increase in the uptake of cloud computing and this will in turn transform how IT departments are shaped. IT professionals need to get ready for this, up-skill and focus on how to best add value to the business

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