Near-term solutions to fill the cloud skills gap

Fluffy clouds.
Aled Sage is the VP, Engineering at Cloudsoft. He brings 20 years of experience developing distributed applications, mostly in the enterprise sector. Particular areas of interest include devops, automation, cloud, concurrency and distributed systems. Prior to joining Cloudsoft, Aled was Chief Architect at Enigmatec Corporation. He holds a PhD (Computer Science) from the University of St Andrews.

The fact that a cloud skills gap exists should come as no surprise: given the speed at which technology evolves, it’s almost impossible to expect the recruitment market to keep up with the pace. In fact, the 2020 Challenges in Cloud Transformation survey found that IT talent shortage concerns most corporations, with 86% of respondents believing it will slow down cloud projects.

Similarly, a recent report from AWS found 58% of companies using the cloud would not be able to operate without it, indicating the need for cloud computing skills will only increase.

Discussions around closing the skills gap often take a long-term perspective on educating the next generation of tech employees. This is important, and will contribute to closing the gap over time. However, organisations cannot wait that long, and must also look at how they can fill the cloud skills gap now.

Build on existing knowledge

Look at the knowledge your employees already have, and build upon it. Upskilling allows businesses of all sizes to reduce talent gaps by training existing employees rather than just hiring new people.

This is especially important for organisations new to cloud. Tech specialists like to work in high-functioning teams, with people they can learn from, so recruiting a new team can be very hard. This problem is particularly acute for small organisations, and is made worse by the risk of the ‘cloud expert’ leaving the company along with all the cloud knowledge.

On the flip side, larger organisations, which already have an internal team knowledgeable about the cloud, will often set up a team referred to as a “Cloud Centre of Excellence” (CCoE). However, if that team remains isolated, or if its only interaction with other employees is publishing guidance and sharing resources for people to read, it will fail to develop cloud expertise throughout the company. For long-term success, the arrangement must be scalable and work with other employees. One solution is to have cloud team members seconded to other teams for the duration of a cloud project, to train up these employees who can then, in turn, disseminate their new knowledge among other colleagues. That’s why some organisations call it the ‘Cloud Centre of Enablement’.

The right way to train

Classic training courses and certifications can be a great introduction to cloud technology, but aren’t enough on their own to develop the skills needed for your organisation. Training must be tailored specifically to the company and its systems; there’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all when it comes to the cloud. Best practice in the cloud is nuanced and context-specific: for example, a major bank with a security team of 10 people versus a startup with little or no valuable data will have very different needs.

Current employees should already have a strong understanding of the company’s needs, which will help inform their training. However, it is difficult to retain information without hands-on learning. Training should be interactive, and employees given a safe space to experiment and make mistakes.

Getting outside help

In some cases, it might be prudent to fill the skills gap by working with an external provider. However, the traditional model of outsourcing – handing over all responsibility – is not a long-term solution for any organisation that wants to keep control and ownership of its products and delivery. A better option is a combination of outsourcing and upskilling that relies on collaboration and partnership.

The right third-party provider will be open about their processes and procedures, helping your employees build their knowledge bank. Ultimately, the third-party should be well integrated and act like a part of the company itself. This will help upskill your team in the long-term, while allowing you to gain immediate expertise and knowledge.

The alternative, an external organisation that keeps its procedures private, will result in your business being locked into that provider and your staff being no better off in terms of skills.

Avoiding debt

Technical debt refers to the future additional cost and time spent due to making suboptimal choices now. For example, a development team might cut corners to meet launch project timescales – but this could lead to bugs and code that is hard to maintain, which slows down future work. As with monetary debt, it can accumulate interest, as each future task builds on previous decisions.

Similarly, relying on a team without the right skills will lead to long-term additional costs. It’s important to invest – both time and money – early on, to build the necessary skills in your own team.

The cloud skills gap isn’t going to disappear anytime soon – and relying on the next generation of tech experts to fill it is not going to help the industry in the short-term. Instead, the IT industry must find the resources to fill it now, by building on current employees’ skills and sourcing expertise where they can.

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