Cloud computing skills - learn to be an angel

A cloud connected to electronic devices
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Men are from Mars; women are from Venus. Men understand the offside rule; women don’t. Mothers are automatically better parents than fathers...

The world has never been short of misleading and inaccurate stereotypes with which to divide and conquer the sexes but there is always room for one more. And here it is: success in cloud computing calls for the sort of soft skills that are more traditionally associated with women than with men, signalling the end of IT as a male-dominated profession.

Like many big bold generalisations this one’s bound to set knee’s jerking. But when you’ve finished reacting (or even overreacting) you may want to turn your attention to the grain of truth contained in this assertion, as it has implications for IT and non-IT professionals of any gender.

"Cloud changes how IT is built, operated, consumed and ultimately governed. New roles are required and new skill sets,” says Chuck Hollis, VP and chief technology officer with EMC. As the transition to cloud accelerates, enterprise IT teams are becoming more tightly integrated with lines of business and IT managers are taking a more consultative approach, and being able to understand and to discuss business objectives and strategies with non-IT types is becoming increasingly important.

"You need to be able to sit in front of a business owner or manager and articulate the business benefits of cloud without boring them to tears or getting too techy," says Neil Mills, a director of MillsHill IT Recruitment.

Marrying business and IT

Conveying the business benefits of cloud computing could be as undemanding as saying "This is going to save you money" or "This is going to make you money", or as challenging as answering thorny questions such as "What will happen to my business if the system goes down?"

The knowledge required to do this is based on your detailed understanding of the associated technologies, but finding the right words and music to pull it off also depends on the sort of communication and interpersonal skills that you can’t develop simply by going on a training course.

"VMware certification is no longer enough; it’s expected. If you want to move up the value chain you will need to morph your skills to meet what the market is looking for," asserts Mills.

Cloud is changing what’s needed in some IT roles and creating some new ones. One job spec for a "cloud specialist", for example, describes the ideal candidate as someone “"providing design expertise and troubleshooting skills in an enterprise cloud environment, and collaborating with line managers and project managers to support next generation processes and workflows."

Enterprise IT jobs as wide-ranging as departmental liaisons, integration specialists, private cloud developers and administrators now require hard IT skills and the ability to communicate effectively across multiple levels of the business (inside and outside IT) and the extended technology supply chain, using the sort of softer more consultative skills that have (rightly or wrongly) traditionally been associated more with women than with men.

In practice, these skills seem to have less to do with gender than the sort of career path that IT professionals have carved out for themselves and the effort they have made to build on their personality traits (or their lack of them) to develop certain types of skills.

"You can see by looking at a CV the kind of roles that people have worked in, what they’ve worked on, and even how well they may have worked with business,” according to Mills. But even this has limited potential without the sort of 'polish and presence' that employers expect from those who want to work in one of the most demanding new roles: the cloud architect. "We jokingly refer to this superhuman as a cloud angel, because they have an overview of how business and systems sit in the cloud," he says, and can revolutionise the way an organisation works whilst also improving its bottom line.

So what differentiates a cloud architect from the more established role of enterprise architect? Lee Durrant, MD of cloud recruitment company Resource on Demand explains:"Cloud architects have all of the skills of an enterprise architect, but also have a fuller understanding of how to configure IT assets around the needs and demands of a business," and really put the focus on "service".

Cloud is the new investment banking

As well as understanding service-oriented architecture and myriad cloud services including private, public and hybrid cloud, a cloud architect is the sort of person who can ‘influence and radically affect outcomes’, and many of the enterprises that want to embrace cloud will, apparently, need one ‘to turn vision into profit’ – something he suggests will make cloud architects "the new investment bankers".

Whilst cloud architects are taking over the world (or not) what is going to happen to those with happen to those with more traditional IT skills?

It’s not all bad news. "There will always be roles for plumbers," says Mills. Bringing cloud infrastructures into the enterprise may be less about the technical detail of server configuration and managing routing tables (which have traditionally been done by men) and more about building relationships and working collaboratively (which have traditionally been seen as female strengths), but as well as the ‘infrastructure enablers’ that enterprises are going to need, technology companies will still need IT people to design and maintain actual cloud technology – though how many remains to be seen.

Microsoft and IDC recently predicted that cloud computing will generate nearly 14 million jobs globally by 2015. Like stereotypes, statistics can be misleading and inaccurate, as CloudPro noted, because whilst some of those jobs will be in IT, others will be elsewhere. Business analysts, operational directors and sales representatives are among the many roles that can require cloud computing knowledge and skill; some marketing chiefs could end up managing bigger IT budgets than their chief information officers (as CloudPro highlighted here).

"Cloud changes everything," says Hollis. And that's going to be the case within the enterprise of the future: non-IT professionals need to understand more about IT and IT professionals need to understand more about business. Those with the skills to bridge the divide seem to have a bright future – whatever their gender.


We all have different personality traits but we can all develop our softer skills. It can help to think of them as being split into two categories which focus (inside) on how you manage your own feelings and emotions, and (outside) on the way you manage your interaction with others. So:

  1. Look inside yourself: Consider skills such as self-awareness, self-confidence and self-control, adaptability, determination, resilience, your ability to control your emotions, manage stress, and so on. How do your perceive yourself?
  2. Look outside yourself. Consider skills such as communication, teamwork, how well you relate to others, deal with difficult people, get buy-in for your ideas, respond to negative feedback, and so on. How do others perceive you?
  3. Be prepared to change. Talk to friends, family and colleagues about their perceptions of your strengths and weaknesses in areas such as communication, interpersonal relationships, working as part of a team – and create a list.
  4. Look and learn. Observe how others interact (inside and outside work). How do they build trust, persuade and empower each other? Being able to read other people’s signals and react appropriately to them is invaluable.
  5. Be an active listener. Focus on tone of voice and the body language as well as literal statements. Paraphrasing the other person’s words and repeating them back can reassure them that you are not just listening but hearing them.
  6. Choose your language carefully. You may know the difference between Java SE and Java EE and know what SOA stands for, but others may not, so be selective about using the jargon you have worked so hard to learn.
  7. Practise thinking critically. Analyse business and technology problems. Consider solutions others have suggested/implemented and look for alternatives. Discuss them with colleagues, or non-techy friends or relatives.

Lesley Meall is a freelance journalist and editor. She has been writing about accountancy, business and technology for more years than she cares to remember, and before this, at some point in the dim and distant past, she used to be a software engineer.