Opinion

Yes, you will lose your job to cloud computing -- unless …

There’s something nagging in the back of your head. You keep hearing about this phenomenon called “cloud computing”, and for some reason you just don’t like it. Your rational brain makes it seem like a perfectly

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useful tool for solving the problems of IT, but that nagging voice keeps bringing up new points -- some relevant, some irrational -- that feed your heightened sense of distrust.

It’s not secure! I don’t own my data! It’s more expensive! It can’t be audited! It won’t be the solution for us!

What is that nagging feeling? Is it actually a rational distrust of someone else managing some portion of your data center? Probably not. You’ve hired people off the street before. You’ve even leaned on other companies for services (someone’s feeding you Internet access and serving up anti-malware updates right now). You might even have a consultant or two that you’ve left alone in your server room for hours at a time.

What is that nagging feeling? Might it just be the realization that cloud computing presents a game-changer for the entire IT industry? With cloud computing, it becomes entirely feasible to turn over many traditional IT responsibilities to some other third party.

With the advent of cloud computing, you could lose your job.

Why you’ll lose your job
IT is always changing, but the changes currently going on within our industry are more fundamentally disruptive than at any point in the past.

You already know that information technologies are maturing. Running the services our businesses need no longer requires arcane knowledge and advanced experience. Even the greenest of IT generalists can probably get a Microsoft Exchange Server up and running in a few days. It might not be the most secure of Exchange infrastructures, nor will it be the most highly available, but actually getting those services off the ground doesn’t really require a specialist anymore.

And yet that’s also a problem. With the maturation of these technologies also comes the ability to package them up, productize them and sell those services to others for profit. More importantly, the third parties who are selling those productized versions of the services we’ve been managing for years can probably do a better job of it.

This better job isn’t a measure of your own ability to manage email, SharePoint, SAP, or any other service; it’s related to economies of scale. An organization that hosts 1 million mailboxes can economically implement technologies that guarantee 100% uptime, unlimited space and ubiquitous access anywhere on the Internet. As the economies of scale grow, those organizations can accomplish this at a price that’s cheaper than your salary, and when they screw up, they’ll refund your business money. You can’t say the same.

That’s a big problem for your continued employment, and that’s why that nagging feeling in the back of your head keeps shouting, “Cloud computing can’t be for us!”

How you’ll save your job
Now you know why you distrust this new approach to delivering IT services, but for me, writing an article only to scare you isn’t terribly constructive. What you need is intelligent advice in regards to how you might keep that job, or where you might go if the cloud outsources you in the medium- to long-term future. Let me help you out.

IT services will get slowly transmogrified into cloud services. This is already a foregone conclusion, because it’s the natural evolution of all services. You don’t grow your own vegetables any more or raise your own cattle; you’ve outsourced those tasks to specialists. You don’t diagnose your own illnesses or mend broken bones either, because you trust others to do it better.

But you do manage those tasks. You ensure that they run smoothly and make good decisions about which ones to do yourself and which to send elsewhere. That’s the direction IT operations is slowly going today -- toward managing the services your business needs.

To that end, consider these four pointers that’ll help keep your IT career going as the world changes around you:

  1. Become a generalist, or become a specialist. I’ve written before that sometimes, building a team of IT professionals can be best accomplished by aiming wide rather than going deep. IT’s steady migration toward the service-oriented approach means that generalists -- those with wide-reaching experience -- are becoming the hottest item in the industry. Generalists can lean on experience for managing far-reaching IT projects across multiple vendors much better than the traditional “I’m the Exchange” guy. Become that person who can manage projects with complete success.

    Or, decide to remain The Exchange Person. You will still find work, although that work might just be as a consultant or with the companies that sell Exchange services . It is within those specialist organizations that you can economically stay deep and also passionate in a specific technology silo.

  2. Think like your business’ owner. The days of fighting over whether to implement a new technology just because you happen to like it are over. Fanboyism is a drag on your business’ efficiency. It also makes you look like you haven’t kept up with the times. Even as the news reports that our “Great Recession” is now over, companies won’t soon return to the good old days of IT where money was flush and the systems administrator stood supreme.

    IT decisions are now more than ever business decisions. If you want to remain relevant, think like the person who owns your business. Would you spend that money?

  3. Think like your users. The end of IT supremacy also brings an end to the era when IT could command user obedience. iPads, WiMAX, and cell phone tethering extend uncontrolled computing even within the brick-and-mortar walls. The time has come where you can no longer prevent actions users want in the name of security (or really anything). That’s because these technologies now exist to give users what they want. Staying relevant in this new era of cloud computing means constructing IT services that your users actually want to use. In the end, you need to stay secure, but you also want your users to love you for it.

  4. Embrace the cloud before your peers. This final tip is important in its prescience. The day your business executives discover the money they’ll save with the cloud is the day you want to be known as that idea’s source. Manage the transition and you’ll be managing your IT services for the long-term, even if it’s in a somewhat different form.

So as you can see, cloud computing isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For overall IT service availability, it presents a significant advantage over the services you provide yourself. You also can’t beat its connectivity story; if it’s on the cloud, it’s pretty much available everywhere. Economies of scale are the doom for maintaining the status quo.

Remember that change is always a good thing. If you want to continue your IT career, evolve with IT and embrace the change. In the end, you might enjoy the fewer overnights spent on the cold data center floor.

Where do you stand on the future of cloud computing? Do you think it's a real threat to IT job security? Sound off and share your comments here.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Greg Shields, Microsoft MVP, is a partner at Concentrated Technology. Get more of Greg's Jack-of-all-Trades tips and tricks at www.ConcentratedTech.com.

This was first published in October 2010

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