Multicloud and your career
There are good reasons to embrace bad strategy. Yes, I’m talking about multicloud. No, I’m not talking about it the way you may be thinking.
It makes sense for an ISV (like MongoDB, where I work) to ensure its service runs across all major clouds. Why? Enterprise buyers, even if they try to standardize on a single cloud vendor, are going to run different cloud services across different providers. It’s just the way enterprise IT works. Always.
But let’s scrap the vendorspeak. I’m talking about multicloud and you. I’m talking about how you grow your career by speaking multiple cloud “languages.”
Really, I’m channeling my inner Forrest Brazeal, who recently floated the idea of becoming proficient in more than one cloud as a career strategy. Brazeal used to be an AWS Hero (an expert on AWS who doesn’t work for AWS), and in 2021 he moved to Google, where he’s head of content. In a new post, he correctly stresses that “multicloud is an inevitability in medium-to-large organizations.” Not because of “smart strategy” but because of human nature.
I’ve written at length about this, but I like a more recent characterization by my InfoWorld colleague David Linthicum who sums it up thus: “Most companies are using multicloud, but only some of them planned for it.” Multicloud tends to be accidental, in other words, not intentional. Or rather, different groups within a given enterprise are very intentional about their diverse decisions to use this cloud or another, embracing the best cloud services for a particular need. However it happens, it’s the norm, as a recent HashiCorp cloud survey details.
The punchline to this willy-nilly cloud adoption, according to Linthicum, is not particularly funny: “This lack of planning for multicloud operations will hurt enterprises initially, affecting observability, security, and cross-cloud operations. There will most likely be a bunch of pain before they understand what needs to be done and do it.” However, even when companies are intentional about their cloud adoption (as was the case at a previous employer where we made a very public commitment to a new cloud, even after standardizing for years on a different cloud), the lack of skills within the company for more than one cloud can stymie efforts to make sense of these diverse cloud services.
So, what can you do about it? How can you turn multicloud’s messy reality into a plump paycheck? Back to Brazeal.
Native speaker versus ‘can read and write’
One option, says Brazeal, is to “pick one cloud to get good at and stick with it; that’s a perfectly valid career bet.” It’s certainly what some cloud vendors might prefer. For years, then-AWS CEO Andy Jassy would talk about how most companies “pick a predominant provider” and may choose a backup ‘just in case’, as it were. On the personal level, Brazael suggests that attaining professional fluency (“a level of familiarity with each cloud that would enable you to … pass the flagship professional-level certification offered by that cloud provider”) in two or more cloud vendors “opens up some unique, future-optimized career options.”
Well, first of all, the mere fact of learning one cloud “language” may make you more adept at learning another. (You speak French? Learning Spanish or Italian will be that much easier.) Once you’ve made the investment to learn the ins and outs of two or more clouds, “understanding the strengths and trade-offs of different cloud providers can help you make the best choice of services and architectures for new projects,” he notes.
It also puts you in a position to take on a more senior, “macro” role within an enterprise. It’s nice to be an expert in a particular system, but there’s more opportunity in being an expert across systems. According to Brazeal, “As companies’ cloud posture becomes more complex, they need technical leaders and decision-makers who comprehend their full cloud footprint.” He says that if you “want to become a principal engineer or engineering manager at a mid-to-large-sized enterprise or growing startup,” you’re almost certainly going to need “an organization-wide understanding of your technology landscape, and that’s probably going to include services from more than one cloud.”
In his cloud computing predictions for 2022, Linthicum argues that “enterprises will pay more attention to tools that can help solve their highest-priority complexity problems, namely finops governance and cloudops automation.” I’d add a third, following Brazeal’s reasoning: In order to understand and respond to that burgeoning cloud complexity, enterprises are going to need people who are conversant and proficient in more than one cloud. This is a golden opportunity for you.