I found myself in an engaging Twitter conversation (as Twitter conversations go). The question I came away with, “Are infrastructure engineers headed for extinction in the enterprise?” I recently wrote a post how I believe enterprise infrastructure is just as sexy as enterprise software development. I used Google and Facebook as examples of companies that use infrastructure as strategic advantages. However, the Twitter discussion has highlighted the large cultural difference that exists between more traditional computer science and Information Technology. However, I would argue that the actual career paths are destined to merge and create the IT equivalent to a unicorn.
The marketing machine that’s the cloud is an us-stoppable force. Enterprises are going to adopt cloud in varying forms. I believe the primary forms will not be Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) but Software as a Service (SaaS) and Platform as a Service (SaaS). Solutions such as salesforce.com and Office 365/Google Docs will dominate the landscape. This will bring about a different type of IT worker. In the past, I’ve focused on the infrastructure role as the focal point of this debate. However, I’m starting to question if it’s an infrastructure-focused role at all. The role will have infrastructure components to it, but it will be focused on information architecture more than anything else. This design and coordination could be done by either an infrastructure-focused engineer or a software developer. If you’re in need of a software developer, check out geneca software.
The IT organizations will need engineers that can make disparate cloud services work in a way that meets the needs of the enterprise. This will include the ability to understand application development and testing, as well as infrastructure operations. There is also the ability to manage vendor relationships. This is unlike any common IT job we see in today’s enterprise. Whilst testing applications could be outsourced to companies like iBeta, I could see an application developer morphing into this hybrid architect just as an infrastructure engineer could.
For either engineer, the track to acquire the skills needed to support the future IT shop is steep. I did a skills inventory for this tart architecture position and came up with the following:
– Web Development
– Cloud Management
– Storage (Block & Object Oriented)
– Vendor Management
– Operating System Management
– Service Management
– Database Structures and Query Language
These are some primary areas of expertise I’ve identified. I’m sure you can come up with a variation of this list, but the idea is the same. The skills needed are broad. How deep depends on the enterprise. This raises a couple of questions around scale and succession planning. Today, we have a relatively large talent pool with a solid base in either programming or infrastructure. Moving forward, I can see a challenge in teaching and training new staff the diverse skill needed to operate in the environment. This presents a unique challenge and opportunity for the training industry.
For the experienced engineer, the need to focus on learning skills outside of your current core capabilities is critical to continued success, IMHO. I believe the merger of these rolls is still a few years in the future. However, this isn’t the time to procrastinate. One of the great advantages of desktop virtualization (I am the Virtualized Geek still) is the ability for programmers to learn virtualization and infrastructure SME’s to pick up development skills in pseudo cloud environment on common desktop hardware. Not only are there places where specialized training can be done, such as with Acuity Training, there’s also a glut of free and paid content available on youtube and services such as Pluralsight and Lynda.com.
Unicorns are developed
From a succession and hiring perspective, the job of recruiters and hiring managers becomes a bit more complicated. In the current state, it’s already pretty difficult to find developers or infrastructure engineers well versed in cloud computing. To find, train and retain engineers that have cross skill is a true unicorn. Hiring managers will be challenged with deciding what skills are most important to the projects at hand and which skills can be developed on the job. In turn, IT executives have to come up with intriguing ways to retain engineers they’ve made significant investments and are now highly sought.
Cloud computing will no doubt have an unintended impact on the IT workforce.