A sober look at the cloud jobs 'explosion'

Profile picture for user jreed By Jon Reed October 2, 2013
Summary:
In a June 2013 report, IDC predicted 14 million new cloud jobs by 2015. But what do these numbers really mean to the enterprise?

Portrait Of Serious Male Judge
The hype about cloud job growth is in full swing. Exhibit A: in a June 2013 report, IDC predicted 14 million new cloud jobs by 2015. But what do these numbers really mean to the enterprise?

After taking a swing at a couple of simplistic pieces on cloud jobs in last week's hits and misses, it seemed a good time to hold my own feet to the fire and see what I could dig out. Aside from Amazon's recent announcement of the planned hire of 70,000 seasonal full time employees, I don't see many large companies in bulk hire mode of any kind - cloud-related or not.

Hiring news - mixed at best

A cynical reader commented on Joe McKendrick's Forbes piece on IDC's cloud jobs numbers:

No technological advance creates more jobs than it eliminates. It’s impossible because the very point of a technological advance is to increase productivity.

That view is in line with my reactions to some corporate layoff announcements this week. In contrast to Amazon's bulk hires, Siemens plans to cut 15,000 jobs. Then came the announcement that Toshiba is cutting half of its workforce (3,000 jobs), primarily from its struggling TV division. After noting a planned shift in Toshiba's focus to 'Ultra HD' and LCD TVs, this phrase from a news report jumped out:

Cloud services will also be a major area of focus, and linking digital products and home appliances together. (As per the previous report, both divisions will join forces to make up the new Lifestyle Products & Services Group.)

The picture I'm getting is one of market disruption where cloud presents opportunities (thus job growth), but does not protect companies from themselves, nor does it spare them from the financial burden of depreciating 'legacy' assets (and the depreciating skills needed to maintain them). But what does the cloud job data say?

Cloud growth powering tech job expansion

The tech job board Dice.com recently noted a milestone: in July, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 3,600 jobs created in data processing, hosting, and related services - marking the biggest month of jobs growth in this category since 1998. As Dice.com speculates:

The likely driver is the cloud service providers which report in this category. The cloud is making infrastructure positions at companies more strategic and less task-based, which makes adaptable talent even more valuable in the long-run.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics is also predicting significant growth in the 'computer systems and design industry' sector over the next decade, to the tune of 3.9 percent annually, compared to an overall 1.3 percent growth rate across industries. Several articles on this study, including one in the Washington Post, credited cloud computing as a big factor in driving this optimistic sector-based jobs outlook.

Global cloud adoption - progress and barriers

But what about global cloud adoption, which will be needed to fuel this demand? We've seen our share of mixed reviews, even on diginomica, in terms of the impact of PRISM and regional variations in cloud adoption. BSA - The Software Alliance, which bills itself as the 'leading advocate for the global software industry', views cloud adoption through the filter of their annual Cloud Computing Scorecard (here's the PDF link to the 2013 edition)

For the 2013 scorecard, BSA takes a optimistic tone, citing 'marked improvements in the policy environment for cloud computing in several countries around the world.' To finalize their scorecard, BSA ranks 24 countries based on seven policy categories to evaluate the preparedness to support cloud computing growth on a country-by-country basis. Together, the 24 countries account for 80 percent of the global information and technologies (ICT) market.

Citing one bugaboo for cloud adoption, data security, BSA says: 'The Scorecard shows that most countries have data protection frameworks and have established independent privacy commissioners.' BSA cites Singapore as one example of a country rising in cloud readiness: 'Singapore received a big boost to its
score and ranking for introducing a modern, balanced privacy regime.'

Here's the second page of a two page graphic that illustrates the seven policy categories BSA uses to analyze cloud adoption readiness:

bsagraphic

(You can see the rest of the 24 countries charted on page 10 of the PDF)

The strength of the BSA report is that the modest optimism of its conclusions does not prevent a reckoning with the factors that are slowing global crowd growth, in some countries more than others.

Cloud job growth means skills changes

Which brings us back to my beef with breathless proclamations of millions of cloud jobs. When we slice and dice by region and company, we find cloud job growth, but we don't find anything remotely similar to the 'ERP welcome wagon' companies rolled out in the client-server boom of the mid-90s.

A good example is a recent TechRepublic interview with Peter ffoulkes, TheInfoPro's Research Director for Cloud Computing (TheInfoPro is a service of 451 Research). The occasion was the release of a semi-annual 451 Research report on cloud computing.

Though the report, according to TechRepublic, cites 'explosive' growth for cloud computing, the interview has plenty of caveats. One big issue? Resistance to change and upskilling of existing employees. As ffoulkes says:

But very often it’s not so much that you’re going to get rid of people because you’re going to move to a cloud-based architecture, but you’re going to have people doing more important business. Those people often need to learn new skills, and that sometimes takes time. Sometimes people resist learning new things, and sometimes there’s a change in control when this happens. And that can also cause people to do political infighting. So that’s one of the issues, although it’s not the major one, but it is there in some IT departments.

But much more often, you’ve got people, if you like, users saying the old systems work just fine. We paid for these servers, we want to keep our stuff. We don’t want to move to a new model if we don’t have to. So there’s a lot of education that needs to happen.

Resistance to change is one thing - identifying the specific skills needed for project success is another.

Cloud skills demand - some specifics

Dice recently shared some insights from their September 2013: Sourcing Cloud Talent review. Here's a few bullet points that jumped out from Dice.com's review of recruiter's searches on their Open Web solution:

  • Vendor preference emerging: Amazon Web Services is sought in almost half of all cloud skills searches.
  • Almost zero searches distinguishing between private, hybrid, and public clouds.
  • Open source is a 'clear theme' - including Linux, configuration management systems such as Chef and Puppet, and programming languages like Python, Perl, and Ruby.
  • Demand for DevOps engineers is on the rise - jobs that combine development and operations skills total 500 per day, up from 200 per day a year ago.

Verdict

Reports citing the growth and importance of cloud talent are too numerous to argue with (for another example, see Stuart's 'digital dummies' piece yesterday on Gartner's contention that the scarcity of digital talent will become a make-or-break issue for businesses, by what he jokes as their 'staple Gartner predictions date of 2017').

The question remains as to whether proclamations of 'millions of future cloud jobs' are either accurate or useful.  Assuming they are accurate, they are only useful if they motivate companies to come up with a skills development and recruitment plan that suits their IT strategy and corporate culture. If they are accurate, it's a huge leap to assume that cloud growth can compensate for massive cost-cutting and layoffs elsewhere.

I grow weary of such predictions, especially with dates beyond 2015, because too many unforeseen factors end up rendering the predictions obsolete. The ones left holding the bag are, too often,  IT professionals who invest in certifications and place false career hopes in job 'explosions' that never materialize.

Taking the global adoption obstacles such as those cited by BSA into account, I see cloud job growth as much more gradual, rewarding those who are aggressive about pursuing the skills opportunity but who focus less on sexy tech and more on how cloud is impacting their industry and what successful companies are doing about it. For the techie, pushing out of your comfort zone into new skills should be a continual habit by now, one that gives rewards along the way but rarely the kind of quick payday these articles imply (if that's your agenda, you may enjoy my piece on the impact of DevOps).

I propose a permanent moratorium on the use of 'explosive' to describe skills demand. In its place, use phrases like 'pursuit of mastery,'  'work your freakin' tail off', and 'move out of your tech comfort zone and speak the language of business.' Oh, and 'if you think of yourself as a change agent, expect resistance.' I doubt I could get a job as a recruiter with talk like that. But then I already was one, once upon a time - been there, sold that.

Image credit: Portrait Of Serious Male Judge © apops - Fotolia.com