Tech

Head not in the cloud? You’re not in the right place

Opinion The tiniest hint of butthurt tinged the Linux Foundation and edX’s latest annual Open Source Jobs Report. For the first time, pure Linux skillz were not number one, slipping to second place behind Kubernetes. Container herding is up by 455 per cent, but you just can’t get the help.

Getting past the mild sulks that “of course, you need good Linux whatever you do in open source” – calm down, penguinistas, you’ve already won this war – the real meat of the survey comes from the corporate attitude to recruitment and talent. There has never been an oversupply of good systems and developer bods, in any significant sector of IT, but when you have something growing rapidly and dependent on new technology, the industry seems particularly bad at helping itself.

The lack of Kubernetes on the industry’s collective CV is only part of it. Talk to companies who want to play clever in clouds, and the lack of knowledge is pandemic. If you know how to wire together AWS services or fly in the wild blue Azure skies, you will have no shortage of suitors. This isn’t going to change any time soon; yes, as advertised, you still need to have those basic chops. You need to build and fix. But the cloud needs you. How do you get those skills?

Let’s dismiss some ideas out of hand. Governments often do work hard with good people and non-stupid funding to find ways to encourage IT talent, but it rarely works, especially with this lot who think slogan is a synonym for strategy.

Skills training is often seen as being for people who don’t go to uni, and unis are expected to turn out oven-ready workers. Neither fits the reality of corporate IT staffing. Employers say they want talent and employees say they’re keen to get trained, but no training happens. That’s a combination of the notion that if you’re away learning you’re not doing the job you were hired for, and the fear that you’ll take the training and immediately demand extra pay or bugger off to a better job. Which you wouldn’t do if you really liked where you worked, but this idea might as well be written in hieroglyphics in many workplaces.

Even if you can get funded for training and certification, or choose to pay for it yourself, that doesn’t work. We know this because there aren’t enough people.

And even the autodidacts who first cracked open a command line window at the age of five find it hard picking up the sort of cloud competencies the globe is gagging for.

You can and should install as much of a corporate open-source stack on your own systems as you like, and get to a “Hello, cloud” level, but while that may let you bluff your way in somewhere, you don’t want to do that unless you’re mad. And there aren’t enough people that mad either. The complexity and scale of a proper corporate infrastructure isn’t something you can knock up on a couple of Raspberry Pis and a gaming rig.

Let’s wave a magic wand and imagine the perfect world for generating top-notch, up-to-date, cloud chief ninjas – and everyone else we need. A proper infrastructure at scale, but one where good pedagogic principles provided pathways for skill acquisition. One that, as should happen in the real world, encouraged cooperation and teamwork in a well-moderated environment. Somewhere systems, components, and documentation were rigorously updated and easily discoverable. A place that rewarded rigour but encouraged experimentation. We might as well make it scalable to automatically adapt to demand, and smart enough to recognise the quality of learners and suggest appropriate choices for each person’s abilities and desires.

Now, turn that into a system spec. Build it in the cloud – as it must be built – and design the right mix of services, applications, data flow and automation to implement it on best practice principles. Isn’t that exactly what cloud providers sell themselves on all the time?

Forget about needing a business model. This, like all education, should look like the military – it costs what it costs, and you provide it free of charge wherever it’s needed. You want the poor black girl in a council block with a Chromebook to come in if they like, as well as the geeky sons of the shires. Of course it should be properly funded, but the whole thing could come out of the marketing budget for any cloud provider. That was one of the secrets of Xerox PARC – it was seen as marketing, and the fact it invented modern computing was splendid advertising.

There are any number of side benefits, apart from providing a system that could be part of any number of ways of training talent. Instrumented, it would give participating companies excellent visibility of how cloud services can be made to interact effectively with a hugely diverse workforce. The grunt work of designing and running the thing will be another goldmine of practical information for product improvement, as well as impeccable internal staff and management training. Talent spotting would be almost automatic, and outreach and PR will flow like honey.

The wilder-eyed among you may already be thinking that this model could be extended beyond teaching how it itself works. In many ways, it has the potential to be a university built on DevOps. Education-as-a-Service. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, let’s do that prototype, test, push, and iterate with the aim of getting more people into the heart of the cloud where they can do well by doing good. If the people can’t come to the cloud, the cloud must come to the people. ®


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