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How to close the cloud skills gap

Reports suggest that there is a serious talent gap when it comes to cloud computing. That’s a problem. If we - as an industry - are to really deliver on the promise of cloud then we need to do more to close it. That means two things: helping companies identify how they can improve their hiring and retention strategies, and helping the ever-expanding technical workforce understand how they can develop their skills to really make an impact in this rapidly evolving field.

It’s not enough to simply complain that there’s a skills shortage. We must do the work to be more explicit about what those skills are and to ensure that there are the tools, resources, and processes in place that can help people develop them.

In this post we’ll break down how we can actually do that. There’s no quick fix, but by rethinking the role skill development plays within organisations, and what we actually mean when we talk about cloud, then we will at least have a foundation that will allow us to build a future in which cloud - and cloud engineers - can flourish.

Helping companies build a cloud-ready workforce

The digital skills shortage has been discussed in many different contexts, even beyond cloud. However, if you look closely you’ll find that there’s a recurring problem: companies typically fail to be specific about what they want.

There are likely many reasons for this. One is the ever-shifting sands of an organisation's tech strategy; strategic fluidity can make it difficult to ever really define what roles and skillsets are required. In turn, this also makes life difficult for recruitment teams. If they lack technical knowledge but have been given a vague brief, reaching the right people and getting them in for an interview is going to be practically impossible.

Think skills, not roles

One of the first steps we can take, then, is to ensure we’re always really specific about what we need and why. A “DevOps engineer with 7 years experience in cloud and ML” might sound like enough on paper, but really it just signals that you haven’t done enough thinking. Being specific about technologies is important, but also thinking in terms of ecosystems and clusters of tools. Yes, a checklist is good, but trying to capture people that are comfortable in and around different sets of tools, rather than fluent in a specific list of them can widen the pool and capture candidates that you might be missing.

Talk about your challenges, not just your tech stack

The “why” is also important here. While you might not want to publicly broadcast your projects to the public, giving potential applicants at least a sense of the types of problems you’re trying to solve can help them to better understand how their skills, experience, and interests might fit into what you’re trying to achieve.

Do the work to identify your own needs

To do those two points mentioned above it’s essential to be clear and honest about your needs and aims. It’s often easy to lapse into generalities when talking about what you might do or how things could evolve, but by being specific you’ll make it much easier to find the people you require - and easier for them to find you.

Support your team and encourage curiosity

You probably already have talented developers in your team. If they don’t have the experience you think you need, giving them the opportunity to develop their skills and learn something new is vital. It makes life easier for the organisation, and it will ultimately reduce churn if you have a team of engaged engineers that know they have your support.

There are formal ways you can do this of course, but it’s arguably even more powerful to cultivate a culture where constant learning is the norm. If you build this kind of environment you might find that your team’s skill set is growing in ways you hadn’t expected - if this is the case, it’s your job to empower them so they feel valued.

Get people working together in new combinations

One of the best ways of cultivating a culture of constant learning is by thinking carefully about how teams are composed and who works with who. In theory DevOps should have destroyed the silos that characterised IT twenty years ago, but it’s hardly a secret that they still remain. Actively embracing DevOps thinking - is a really useful way of not only ensuring improved software delivery processes, but also helping team members upskill and learn new things.

Help tech professionals understand the range of opportunities in cloud

There’s plenty that businesses can do to close the cloud talent gap. But there are also things we can do to encourage technology professionals - particularly those starting their careers - to think about their skill sets in a more holistic and open minded way.

There’s still a legacy of rigid job titles being closely tied to different skills. This is nonsense of course - front end developers working on modern applications will necessarily need to understand cloud. Of course, their understanding might be very different to a database engineer or an SRE, but having that awareness of infrastructure will ultimately make you a better developer.

That’s starting to happen, but it can still take a bit of time for someone learning JavaScript for example to gain that broader awareness of how different ecosystems fit together. We need to encourage this kind of thinking - across the stack - at an early stage, rather than focusing purely on learning to code.

Getting the next generation of emerging technologists to think as much about problem solving as code will go a long way to fixing the cloud talent gap.

Conclusion: Communication and clarity are key

The discussion around skills gaps can sound suspiciously accusatory, with employers blaming a cohort of candidates for lacking the skills they need. This has to end. If it doesn’t the industry will only face further problems down the line.

However, if we’re all honest and open about what we require and want to achieve we can close that gap. With better communication and clarity, we might even find that it wasn’t really there in the first place.

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