Cloud surged in 2020 — but how can cloud skills catch up?

Cloud solutions have been critical this year, but now organizations are discovering a potentially expensive skills gap emerging.
17 November 2020

Businesses face a shortage of cloud skills. Source:

Without cloud computing, hundreds of thousands of white-collar businesses would have been scuppered this year — it’s difficult today to imagine how we’d adapt if the technology were suddenly removed. 

Cloud solutions have been a lifeline during the pandemic, enabling us to connect via videoconferencing and remote access systems. 

While many industries — be it travel or hospitality — have not been in a position to adapt to remote working, it’s not an understatement to say that without cloud computing, a much larger swathe of our global economy would have tanked. 

And while cloud has been the backbone technology of 2020, the demands of the year have only accelerated the technology’s uptake. Organizations have been — or have been intending to — embrace the cloud for years. It’s just now, there’s very little option not to. 

According to McKinsey, cloud spend is expected to grow at more than six times the rate of general IT spending through 2020. But while organizations are embracing software-as-a-service or cloud-first strategies for new systems, many are still struggling to get the full value of moving the bulk of their enterprise systems to the cloud. 

Simply taking a ‘lift and shift’ approach to legacy applications can add complexity and make architectures more cumbersome and costly than before. 

A big cloud skills shortage

Instead, organizations must approach cloud adoption with a wider focus on standardization and automation of enterprise IT — the cloud is a means to digital transformation, not an end. 

According to a new report from Gartner, organizations that adopt the cloud often quickly realize that the skills required to succeed differ from what had once worked well enough. 

With a rising uptake in 2020, many IT infrastructure and operations (I&O) leaders are discovering skills gaps, both on the technical side — missing the software engineering skills critical for programmable infrastructures, for example — and in realizing the full potential of public cloud services like AWS and Azure. 

While modern infrastructure is more ‘hands-free’ and easier to manage than legacy equivalents, Gartner notes — because routine tasks are automated or managed by a cloud service provider — the remaining tasks become more complex than ever. Cloud services offer the ability to move fast, but when cloud agility is paired with a skills deficiency — issues can occur extraordinarily quickly, and at scale. 

Most organizations are unable to quickly overcome these skill shortages. I&O leaders ranked “insufficient skills” as a top priority for the years ahead.

There are some options: organizations can shell out on a combination of expensive contracting services, partnerships with managed services providers, or look to hire new talent in a now incredibly competitive recruitment sector.

But they can also look within their own business, and identify a training path, helping to fast-track technical support personnel to cloud engineers. 

According to the report, organizations must look to bolster database, web, and OS skills commonly found in enterprises today with skills in programming and automation, and soft skills often attributed to DevOps, like continuous integration and delivery (CI/CD). All this requires a multi-faceted approach to training.

Gartner shared a number of points for organizations considering upskilling cloud experts internally. 

Promoting from within 

Turnover in technical support roles is high — the work is difficult and most individuals don’t expect to be doing it long-term. Often businesses will fail to retain staff as they do not consider a growth plan. Enterprises can take heed of the approach employed by hyper-scale cloud providers, developing entry-level technical support personnel, and promoting them into more technical roles as cloud engineers. 

In identifying the right candidates, leaders should emphasize attitudes and behaviors over the completeness of skills. 

Pair programming and self-paced learning

Pair programming is the concept of pairing two individuals together — one more experienced than the other — to write software together side by side. This enables less-experienced individuals to get one-on-one, experiential learning with the benefit of more experienced developers. For example, a system administrator can use this learning exercise to build infrastructure automation scripts for more-efficient provisioning.

This hands-on mentorship in cloud-related skill sets can be bolstered by self-paced learning programs from sites like Pluralsight, Udacity and Coursera. 

Training programs 

Cloud service providers and other third-parties offer lots of training and certification programs targeted at administrators and software developers. These are essential to understand the cloud provider’s unique offerings. This training shouldn’t be viewed as a one-off endeavor, but reinforced with ‘learning by doing’. 

I&O leaders can maximize the value of training investments by tying learned skills to IT objectives, such as specific projects deployed using cloud IaaS, and providing on-the-job support mechanisms to embed the skills by applying them in the workplace. 

Learn by deploying

The most effective way to build cloud skills is to use the cloud, says Gartner. There’s no substitute to throwing cloud engineers-in-training into the work. Encourage your teams to deploy a new application on a provider’s cloud infrastructure end-to-end, using the full suite of automation, CI/CD tools to truly understand how the rapid iteration cycles and the scale of the public cloud can improve how you deliver IT services. 

The experience gained will be marginal if you use cloud IaaS as “rented virtualization” and nothing more, Gartner adds. 

While cloud services may have been rushed into place to support home working and other business initiatives, enterprises must now ensure those solutions are airtight and ready to scale. By implementing in-house cloud training strategies now, organizations can ensure they’re entering 2021 with a sustainable talent pool, ready to optimize continued cloud growth going forward.