Analysis: How the ruthless Cloud Talent War could be salvation or disaster for UK tech employees

In 2016, talent overtook security as the number one challenge, in a declining set of challenges, in “doing cloud” according to the Rightscale State of Cloud Report:

Cloud Challenges Decline Overall — Expertise, Security, and Spend Tie For #1: Lack of resources/expertise, the #1 cloud challenge in 2016, was less of a challenge in 2017 with only 25 percent citing it as a major concern, down from 32 percent in 2016. Concerns about security also fell to 25 percent vs. 29 percent last year. Managing cloud spend fell only slightly from 26 to 25 percent to tie for the biggest challenge. The most cited challenge among mature cloud users is managing costs (24 percent) while among cloud beginners it is security (32 percent).

One can almost feel the swish of air on one’s cheek as the pendulum swings from on-premises infrastructure to public cloud.

Ignore the breathless bleating that “cloud is just someone else’s server”. Those that are not frightened or ignorant, those that have embraced and are “doing cloud”, (I highly recommend reading Drew Firment formerly of Capital One) will tell you that “cloud is much more than just someone else’s server”. Mary Branscombe says it best:

‘The cloud is just someone else’s computer’, runs the joke. But if you’re saying that, the joke is on you, because it means you don’t understand what the cloud actually is.

There are so many case studies to back up the transformational nature of cloud that to argue anything else is folly, fallacy, or both. But I digress.

What do the analysts say?

The Cisco Global Cloud Index clearly indicates that public cloud > everything else. More cloud data centers. More cloud servers. More cloud IT spend. Just, more cloud.

IDC report that the storage market is shrinking and is waaayyyyy smaller than public cloud.

Gartner are saying, again, that global IT spend (which includes cloud spend) is flat at around $3.5tn, and certainly smaller than predictions of a few years ago. But cloud is growing at 30% CAGR. Some blame the dollar, but another conclusion?

Cloud is eating the inside of global IT spend. But what is it eating?

Cloud Index says Public Cloud wins and Gartner say server spend is flat, so can we conclude that people are buying cloud instances instead of physical servers? If we can (and I do), what does it mean?

For the past five years I’ve been in turn watching, then trying to outrun, and then riding the fast cloud fish as it eats the slow IT infrastructure fish. Now, cloud is also eating the people ecosystem around it.

Let me illustrate

If my company doesn’t buy servers then it won’t need switches and storage. Or the software that runs on it, or manages it. If it doesn’t need any of that stuff, it doesn’t need the people who design, procure or sell it. My company reduces its IT staff. My suppliers and their vendors cut their sales, marketing, HR, pre-sales, and consulting hires. Systems Integrators, contractors and consultants in the old ways of infrastructure see fewer contracts. Recruitment consultants place less staff, like the once vaunted VCP (one recruiter I spoke to hadn’t placed a VCP for the past two years, despite being a leader in the space). With a surplus of old-style, non-cloud infrastructure “specialists” hunting dwindling opportunities, salaries go down. I see salaries in 2017 that are lower than salaries in 2002 for equivalent jobs.

Baldrick, this, is a crisis

Baldrick! This, is a CRISIS!

I get a few calls every week from great people in my network, very hireable and likeable people, asking me one of the following:

“Steve, how do I learn about AWS? What’s the best path?” (me: here’s my AWS plan, go for it!)
“Steve, how do I get into machine learning?” (me: can you do advanced maths? If not… try something else)
“Steve, I think I might lose my job because of cuts: what do I do?” (me: assume you will, try to keep calm, try to find an role different but adjacent to your current role. Don’t ass-u-me to move sideways or up)

Do we have two contrasting, seemingly disconnected worlds where up is down and down is up? On Cloud World there is a ruthless war for talent where demand exceeds supply, yet over there on-premises doing infrastructure there seems to be an emerging job famine as supply exceeds demand. Throw in brexit and IR35 and it’s a perfect storm.

My hypothesis is that everyone in the non-cloud ecosystem is in for a 2008-esque reboot.

Let’s call it the 2018 IT Reboot. The cause was cloud, and the answer is cloud. Maybe it’s already here. People are using serverless frameworks and NoOps platforms. Yes someone, somewhere, is running servers and doing operations: but it isn’t you anymore.

Are jobs shifting?

This un-scientific analysis of Indeed jobsite shows AWS is more popular in job searches than VMware:

VMware-related jobs in UK? 4,126
AWS-related jobs in UK? 5,516

Talent is a hard nut to crack, but I defer to the wisdom of Drew Firment on this. Please read this, it’s from a wise man with a lot of experience.

I’m completely willing to be wrong on this as I don’t want anyone to suffer, certainly not my valued friends and colleagues in my network. I acknowledge I have personal bias like everyone else, but I can’t find anything to contradict this hypothesis. Nobody collects data specifically for this but there are leading indicators out there, in analyst reports like the ones above and in anecdotal story-swapping at Meetups.

This crisis, if there is one, can end in disaster for those who are left behind, or in the words of one of my old CEOs: “You’re either on the bus, or under it!”

But it can also end in salvation for those willing and able to make the transition to cloud, or find a niche outside of it.

Will you be in the future cloud 80 or non-cloud 20? You can’t control the wind, but you can adjust your sails.

Where are you in this storm? I’d like to hear your story.

Send me an email in confidence, or contact through LinkedIn or comment publicly here or on Twitter. I would really appreciate your personal insights and/or data points. Thank you.