Cloud careers: It's a seller's market

IT professionals who have learned to work across traditional borders are the hot ticket in the current cloud-crazy job market.

When David Grimes, CTO of managed and cloud service provider NaviSite, based in Andover, Mass., is looking to fill jobs at both the junior and senior level, he's not looking for folks who have stayed centered in a particular professional silo like application development, server management, network engineering or data storage.

Rather, he wants to hire someone who has trained across several of those IT disciplines.

"Moving forward it's going to be difficult to navigate a career in the cloud if you are solely operating within those traditional vertical alignments," Grimes says.

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Francesco Paola, vice president at consultancy Cloud Technology Partners, explains that burgeoning cloud concepts like software defined networking (SDN) and orchestration portals require IT professionals to have a solid working knowledge of the fluid, underlying cloud networking infrastructure, understand how cloud-enabled applications need to be built to ride on those rails, have insight into how server virtualization affects both of those parts of the picture, and be clued into how security can be wrapped around the whole shebang.

"In a cloud-based deployment, there can't be the kind of technology handoffs between silos in IT we have seen in the past. To achieve the efficiencies of a cloud investment, there has to be staff that can manage the layers of the cloud in cooperation with each other," Paola says.

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The exact titles for these new hybrid jobs -- as well as the set of duties to be carried out by the individuals who fill them -- are still in a state of semantic and substantive flux. Some, like cloud architect, cloud software engineer/developer, cloud systems administrator, do indeed make the "cloud" bent quite obvious.

While others - like DevOps, for example - describe which two old IT silos - straight development and straight operations - have morphed into a new line item in the cloud focused IT budget. And still others -- traditional positions like project manager, business systems analyst and network architect -- are evolving into jobs that require their occupants to work in the cloud daily.

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Joe Coyle, CTO of Capgemini North America, agrees with Grimes that IT people with cross-training have a leg up in the new cloud world. "I can no longer interview application developers solely based on their application development skills. I need to know how well they understand how those apps intricately map to the underlying cloud infrastructure it runs on and how they will react if that underlying IaaS needs to be changed," he says.

That said, "What people want and what they can get are two different things in this market," says John Reed, senior executive director of Robert Half Technology, a worldwide IT staffing firm headquartered in Menlo Park, Calif.

Reed says professionals who are experts in cloud computing, software as a service and virtualization are in high demand, but those with combined skills in server, software and networking are the most sought after in the current IT job market.

Reed advises senior IT staff looking for cloud talent to realistically set their expectations. "At this stage you're not going to find a cloud project manager who has five migrations under their belt. You'll be lucky to find them with more than one," Reed says.

More than a dozen CIOs, headhunters and IT training professionals interviewed for this article contend that veteran IT professionals who have had the time, inclination and opportunity over the past year or two to get cross-educated or pick up on-the-job cloud experience are few and far between.

Steve Caniano, vice president of cloud strategy and business development at AT&T Business Solutions, oversees both the company's growing cloud services business and a team of thousands of IT professionals supporting that venture. "There are just not enough folks that have mastered the cloud yet," says Caniano, who expects that it will be at least five years before the supply of cloud professionals will meet the demand.

"It's a seller's market. And for the foreseeable future, we are going to have to be willing to pay a premium to get this cross-disciplined cloud talent," says Grimes, adding that the best place to look for them at the moment is in the consulting world.

According to salary statistics published by several sources, Grimes is going to have to pay a good bit more.

Data collected by Dice.com, a leading career site for technology and engineering professionals, shows that cloud has been one of the fastest growing skill segments, with related job postings up 72% over last year. That comes out to more than 3,800 positions listed on any given day. To put that into context, overall tech jobs on Dice are up only 4% year over year.

Dice.com data also shows that cloud computing professionals in the United States this year will earn on average, $92,830, compared to the median $81,327 tech salary.

Robert Half Technology research, according to Reed, shows that cloud computing related salaries are continuing to rise between 8% to 10% annually, compared with 3% to 4% growth in the average IT salary. In research the firm conducted for its 2013 Salary Guide (to be released next week [Oct. 15]) the hiring environment is only going to be tougher next year.

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