Cloud computing is changing everything about IT skills. Here's what that means for your job

As businesses turn to the cloud, IT leaders are starting to think about what this means for their workforce. Automation could play a key role.
Written by Owen Hughes, Senior Editor
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Cloud adoption is booming, with low-code and automation tools having proved extremely popular in the past two years. 

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Multi-cloud is increasingly winning favour among organizations looking to diversify their technology stacks and pick and choose cloud-computing services from different providers according to their needs.

As businesses increasingly shift their infrastructures, employees will likewise require a broader range of technical skills.

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Milind Govekar, chief of research at Gartner, says one of the biggest changes in the workforce will come as organizations lean harder into automation -- which he calls "the centrepiece" of cloud business strategies.

"Automation changes the entire mindset of the IT organization, particularly the infrastructure and operations organization, where they need to stop being administrators and become programmers -- completely different skillsets," Govekar tells ZDNet.

Automation has spiked in popularity in response to the digital skills gap and businesses' need to launch digital services quickly because of the pandemic.

Low-code and no-code tools, for example, have become a favourite among businesses that need to get products and services onto the cloud quickly. Gartner believes this popularity will continue, and predicts that the use of low-code and no-code tools will triple by 2025.

Low-code and no-code tools may prove to be useful assets for administrators juggling multi-cloud environments, but this doesn't necessarily equate to a downturn in the need for traditional software development and coding skills.

"More than ever there's a huge demand for software skills, especially to solve complex problems -- many of which cannot be solved singlehandedly by low-code tools," says Tracy Woo, senior analyst at Forrester.

Using low-code tools frees up experts on tech teams to focus on more advanced issues and services, says Woo: "This in turn means that skill sets required will focus on expertise or comfort with these tools along with overall comfort and experience with managing and handling cloud environments."

Increased automation as a result of cloud adoption may, however, lead to a reconfiguration of other roles and responsibilities. For instance, as routine tasks increasingly become automated, workers previously charged with administrative, monitoring or maintenance duties may be reskilled, or deployed elsewhere.

According to Pega's November 2021 Future of IT report, automation could also make it more difficult for managers to rise through the ranks. With so many tasks being automated or outsourced to the cloud, IT management as a competency will either disappear or become less relevant, it says. This was the opinion of more than 40% of the 750 IT leaders surveyed by the software company.

The upshot, says Pega, is more time to spend on creative work, while "changes to the nature of their work mean jobs will still feel easier and more streamlined."

The report adds: "Many different technology trends, including intelligent automation and data analytics, are fuelling a reduction in workload. Time saved will be used to make a bigger impact through strategic deployment of tech to solve business problems."

Non-IT employees will also require better knowledge of cloud tools, particularly as remote working becomes commonplace.

A recent report by Amazon Web Services (AWS) found that cloud dominated the list of key digital skills employers say will be most in-demand by 2025. And yet it found that just 45% of workers have trained or are training in cloud skills.

More advanced cloud skills will also be in high demand, such as the ability to move organizations from on-premises facilities to the cloud (cloud migration), as well as cloud architecture expertise. Just 16% and 15% of workers are trained in these areas respectively, AWS found.

"Applications are shifting from monolithic apps to multi-tiered line-of-business apps that use smaller units of code that developers can both scale and modify independently," says Woo.

"As a result, companies are looking for automation skills, familiarity with continuous integration and continuous delivery tooling, knowledge of infrastructure-as-code solutions, and those that can collaborate closely among the app developers and infrastructure teams, as each will need to lean on and learn from each other coding and infrastructure principles."

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Govekar believes the biggest challenge for business leaders now is to anticipate the skills they will need in the future and the roles that will be key to the organization several months, or even years, down the line.

"Recruiters often talk about back filling roles. For cloud, you need to do forward filling," he says.

Forward filling means looking and recruiting for skills that you are going to need in the future.

This requirement is likely to present an exceptional recruitment challenge for companies who are already struggling to fill critical IT and tech roles, particularly as many business leaders appear reluctant to invest in upskilling their existing workforces.

"Very few organizations are putting aside money for that kind of training," Govekar adds. "Many organizations are finding it very difficult to understand what the balance is between doing [training] on the job, versus taking a more systematic approach.

"I was talking to another organization recently who said, 'The moment I upskill and train my person in AWS and Google or Azure, or anything else, they are [offered] more somewhere else -- I am literally training them up for someone to grab."

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