Looking for a great job in IT? The cloud is hiring

IT is moving to the cloud -- and so are the jobs. Here's how to cash in on the hot trend in tech hiring

When Ken Stephens, a senior vice president of Xerox Cloud Services, tried to hire a product manager from IBM recently, he had quite a shock. "I offered him a 40 percent raise," Stevens said in an interview. "But then IBM came back and gave him 20 percent on top of that."

Not every IT pro who has a résumé chock-full of cloud-related skills will be the object of a bidding war, of course. But in the last eight months or so, "the light has gone on in the heads of CIOs and CEOs, and a gap between supply [of IT personnel with skills for the cloud] and demand has opened up," says David Foote, whose consultancy, Foote Partners, keeps close track of IT compensation, certifications, and employment.

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Although salaries aren't spiking at the pace of the old dot-com days, times are good for those with the right skills and the flexibility to learn how to develop, deploy, and manage applications and services in the cloud. Foote's observation regarding the limited supply of top-flight engineers and developers to work on cloud-related projects is borne out by interviews with six of the leading public cloud providers. All are hiring rapidly; all say talent is now at a premium.

Tim James, director of recruiting for Rackspace, mixes his metaphors a bit, but is absolutely clear about the search for engineers. "We're in a war for talent. Talk to Amazon, or LinkedIn, or Salesforce. We're all fishing from the same pond," he says.

Cloud skills forecast: HotHow many jobs are out there? The lines between the cloud, big data, SaaS, and more conventional architectures are blurred, but you can get a sense of the breadth of demand by looking at Dice, one of the largest IT-oriented job boards.

As of August, there were 10,771 jobs in six categories that Dice deems cloud-related, compared to 8,217 the year before, an increase of 31 percent. A look at the categories that comprise Dice's cloud set -- vCloud, cloud, VMware, virtualization, Xen, and Hyper-V -- shows how hard it is to get an accurate handle on demand, as some also pertain to traditional IT data center consolidation and other skills, such as Linux and Python. They're often cloud-related but not classified as such on the job board.

Wanted Analytics, a Quebec-based firm that tracks employment statistics, believes the market for cloud skills is even hotter. The company counted advertisements appearing in April for 12,000 cloud-related IT jobs, an increase of 50 percent over 2011, and 275 percent over 2010. Talent in many areas is so tight it's taking weeks to fill positions. In Seattle, the area with the most pressing labor shortage, cloud-related jobs are going begging for an average of seven weeks, Wanted Analytics reported. A third job service, Indeed.com, says that jobs with the keyword "cloud" in its database jumped from 18,862 in August 2011, to 31,998 in August 2012, an increase of 70 percent.

So pervasive is the cloud or, in some cases, the idea of the cloud, that a recent analysis of national help-wanted ads by Wanted Analytics found cloud computing is now entering the job description of non-IT positions, including marketing managers, sales managers, customer service representatives, and even cargo and freight agents.

Consider the huge demand for IT hires at Amazon Web Services, the largest public cloud provider. AWS currently has "many hundreds" of openings related to cloud computing. At other times, it's had upward of 1,000, says Adam Selipsky, Amazon's VP of Web services.

Despite the high demand, salaries are hardly exploding. The average salary in Dice's cloud listings is $86,300, an increase of less than 6 percent in the past 12 months. That tracks with research InfoWorld has done since the recession bottomed out two years ago: IT departments are simply unwilling to let salaries escalate too rapidly.

Cloud novice? No problemBecause the cloud is relatively new, executives at most of the companies we spoke with say that the right candidates don't necessarily have to have extensive cloud experience. "A great software engineer is a great software engineer. We believe in hiring great talent," says Amazon's Selipsky. He looks for "bright, talented, motivated people who are the right cultural fit. Those are the people who generally succeed."

More specifically, Amazon is hiring software development engineers, including some with experience deeper down in the stack for infrastructure services and networking. Other hiring needs include developers who can work with AWS's point-and-click management console.

That's not to say that working in the cloud is the same as yesterday's software job. "Cloud offerings are intrinsically a service. There's an emphasis on high levels of availability, reliability, and service," says Selipsky. If you can demonstrate that you've built something that meets those requirements, Amazon and other providers want to talk to you.

Some of the jobs have titles new to IT. "Lately we have a push to hire devops, a hybrid of an operations engineer who also does scripting," says Rackspace's James. "They are really systems engineers who work in a development environment." Rackspace isn't the only company hiring devops. On any given day, there are roughly 200 listings for devops on Dice, the jobs board reports.

Since Rackspace emphasizes its open approach, it's not surprising that experience with Linux is high on James' list. He's also looking for hands-on scripting experience with Python and Ruby, as well as a thorough understanding of networking and DNS. What languages are preferred? "In no particular order, Java, C#, C++, Ruby, and Ruby on Rails," he says.

What James, who has a decade and a half of experience as an IT recruiter, doesn't want to see are developers who are overly loyal to a particular language or platform. That was OK 10 years ago, but now "we want to see candidates that are more well-rounded. In the cloud space the folks we seek always want to be on the cutting edge."

Similarly, Stephens says, "Guys used to be in silos -- Wintel, Linux, and so on. But with converged infrastructure we want people who have a broader skill set." In the software development space, it's fairly easy to find people with .Net and Java experience. But because so much integration is involved, Xerox needs engineers who go beyond heads-down coding and can grasp enterprise service bus development, for example.

Thinking outside the software boxAccording to Stephens, Xerox customers demand updates every "two weeks, not two months," which is why the company now uses an agile development methodology. "It's hard to find people who know it," he adds.

Also hard to find are people who know how to turn a service into a product -- a key component of any cloud provider's business model. That skill is still so difficult to pin down that Xerox "grows its own," Stephens says. Not coincidentally, the IBM engineer who was the object of a bidding war had those skills, though Xerox ultimately dropped out of the fight.

At Hewlett-Packard, which recently launched a full OpenStack implementation under the HP Cloud brand, engineers with deep systems-level experience and those with high-performance computing skills are in demand, says Matt Haines, HP's vice president of engineering for cloud services. Scalability, obviously, is a major cloud issue, and people with experience in that area are in demand, as well as those with what Haines calls "core computing and storage" skills.

Like other cloud executives, Haines emphasizes the need for team members who put aside the traditional developer mentality -- that is, build software, ship it, and move on to the next project. "You don't have the luxury of putting heads down on a hard problem and do nothing else for five months. You've got to have the ability to focus on a number of little things at the same time."

And while developers have often been called on to help with some support issues, particularly in the enterprise realm, customer support as a developer function is even more critical in the cloud and it moves much faster.

At Microsoft, for example, Azure developers are on call to help customers, says Mark Russinovich, a technical fellow with the Windows Azure group. "It's hard," he says, "to get out of the [boxed software] frame of mind." But that's very much the nature of the beast. For many developers, the speed and constant creative challenge is what makes jobs in the cloud rewarding, but if that pace is not to your taste, stay away from cloud providers.

How to get noticed by cloud hiring managersIT pros looking to make the leap may be wondering how to prove they're fit for the cloud. Those thinking a pocketful of certifications will help should think again. "Certifications have not caught up," says Russinovich. "When you're developing for the cloud, it is your background and skills that matter."

Russinovich does not make an exception for security certifications, although some other cloud execs believe security credentials are important. On the whole, though, certifications are not a significant hiring factor for the cloud, and as Foote partners has found in its regular surveys, the overall value of certifications in IT has declined for years.

.Net, Ruby, Python, Java, C#, and C++ are among the most sought-after languages for development in the cloud. Expertise with both SQL and NoSQL are in demand, as well as deep experience with Linux. Knowledge of distributed systems and asynchronous distributed systems is a huge plus, says Russinovich.

Assuming you have those skills or are willing to learn them in a hurry, how do you get noticed? At Salesforce.com, for instance, "the best thing you can do is have a friend or relative who already works here," says Monika Fahlbusch, who carries the title of senior vice president of employee success. Although that may sound like nepotism, it isn't. Salesforce is paying good money for people who can start producing immediately, so a recommendation from a trusted employee gives hiring managers an extra degree of confidence, she says.

Beyond the old boys and girls network, Fahlbusch urges candidates to "flex their social muscles." Salesforce is hardly the only company trolling for talent on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, of course. Having a presence on those networks and others is advice repeated by all of the cloud executives we spoke with.

Additionally, contributing to open source projects like Hadoop will get you attention at Hewlett-Packard, as will posting contributions on GitHub, says HP's Matt Haines.

With all this emphasis on moving functions to the cloud, it's reasonable to wonder if enterprise jobs are being lost to cloud providers, in much the same way routine IT jobs have been outsourced to India. So far, says David Foote, that doesn't appear to be the case. "In the longer term, they will," he adds.

Foote also advises IT hands who want to work in the cloud not to wait too long. The gap between the supply and demand for talent is wide now, but he figures it will close in 18 months or so.

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This story, "Looking for a great job in IT? The cloud is hiring," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in IT careers at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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