Foley on Microsoft

Microsoft Promotes Career Advantage of Embracing Cloud

You can lead IT pros to the cloud, but you cannot make them float. Talking about cloud benefits such as scalability, manageability and even measurable cost savings isn't enough to get some IT folks to go to the cloud. I continue to hear from many IT pros who still believe they can run their own datacenters better than any vendor, including Microsoft. They still care more about on-premises products far more than any of that cloud-first mumbo jumbo. And they're just fine doing things the same way.

Microsoft continues to provide not just cloud and hybrid versions of its key business products, but on-premises versions, too. The top brass understands there are some apps and workloads that, at least for the foreseeable future, need to stay out of the cloud. For users who aren't bound by those requirements, some folks at Microsoft are taking a whole different tack: By appealing to their careers.

The pitch is: IT pros likely to remain most relevant and marketable are those with experience and knowledge about the cloud, machine learning and data science. Microsoft has recently started trotting out some of its big names to deliver that message. In early March, the company provided three days of IT-pro-focused content via its Channel 9 site. I was a co-host for Day 1, which was a day of education and "inspiration" for IT pros. (All the content from that three-day TechNet Virtual Conference [VC] event is free for anyone to watch on demand on Channel 9.) "If I had stayed a VMS systems programmer, I would have had a very different career," said Jeffrey Snover, a Microsoft Technical Fellow and father of Windows PowerShell, during the kick-off TechNet VC presentation.

Snover advised IT pros that they need to stop doing IT the old way -- the "click-next admin model." If they don't, they can easily be replaced by Software-as-a-Service apps in the cloud. Those who understand new testing, security, administration, and management technologies will be the ones who can differentiate and add value. Technical folks need to stop thinking of themselves as the isolated "tech guys" and instead become part of the businesses where they work by understanding what their companies do and what makes their customers (and salespeople) happy.

Nick Corcodilos, an IT headhunter and author of "Fearless Job Hunting," agrees. "Learning new skills is fine," Corcodilos said. "But the real shift is happening on the economic side. How profitable are we? How much value am I contributing?" These are the questions IT pros need to care about as much as they do learning about the cloud and other related new technologies.

Another big gun, Microsoft Distinguished Engineer James Whittaker, offered IT pros a framework for thinking about what areas are likely to be the hot buttons in the years ahead. Whittaker, for those unfamiliar with him, has worked at both Microsoft and Google, and currently offers career coaching and speaker training to Microsoft employees and those outside the company.

Whittaker's message: 10 is the magic number. By looking at technologies that started to rise to prominence 10 years ago, IT pros can predict where they should focus their attentions now and in the years ahead. Amazon Web Services (AWS) and the iPhone were just starting to take off 10 years ago, he noted. (Cue cloud-first, mobile-first.) Internet of Things is nearly 10 years old now, Whittaker said and, right on schedule, is becoming increasingly important. The next frontier is: "What is my human doing today?" he predicted, in a nod to anticipatory technologies that are part of Cortana, Siri and Google Now.

I get a lot of questions from IT pros about where they should be focusing, in terms of new products and technologies. Often times, these questions also have a career element to them. I think it's high time Microsoft execs got more proactive on the career piece of the IT pro puzzle and made the conversation about the cloud more personal for those who need to be persuaded about its value.

About the Author

Mary Jo Foley is editor of the ZDNet "All About Microsoft" blog and has been covering Microsoft for about two decades. She's the author of "Microsoft 2.0" (John Wiley & Sons, 2008), which examines what's next for Microsoft in the post-Gates era.

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