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The tech jobs that the cloud will eliminate

Leon Erlanger | July 22, 2009
Already under pressure, IT pros face new competition for their jobs from cloud services. Which jobs go, and which become more valuable?

Even if you do manage to get a job at a cloud provider's datacenter, it most likely won't be where you live today. Terry points out that many of these jobs will move outside of the major cities. "Instead of running a small datacenter near Washington, D.C., or New York City, cloud providers will tend toward an area that makes sense from a facilities perspective, such as near a large dam or close to a power-generation source in a place like Idaho where electricity is less expensive," says Terrosa's Terry.

A shift away from hands-on technical work

The overall effects of cloud computing on IT jobs will likely resemble those of other trends such as outsourcing, automation, and utility computing: a gradual movement of the IT profession away from the nuts and bolts of technology toward the business end of the organization. "We call the shift the movement from blue-collar IT to white-collar IT," says Ted Schadler, a Forrester analyst. "The cloud is accelerating that movement of technology into the business, with business-process-level expertise becoming more important than ever." Formerly technology-centric jobs will require a lot more nontechnical, business-oriented capabilities, he says, and IT staffers will increasingly come from the business end of the organization.

The IT jobs most at risk are those focused on configuring and maintaining infrastructure: "Any time you have outsourcing of functionality, the need for administrative skills installing the latest patch goes away," Schadler says. "I don't see nearly as many enterprise job openings for server administrators, database administrators, and infrastructure and network people as I saw in the past," concurs iSpace's Schlocker: "Companies just won't need them as much."

Theoretically, IT workers displaced by "cloud-sourcing" can be retrained to do other work in IT. But expectations of such retraining is unrealistic in many cases: "Somebody who is smart at CRM is not easily retrained on datacenter automation," Schadler says. So what do you do? "I suspect that many of these people will hang onto their day jobs as long as they can," says Schlocker.

Greater demand for "industrial-strength" IT experience

For the jobs that remain in IT, Schlocker sees much more of a demand, even among midsize organizations, for people who come from larger, more "industrial-strength" IT organizations. That's because these midsize IT organizations moving toward outsourcing and cloud computing are looking for people who have the technical background to manage relationships with these industrial-strength cloud players. Forrester's Staten concurs: "IT pros with experience in Web scale-out deployments -- including building, managing, and optimizing these applications -- will grow in demand, as will professionals with experience with virtualization."

Within enterprise IT, there will a growing job emphasis on managing contracts with the service providers. "You'll see more positions in supplier relationship management and coordination," says Gartner's McDonald. "They'll also need people who can understand and manage the parts of those cloud technologies that are retained inside the organization," he adds.


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