Cloud Computing & Skills for a Digital Workforce


Guest post by Derek Foster from The Lincoln School of Computer Science (LSoCS)

The LSoCS recently moved into their new purpose-built Isaac Newton Building to support successful and ongoing growth.

The building hosts new facilities for students include several fab-labs and large state-of-the-art computer labs. The School is currently driven on improving teaching and career opportunities of students with curriculum and employee placement development focused on industry requirements, with emphasis topical areas such as Cloud Computing, Data Science, and Cyber Security.

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Within LSoCS I am a Senior Lecturer and Programme Leader for the BSc/MCOMP Computer Information Systems and BSc/MCOMP Social Computing programmes. A significant part of my role is focused on curriculum development and understanding industry skillset requirements to enhance student employability.

Cloud at the University of Lincoln

It is no surprise that cloud is now a vital component in delivering digital services for any SME or large organisation. However, there are issues around cloud skills shortages in the UK and associated salary inflation. It is therefore seen as a sector wide issue in terms of sourcing and employing Computer Science graduates with significant knowledge and skills in cloud. The UK government published the policy paper ‘UK Digital Strategy 2017’, that identifies the digital skills challenges in the UK, with cloud computing falling within this.

ICT services at the University of Lincoln recently started work on a £multi-million cloud project that utilises the Azure platform to upgrade its current services, as well as develop new services to support students and staff. The project is part of the University’s wider digital strategy to support growth and enhance the student experience. The first phase of the project is focused on migrating back-up services to Azure with follow on services that provide access to PaaS and IaaS services to academic and professional services staff.

Recruitment of highly skilled staff to work on the project was a challenging task, and representative of the same challenges businesses in the UK experience when attempting to recruit in the cloud space. A discussion took place between LSoCS and ICT staff around relevant cloud teaching in the school and resultant skillsets the students have.

Given we have dedicated Cloud and Data Science modules in the school we already had a pool of students with the relevant skills, some of whom were highly motivated to pursue a career in cloud. As a result, two of our final year students have taken on lead cloud developer/engineer roles focusing on IaaS and PowerShell scripting. The relationship between ICT and academics in the school is developing with a view to harnessing further cloud skills in the future to support the university in realising its long term strategic goals for digital services. Essentially LSoCS is working with other departments within the university, as well as external businesses to develop contemporary cloud skills to meet local and national industry requirements.

LSoCS Cloud Computing Teaching

At LSoCS we have been teaching Cloud Computing for four years, making extensive use of the Azure Academic Pass programme and more recently the Visual Studio Dev Essential Programme  Azure credit ($300/year) and Microsoft Imagine Access. As Azure has matured and evolved, so has our teaching and delivery around it. Our students are assessed across both knowledge and practical components. This is done via a formal exam focused on demonstrating knowledge around compute virtualisation, networking, and data storage platforms. They are also assessed through a practical component involving the design of PaaS and IaaS infrastructure with deployment through PowerShell and ARM templates.

The other main area of cloud-based teaching in our curriculum is Data Science. LSoCS developed a brand new Data Science module that delivers knowledge in current thinking and cutting-edge toolsets. The module made extensive use of the Cortana Intelligence Suite in conjunction with the Microsoft Data Science Programme, with focus on the Azure Machine Learning Studio.

With the cloud teaching at LSoCS focused on providing students with knowledge and skills in the space of Cloud Computing and Data Science, it directly supports career opportunities in these areas where there is currently significant shortage of graduates and skills in the UK.

LSoCS Student Alumni and Cloud Computing Careers

In recent years, many of our students have embarked on cloud careers, with the cloud curriculum at LSoCS directly supporting them.

Below is a snapshot of LSoCS alumni who are currently employed in cloud roles.

Chelsea McShane – 2017 (UoL Cloud Engineer)

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“In my second year of my degree I studied a cloud computing module which allowed me to explore the Microsoft Azure platform and PowerShell, from this I gained a keen interest in learning more to do with the cloud and its capabilities which led me to choose this as the subject for my dissertation. The university helped me, more specifically Derek Foster, by obtaining azure subscriptions and passing on his knowledge within this area to help me with my research. This helped me tremendously by gaining experience and knowledge in this area, which ultimately helped me obtain a career as a cloud engineer.”

Calvin Scott – 2016 (IBM Client Innovation Centre)

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“During my time at University I stepped into Cloud for the Mobile Computing module and with my project/dissertation. During the Mobile Computing module I learned the principles of Cloud and gained the knowledge of how, not just how to develop with it, but how developing the front-end, for example: of an app, can help you understand what the back-end needs. I learned how the two interact, this can help and improve any project.

This module also inspired me to further my knowledge of the Cloud by completing my project/dissertation on the subject, with my thesis on An Open Approach to Smart-metering using Cloud Services.

The Mobile Computing module helped me to understand that Cloud is an ever-growing technology with big strides and investments being made to it, making it a skill most needed for anyone going into a technology company that want to innovate. In every interview I attended, assessment centre and technical interview Cloud was discussed.”

I am now a developer at IBM CIC UK and have done several Cloud-based projects. I can with confidence say that I secured my place here because of the Cloud-based studying I did while at the University of Lincoln.”

Thomas Eyre – 2016 (IBM Client Innovation Centre)

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“During my time at the University of Lincoln, the mobile computing cloud module and my dissertation, both provided by Derek Foster helped enormously in securing my current job as a Software Development Consultant at IBM.

The mobile computing module required me to work with Azure to implement single sign on using Facebook. My dissertation, mentored by Derek had me using Azure to convert CSV format files into database tables and then open-up this data using VM’s running a Web Service which provided open endpoints for users to interact with.

The recruitment process for IBM consisted of initial tests followed by a phone interview, an assessment centre day and culminated in a 45-minute technical interview. During the recruitment process the interviewers were impressed with the level of knowledge I had on the subject and were always keen to ask questions relating to cloud, as IBM themselves have a large cloud based service that developers make use of regularly.”

Sandy May – 2015 (Cloud Data Engineer at Elastacloud)

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“My first exposure to the cloud was in my final year of my MComp degree at the University of Lincoln, in a module named Social Applications Development. The module was based around mobile application development for Windows Phone, however cloud and big data were prominent components in the module; we used the Microsoft Cloud - Azure. It gave me grounding and understanding of some of the basic aspects of Azure, which in turn increased my confidence within my interview for Elastacloud, to lean not only on my development experience but also on my exposure and understanding of the Azure cloud.

As a Cloud Big Data Engineer I spend most of my days working with large volumes of data, leveraging Events Hubs, Internet of Things and of course HDInsight & Apache Spark any many more Azure components. I have worked on a variety of projects from large retailers to aerospace engineering and even small gaming based projects, and covered many aspects of Azure in doing so. However even with these exciting, innovative and engaging technologies, data is still the driver for all our work and often I find myself repeating the simpler exercises I learnt at University such as loading data to the cloud to allow myself and my team to start doing what we love, exploring, shaping and gaining deep insights from our client’s data.”

Blended Learning Resources

Microsoft Professional Programme http://academy.microsoft.com/

Microsoft Virtual Academy http://mva.microsoft.com

Microsoft EdX content https://www.edx.org/school/microsoft

Microsoft IT Academy and official professional course materials https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/education/imagine-academy/default.aspx

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