The following is a guest post by Alan Richards.
Alan has been working in the IT industry for over 17 years and during that time has been at the forefront of using IT. He has led teams that have been among the first to roll out Windows, Exchange and SharePoint, many of these successes have been showcased in Microsoft case studies. Recently Alan’s work has concentrated on SharePoint & Office 365 and the implementation of these technologies in organisations to enhance business processes and efficiency. Alan is the founder and director of Edutechnow Ltd, a SharePoint & Office 365 strategy and delivery company. Alan is also a regular speaker & blogger and has been a SharePoint MVP since July 2011 and more recently an Office 365 MVP.
How moving to the cloud can benefit your career
I am going to start this article with a short story; a few years ago I sat in a meeting at the UK Microsoft campus and was listening to a guy from Microsoft talk about how Microsoft planned to embrace a new technology called the cloud and how all Schools, Colleges & Universities would move to the cloud eventually to run their email, collaboration platforms and communication systems.
To say I was sceptical is an understatement, in fact my first thought was I will be out of work then my second thought was it was never going to happen. A few years later and I run my own business helping both education establishments & businesses move to the cloud and I am also an Office 365 MVP. Big change in a short time and a massive learning curve, but a great a career move.
Let’s face facts, the cloud is not going away and lots of Schools, Colleges & Universities have already moved some of their infrastructure to cloud based services with many choosing Microsoft. So how is taking all your nice shiny tin and letting someone else worry about patching, servicing and uptime going to keep you in work never mind be a great career move? Surely it will mean less work for you as an IT Pro / Systems Administrator? In actual fact the truth is very different, so let’s look at why.
Running Office 365
I am going to talk about Office 365 for a reason, that’s what I know, very well in fact and of course its completely free for education and so your obvious choice when moving to the cloud.
Let’s take a very common scenario; you currently run, administer and generally deal out a lot of loving care on a set of shiny tin that runs Exchange, SharePoint, File Servers and Lync / OCS. You spend a lot of time administering said servers and patching etc you have no time to develop a better service, provide additional functionality, in fact you spend all your time keeping everything going so where you work can function.
So what will happen when you move it all to Office 365, well you won’t have to worry about patching, uptime, servicing etc but you will still need to administer the services, your services are provided for you by Microsoft but you will still need to administer them. Think of it like leasing a car; you don’t have to worry about servicing etc but you still need to drive it and that’s the way it works with Office 365, you have the services but you need to drive them, you need to add users, mange Exchange, all in the exact same way you did when it was all onPremise.
The difference is of course that you will be managing the latest and most popular Microsoft software.
So that’s your skills transferred to the cloud, but there is a bit more to it than that. You will need to expand your skills to include Directory Synchronisation (getting your users into the cloud), Single Sign On (ADFS), Migration techniques (mailbox and file migration) So now your move to the cloud has expanded your skill set which will make you a sought after commodity in the IT job market.
Ever Changing Landscape
The thing to remember with Office 365 that it is constantly changing, Microsoft push out new features & upgrades on a regular basis so your skill sets while having to update on a regular basis will always be current and while based on Office 365 products will be transferrable to the onPremise versions, they are basically the same products with some slight differences at the end of the day.
So we have talked about Office 365 when it comes to the cloud but we shouldn’t dismiss Azure, Microsoft’s other cloud offering. While Office 365 offers a service with Exchange, SharePoint & Lync Azure is a completely different offering.
Azure is a cloud subscription service that provides access to lots of services; virtual machines, web sites, storage to name a few. The skill set required to manage Azure is different again to Office 365, for example if you want to move to the cloud but need control over the actual servers then Azure Virtual Machines is an option to look at and this will only expand your skill set further as you then need to connect to these services so then we start to get into the realms of VPN connections from your onPremise environment to Azure.
I have tried in the sections above to show you the reader that rather than losing your job you will still have to use your skills to administer cloud based services and your new skill sets will be very marketable. But one thing everyone seems to forget when moving to the cloud that the time you used to have fire fighting server issues can now be put to better use by actually expanding your skill set into more focussed development. After I moved an old employers service to the cloud I had time to start to look more at their process requirements and how our new cloud services could transform the way they worked. This manifested itself in creating collaboration sites with forms and workflows to streamline processes which they loved, but for me it again expanded my skill set to make me more marketable, which is never a bad thing.
What I have tried to do in the sections of this article is point out to you the reader that the move to the cloud does not mean losing you job in actual fact it can make you the reader more attractive to both your current employer and new ones.
You will have to up-skill and keep your skills up to date as Office 365 changes and upgrades, but that is not a bad thing as it means your skills are always up to date and never out of date.
New skills you can learn with the time moving to the cloud frees up will also help. As an IT Pro we can sometimes be focussed heavily on keep things going rather than solutions. The move to the cloud can give you that time and resources to be more solution focussed.
Finally take it from someone who was very cloud sceptical the move to the cloud is a great career move.