Career advice: Careers in the cloud

Ask a Premier 100 IT Leader: Allan Hackney
Title: Senior vice-president and CIO
Company: John Hancock Financial Services

My friends in the IT field seem to be moving toward jobs at cloud computing firms. I’m in IT operations at a traditional company. Am I missing the boat?

There are two sides to the cloud computing coin: the buy and the sell. I surmise from your question that your friends are moving to sell-side consultancy and delivery firms. This is a fast-growing industry, and as a result, there’s a willingness to make attractive offers to find talent. But don’t lose sight of the fact that in due course the buy side will be a much larger employer of cloud talent by orders of magnitude. If you’re at a traditional company, now is your moment to step up and lead the charge. You can really distinguish yourself as the cloud expert in your firm (as opposed to being one of many at the cloud firms).

I’m in testing and quality assurance and like it. My company is cutting back in this area pretty severely. I’ve been looking around at other companies, mainly because I think that a company that doesn’t understand the value of QA is headed for trouble. But all this makes me think I should have a backup plan. What might be a good alternative area to become skilled in?

It is the hallmark of successful IT professionals to recognize the macro trends and adapt their skills and approach on a continuous basis. Generally, quality assurance is moving forward in the development cycles, relying on techniques such as Agile and Iterative development, service-oriented architecture and testing automation. You may be well served to look at how your transferable QA skills can migrate forward in the process. In this regard, it is useful to think about the value you add or the problems you solve without regard to job title, tools or assurance tasks in a specific or narrow context.

I’ve been out of work for over a year. Much as I love the tech life (15 years, mostly in networking), I’m thinking about bailing out of IT. Do you think it’s worth hanging in there? If so, what can I do while unemployed to make myself more marketable?

When my eight-year-old niece sent me an e-mail a while ago (an age when I could barely scratch my name with a pencil and paper), I realized that the role of the IT function as the gatekeeper of the technology domain was changing forever. You may needlessly constrain the universe of possibilities if you define your role narrowly to networking or the IT function. This thinking comes naturally to many folks, but resist the temptation. Ask yourself about problems you’ve been presented, how you successfully solved them and the business value that resulted. If you describe yourself to the world this way, suddenly you’ll find there’s a lot of opportunities to pursue.

You see a lot of advice on making resumes attention-getting. What gets your attention?

People spend way too much time fussing over resumes. Most jobs at my company generate between 200 and 500 applicants. It’s impractical to read all of these meticulously crafted documents. When I look at resumes, I want to see three things in the opening summary: 1) the problems that the person solves, 2) the context or approach that is used, and 3) how genuine value results. The rest of the resumes should provide a list of roles, with a fact-based example that supports the problem/approach/value statement in the summary for the most recent assignments. Make sure to list credentials such as education, licenses, language skills, published reports and so forth. Also, personal items should be included that support the summary (e.g., perform such-and-such function for a not-for-profit). Keep it to two pages. Lastly, have someone besides yourself do the proof-reading — spelling and grammar mistakes mean game-over no matter how brilliant you may otherwise be.

What advice do you have for a project manager seeking greater responsibility?

The best PMs on my teams are athletes that deliver results. By athlete, I mean someone who is a versatile problem-solver. Athletes don’t do just one thing well (e.g., master the PMBOK). Rather, they apply their craft fluidly by constantly assessing risk, needs and gaps and finding appropriate mitigants or solutions. Athletes are curious about the business context of their projects, and use what they observe or learn to anticipate and remediate issues before they become impactful. And very importantly, athletes are willing to take some personal risk to advance their capabilities. In my opinion, the best way to gain more responsibility is to be as athletic as you can: take some risk, step into a problem and solve it in a way that delivers results. It’s a sure way to distinguish yourself.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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