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How women in technology expand the cloud horizon

Cloud computing has been around for more than a decade and has matured at a remarkable rate. Today, most organizations can’t imagine surviving without the cloud—even if they still host some resources on premise. With technological maturity comes increasing complexity. Here’s an exploration of current insights from female technologists on the opportunities and challenges presented by choosing cloud computing careers.

Many career paths lead to the cloud

As the cloud has come into its own, one of the most pressing issues has been security. The more distributed a network becomes and the more layers it has, the greater the risk of intrusion. For women who already have a technical background, there’s plenty of room for growth in cloud computing careers. However, there are also many other professional paths that can intersect with cloud security.

According to Stefanie Tidwell, Sr. IT Security Analyst at Overstock.com, communication skills are in high demand. “One of the things our industry struggles with on a daily basis is communicating our decisions to management in a way they understand. I’m not talking about a diagram on the wall that has red, blue, and green codes. It’s about taking a decision and the ramifications of that decision and quantifying them in a way that says, ‘If we do this thing, we stand to lose this much money. If we put this control in place, we stand to lose this much money. Make a decision.’ ”

According to Cloud Security Architect Kat Jungck, supply chain management is another cloud computing career where security has relevance. “it’s not only the hardware but all the vendors you work with—any cloud service providers that are hosting your data. You must have someone do due diligence on their security controls, asking questions like, ‘Can I trust these providers? Who are their vendors?’ ” She also pointed out that more people with a legal background are coming in to help manage security compliance and risk in light of new laws and regulations.

Best practices in cloud development

With security on everyone’s mind, it’s little wonder that some companies are still leery about putting their production environment in the cloud. At VMWare’s conference on Women Transforming Technology, Pivotal Software’s Senior Platform Architect Reshmi Krishna spoke about a popular alternative to the “all in” approach. “A lot of institutions are slowly migrating, not all the applications, but maintaining a hybrid model. Some of the applications are in the private data center, especially the production versions, and they are moving their development and UAT applications to the cloud to see how it is.”

The advantages are obvious. “It’s scalable; you don’t have to wait for infrastructure. You can also have different availabilities.” In addition, “Companies like Google and Amazon take downtime very seriously; it’s built into their SLAs. So, when you put applications into the cloud, it’s covered by their SLAs.” Reshmi also explained that, in some cases, the security in platforms like AWS can be higher than in private data centers. That’s not surprising, given the vast amount of resources Amazon and other cloud vendors are investing in the security problem.

In terms of development, enterprises aren’t just looking to develop traditional applications in the cloud. They are developing cloud native apps that are designed from day one to live and work in the cloud. Krishna shared plenty of helpful tips for cloud native development throughout her presentation. Here were a few takeaways:

There are several components to successful app dev in the cloud. “At the end of the day, if you want to leverage all the capabilities of the cloud, you would need to have four things: DevOps, Continuous Delivery, Microservices, and Containers.” Organizations don’t have to change the way they do everything all at once, but they should eventually incorporate all these facets into their apps.

The applications may be based on distributed architecture, but the team needs to be a monolith. “You need to deliver software as a team. There is no room for finger-pointing. “In the DevOps culture, Dev can’t push the application onto UAT, and Prod, you can’t push the blame.” Development also can’t be several releases ahead of Production. The two need to work in tandem for continuous delivery.

Even sectors that are slow to adopt new concepts must make concessions to stay competitive in the fast-paced world of cloud development. Reshmi shared a story from her time working at a financial institution. “I used to store time-stamped logs in two shared folders. I would not have access to Prod logs because they were all (stock) trading data. If there was an error going on in production, we would back-deploy to UAT and try to simulate the same behavior, so I could even look at the logs. Imagine trying to do that when you are deploying your applications on AWS or if you are trying to be event- driven and responsive. Fixing an error would take 2-3 days. I don’t know if that’s acceptable anymore if you want to maintain competitive advantage.”

Leading an established software company into the cloud

What happens when a well-known software vendor is faced with the reality that it must adapt or die in the age of cloud technology? At a recent WT2 conference, Ashley Still shared “Lessons Learned from Adobe’s Transformation to the Cloud.” The VP/GM of Adobe Document Cloud and Creative Cloud spoke about the challenges her organization faced after three decades of success. Slow innovation, high up-front pricing, sales stagnation, and a recession hit simultaneously. The company’s stock price suffered, and the organization was struggling.

Still led her team in crafting a three-pronged approach to turn things around:

  1. Reinvigorating growth through cloud and mobile
  2. Building recurring revenue (removing barriers to entry by lowering up-front cost and increasing simplicity)
  3. Regaining investor confidence (by restructuring the organization and focusing on growth over margin)

Revamping the software was phase one. “We knew our customers wanted to design for mobile and cloud—that people were going to expect software to be collaborative. They were going to expect AI to make mundane, repetitive tasks a thing of the past.” By blending desktop with cloud, Adobe added customer value. Ashley spoke about the excitement of seeing her developers create new features that weren’t possible without cloud computing. “That’s one of the most rewarding things too. On the product side, our application has been desktop forever. Seeing the lightbulb go off when the software was connected to the internet was amazing.”

For example, with Adobe’s design tools, designers were accustomed to managing a large number of images, fonts, and colors. It was tedious to work with and change these assets. Still’s team came up with a cloud-hosted style guide. It enabled designers to change a theme across multiple assets in a minute instead of hours or weeks. On Adobe’s side, a cloud-based approach meant the process of adding new features reached lightning speed, with a thousand features “shipping when ready” within the first three years.

Rethinking the business model was also critical, but a lot less fun. From a business perspective, Adobe joined the ranks of “as a service” vendors. The desktop license option was replaced with a subscription model. This was a move that carried the risk of upsetting existing customers, but it had to be done to keep the company viable. “People are used to the old ways. At the same time, you have to stay competitive with how things are done now.”

Still had this advice for established companies that are looking for ways to stay relevant in today’s cloud-driven environment. “Start with a clean slate; create the offering you would have if you were launching your company today.”

There is nothing hazy about this advice. Survival in the age of cloud computing requires nothing less than total commitment to the path forward.

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