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We surveyed re:Invent attendees on trends in cloud skills, DE&I. Here’s what they told us

This year at AWS re:Invent we ran a short ‘Cloud Competency Survey’ focused on trends in the demand and supply of talent in the cloud industry along with the perception of diversity, equity and inclusion within teams. The dutiful sentries of Booth 369 journeyed the conference floor to seek willing interviewees – they offered exclusive Cloudreach swag in return.

All respondents were in technical roles, and we had a good mix of engineers, management and senior leadership. Our total of 82 responses is not statistically significant enough to call a major study (you’ll have to wait a month or two for that), but the answers do point to a lot of trends in the cloud industry and were, at times, surprising.

Trends in Talent Supply and Demand

First of all, two thirds of respondents said that there was a ‘cloud skills gap’ within their organization. This is remarkable considering that this is a survey at the largest cloud conference in the world. To cloud watchers this will be no surprise. In Gartner’s 2020 Annual Infrastructure and Operations Leaders Survey ‘insufficient skills and resources’ came out as the top threat to I&O organizations (58% put it in their top 5), and this was ahead of technical debt, funding, and changing culture. You may think it more surprising that such a large number said there was no skills gap.

The root cause of this is a long term failure by governments and the private sector to invest in these skills. Here in the UK, the ambition of the government is to shift to a ‘high wage, high skill economy’. In this industry, wage inflation is taking care of the first part, but higher skills require a well thought through strategy which looks at the whole supply chain, from school curriculums to continuing adult education and re-training.

I am sorry to tell you that in the short term the problem is only going to get worse, according to 90% of respondents. 70% believe that demand for cloud engineering skills will increase more than 20% in the next 12 months. A further 20% believe the demand will increase up to 20%. Things, at least, will not improve. The remaining 10% see demand as staying the same. That leaves no hope (0%) for your relief.

Simply put, there are not enough people in the sector to fill demand. We are going to require so many more experienced and trained engineers than we currently have. The cloud industry is a victim of its own success. Skills that were niche only a few years ago are now in demand from the mainstream of companies. Enterprises in every sector want to build cloud capability (cloud architects, DevOps engineers, data architects, FinOps) into their own infrastructure and operations teams as they reorganize around the public cloud. 

Many companies have launched large scale programmes to promote IT skills. IBM announced its intention to train 30 million people by 2030 and opened its Center for Cloud Training, giving anyone the chance to get certified via digital modules. In October, Google Cloud also announced its intention to train 40 million and launched its Google Cloud Skills Boost programme. 

As for the roles/skills that are most in demand, respondents were split. DevOps engineers came out on top (25%), with AI and ML next (19%), followed by cloud architects (16%), and cloud security (15%). 

So, in practice, what is the effect? Reassuringly, 60% said that while the shortage of supply was slowing them down it was manageable. But for another 30% the skills gap is ‘severely impacting delivery, performance and growth.’ That is alarming and it explains why we are seeing salary inflation in the industry and is one reason why firms are looking outside of the usual talent pools. If the industry does not solve this issue itself then growth, and innovation, will falter. 8% is no headline, but that a handful of respondents said their companies are at risk of closure because of a skills shortage is notable.

Companies come to Cloudreach to help with these resourcing issues and this is why we are inventing new consumption models for cloud resources. We provide totally flexible ‘elastic’ teams, both Dev and Ops, on demand, via a monthly subscription. The idea is that under a single contract customers can build the DevOps team they need and change its makeup at fairly short notice, depending on the skills they need to deliver their projects. 

Trends in Diversity, Equity, Inclusion

In our survey, two thirds said that the makeup of their teams were 50% or more a predominant group. And women came out as the most underrepresented group, with 42% saying so.

The case for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is well understood. There are many studies that have shown that balanced teams, not just tokenism, across the board produce better results for shareholders in better returns, for customers in more innovative solutions, and for employees in higher engagement.

A majority of respondents said their companies have DEI hiring targets in place, with nearly a third running community outreach programmes, while others have taken the initiative to set up their own training programmes for underrepresented groups. 

At Cloudreach we are addressing both issues through our Talent Academy – a two year training programme that helps diverse candidates launch their technical careers. At the end of the programme trainees are full time members of the Cloudreach team and working on customer projects. We recently welcomed our first cohort in the UK, and will kick off in the USA in February 2022. 

In summary, the talent crisis is here to stay and it will take everyone from governments to companies large and small to solve the problem. We have all been too slow to address supply but in 2021 many companies, including Cloudreach, have begun to take this in hand. The problem of supply is connected to the need for improved DEI. Inclusion has its own value as an end in itself and it has been shown that balanced teams perform better. The sector needs so much new talent that it cannot rely on traditional talent pools to solve the shortages.

For more on these issues, check out the Cloudbusting podcast, The Talent Crisis, with Jez Ward, Dave Chapman, Tara Tapper and Holly Norman. You can also learn more about Cloudreach at AWS re:Invent here.