Why Can’t You Find a Good IT Job?

It hurts to hunt for a job in IT infrastructure right now. Every rejection finds new ways to embarrass and frustrate you. Even the offers carry painful tradeoffs. Cloud has changed the job options for infrastructure engineers. There are no perfect jobs, but there are opportunities.

I’ve seen five types of companies hiring infrastructure engineers. Each has rewards and risks.

Legacy Whale — On-Premises Tech Giants

Legacy infrastructure companies put profit over growth — including yours. Their market may be shrinking, but they still run enterprises’ most important applications. The last company standing will charge a premium for their technology. That’s why the legacy giants need engineers to deliver products for their core markets.

The positives:

  • Salary. They pay good salaries from their profit margins.
  • Enterprise Experience. You learn how to work with a mature product for enterprise customers.

The risks:

  • Layoffs. Profit comes when you earn more than you spend. Products that need incremental development don’t need expensive engineers.
  • Stagnation. You’re working on the same product for the same customers. Everything is incremental. You’re missing sweeping technical and business trends.
  • Left too Late. If you stay too long, interviewers will wonder why. Were you too lazy to move? Too comfortable? Nobody wanted you?

The legacy whales can be a lucrative home, and they teach you how to work with big customers. You just have to ask, “When is the right time to jump ship?”

Legacy Piranha — On-Premises Startups

Legacy piranha companies have to grow fast. The legacy market may be shrinking, but it’s still huge. The legacy whales can’t always move fast enough to block small companies (either with technology or sales). Some piranhas can eat enough of the whales to IPO or get bought.

The positives:

  • System View: You design products from scratch, so you can see new parts of the system
  • Customer Experience: In a smaller company, you can work directly with customers.
  • Financial Upside: If the company takes off, so does your equity.

The risks:

  • Limited growth: Piranhas need you to do what you’ve done before. The race is on, and they can’t afford to train you on something else.
  • No market: In a shrinking market, everything has to be perfect. The product. The go-to-market. And you need the whale to miss you. For every Pure or Rubrik, there are a dozen Tintri and Primary Data.

The legacy piranhas can be an exciting gamble. You can see the whole system and work with hands-on customers. You just have to ask, “What happens if this fails?”

Killer Whales — The Big 3 in Public Cloud

The killer whales (AWS, Azure, Google Cloud) control the new ocean of IT infrastructure. They’re taking share in the growing market of public cloud. The customers, requirements, and technology are different from the legacy environment. Their scale dwarfs even the largest enterprises. The problems are the same, but the rules are different.

The positives:

  • New Technology: Killer whales mix commodity technology with bleeding edge. They must innovate to stay ahead.
  • New Perspective: The scale is orders of magnitude greater than what we’re used to. The integration of the stack eliminates our silo’ed view.
  • Growth: The killer whales can afford to pay and give new opportunities.

The risks:

  • Getting Hired: They have their pick of new hires. They may see your experience as a limitation, since they want to build things in a new way.
  • Succeeding: The environment is different. The way you did things won’t work. They’re moving fast. You’re going to be very uncomfortable.
  • Limited Customer Interaction: At their scale, it’s difficult to get direct customer interaction. You’re one of the masses building for the masses.

The killer whales will be an exciting ride that sets you up for the future. You just have to ask, “Am I ready?”

Inside the Blue Whales — Joining IT

Some of the biggest companies in the world build their own IT infrastructure. They create some of the most interesting infrastructure innovation (e.g. Yahoo, Google, Facebook, Medtronic, Tesla). Nothing makes infrastructure requirements more real than building an application on top of it.

The positives:

  • New Technology: You’re building custom technology because vendors’ products don’t work for them.
  • New Perspective: The scale and integration with business applications changes how you view infrastructure.
  • Growth: You could move from infrastructure to the building the application.

The risks:

  • Getting Hired and Making a Difference. See “Killer Whales”.
  • You’re a Cost Center: When you build the product, you are the business. When you provide services for the product, you’re a cost center. At Morgan Stanley, an IT member advised me, “Don’t work here. We’re the most innovative technical company on Wall Street, but we’re still the help. The traders are the business. Never be the help.”

The Blue Whales are technology users that push the boundaries of infrastructure. You just have to ask, “Am I comfortable being a cost center?”

Riding the Killer Whales — Building on the Public Cloud

The Killer Whales can’t do everything well. No matter how quickly they hire, they can’t build decades of functionality in a few years. Furthermore, nobody wants to lock into one Killer Whale. They know how that story ends. That’s why companies are adding multi-cloud infrastructure services on top of the public cloud.

The positives:

  • New Technology: You’re riding the new technology, trying to tame it.
  • New Perspective: You learn how companies are trying to use public cloud and what challenges they face. You can see how they’re evolving from legacy to public cloud.
  • Upside: If the company takes off, so do you. You’re the expert in a new market area. Oh, and the financial equity will be rewarding, too.

The risks:

  • No Market: You have the traditional startup concerns (funding, customers, competitors) and more. You worry that the killer whales will add your functionality as a free service. You worry that the killer whales will break your product with their newest APIs. Riding killer whales is scary!
  • Financial Downside: Low salary. Even lower job security.

Some Killer Whale Riders will become the next great technology infrastructure companies. You just have to ask, “How much risk am I comfortable with?”

Conclusion

A decade ago, even incompetent IT infrastructure vendors could grow 10% a year because the market was so strong. No more. Today, there are no infrastructure jobs without risk. Of course, there are still great opportunities.

I’m riding the killer whales because I’d gotten disconnected from new technology and new customer challenges. The risk is terrifying, but I’ve never been happier. The choice was right for me.

What did you choose and why?

How I Found My Path to the Cloud

“Dell EMC’s Data Protection Division won’t need a CTO in the future.”

I started 2017 as an SVP and CTO at the world’s largest on-premises infrastructure provider. I ended the year at a 10-person startup building data management for the public cloud. Like many, my journey to the cloud began with a kick in the gut. Like most, I have no idea how it will end.

The Dell layoff didn’t depress me. I’d seen the budget cut targets, so I kånew I wasn’t alone. The layoff felt personal rather than professional, so my ego wasn’t bruised. Since cloud is eating the on-premises infrastructure market, I’d wanted to move. Since I’d always had my choice of jobs, I looked forward to new opportunities

The job hunt, however, plunged me into the chasm of despair. I wanted to be cutting edge, so I applied to cloud providers and SaaS vendors. What’s worse than companies rejecting you? Companies never responding. Even with glowing internal introductions from former colleagues, I heard nothing. No interview. No acknowledgement. Not even rejection. My on-premises background made me invisible. Then, I applied to software companies moving to the cloud. They interviewed me. They rejected me for candidates with “cloud” expertise. My on-premises background made me undesirable. Legacy infrastructure companies called, but I needed to build a career for the next 20 years, not to cling to a job for 5 more years. For the first time in my working life, I worried about becoming obsolete.

Then I found hope. I met a recently “promoted” Cloud Architect whose boss wanted him to “move IT to cloud”. His angst-ridden story sounded familiar: change-resistant organization, insufficient investment, and unsatisfactory tools. He couldn’t deliver data protection, data compliance and security, data availability, or performance. He couldn’t afford to build custom data management solutions. The business didn’t even want to think about it. They did, however, expect an answer.

I realized data management was my ticket into the cloud. Even in cloud, data management problems don’t go away. The problems I know how to solve still matter. In fact, expanding digitization and new regulations (e.g. GDPR, ePrivacy Directive) make solving those problems more important. Even better, the public cloud’s architecture opens better ways to build data management. Electricity surged through me. Cloud gave me the opportunity to build the data management solution I’d spent my career trying to create. Now, I needed to find a place to build it.

Nuvoloso, our startup, wants to help people like me get to the cloud. Individually, each member of the team has built data management for client-server, appliances, and virtualization. Now, together, we’re building data management for cloud. The requirements don’t change, but the solutions must. Each of us adds value with our existing skills, while learning about the public cloud. Our product will enable infrastructure IT professionals to follow our path. We will help them use their experience to add value and get a foothold in the cloud.

The journey to the cloud still ties my stomach in knots. When I started at Nuvoloso, I felt helpless and terrified. Cloud took everything I knew, and changed it just enough to confuse me. As I’ve adjusted, I feel helpful, excited and (still) terrified. Public cloud is real. Public cloud changes how businesses buy and use technology. Public cloud does not, however, eliminate the requirements for data management; it amplifies it. Public cloud will not replace us. Public cloud needs our skills and experience. No matter where the applications run, somebody needs to manage the data infrastructure.

Your journey to the cloud may begin with a project, a promotion, or (like me) a layoff. Regardless of how you start, remember: There’s a future for people like us.