With COVID-19 accelerating the digital transformation that was already taking place, more and more businesses are shifting their operations online.
One way they’re doing that is by transitioning to the cloud. But what does that mean for businesses and your path after graduation?
We sat down with iSchool Professors Radhika Garg, Jason Dedrick, and Carlos Caicedo Bastidas to discuss why companies are moving to the cloud and how expertise in this area can give students a competitive edge on the job market and in their careers.
Q: To start with a clear picture, why are more and more companies moving to the cloud?
R: I think one of the greatest reasons — and we saw this especially during the crisis that COVID has made us all live through — is to gain resilience. Companies want their infrastructure to be live at all times, so having your technical and infrastructure needs being fulfilled through the cloud gives you resilience like never before. It also allows you to shift the infrastructure maintenance and operations responsibilities to cloud providers and focus on your core business values and expertise.
J: I think the other reason for a lot of companies is cost. There is a potential for significant savings on the cloud. Costs shift from a capital expense to ongoing operating expenses, like leasing a car instead of buying. Then their capital is freed up to do other things or make other investments in the business.
Q: For students whose idea of the cloud might be something like Google Drive or Dropbox, what’s different about those things than what Facebook or Microsoft or Uber might be using?
J: There are three cloud models that are used for cloud services. Something like Google Drive or Dropbox is called “software as a service.” The two we focus more on in terms of business use are called “platform as a service” and “infrastructure as a service.” With infrastructure as a service, you’re still running your own applications and database, but you’re doing it on someone else’s equipment so to speak [essentially remote servers you pay to use]. Platform as a service is more a place where you can have your developers go and have environments set up for them to do development, much more quickly and productively. What we think of as moving your company to the cloud is usually an infrastructure as a service model.
R: An example I typically use when I teach is that it’s not your computer that you’re using to do something, but somebody else’s computer. Infrastructure-, platform-, and software as a service are different flavors of how you can do that. With all of these, your responsibilities and control changes. With more control comes higher responsibility.
In platform as a service, cloud service providers provide a platform allowing customers to develop, run, and manage their applications. Some examples include AWS Elastic Beanstalk and Google App Engine.
With infrastructure [as a service], you have more controls where you could change what kind of application you’re building: Should it be a Java application or a Python application? What data is stored and how? But that also means you’re maintaining it.
As you move toward the software side, you have less control. No control, actually; you’re just engaging with the interface of the software, like with Dropbox or Google Drive. But that also means you’re not responsible for how the data is managed or how it is structured in the background.
Q: Why is the cloud an important topic to pay attention to, and why might students want to get involved in it?
J: One reason to get involved is because it has one of the highest growth rates of jobs in the industry. In “Top 10” job lists, several at this point are different elements of cloud. So if students were interested in getting a good job, that’s a strong motivation. Another reason is the future is moving steadily to the cloud pretty quickly. Zoom runs mostly on the cloud. Netflix runs most of their business on the cloud. And once businesses have gone in that direction, they’re unlikely to go back.
R: A simple reason is that there’s a huge learning potential. Not only is it one of the highest paying jobs you can have, but the ladder is pretty awesome as well. We have a lot of students who started with consultancy jobs in top companies and moved up to being a developer or cloud manager or cloud architect at places like AWS [Amazon’s cloud service].
Q: When all of you are teaching your classes and you have those students that just “get it” — they’re really excited about what they’re learning and the subject totally captures their attention — what part of the cloud do you think makes them feel that way?
J: In the online program that I teach in, students tend to be working professionals. They get really excited because a lot of them are actually going through this in their company. We’ll be talking about something like cloud strategy or cost analysis or migration, and someone will say “Yeah, we’re doing that right now in our company, and these are the problems we’re facing. This is really exciting because I’m seeing things that I didn’t understand.” They’re seeing the applicability right away.
R: In our residential programs, you have people from various backgrounds. Econ majors will be in the same class with someone who’s had experience in the industry already, or people from the IT and computer science background, or even designers. Not everybody is looking at cloud technology from a development standpoint. They can look into policy implications, for example. There’s not just one way of approaching it. They can start from wherever they are.
C: The other component is that students explore how to apply their cloud-based knowledge in companies beyond just the technology side. You also have project management and data science, so it’s a well-rounded profession in that regard.
Q: Imagine you have a student who graduates and gets their first job where they’re dealing with the cloud in some way. What does their role look like from day to day?
C: In a company’s day-to-day operations, they might deal with monitoring current cloud workloads and deploy new ones, so they have to set everything up and make predictions based on cost analysis. Which resources are being used and which resources can be shut off, for example? There’s also the planning side, where they figure out what’s going to be needed and start establishing relationships with cloud providers to deploy new services in the very near future.
J: A lot of our students go into consulting companies like Accenture, Ernst and Young, Deloitte, PwC, IBM, and so on. In that world, you have clients who want to move to the cloud but don’t really know how to do it. And so you get involved in that whole process of planning and implementing the move to the cloud. That’s anything from high-level stuff like what provider they’re going to go with to details of the actual migration: what loads they can migrate and in what order, what the dependencies are, what the security issues are, what compliance issues they have to deal with, and things like that.
R: A minority of our students also eventually, if not immediately after graduation, go on to positions related to DevOps. So they might program, and they would ensure continuous delivery and operation of the software with the cloud infrastructure. That’s typically something a computer science or computer engineering person would do, but it isn’t far out of reach from students that graduated from the iSchool as well.
Q: When students come into the program, what is it specifically that they’re looking for? What makes them say “This is the degree I’m looking for and SU is absolutely the right place to get it”?
C: For students I work with, it’s a combination of two main things. Some programs offered at the iSchool are more technical, but they’re not engineering. They’re technical enough that it’s attractive to those students, but they also see other topics such as project management and security. They see that there’s a nice balance between technology and other components like business policy and so forth. They also like that a lot of our graduates go on to good places and get good salaries and appreciate our connections with industry and employers. One more thing is that we’re a small school, and we’re very friendly, so that also comes into play.
J: There’s a lot of word of mouth at this point. We’re very highly rated, so we have the reputation. People know someone who went through our program, learned what they needed, and got out and got good jobs. Then the word gets back like, “Hey, if you go through the iSchool, you can, too.” A lot of our students want to be able to become managers, learn leadership skills, learn organizational skills, learn about policy, and learn about the bigger picture while staying close to the technical side. You could go into computer science and become a computer engineer, or you could go into a business school and maybe take one or two Information Systems courses — but not really much technology because most business schools don’t have that much — whereas here, you really get both.
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