Successful IT Careers Require More Than Certifications

Michael Gibbs of Go Cloud Careers explains why business and technical skills are essential for IT pros shaping the future of hybrid multicloud.

By Adam Stone

By Adam Stone February 29, 2024

In the world of information technology, there’s a common mantra among jobseekers: More is better. In particular, more technical certifications, which traditionally have been the go-to criteria for organizations hiring IT talent.

What made for a successful IT career in the on-premise past, however, will not necessarily make for a successful career in the cloud-driven future, argues Michael Gibbs, founder and CEO of Go Cloud Careers, an educational organization that helps IT professionals build high-performance cloud computing careers.

Although he has his share of credentials — he’s a Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert, a Google Professional Cloud Architect and an Amazon Web Services Solutions Architect Associate — Gibbs says that IT professionals today must look beyond certifications to advance both themselves and their employers.

Instead of using technology to enable business operations, IT professionals must set their sights on using technology to transform them. That requires cloud professionals with “both technical and non-technical skills,” Gibbs told The Forecast in an exclusive interview. 

He said that business leaders and IT executives must take a deeper look at their cloud ambitions. Step one is seeing the cloud for what it really is — an outsourced data center, albeit a really powerful one. 

“When they try to build a cloud career, [most people] try to learn the name of a cloud service and how to configure that service,” continued Gibbs, who said artificial intelligence has made that skill and associated certifications obsolete. Cloud computing AI tools “can easily do those simple basics, the intro-level configurations.”


The Cloud Revolution Cracks Open New Career Paths

If the old way of building a successful IT career is broken, one has to wonder: Is there a better way?

Gibbs thinks there is. 

“What’s missing is the actual knowledge of the cloud: how to optimize the cloud, how to make the cloud do what it needs to for the business and how to actually drive digital transformation,” he said.

Objective: Maximizing Business Value

The reason most organizations move to the cloud is to maximize business value. With that in mind, a cloud architect’s job isn’t to push buttons. 

“It’s to help [their] organization perform better,” Gibbs said. To do that, “the architects themselves have to be able to speak to the C-suite. They must understand: What are the goals of the business? What is the vision for the future?”

Many technology professionals lack basic business acumen. Given the rise of AI in cloud technology, technologists “need written communication skills, executive communication skills, as well as presentation skills” to have a successful cloud career, Gibbs said. Technical knowledge — knowing about networking fundamentals, routing and switching, servers, storage and virtualization — remains critical, he added, “but what they really need are leadership skills.”


IT Careers Give Rise to the Platform Engineer

It’s a bold assertion, and Gibbs doubles down on it. It’s not just technologists who should be seeking these skills, he insists; it’s also hiring managers. Rather than hiring people for their intimate knowledge of a specific cloud platform, “we should be hiring people for their judgment,” he said.

Replacing Builders with Thinkers

As an IT leadership trainer, Gibbs has prepared technology professionals for roles at companies like Amazon, Apple, Cisco, IBM, JP Morgan, Deloitte and KPMG, just to name a few. As such, he’s seen firsthand how certifications can be a dead end.

“People get 10 different intro-level certifications, and the majority of them are not hire-able because they have not taken on the skills that are outside of that certification,” Gibbs said. “They come to us every single day complaining why they can’t get a job.”

Some people invest tens of thousands of dollars on boot camps where they train to become cloud architects. 

“That is really a ‘system designer’ role, and yet they were taught how to be a builder,” Gibbs said.

While builders can help organizations drive their cloud transformation, what organizations really need are thinkers, according to Gibbs, who said businesses can begin to elevate leadership in cloud computing by taking a hard look at their IT job descriptions.

“Ninety percent of job descriptions for technology positions are completely false,” Gibbs noted. “They literally list the skills from 10 different people’s careers, and in the end what the employer gets is a stack of resumes” that fail to meet their actual needs.


MLPerf Scientist at the Intersection of Healthcare and AI

Instead, employers “need to make job descriptions that are relevant,” Gibbs said. “What employers actually want in a cloud architect is someone that can lead the cultural change of cloud adoption, who can develop and coordinate the architecture — design the systems and help coordinate an adoption process.”

Gibbs speaks from experience. He started his career as a nurse practitioner before pivoting to IT.

“I enjoyed my time in healthcare, but I really loved technology…so much that I actually built a data center in my home,” said Gibbs, who draws interesting parallels between healthcare and IT.

For example, consider a patient with a sore throat. 

“The first thing I would do is … ask them some questions, and then I would examine their current systems — feel their lymph nodes, look in their throat,” he said. “Then I’d make a diagnosis and their treatment plan.” 

He said a system architect does much the same. 

“I will ask a client what their business challenges are, then ask them some questions about their baseline business processes and technology systems. Then I make a diagnosis and make a treatment plan.”

When organizations hire an enterprise architect, a cloud architect or a network architect, cloud technology leadership demands that they look for “someone who can understand how to look at a problem holistically [and] build a team of all the right smart people,” Gibbs stressed.

Retaining Relevance

At Go Cloud Careers, Gibbs trains for certifications. But that’s table stakes. The real focus is on teaching “the right skills to be a professional,” he said.

Because the technology landscape is changing so quickly, those skills are more important than ever, according to Gibbs. In an environment that includes mass layoffs, a wave of acquisitions, a growing appetite for edge devices and other tidal shifts, “people in the tech field need to focus on their business acumen…their executive presence, their emotional intelligence,” he said.

Staying relevant requires not only hiring new employees who have these skills already, but also teaching these skills to existing employees who don’t. The companies that will be most successful in the future will be those “that invest heavily in their people on the leadership side,” Gibbs predicted.

Ultimately, it all boils down to vision. 

“Do they want a whole bunch of techies who are just creating tech projects in a vacuum? Or do they want people to actually develop something meaningful with the technology?” Gibbs asked. “That changes how you recruit people, and it changes how you train them.”

Businesses that take the latter path will be primed to take advantage of everything cloud computing offers.

“Cloud eases administration of the systems that are there, which enables businesses to focus more on their business and less on their technology. Cloud also provides capacity on demand,” Gibbs concluded. 

Perhaps most importantly, he added: “Cloud provides agility. If I need additional capacity, instead of calling Dell or IBM and waiting six weeks for servers, I can make one in six seconds in the cloud. That is something very special.”

Editor’s note: Learn how to build marketable skills in hybrid multicloud technology from Nutanix’s training and certification program.

Adam Stone is a journalist with over 20 years of experience covering technology trends in the public and private sectors.

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