Up until a few years ago, Sean Brown largely dismissed hype around the cloud as just that – hype. He had been in the IT world long enough to see a number of fads come and go, and the cloud wasn’t yet making much of a dent in the legal industry, where information security and compliance with data safety regulations are key considerations.
But recently, Brown woke up to the infinite possibilities of cloud computing – in particular, hybrid cloud environments that integrate on-premise infrastructure with public cloud resources.
“Five to seven years ago, I was like, ‘We’ve had this cloud discussion before,’” recalled Brown, 37, a database application engineer at a global law firm headquartered in Washington, D.C. “It was always ‘cloud, cloud, cloud,’ and it never really materialized, so I never invested in learning cloud like I should.”
“I definitely think there’s going to be some workloads that need to remain on-premise, whether that’s due to cost, complexity or data governance,” Brown said. “But now here we are with this big wave of digital transformation. I know the cloud is the future.”
What Do I Have to Lose?
Brown’s lifelong love affair with technology began when he was a child growing up near St. Louis.
“My mother, she had this old Macintosh computer, and I was always glued to it as a kid,” he recalled. “Around the time of high school, everybody was saying that being in IT was going to be like being a doctor in the future. It’s been a one-way street. I didn’t ever think about changing majors or switching careers. I just really enjoy helping people and solving problems, so it was definitely a good fit for me.”
Brown attended Harris-Stowe State University in St. Louis and then stayed in the region for several years. He moved to the Washington, D.C. area in 2012, where he still lives with his wife and young daughter.
Although he doesn’t work with Nutanix infrastructure directly in his current role, his firm uses the technology. Brown said the platform has always intrigued him. When he saw the chance to apply for the Nutanix Hybrid Cloud Scholarship, he jumped.
“I wanted to increase my cloud exposure, but I didn’t necessarily want to learn it only from the perspective of one of the public cloud hyperscalers,” Brown said. “Nutanix was preaching hybrid, and giving the customer a choice. At first I didn’t think I’d have a good shot of getting the scholarship, but I said, ‘What do I have to lose?’”
“When I was selected, I was in a little bit of disbelief,” Brown added. “After that euphoria wore off, there was a sense of pressure. I had to step up to this challenge and make the most of it.”
The scholarship funded Brown’s tuition in the Hybrid Cloud Nanodegree program, offered in partnership between Nutanix and the online education platform Udacity. The courses cover how to set up and run a private cloud, how to layer in automation, and finally how to incorporate the public cloud to create a true hybrid cloud environment. Students work at their own pace, putting in between 60 and 80 hours of learning and project time over the span of one to three months, and they emerge with real-world skills that are in increasingly high demand.
“What distinguishes this program is that you get to use these systems hands-on,” said Mark Lavi, principal DevOps advocate at Nutanix, who authored two of the courses for the Nanodegree. “These are hands-on systems that Nutanix and Udacity are providing. This isn’t all in a lab. This is real-world infrastructure, and students are manipulating it directly.”
Brown has been working through the courses after work or late at night, and he says they are already having an impact.
“I think it brings awareness about how all these pieces fit together and work,” he said. Additionally, Brown says, the program has expanded his professional network. One of the highlights of the program, he says, was an in-depth “Ask Me Anything” event with Nutanix professionals, and he has kept in touch with students from the first course in the program.
“The community aspect has been really helpful,” he said. “I got to know some people remotely, and we’re still a tight-knit group. We communicate about interview tips, the coursework, and how to beef up our IT skills.”
Brown said that the lessons from the Nanodegree program have the potential to make a near-term impact on his current employer – and a long-term impact on his own career.
While the law firm where Brown works currently doesn’t utilize public cloud resources, he sees the hybrid cloud as a potential fit for secondary data storage, burst capability, and disaster recovery for the organization.
“One of the more important use cases is being able to spin up environments really quickly that your clients can access,” Brown said. “Sometimes you don’t necessarily want to provision an account inside your internal network. You can host these instances in the cloud, and clients can use a single sign-on provider that we trust to access them.”
With companies scrambling for cloud talent, Brown’s participation in Udacity’s Nanodegree program is already attracting positive notices on LinkedIn. Brown said the current era reminds him of the dot-com boom, when companies were soaking up practically any tech talent they could find. By continuously working to expand their skills, he says, IT professionals like himself can prepare themselves for where the industry is headed and keep themselves in high demand.
“This year has probably been an outlier as far as the rate of change in the industry,” Brown said. “But change in IT is always a constant.”
Calvin Hennick is a contributing writer. His work appears in BizTech, Engineering Inc., The Boston Globe Magazine and elsewhere. He is also the author of Once More to the Rodeo: A Memoir. Follow him on Twitter @CalvinHennick.
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