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Cloud Career Journeys: Inspiring chronicles of 16 individuals who have chosen the “Cloud Path”

Prasad Rao • David Linthicum | Gotopia Bookclub Episode • May 2024

When it comes to Cloud computing careers, despite abundant technical resources, many aspirants grapple with uncertainty regarding their career trajectory and how to thrive in the field. Our goal is to bridge this gap by showcasing the varied journeys of individuals from diverse backgrounds who have achieved success in Cloud careers. This book serves as a journey through the life experiences that have shaped these individuals into who they are today. By reading their stories, you'll gain insights as if you've personally met each of them, leaving you inspired, just as we were while crafting this book.

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Dave Linthicum: Hey, everybody. Looking forward to this conversation. We're going to talk about one of the better books out there that I've read in the last few years, and certainly related to how people have been successful in the world of cloud computing. My name is Dave Linthicum, author, speaker, B-list geek. Also author of "Insider's Guide to Cloud Computing," and 15 other books. But today we're not talking about that. Today we're talking about Prasad's book. So, Prasad, give the listeners a quick bio, where you came from, and then we'll get into the details about why you wrote the book and the contents of it.

Prasad Rao: Sure. Hello, everyone. I'm Prasad Rao. I'm currently working as Principal Solutions Architect at AWS. I also run a free mentoring initiative called BeSA, which volunteers here in UK. It's Become a Solutions Architect, where we help people to accelerate their cloud careers. And recently co-authored "Cloud Career Journeys" book.

Dave Linthicum: So this is a unique book unto itself. When I read it, it was awesome, because it gets into different journeys that different people had in their cloud computing career, which I think is a nice dynamic, based on people are writing books about their own career paths. And you wrote a book about other people's career paths, including a diverse array of people, all the way from Jeff Barr, Lucy, Tech with Lucy, and a number of other people who are successful architects that probably have not been sung heroes, as they should have been in the industry. And you sang their songs. So, what motivated you to write this book? What was the energy behind it?

Prasad Rao: Yeah. So, frankly, the idea came from the mentoring program that we have been running, right? The common feedback that we have got... And it's a group mentoring program. We have done four or five batches of that program. The common feedback from all the batches is that there is lots of technical material or resources available. People can go on to Udemy and take courses. There are videos on YouTube. But people are still confused about the path that they should be taking to excel in their cloud career. So we thought if we are able to showcase the journeys of people coming from diverse backgrounds, and show, like, how they have been able to succeed in their cloud career, what decisions they have made, what resources they have used, what challenges they have faced, how did they overcome those challenges. It will be helpful for others who are in a similar situation right now, thinking about what's their path forward.

Human Stories Behind Cloud Success

Dave Linthicum: I think it's important because, I find people questioning me all the time about how to do their cloud career best. And I'm gonna recommend they read this book, because it shows how other people have succeeded in different patterns. In other words, everybody's different. They learn differently. They want different jobs, different occupations, things like that. But they all found success through different paths. That's kind of the core theme of the book. And I think it's really something that people miss out there. You can't follow my path, you can't follow your path, if something is going to be successful for you. And so you can find things that you relate to in the book, in terms of different paths of individuals, and how they found the right thing to do and the right path. And I think that's absolutely amazing. So, why did you focus on people and not technology?

Prasad Rao: As I said, a lot of technical resources are available. So we thought that what will be useful is, if we are able to connect with people at a deep personal level. That's what was the motive regarding, like, writing this book, that we would like to connect with people. Technology sometimes can be very scary, right? It can be intimidating, specifically for people who are thinking of career transitions into tech, like cloud computing. So we wanted to show how it is feasible. The truth is, behind every cloud professional, there is an incredible story to tell. And we wanted to highlight those stories through the book. So, like, the book has 16 stories. And we have deliberately categorized them in six categories. So that anyone who picks up the book, and if they are able to relate themselves with at least one of the category or one of the people's journey, it will be helpful for them in terms of the background they are from, in terms of the career stage they are in, or the career aspirations that they have. They should be able to relate to at least one of the stories.

So if I talk about the categories briefly. Pathfinders, one of the categories, is about people who are coming from a completely non-technical background, like Daniel. He was an Uber driver. During the pandemic, when taxis were not running, people were in lockdown, he started learning tech. like, he was not even aware what a IP addresses or what a subnet is. From that stage to now, he works as a senior cloud engineer with one of the cloud consulting companies here in the UK. And then there is a category undefeated, where, like, people have been able to find success in cloud careers against all odds. For example, Parna. She was on a career break for 12 years. And technology moves a lot ahead, right? She was a Java developer before going on a career break. But after 12 years, when she was thinking about returning to the workforce, the landscape has changed. She started learning cloud. And now she works at AWS as a technical trainer in Mumbai.

So we have stories in different categories like these. Progressives, another category, one of my favorites, because I relate to it a lot. Because there are a lot of people who are in the IT industry, but they're stuck with legacy technologies. And they wonder how they can, you know, make a switch to cloud. I was in a similar situation. Like, I come from a dotnet development background. And it was not easy for me to make that switch to the cloud. So we wanted to showcase in this category, journeys of people who used their existing IT knowledge to excel in the cloud career. Sammy Cheung, whose story we have featured. He was a database administrator with more than 10 years' experience. How he has used certifications to unlock his cloud career. So that's fascinating. And then we have categories like liberators and accelerators, who helped others in their cloud journey. They've not only upskilled themselves, but they've also helped others in the cloud journey.

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Personal Connections and Inspirations

Dave Linthicum: So who did you most relate to? I think you just led into the beginning there. But tell us who it was and why, and what their journey was that, you know, kind of related directly to your own journey that resonated with you and your career.

Prasad Rao: So, the journey that resonates with me is Kesha Williams. She comes from a Java development background, initially. And then when she saw the cloud wave coming up, she started learning about the cloud. And then she, you know, like, found the opportunities in the cloud. And she wanted to be successful in that. So she was applying for those jobs where she will get experience in the cloud. She had, you know, like, good development opportunities in her current role, but she scouted those roles where she will be able to get experience working with cloud.

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Dave Linthicum: So that was your favorite. Tell us, you know...

Prasad Rao: When you talk about the favorite story, right? So there are a couple of stories. Obviously, there are so many stories. Two stories I relate to most. One is Julie Elkins, in terms of its most inspirational because of the twists and turns that she had in her career. She grew up in South Carolina. Her, you know, like, family had a scuba diving business. So she has always been near the ocean. And she grew up thinking that she will become a marine biologist. But after college, she joined to become a paralegal. That happens. You think about dreaming something else and you become something else. But she never thought that she would enter tech. After that, she got married, moved states, and she was a stay-at-home mom for 10 years, more than 10 years, I believe. And then when she thought she would return to the workforce, she joined a financial company. Again, nowhere near tech. But while working, she joined NSF, National Science Foundation, as an administrative assistant. That's where she got introduced to tech through her colleagues who were working in IT, working on servers, SharePoint. And that piqued their interest. And she started learning.

And to solidify her learning, she did, you know, the certifications, CompTIA A+ and all, to get the basic IT certifications. And then when NSF thought of moving to AWS, there was a mandate in the company for all the people who were working in IT to get certified. It was not required for her as administrative assistant, but then she thought that she would do, you know, certifications as much as possible. From that stage to now, she now works at AWS. She has all the 12 AWS certifications. She's a golden jacket holder. And she, in her role, is a curriculum developer, creating courses for AWS Skill Builder platform that helps other engineers upskill in the cloud. So what I like is how late in her career she thought that tech is the right career path for her, and how she has been able to make the switch. It has not been easy, but there was a path for her to make that switch.

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Attributes of Successful Cloud Professionals

Dave Linthicum: So what were the attributes of the successful people that you found in the book? What were some of the common things that they had in common that led to their success?

Prasad Rao: Great question. So I'll give a bit of a backstory for that. So what happened when we were writing this book, we had some beta readers to get the feedback. And one of the feedback was that it's great that we are reading the journeys of others, but how will we be able to distill these common attributes, or the tips that these people have followed, or what tips do they have for us. So that's my co-author, Ashish. He came up with the idea of including triple A. Triple A is, action, advice, alert. Top three tips, top three advice that every people who have shared their journey, from them to the cloud professionals who are starting their journey or who are looking to excel in their journey, what three advice that they will be giving them, or what advice is most strategic, what three actions that they will be providing them. Like, what you can do right now to excel in a cloud career. And the three alerts. Alerts are more pitfalls or mistakes that you should be avoiding. So every journey ends with nine tips for people looking for that. And we have 16 stories. So they're in total 16 into 9, 144 tips.

Now, when I distill these 144 tips and come up with a common attribute, one thing, you know, that strikes out is, they all are relentless learners. They're all lifelong learners. And that is quite common, actually, because everyone needs to learn. But what's interesting is the way they learn. So there are three things. They learn by doing, they learn by sharing, they learn by teaching. And it has been captured in multiple triple As. Learning by doing is, like, when you are learning, just not learn by, you know, reading white papers, or watching the videos. Try and do hands on as much as possible. That doing part gets you the skills. Learn by sharing, when you share with others, when you share with your network what you are learning, it helps others find you. There are multiple people who just by sharing their knowledge, you know, on LinkedIn, they have been able to get calls from the potential employers. And the third part, learning by teaching is when you're at a certain level, when you can impart to others, it helps not only others to upskill, but also solidifies your learning. So it reinforces your learning. So that's a common attribute that I have seen with all the people who have been able to excel in their cloud career.

Dave Linthicum: So, whose journey most surprised you out of all of the people you talked to? What was, like, the one thing that you said, this is really not what I expected.

Prasad Rao: Ryan Kroonenburg, hands down. So everyone knows Ryan Kroonenburg as the Founder of A Cloud Guru, right? He's famous for that. We reached out to him that we want to feature your story in the book. We went and I interviewed with him. Least expecting that he does not come from a technical background. Like, I am used to Ryan's courses. In fact, during the AWS interview... I did not have any AWS background. So during the interview process, I had to upskill myself on AWS. So I took Ryan's course and I upskilled myself. I was in love with his teaching style. At that time, I would have never thought that he comes from a non-technical background. But in the interview, when we got to know that he is an immigrant, he was an immigrant lawyer. So he was a very successful immigrant lawyer running his own company in the UK, helping people migrate to Canada and Australia, right? During the 2008 financial crisis, when the economy collapsed, you know, overnight, demand evaporated, because people were not migrating countries anymore.

That's how his immigration business got shut. He enrolled himself in a night school to learn tech. That's how his entry in tech happened. From there, like, you know, obviously, his first job was, like, helpdesk IT, where he was helping people with their BlackBerrys and stuff. That was his first tech job. And then he started, like, learning more and more, and started getting into mainstream IT. And when a cloud wave came, he learned cloud. And then yeah, the rest is history. He founded A Cloud Guru, which has helped millions of people, you know, upskill on cloud.

Dave Linthicum: It's an amazing business. I just watched it grow up. I had no idea that we had that kind of leadership behind it. I think it's an inspiring story, because people are always saying, "Well, I can't get to that level. I can't be that person." You can, if you put the work in, you put the time in, you have the acumen, you have the desire, and you have the passion to do it. It's going to happen for you, each and every time. That's kind of a common pattern that I see in the businesses. In other words, there's not a lot of stories where people put the time and energy and had the passion for it, where they didn't make it. Almost all of them made it if they were able to put the time and energy into it. And there's so many people out there that are willing to help you if you show these attributes, if you show the passion, you show to be a continuous learner.

It doesn't matter where you came from, it doesn't matter your education. It's just your willingness to do that. And I think that's probably the most important attribute that I look for when I work with somebody or hire somebody. So let's put on our future looking hats for a bit. So, what do you think the future of cloud computing is? And how will people's journeys likely change around the changing future?

Prasad Rao: Sure. So, when you talk about cloud computing, one thing that I believe would be, companies will be focusing more and more on cost optimization. Like, it's happening anyways now, right? When companies migrated to the cloud, they thought that their bills will go down automatically. That's because, you know, like, if you move to a hyperscale, we are playing with the economies of scale, it's going to happen automatically. But that's not the case. Companies are realizing that you need to actually build a cloud first mindset. You need to build applications which are much more native, so that you can take advantage of cloud in a way it actually can help you and become more cost efficient. So, in terms of skills, the professionals who would be having skills of building cloud first applications, and helping companies reduce their cloud costs, would be really in demand.

And if I look into the other angle, more and more workloads would move to the edge. And it's already happening. So they would inevitably be hybrid environments. So people who will be having skills about managing these complex hybrid environments, they will definitely be in, you know, more and more demand. So it will not be, like, you know, traditional legacy workload migration from your on-prem to cloud. Those could still be relevant, but these extra things are what would be more and more helpful. And definitely security, right? As more and more workloads move to the cloud, people who have this knowledge about how to handle cloud security would be really helpful. And with this, right, wave of AI, things are going to change, and they're changing at a rapid pace. People would need to know how, you know, like, they should be using AI for their advantage. 

Reassessing Training Investments in the AI-Driven Future

Dave Linthicum: So what should we be looking at now, in terms of where we're investing time and energy into training? What career bets should we be making differently now that AI seems to be driving the future than it was maybe the last 10 years, where we're focusing on just cloud based systems?

Prasad Rao: Yeah. So, see, AI is a big productivity boost. And I know there's a scare that, you know, jobs would be taken away by AI. I would say AI is more of a...which will help you do your job in a more efficient manner than taking away jobs. And I look into two specific buckets. One, people who will be working on AI, ML technologies. And that's where, you know, people with skills for data engineering are creating models, or building AI, ML applications. That will be really useful. So if you have those skills, it will be...you know, for the foreseeable future, you will be in demand. But there will be another set of cloud professionals who might not be working directly on AI technologies, but they will be using AI technologies for their benefit, for boosting their productivity. For example, if you're a cloud developer, how can you use an AI coding assistant for your advantage to make yourself more productive. Or even if you're not a developer, how you can use AI in your day-to-day activities.

Like, there are a lot of cloud operations, like monitoring and other things, that can be easily automated using AI, so that we as cloud professionals will be able to invest our time in, you know, higher value tasks, right? And it's about how you can effectively integrate and leverage these AI tools within the cloud workflows and processes. People having those skills will be really important. And not just about technical skills, I would say here, it's also about understanding the AI ethics, data privacy, and how you can use the responsible AI practices. That will be really important for us to advance all of us together.

Dave Linthicum: Absolutely. I think that's great advice.

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Dave Linthicum: So whose journey would you like to have covered but did not?

Prasad Rao: That's a good question, David. So initially, when we started the book, we thought we'd be covering 20 stories. The book now covers only 16 stories. One of the stories, if you remember, David, we wanted to cover your story. Like me and my co-founder, we had an initial call, in production, call with you. And that's when we got to know your story. And it was amazing. Not only the success that you have had, but how it has evolved over the years. But when we started writing the stories and we reached around 13th story, we realized that we will not be able to cover the full 20 stories. We thought initially, our book would be around 250 to 300 pages. But we have already reached around 400 pages. The book currently stands at around 401 pages. So that's why, you know, we had to cover only 16. So yours is another story. There are few others whom we thought we'll be able to cover, but we were not able to cover.

Dave Linthicum: Yeah, I was not looking specifically for that answer. But it's fine. And I don't mind not being covered. And the fact of the matter is, you covered amazing stories in the book that I think we're probably more important to tell. Everybody knows my story. But some of the stories out there... 

Prasad Rao: One thing that we are planning to do is start a newsletter, Cloud Career Journeys. So the community has been really helpful. There are so many people who have reached out to us saying that you should be covering... You know, here's a person who has another interesting story, you should be covering them in your next book. And they have been giving us so many suggestions. Writing another book might be a very heavy lift for us, but we thought that we might start a newsletter, where it'll be biweekly or once in a month, we will be covering one story and see how it goes.

Jeff Barr: An Unexpected Story

Dave Linthicum: Everybody has full time jobs, you can't punch a book every couple of months. I gotta explain that to people too, like, their publishers think, you do another book. Writing a book is hard. I got a job. You know, I got money to make. And there's certainly money to be made from books, but it's not as much as we can do in a daily job. So what was it like to interview Jeff Barr? As a friend of mine, that was interesting to me. And what were some of the things that he said that you were surprised he said and some of the things you expected?

Prasad Rao: When we started writing this book, you know, we initially thought that we would be showcasing people whom we have helped as part of BeSA initiative that we have done, right? And we will showcase their journey. Seven of the people who were part of the BeSA mentoring program, were able to join AWS. But then we thought we will think big, and let's cold call and let's start reaching out to others in the industry and see what the reaction would be. And we never thought Jeff would be having time to, you know, share his journey for us. But when we reached out to him, he was way too gracious. And he said that, yes. And in fact, he was so excited about this whole concept of the book, that he said that he would write his own story for the book. So if you see Jeff's story in the book, it's in a different format to other stories. Other stories are like, we interviewed them, and we wrote their story. It goes both as a dialogue and a narration.

Jeff, though we interviewed, but then he said that he would write his own story. A few of the things that he has mentioned is, like, we always think that a person who is at that stature would be having a great educational background. But he went to just a community college. And the way he started his story, he shared quite personal things about, you know, his parents and how he was close with his grandfather, how he met Bill Gates, what happened there. Really interesting incidents about his life journey in this book. And one thing that I loved about it is a tour that he's made as part of AWS, as an evangelist. He did a tour of the entire U.S., meeting the AWS communities across multiple cities. And that was a quite long road trip that he has taken. So that was also very fascinating.

Dave Linthicum: Jeff's an amazing person. I've known him for 20 years. And I read his story. And I was just surprised at, you know, where he came from, and some of the... Everybody thinks that people who are successful have had every advantage afforded to them. One of the common patterns in your book was the fact that that wasn't almost ever the case. In other words, it was...people struggled through normal struggles. And there was some adversity that was very changing. People have to make their way and make educational decisions, job decisions, and personal decisions, things like that. And the ability to kind of make those in ways that are gonna get you successful, is going to be a pattern unto itself. Now, certainly we can point to lots of people who have Ivy League degrees, and they got directly into MIT, and stuff like that. And they've certainly had successful career paths that were launched from those kinds of backgrounds.

But the majority of impressive people that I'm seeing, you know, come from areas that are unremarkable. In other words, they did normal stuff. They went to community college, not Ivy League schools. They, you know, worked as a server in a restaurant for four years to earn their college versus getting these huge loans, and things like that. They didn't get a scholarship. And they were able to just weaponize that into something that was going to, you know, push their career forward. And that's just kind of an amazing story. And really, it gives hope, I think, to everybody I communicate with out there, that think the world is against them. That the fact of the matter is, no matter who you are, where you're from, economic backgrounds, the amount of challenges that are in front of you, and some people have real challenges, you can make it in this world. And the world's your oyster right now. Training is available. If it's not free, it's almost free. People are willing to hire you. There's I think a 1% unemployment rate in the tech field globally. We need more technicians out there. So the more we can make, the better we have.

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Advice for Aspiring Cloud Professionals

Dave Linthicum: So what advice would you give somebody who's just entering this field right now? So in other words, they're 18 years old, sometimes they want to go to college, sometimes they don't want to go to college. What would you recommend that they do? What path would you consider to be the best path for them, or at least options they should be looking at?

Prasad Rao: Obviously, there's no one size fits all path, right? You need to think about, after looking into other people's journey, what's best for you. And it's not about just mastering the technical aspects, you know, if you're thinking about a cloud career. It's about having the courage to step out of your comfort zone, and believing in yourself that you can adapt and grow. One thing that I advise most people, and I've seen people who are mainly transitioning into tech, what helps them is when they start building in public. Even if you're doing a small Hello World program, share it with everyone. Like Ifeanyi , one of the people whose story is featured in the book, he transitioned from being an athlete to a cloud career. So he has participated, I think, in the World Championships for a long jump. Right? From that, he moved into a cloud career. What he used to do is that when he started learning tech, he started sharing a lot. Even if it is a Hello World in Python, he shared about it.

And a lot of people started reaching out to him saying, "Can you help me also enter tech?" He was like, you know, "I'm just starting. I'm not able to help you, but I'll see what I can do." But while he was doing that, right, within, I think, six months or so, it's not easy, it's not that today, you do a certification, you share something, you get a job. But six months or a year later, he got a call from the CEO of another company to hire him. And that's what happens. When you are consistent, when you step out of your comfort zone, it will be difficult, but when you keep at it for, you know, at least not a very long time, but at least consistent to a considerable time that people start noticing you, people start noticing your hard work, people start feeling that you have that grit to make it to the industry. And the opportunities start coming to you automatically.

Dave Linthicum: I think you mentioned, the key word there is grit. People are looking for that fire in the belly. And not a lot of people have that. But that's why you hire people that have the willingness to expand their careers and learn, not necessarily people who understand everything coming into a job. You gotta remember, everything's going to be changing. So whatever is pertinent to technology now, certainly generative AI and cloud-based systems, in four years, it's going to be a different path. And you have to be able to pivot, understand, figure out how you apply this technology in ways that are going to be more productive out there. I think that's a key learning pattern that you just related. So where can the audiences go to find this book?

Prasad Rao: It's available on Amazon. Or we have a website, cloudcareerjourneys.com. You will be able to find all the information there. You can download a free preview of the book. There is one free chapter, including that free sample, along with some of Jeff's story also in there.

Dave Linthicum: Awesome. Where can they go to find out more about you? What about social media that you use, things like that, other work that you have out there?

Prasad Rao: They can find me on LinkedIn, Prasad Rao, yeah, Prasad Rao Rao AWS. You should be able to find me. I'm pretty active on LinkedIn. I try and respond to every message that I get on LinkedIn. So feel free to connect with me, and let's have a chat.

Dave Linthicum: Prasad Rao. This is an amazing discussion. It was an amazing book. I was privileged to read it and to help you guys out with it. And it's great to talk to you now. I think it's going to be a continued success. And what I love about it is you're teaching people how to be successful. You're not telling people about your success, or writing about particular technologies. You're giving them guidance through use cases, in this case, people's experience, and how they can be successful with this technology. So thank you very much for sharing that with us today.

Prasad Rao: Thank you so much, David. It was a pleasure.

About the speakers

Prasad Rao
Prasad Rao ( author )

Principal Solutions Architect at AWS & Co-Author of "Cloud Career Journeys"

David Linthicum
David Linthicum ( interviewer )

AI & Cloud Computing Thought Leader & Influencer, Innovator, Educator, Author, Speaker & Business Leader