AWS Cloud Enterprise Strategy Blog

5 Things You Can Do To Take Your Teams To The Cloud

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” — Benjamin Franklin

In 2014, while VP of Technology at Experian, I put together a small team to rebuild our B2C platform in the cloud. We were immediately confronted with a major obstacle — we lacked the skills and experience to develop solutions in the cloud. Our original plan was to augment our staff with contractors with cloud experience. The idea was to get started fast, while our own staff would learn on the job with supplemental training over time. Unfortunately, this approach proved to be impossible at the time given the high demand and low supply of experienced contractors.

Undeterred, we opted to recruit experienced engineers with a track record of being fast learners, whether they had cloud experience or not. We also engaged Dualspark, a trusted AWS Partner, to enable the team with their cloud architecture and DevOps expertise. This strategy paid off in spades. With the guidance of Dualspark, our initial team of half a dozen engineers jumped in, and tackled the work. We learned by doing and by experimenting. Within three months the team had built a cloud-native Minimally Viable Product. We had also rolled out a continuous integration/continuous deployment pipeline, as well as an automated system used to manage our cloud infrastructure.

Within a year, our team had grown to more than 60 trained and productive engineers. The majority of our engineers were staff who successfully transitioned from legacy platforms into our new cloud-based teams. In parallel, we also incubated two more cloud initiatives — one in the UK and another to support our B2B business.

Since 2014, the demand for IT professionals with cloud experience has continued to grow and hiring a whole new team of people with these skills is not really a viable strategy. In my current role as an AWS Enterprise Strategist, many of the executives I meet with are facing the same challenge — finding and recruiting engineers with hands-on cloud experience. Leaders are wondering how to meet their cloud transformation objectives without experienced cloud engineers on hand. The good news is that your organizations already have teams of talented and skilled engineers, and their talent transformation can provide a solid foundation for your transition to the cloud.

In every enterprise, I’ve encountered engineers, from infrastructure to software development, who are passionate about learning and improving their skills. Engineers are innately motivated to solve problems, and are formally educated to analyze systems and articulate creative solution sets for any given problem. The latin root of the word “engineer” points the way:

Ingenium: creative talent; innovativeness; a person with exceptionally inspired and creative capabilities.

To accelerate this transformation, here are five takeaways to help get you started today:

1. Leverage a trusted APN Partner to jumpstart your cloud effort and enable your teams. In addition to the delivery outcomes specified in the engagement contract, you might add an explicit requirement for knowledge transfer. Many partners can offer training for the entire team or they can “train-the-trainer”.

2. Offer a variety of training opportunities for your teams — consider a mix of formal and informal training. Some of your employees thrive in classroom settings, while other prefer to learn on their own, using self-paced online instruction. An added benefit of offering individual online courses is that your staff signals their interest in cloud technology by taking advantage of self-paced learning courses. The AWS Training team can help tailor your approach.

3. In order for any of this to work, you will need to reassign some of your mission-critical staff from their existing work. They will need to focus 100% of their time and energy on your cloud transformation initiative. Consider leveraging MSPs to help manage steady state while you enable your teams.

4. When new members join a team, the existing members should be responsible for mentoring and training new members on-the-job. It is important to have new hires or transfers perform meaningful work on a product or project right away. This approach ensures that new skills are relevant and are acquired as quickly as possible.

Team “Mitosis”

Small two pizza teams are very effective for on boarding new members. Using a mitosis-like approach, we split teams every time they grew to 12 or more team members. We added one new person to a team every two weeks, which proved to be enough time for someone to learn the basics and to become familiar with the team dynamics. Every time you split and bring new teams on-line, you will increase your overall rate of growth. With careful planning you can align this algorithmic transition rate to support your growing cloud workloads.

5. Depending on your business needs, you may want to promote cloud thinking, operating models, and work methodologies across multiple countries and regions. Creating an internal “apprenticeship” model can help accelerate the spread of cloud skills. Team leads from different regions or countries can apprentice with an existing team for a few weeks. Once they understand the basics, they can return home to form their own cloud teams.

Investing in the transformation of your existing staff has several distinct advantages. The employees already know your market and have a level of mastery in the domain. They are deeply familiar with your existing systems, and already have a mental list of things they would improve given the time. Learning about cloud technology and distributed, anti-fragile, cloud-based systems is inherently interesting and will appeal to your engineer’s innate curiosity. Most importantly, leaders send a clear signal to the organization that there is room to grow for anyone who is motivated to learn. This approach will help retain talent, accelerate adoption, and mitigate the initial barrier of finding and recruiting scarce candidates in the marketplace.

How have you scaled your teams? What other training methods have worked in your organization? Let me know in the comments.

Thomas
thoblood@amazon.com
@groberstiefel

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