IT career roadmap: Cloud architect

A vital part of digital transformation efforts, demand for cloud architects is expected to grow, with forecasters suggesting it could be one of the 10 most in-demand technology jobs for 2020. Here’s a look at what it takes to become a cloud architect.

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Chances are good that any skill set or title including the word “cloud” will open doors for new job opportunities these days. That’s because the cloud has become a key component of digital transformation—something many organizations are striving to achieve.

To that end, enterprises continue to migrate data, workloads, development, and other components of their technology environments from on premises to cloud services at a brisk pace, and they need people who possess relevant skills and experience.

Among the cloud-related positions that are in particularly high demand today are cloud architects. These are the professionals responsible for overseeing the cloud computing architecture within an organization. They’ve become especially important as cloud technologies and environments continue to grow more complex.

Cloud architects should have a good knowledge about the concepts and moving parts involved in continuous integration and continuous delivery, according to recruitment platform provider FE. “They must offer expert guidance to development teams regarding infrastructure,” the company says. “There is a need for the architects to take responsibility for the IT environments throughout their lifecycles.”

Cloud architects must be able to articulate where cloud services fit in best within an organization, and put in place a process to assess which applications will access cloud services. They should also be able to identify any risks with the cloud and come up with risk-mitigation plans, FE says. The job will likely require working in conjunction with the IT, cyber security, risk management, finance, and other departments.

Cloud architects should have a good understanding of operating systems, networking technology and protocols, cyber security, data centers, programming languages, and Web tools.

The 2020 IT salary report by technology recruitment firm Robert Half Technology forecast that cloud architect would be one of the 10 most in-demand technology jobs for 2020.

To find out what it takes to become a cloud architect we spoke with Sean Ross, cloud architect at IT services provider Perspecta.

sean ross cloud architect at it services provider perspecta Perspecta

Sean Ross, Cloud architect at IT services provider Perspecta

NameSean Ross

Education/Early life

In his younger days, Ross was not aiming for a career in a technology field. He actually started out in investment banking and then quickly realized it was not a career path he would find as enriching as he thought.

He received a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) degree in economics and finance from Baylor University in 1991, and later a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree in international business and finance from Georgetown University.

“I went to an environment to earn my MBA that would immerse me in international affairs, ethics, and political economics,” Ross says, and he also gained a foundation in technology that helped set the course of his future endeavors.

“The creative destruction process where business and technology overlap is where I have focused ever since,” Ross says. “No matter what technical era, societies, economies, business, and consumers have to continually evolve. Helping ensure that evolution is as socially responsible and efficient as possible is my calling.”

Job history

After receiving his MBA, Ross went to work at telecommunications company AT&T, where he would remain for about 10 years. He began as a strategic consultant for the e-commerce unit, helping clients with assessments and recommendations for how to refocus and compete more effectively in the dotcom era.

“We had wide latitude to win deals with new or existing customers, to remake the company in a model where we led with our consulting, then systems development, then outsourcing offerings,” Ross says. “I was one of the few consultants in the pools that had strong financial skills.”

This led to many opportunities to develop fundamental strategic plan recommendations for clients in many industries, Ross says. “I learned the value of humility, genuine teamwork, and how important and valuable it was to actively listen with empathy in this role,” he says.

Other lessons learned included the importance of working with a clear goal, operating in a collaborative manner, valuing the unique capabilities of each team member, and constantly focusing on distilling actionable plans that reinforced continual learning.

The outsourcing service turned out to be the lead offering for the e-commerce unit, “and we had to figure out how to best adjust,” Ross says. “In the period reporting to the unit CFO and vice president of strategy at the same time, I was able to apply all my skills to drive efforts that changed all of our offerings and much of our functional programs.”

Among Ross’ positions at AT&T were manager of strategic planning and alliances, in which he led a cross-functional team of directors to develop five-year strategic and financial plans and oversaw an acquisition targeting and evaluation program. He was later named senior manager of the Networking Professional Services Practice, developing and managing statements of work and delivery quality assurance templates, staff utilization models, and invoicing and cash flow forecasts.

Ross was promoted to director of Networking Integration Services, leading the transformation of an emerging and unprofitable unit into a profitable business and managing a team of more than 50 program managers and technical experts.

Following his time at AT&T, in 2005 Ross moved on to GXS (formerly GE Information Systems), a cloud-based integration services and managed services company. As director of consulting and capture management he redesigned and led a global capture management program, increasing throughput by 300 percent. He also led a professional services team of 80 global program managers and technologists, overseeing about 15 multi-million dollar programs at any given time.

Among the key lessons from this chapter of Ross’ career was the importance of collaborative business development, product management, and new product engineering.

Next, Ross went to work for another promising startup, Edgenet, a provider of a product experience management platform. He served as director of project management, leading a program management office that oversaw software development, system integration, and data services products.

That was followed by a stint as executive director of services operations, responsible for integrating delivery processes, systems, and reporting for all retail, wholesale, and manufacturing client application and proprietary data pool offerings.

Ross found creative ways to get the engineers to focus on customer outcomes, institute standardized methodologies, and adopt an agile approach to supporting contracts, which led to more rapid feedback.

“We moved from antiquated development languages and customized tools to modern languages, frameworks, and automated interfaces for applications as well as data services offerings to improve quality, efficiency, and ease of integration and maintenance,” he says.

In 2009, Ross left Edgenet for what he calls the most exciting chapter in his career so far: a post as director of professional services at cloud management platform provider ServiceMesh. He joined the startup as the sixth employee, having known the CEO and COO from his days with AT&T.

“When they found out I was in play for new opportunities, they called me with a brief but powerful synopsis of the market opportunity they were planning to go after,” Ross says. He was asked to advise and coach a team they were mobilizing for one of their initial clients to help ensure it was successful.

The deep trust Ross had in both of the leaders drew him in to help with the launch. “Little did I know it was an interview to actually lead the must-succeed deal and build the professional services and engineering practice,” he says.

During his six years with ServiceMesh the company created the first cloud management platform, and Ross hired and cultivated virtually every consultant and engineer at the firm. “We helped many of the global 500 financial institutions, retailers, telecom providers, and others take their first steps into the cloud-native world,” he says.

ServiceMesh worked with many of the innovators of software-defined networking. API management, and application release automation, “and I grew far faster and in more valuable directions with on the job innovation than I could have hoped for with training and certification drills,” Ross says.

CSC acquired ServiceMesh, and Ross helped the firm refresh its managed services offering portfolio and enter a new market of selling and supporting a modern software offering. “The nature of work before and after acquisition was global, and this is where I truly learned the importance of appreciating and understanding business and cultural differences,” he says.

Ross deems his next experience—joining IT services company Fujitsu as digital services senior cloud specialist—to be a mistake. “Their operating model and commitment to the open source movement proved very different from the inside than how it was projected to the market and while they were recruiting me,” he says.

While Ross worked closely with clients in familiar segments, became an active participant in the Cloud Foundry ecosystem, and served as one of the leads for open source-based platform and infrastructure-as-a-service offering incubation for North America, “we did not have the political, financial, or staffing power to reach the full potential in the market,” he says.

After less than a year, Ross left Fujitsu for Stark & Wayne, an open source system design and development firm, as vice president of customer strategy and success.

He worked with executive sponsors and leadership teams at clients, to build up their technical capabilities, leveraging open source software as much as possible. He also led a software service expansion into three new platform branches as well as leveraging emerging cloud native technologies.

In February 2020 Ross was hired as a cloud architect at his current employer, Perspecta. In that role he leads client and corporate initiatives to develop and apply cloud native, analytics, mobility, advanced networking, systems engineering, machine learning, and agile software development capabilities.

Biggest accomplishments

Ross says his most important accomplishments to date all relate to helping companies find and use capabilities and cash flow freed up from technical change to adjust in socially responsible ways. “I have continued to advance and grow by keeping a healthy network and remaining constantly on the watch for win/win opportunities to work with others in shaping how change unfolds,” he says.

Most of the accomplishments Ross is most proud of relate to industry firsts, where he helped companies leverage technology in ways they didn't consider, to have a substantial impact in the market.

Memorable moments

Among the memorable moments of Ross’ career to date was helping one of the largest airlines in the world find a way to leverage technology focusing on the passenger onboarding process, to meet regulatory security requirements.

Other highlights include:

  • Leading the professional services team of a startup that created the first cloud management platform.
  • Helping multiple executives, directors, and engineers see ways to use technology to automate mundane and error-prone processes, freeing up time for other activities and helping them identify ways they could use technology to achieve goals they had never considered.
  • Hiring staffers from among the hundreds of people he has interviewed who had the intelligence, grit, and instincts to quickly succeed and reach far higher levels of influence than they had been given the chance to pursue.

Biggest inspiration

Among Ross’ biggest inspirations are his grandfather, scout master, a resource manager from consulting firm McKinsey who led the group he joined when beginning his consulting career, the executive he reported to in his first successful entrepreneurial effort, and multiple peers who consistently encouraged him to perform well and help others at all levels grow.

Best career or life advice received

Select staffers with the most potential over people with the longest list of certifications and credentials. “Smarts, grit, and humility wins the day in outcomes and culture every time when up against a laundry list of certifications,” Ross says.

“Always prioritize,” Ross says. “It is okay to not get things done or miss goals, so long as you can rest assured the most important actions and issues received your attention. This applies in your personal as well as professional life. Some people in both worlds are worth the extra effort to stay in touch with and continually help, but others need to fade into history.”

Advice for others seeking a similar career path

“Know it takes a team to do great things, be willing to let others lead if they are the best for any given goal, know your personal and professional integrity are your most important assets, and don't try to impress others,” Ross says.

Knowledge and leadership skills are a given, Ross says, “so treat them as afterthoughts and focus on developing your critical thinking, collaboration, and new domain skills. Also be open to the unknown, pause to ask why whenever you are feeling defensive or aggressive, and persuade by appealing to self-interest once paths forward become clear.”

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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