On Why I’m Shifting my Career Focus to Software

For the past few months I’ve been involved in a case study project with some colleagues at Cisco where we’ve been researching what the most relevant software skills are that Cisco’s pre-sales engineers could benefit from. We’re all freaking experts at Outlook of course (that’s a joke 🤬) but we were interested in the areas of programming, automation, orchestration, databases, analytics, and so on. The end goal of the project was to identify what those relevant skills are, have a plan to identify the current skillset in the field, do that gap analysis and then put forward recommendations on how to close the gap.

This probably sounds really boring and dry, and I don’t blame you for thinking that, but I actually chose this case study topic from a list of 8 or so. My motivation was largely selfish: I wanted to see first-hand the outcome of this project because I wanted to know how best to align my own training, study, and career in the software arena. I already believed that to stay relevant as my career moves along that software skills would be essential. It was just a question of what type of skills and in which specific areas.

So for the past 7 months of this project, I’ve been spending a good deal of my time with software on the brain. I’ve spoken with many of my colleagues on the subject of software skills, programmability, automation, and so on. I’ve heard from senior Cisco executives on how being capable in the software space is what will allow Cisco to expand to new markets and talk to new buying centers within its many customers. And I’ve had very, very thought-provoking discussions with my case study teammates on what we think the future looks like for infrastructure engineers in a software-dominated world.

Along the way my thinking changed from “I need to know what to learn” to “I need to dive right in and be fully immersed in this world of software”. It quickly became less important for me to understand what precise software skills were necessary to be relevant (which was the aim of the case study) and much more important to realign my career in a software-oriented direction. Soon I couldn’t get this saying out of my head: “Software is eating the world”. And I realized that software is where the innovation is really happening. Software is where customers and consumers actually realize the bulk of the value of their infrastructure and gadgets. Software is accessible and exciting.

And that’s when just the right job rolled into my inbox from LinkedIn (I know, amazing right? Those annoying “We found jobs for you!!$@“ emails actually showed some value).

Today is my first day as a Solutions Architect with Amazon Web Services where I’ll be helping customers understand, migrate-to, and adopt AWS cloud services. And unlike the last time I announced a job change, there’s no relocation this time (nor will there be a false start at a relocation 😜); I’ll be working from Calgary.

This change in job is also going to allow me to refocus my blogging. I know I have an awful lot to learn about AWS as a platform and I’m looking forward to taking that point of view as an AWS noobie and translating it into blog articles that can help others who find themselves on the same learning path that I’m starting on.

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4 thoughts on “On Why I’m Shifting my Career Focus to Software”

  1. Joel – foremost, we wish you the best and hope your software aspirations are realized, in this role, at cloud provider AWS! You will be missed.

    As you articulate well, software is where value is often realized and Cisco – like many – are investing billions to thrive in this space.

    The merging of software and hardware remains an absolute in one form or another – the enabling foundation for many customers has to start with network underpinned by a strong Security layer. Customers need to recognize one size doesn’t fit all. (Your background should lend itself well here Joel!)

    To reinforce the point, Cisco has invested in Security unlike any other technology company in Western Canada – with over 225 software domain skill engineering and R&D people based in Calgary and Vancouver. Addressing multitudes of Security need from Network, Endpoint and Cloud, these people are helping secure customers around the world.

    So much opportunity! Thanks again Joel for your tenure at Cisco and best wishes – Dean

    1. As always, really appreciate your feedback Dean :)

      And you make a fair point and something I wasn’t very articulate about. Cisco does have a lot of good dev teams in western Canada and even has some service/cloud ops teams, too. These are really exciting positions, especially for this small-ish part of the world where those types of roles are few and far between. Believe me, I looked longingly at some of the open positions Cisco was hiring for on the cloud ops team but that team isn’t based in Calgary and I’ve already done one failed relocation…

      What I didn’t do a good job of describing is my desire to be more on the solution design & architecture side of the software world and not on the dev side. I really can’t hack code full time :-/ I don’t have the skills or experience and don’t have the desire. But I love working with customers and I love building solutions which is what draws me to an architect role.

  2. Thanks Joel, that is quite insightful, considering your position and experience in the industry. How would you advise those who are starting out in the field. Whats the trend and what solid skills must one posses to be able to be an asset in the future?

    1. Hi Jay,

      I apologize for the uncharacteristicly laaate response. I’ve been struggling with how best to answer you. For myself, I didn’t really examine those questions (‘what’s the trend?’ and ‘what skills?’). I was more betting on the fact that my overall experience in different areas combined with the work I’ve done on my brand in the last few years would get me where I wanted to go.

      Having been in my role for a little bit now, I _think_ I’m seeing some trends. Keep in mind the market I work in is generally behind markets in places like the US in terms of adoption, so your mileage might vary.

      1. Basic IaaS. Customers basically taking on-prem workloads and wanting to lift-and-shift them to the cloud. No real “cloudy” services or anything “modern”, for lack of a better term, just straight VM, database, and app moves. Skills that are useful here are really any kind of systems engineering skills: operating systems, hypervisors, storage, database, and network fundamentals. Being able to understand how systems work on-prem, their dependencies, common architectures, etc, will make one more effective at getting these systems into the cloud.

      2. Skills that I’ll call “non infrastructure skills”. Any skills or experience in areas like AI/ML, analytics, being part of an operations/dev/devops team for a cloud company, or even experience architecting in the cloud. I think these skills fit into the category of “what makes me different” and is what can set someone apart from all the others who might be applying for the same role or trying to get into the same company. These are skills that, in a role like I’m in right now, give you credibility when working with customers that go beyond just the tech. They let you engage in higher layer conversations. IT isn’t just about the tech any more. It’s about solving business challenges. Being able to make that leap makes one far more attractive as an employee.

      3. Coding. Some sort of coding. Doesn’t have to be advanced, you don’t need a CS degree and it doesn’t even need to be a specific language, but I think we all need to be able to string some code together. In a role like mine, code becomes the glue that you can lay down to combine services or move data back and forth or automate something for a quick proof of concept. And again, it helps to have some dev experience when you’re in conversations with dev(ops) teams.

      I’m going to turn the question back to you now, Jay. What sort of trends and skills do you think are key in the software/cloud field?

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