Cloud Transformation Means People Transformation

Meet Bob.

Bob has been a software developer at Inerji Technologies (fictional company) for 12 years. Pretty good run, eh? Bob’s not alone - Inerji has been a great place to work for a long time. The average tenure is over 6 years there.

There are not many companies that do what Inerji does, but over the last five years or so the market has shifted. It’s not that there is a new competitor, per se, it’s more that people are able to get the information that made Inerji’s products valuable much easier than before. There are also open source tools that replace much of what Inerji sells. Because of these things, Inerji’s value proposition is starting to slip. Their growth has slowed. Customers are leaving - albeit slowly, for now.

This democratization of information and tools is slowly disrupting a lot of historically successful businesses. Inerji is a victim of it’s own success in some ways. They’ve never had to evolve. Their folks stayed because it was a great place to work and a stable business, but that meant they didn’t have to learn new technologies. And now Inerji faces an existential threat that is difficult to articulate and fuzzy enough that there are lots of folks there who still don’t really believe in it. They don’t feel the pressure to change.

So the executive team tries to create that pressure. They have company wide meetings and publish urgent sounding memos. Agile transformation consultants are brought in to shake up how work gets done. And the CTO/CIO declares that Inerji is now a cloud-first company; meaning that any new solutions have to be built for native public cloud operations.

Bob is excited - he’s always wanted to learn about “The Cloud” and now he will finally get the chance. He’s not sure how to get started, so he emails the head of Learning and Development. Inerji is a rare company to have this department at all. Bob is lucky and gets a Linux Academy subscription. The company only has 100 seats and there are over 500 people just in application development.

Bob’s team has been working on a new release of one of the more important products at Inerji for the last three months. They are nearing the deadline and everyone on the team has been working very hard to get it all done. In a given day, Bob is reviewing half a dozen fairly large code changes, fixing bugs, and writing code in support of the tasks he’s responsible for. He and his team are going through Agile training and learning how to use new tools like Jira to track their work. His team also needs him to to organize lunch and learns for the two new hires in his group to help them get productive as quickly as possible.

In the evenings he goes home and helps with dinner, helps the kids with homework, then helps get everyone to bed. By this point it’s usually 9pm, and Bob has to be up the next day at 6am to start all over again. He wants to take that cloud course on Linux Academy, but his brain is pretty done at this point because he’s been going 15 hours straight by now. So instead he sits on the couch and relaxes for an hour before going to sleep. After all, hasn’t he earned that?

On the weekends the kids have soccer, there is housework and yard work, he has to run some things to the landfill, and help one of his kids with a school project that involves using power tools for some reason. After church on Sunday and a lunch with friends, he is able to spend two hours of his afternoon on his cloud course before his kids bug him enough to play with them some before he starts on dinner.

Rinse. Repeat.

At this rate it will take Bob 19 weeks to finish his cloud course. And that’s just one beginner level course. There are at least five more that would significantly help Bob and his team better understand things like security and cloud development best practices.

Also, right now Bob and his team are doing nothing with the cloud. So those few things he’s learning in that two hour per week session are immediately forgotten because he’s not using them.

Friends, this is the crisis your company is facing. I have seen countless examples of both Inerji and Bob during my career.

Ultimately application development teams are the speed limit of your company. They determine how quickly you can pivot, and how agile your business actually is. If you can’t understand Bob’s life, and the hundreds of other people like him that you depend on to translate your business goals into products and services your customers pay for, then you are going to spend millions and get very little in return.

Transforming your company so that you can take advantage of the speed and quality improvements the cloud enables means figuring out how to transform people like Bob. This is a difficult, but solvable problem. It will mean thinking differently about how your company engages with Bob and his colleagues. If you’d like help with that process, please reach out to me via LinkedIn or grab some time with me.