Up in the Clouds at Cumulux

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In cloud computing, the sky's the limit; an organization is able to have a powerful, scalable information technology infrastructure at its disposal without the responsibility involved. Simply put, it's a method of computing in which virtualized resources are provided as a service over the Internet. Users don't need intimate knowledge of the technology infrastructure in the "cloud" floating around them.

"It's a simple concept of being able to run your IT or your software applications on the cloud, which means not running in your primacies or in your servers, but running in, for example, Microsoft or Google's servers," said Paddy Srinivasan, co-founder and CEO of Cumulux, a cloud computing company focused on enabling cloud adoption in enterprises. Cumulux builds products and offers services in this domain to help businesses understand and develop strategies for adopting cloud computing to reduce their costs.

"You're not only outsourcing your IT capabilities, you're outsourcing your IT applications; the very fabric of what is servicing your business is physically running on," he said. "You, as an IT organization, can pay as you go and scale as you need. So I might have 100 users January through March, but then my business might grow to support 5,000 users April through December. When I don't need that kind of capacity, I can scale back and use my outgoing payments."
Under the already existing paradigm, organizations are forced to purchase servers, buy the licenses for the software and hire IT staff. If these resources are suddenly not needed, reducing them is difficult and the capital investment has already been made.

So, basically, Cumulux is providing, along with the hardware, the IT staff its clients have elected not to hire. As such, in hiring for its offices in Chicago, Seattle and India, it needs IT professionals who can step into a variety of roles.

"We look for a common fabric of people who can wear multiple hats within IT," Srinivasan said. "I am adamant that we hire people who are equally comfortable being a developer as much as they are a designer and an architect. There are times we want people to be a developer, times we want them to be a designer and times we want them to be an architect."

Obviously, it helps if an IT professional enjoys this level of variety. "We want people who are not only capable of donning multiple hats within an organization, but people who will really cherish and enjoy the opportunity to be somebody who is writing a blog one day versus solving the toughest technology problem the next day to being a regular developer the next day," Srinivasan said.

This differs from Srinivasan's own experience working for a technology giant. "I came from Microsoft, and at Microsoft, each individual has a very specific role and that's what they do for years," he said. At Cumulux, "the importance of being able to demonstrate skills in different roles cannot be overstated. So that's definitely something we look for in the interview process."

Cumulux also looks for specific technical skills, particularly whether or not a candidate has a Microsoft development background, having done more than eight years of development on a Microsoft.net platform.

Over on the soft skills side, the company needs its IT pros to be comfortable in client-facing situations. "Every person that we hire should give us the impression that we would stake the reputation of the company on that individual to be representing us in front of a very important customer," Srinivasan said. "We have two project managers and one lead architect, and judging their soft skills or their ability to articulate a technology solution to a business problem is as important, if not more important, than their technology backgrounds themselves."

Cumulux looks for potential employees to have a strong educational background. A college degree is preferred. "We like to have computer science graduates because for what we do, having a fundamental knowledge of computer science is completely critical," Srinivasan said. "A computer science degree gives them the natural ability to think logically and in terms of breaking problems down in a logical manner. By having a computer science degree, I'm hoping they can apply the skills that they have acquired in the computer engineering program to use any software methodology."

Srinivasan was quick to add, however, that there is a certain element of knowledge he looks for in a potential employee that can't be taught in school – it comes with experience. "It gives them the ability to intelligently guess whether a certain approach is going to work out in the long run in terms of the scalability and security," he said. "Things that are difficult to discern from a textbook or from a certification come from experience."

For this reason, Cumulux has not as of yet hired a lot of talent fresh out of college. "We have not preferred to bring on fresh talent, although that is changing; I am beginning to look for interns who have computer science backgrounds," Srinivasan said. "But as of now, we prefer to go with people who have experience; especially in today's economy, when the spread of cost between somebody with four years of experience versus a fresh graduate is not much."

In this way, the currently sour economy has represented a tremendous opportunity for Cumulux. Srinivasan said, "The budget I had for certain positions, I would have been forced to hire people with little to no experience three years back, but today I get the affordability to hire very experienced people for the same budget."

When You're In
Once an IT pro is onboard at Cumulux, he receives little in the way of training; new employees are expected to hit the ground running. Srinivasan explained this is primarily for two reasons. "One is we usually hire on demand, so we typically want people who are ready to be thrown to the wolves, so the speak," he said. "And the No. 2 reason is that training for what we are trying to do simply doesn't exist, because we are at the leading edge of technology, and we are in some sense paving the way or being a trailblazer for the technology that we work on. So, from that point of view, we don't even have the training even if we wanted to offer it – so training is pretty much going to be: Learn on the job, make some mistakes, try it out and see if it works."

After an initial period of on-boarding, Cumulux sees its people as progressing through two tracks within the company. The first is on the technology side. "The developers we are hiring, we definitely look for the potential in them to becoming an architect," Srinivasan said. "We might hire them to do a specific thing in their first engagement or their first job that we assign. Maybe after six months, we might make them a module lead, where they are actually doing a handful of things, like three things at a time. We give them a scope and the freedom to do something. And the potential is to slowly groom them to be owners of modules or owners of things that are well-defined. The ultimate technical track in our organization is that of an architect, and by architect, I mean we give them very hard technology problems to solve and they go solve [them]."

Cumulux's other track is within project management. "So starting off, we have a couple of program managers who are responsible for working with the technology team to identify what needs to be built, looking at the customer's business problems and translating them into technical requirements," he said. "The growth pattern for them is basically going from a program manager all the way to a customer engagement lead manager. So, basically, taking ownership of a business process domain, understanding how technology and cloud computing in our example is going to help solve our business problem and translating that into technology requirements."

Cloudy Skies Forecast
It's been difficult for Cumulux to hire IT pros with skills specific to cloud computing because the field is so new. "We are in the very early stages of the technology and the paradigm, so I'm just taking IT professionals who have a high degree of common sense and experience relevant to what I'm looking for, as we are all learning the potential impact of cloud computing," Srinivasan said.

Srinivasan feels that a year from now, cloud-computing-specific skills will be visible in the IT talent marketplace and that Cumulux is in the vanguard in making this happen. He said, "Those skills are not available in the market, but we are actually incorporating that knowledge into our employees."

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