Nicolas Dao

@neapnic

THE SERVERLESS SERIES — Automating IT Engineers & Reshaping Tech Leadership

April 7th 2018

Nope, the Cloud has not made all engineers more productive. Instead, many were made redundant, while others were empowered in new ways that keep changing.

Today, the Cloud’s next iteration is Serverless. In this article, we will discuss how the Cloud has continuously empowered the fittest engineers, how the Serverless trend carries on reshaping tech leadership and what that means for businesses.

Ten years ago, the Cloud marketing spiel was around the substantial cost savings of just-in-time infrastructure provisioning. IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) like AWS and PaaS (Platform as a Service) like Microsoft Azure were offering the ability for SysAdmins to configure and spin-off machines on-demand and at scale. While it was technically legitimate, the vast majority of large companies, including the one I was working for at the time, were incapable of adopting it quickly. The reason was simple:

The real effect of the Cloud was to redefine technical leadership, and large organisations were simply not ready for that… But startups were!

If we look at an overly simplistic example of what could have been an e-commerce system more than ten years ago, it could have been similar to this diagram:

Though the business logic behind that brand might have been reasonably straightforward, its infrastructure required a considerable investment, both regarding initial set up and ongoing maintenance. This type of systems needed multiple engineers, as well as managers and team leads, which then created even more challenges and further costs. As with any human system, the larger it is, the more complicated it is to organize. Rules, processes and more importantly work culture naturally emerge, creating inertia hard to overcome when changes are required to adapt to new business environments. The Cloud arose in that context and became a tremendous asset for those companies capable of establishing the right technical leadership:

While large companies were slowed down by the above non-trivial challenges, startups on the other-hands thrived to embrace the Cloud. The barrier to entry to create an online business had become very low. We had reached a point where a bunch of geeks with less management overhead were able to build and deploy an idea and iterate faster than any incumbent companies. The rise of SaaS (Software as a Service) businesses accelerated that trend even more:

SaaS businesses were not only proving the Cloud benefits but also contributing to making it more versatile and exponentially complete. Nowadays, it is hard to find a software that does not exist as a SaaS. At the same time, the rise of the Agile methodology was also contributing to reorganize tech leadership. The previous type of leadership encouraged operational excellence regarding coordinated silos of experts. The new leadership valued product owners who could lead smaller engineering teams thanks to the Cloud. This decrease in size made it more feasible to create cross-functional units composed of designers, engineers, and marketers. Those smaller units were able to discuss more efficiently the customers’ needs and iterate faster to craft the right product.

The Cloud accelerated the commoditization of technology that shifted businesses from being technology-focused teams to product-focused.

However, the Cloud still needed some level of expertise to manage servers and databases. To satisfy those needs in this new automated environment, SysAdmins that were usually focused on networking and server maintenance slowly transitioned to DevOps engineers focused on continuous deployments, scaling and disaster automation. And today the Cloud is moving one step further with even more automation, reducing once again the number of engineers required to deliver business value:

With Serverless, the servers’ management, as well as the database, are being automated. The DevOps engineer becomes a little bit more redundant, offering more opportunities and responsibilities to the Software Engineer who has to increase his/her knowledge of the possibilities and drawbacks of this new technology. The successful candidates get one step closer to a holistic understanding of the entire product, transitioning them from Software Engineers to Product Engineers. Their mission is to start with analyzing their users methodically and use data-driven approaches to design, engineer and deliver the right product.

In this new environment, we foresee the rise of talented technical individuals capable of both analyzing and articulating the user’s needs. As the Cloud is freeing more time, those modern engineers will have more opportunities to spend on design as we’re already witnessing the widespread adoptions of the Design Thinking methodology as the lingua franca in cross-functional teams.

CONCLUSION

All aspects of society are rapidly getting automated, and the engineers behind that revolution are no exceptions. Today, small teams of engineers have access to an unprecedented opportunity to create new digital products and services that can compete with large organizations. Engineers continuously learn as our work confronts us with new tools and technology every day. But today and even more tomorrow, learning won’t be enough to stay in control of our lives. Before and foremost, we have to interrogate ourselves on the essence of our role. We need to understand where we are adding value, both to others and to ourselves.

The momentum of the Cloud keeps getting stronger, and whether you’re a technologist, a business person, or a product-driven enthusiast, the sooner you comprehend the opportunities that the Cloud unlocks, the better you’ll position yourself for a more fulfilling career, and more importantly, a better life.

COMING NEXT…

This post is just the beginning of this series about Serverless. Follow me on Medium — Neap Nic — if you’re interested in what’s coming next:

  • Mistakes You Should Avoid With Serverless.
  • Weaknesses Of Serverless and How To Overcome Them.
  • Serverless Comparison.
  • Why We Love Zeit Now & When To Use It Over FaaS.
  • Serverless Event-Driven Architecture: The Natural Fit.
  • How To Manage Back-Pressure With Serverless?
  • GraphQL on Serverless In Less Than 2 Minutes.

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