It’s party time again for the tinkerers

Around 1995 and 1996, if you knew how to set up an HTTP server on a Solaris box, hand-write a few HTML pages and create a simple CGI script to save the content of a form into a file (extra credit if you remembered to append to the file rather than overwriting it every time), then you were a world-class web designer. At least in my neck of the woods, which wasn’t Silicon Valley at the time. These people were self-trained, of course. I made some side money back then, creating a few web sites with just these limited skills. I am sure there were already people who had really thought about web design and could create useful and attractive sites (rather than simply functional ones). But all twelve of them were busy elsewhere and I would guess that none of them spoke French anyway. They were not my competition in Paris, when talking, for example, to a large French bank who wanted to create a web site to hire college students. My only competition was a bunch of Photoshop clowns whose idea of web design was to create a brochure in Photoshop/Framemaker and make the whole web page one big JPEG file.

Compare this to utility computing (aka clouds) today. Any Linux sysadmin who has, over the last year, made the effort to read and experiment with cloud computing (typically Amazon EC2), to survey available tools and to write a few scripts to tie them together is now an IT rock star, a potential catalyst for operations as a competitive advantage.

Just like self-taught HTML dilettantes didn’t keep control of the web design playground for long, early cloud adopters among sysadmins won’t enjoy they differentiation forever. But I would guess that they do today. Anyone has statistics in terms of valuation for such skills on the job market?

Of course the Photoshop crowd eventually got their Frontpage, Dreamweaver, etc to let them claim that they could create web sites. These tools were pretty bad at first because they tried to make things look familiar to graphic designers (image maps galore!). They slowly got better.

The same thing is likely to happen in utility computing. Traditional IT management tools will soon get cloud features. Like the HTML WYSIWYG tools, they’ll probably tend to be too influenced by current IT management concepts and methods. For example, all the ITIL cheerleaders out there are probably going to bend cloud features to fit ITIL rather than the other way around. Even though utility computing might well invalidate some pretty fundamental assumptions/requirements of parts of ITIL.

The productivity increases created by utility computing are probably large enough that even these tools will provide great value. And they’ll improve. In the same way that the Web was a major enough improvement that even poorly designed web sites were way ahead of the alternatives.

Today, you obviously can’t make a living as an “HTML in notepad” developer. You must either be a real graphic designer and use tools to turn your designs in Web artifacts or be deep in Web technologies. Or both. Similarly, you soon won’t be providing much value if you just know how to start and provision EC2 instances. You’ll need to either be a real IT admin who can manage the utility resources as part of a larger system (like the applications) or be a hard-core utility computing expert who tackles hard problems like optimizing your resource consumption across cloud providers or securing and ensuring the compliance of your distributed IT system.

But for now, the party is raging and the dress code is still pretty lax.

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