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Cloud journeys: Jeff Barr on inspiring cloud industry leaders

Cloud expert and industry leader Jeff Barr, AWS Vice President and Chief Evangelist, shares his cloud strategy for learning cloud skills and building community.

Apr 19, 2024 • 7 Minute Read

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  • Cloud
  • IT Ops
  • Engineering Leadership
  • Business
  • Professional Development
  • Learning & Development
  • AWS

Pluralsight is proud to support the growing community of cloud gurus by sponsoring the Cloud Career Journeys book by Prasad Rao and Ashish Prajapati

There’s no shortage of inspiring cloud stories. From learning cloud on top of a full-time job to embracing a career change and sharing mistakes on social media, every cloud professional overcame obstacles and put in the time and effort to get where they are today. 

There are even some who’ve set the standard and inspired others along the way. These are the Pinnacles—thought leaders, innovators, and industry experts who’ve reached new heights in the cloud. 

We had the opportunity to chat with one: Jeff Barr, AWS Vice President and Chief Evangelist. Keep reading to learn about his experience and advice for cloud careers.

Want to dive deeper into Jeff’s story? Get the Cloud Career Journeys book for all the expert insights.

Table of contents

Pinnacles: Cloud industry leaders creating disruptive innovation

Pinnacles stand at the apex of cloud success. With a combination of technical expertise, relentless drive, and passion for learning, they’ve overcome a variety of challenges to reach the peak of cloud success and transform the industry through various innovations. Their journeys inspire others and show them how to make it in the cloud.

Advice from Pinnacles: Cloud career tips from an industry expert

What better place to get cloud career advice than from an expert who’s been through it all?

Become an early adopter of new technologies

Once you’ve mastered cloud fundamentals, dig in deep. Explore serverless architecture, containers and Kubernetes, infrastructure as code (IaC), machine learning, and AI. Stay on top of tech trends and get hands-on experience with the latest cloud applications, tools, and processes. Building your knowledge will help you develop in-demand skills and readily adopt new technologies.

“In the middle of [learning new tech], you realize it’s something new and amazing,” says Jeff. “But it’s just kind of part of your environment, and you don’t always quite realize how leading edge you are until later.”

Hear all of Jeff’s insights.

Be a risk taker and explore new career opportunities

If someone approaches you with a new cloud career opportunity, take the risk. You may have the opportunity to apply your skills and experience in compelling new ways. “We all get accustomed to our own level of performance, and we think we know what we're good at,” explains Jeff. 

“But someone who’s an observant manager or colleague from the outside can say, ‘You know, you've got these amazing skills that are maybe not being put to the best possible use of what you're doing. Have you ever thought about doing this other thing instead of, or in addition to, what you do?’ 

“And to me, that's almost like the universe sending you this message that you're like, ‘Okay, I've done all the right things and suddenly I'm now qualified for this.’”

Share cloud content to double your new cloud skill value

After you learn new cloud skills or concepts, create a blog, social media post, or other type of content that shares what you learned and provides tips for others. This reinforces your learning and gives you a way to contribute to the cloud community.

“As I’m learning something new, I’ve always tried to capture a bit of what I’m learning,” says Jeff. “And that might be taking some notes or some screenshots. It might be building a mind map. Building up some kind of other representation of what it is that I’m reading and learning has turned out to always be useful. But once you’ve done that, you’re ever so close to actually creating a piece of reusable content from what you’ve done.

“In addition to having learned something new, you’ve got the content to share. So you’ve done something once, and you’ve gotten double value from it. Then other people are going to potentially get value from it as well. So there’s, like, several different levels of winning there.”

Action: Create learning time and build cloud community

Take these actions along your cloud journey to foster cloud community and advance your career.

Schedule learning time for cloud skills

When it comes to learning any new topic or skill, consistency is key. Set aside time each day or week to learn cloud skills and explore tech trends. If possible, block off learning time on your calendar.

“I don't think there's any magic that says, ‘This is how to stay current,’” says Jeff. “And I think we all in tech have to become somewhat comfortable with that discomfort of saying, ‘I can never know everything. And I'm always going to be a little bit behind the absolute bleeding edge.’

“I do think that one thing that works is to have some time set aside every week as your learning time. Say, ‘This is the time I'm going to either read something or build something,’ and then actually go ahead and do it. 

“But to me, going hands on with everything possible is just so important. It's that old thing about the difference between theory and practice, but there is always a huge difference.”

Welcome new cloud practitioners to the community

Were you nervous when you attended your first meetup or shared your first cloud-related social media post? Entering a new space, whether physical or virtual, can be intimidating. As you foster and participate in cloud communities, ensure newcomers feel welcome—it’s one way to repay the kindness you were shown along your journey.

“I think every community that wants to continue to exist and wants to thrive has to make sure that [when] you're new, and you go in and you ask the simple obvious question, that it's like, ‘Oh, wow. You must be new here. That's a great question. We all had that question. Let's help you out,’” says Jeff.

“You occasionally see these communities where it's all these folks who have been there forever. It's like, ‘Oh, not that question again. Didn't you bother to read the FAQ? We've answered that a thousand times. Who do you think you are?’ Those communities just wither and die. . . . You've got to make sure you're just welcoming to these new folks.”

Celebrate alternative paths into a cloud career

One of the great things about cloud computing is that you can join the industry without a traditional education. 

“When I was growing up and getting started in tech, the prevailing messaging I got was you had to go to college, and you had to have a CS degree,” says Jeff. “You had to be able to write a binary search and a bunch of those string functions from your brain on a whiteboard under pressure. And some people can do that. Many can't.

“If someone comes up to me today and says, ‘I didn't have the opportunity to go to college, but I've spent hours on GitHub and on YouTube, and I've totally designed my own learning path and my own learning journey, and I've taken advantage of all these free resources, and this is what I've done,’ I'm like, that might even be more valuable than having gone through a formal program in college.

“And do you need to write the binary search? Do you need to be able to write string compare? Probably not. Do you need to know what they are? Still probably, but you can look them up, and you can find a bunch of really good implementations. So, some of these old gates that we kept just need to be wide open.”

In other words? “Take people seriously regardless of their age or how they might present themselves,” says Jeff.

Alerts: Boost cloud training by overcoming IT challenges

Don’t stumble over these obstacles along your cloud journey.

Don’t try to build hands-on experience with cloud skills all at once

Gaining hands-on experience in the cloud can be overwhelming. Start small. “Don't try to boil the ocean with your first thing but find the simplest possible thing that will work. Get that to go. [Then] build yourself a nice roadmap that says you're going to keep iterating and improving,” says Jeff.

Beware of complexity and dependencies in your cloud career and personal life

You only have so much time, money, and other resources. Balance your cloud learning with your personal life, relationships, and interests—don’t let one consume the others.

“Be very cautious about adding complexity and dependencies, both in your work and in your personal life,” advises Jeff. “Complexity and dependencies can just get out of control. Like before we buy anything at home, there's that immediate attraction of, ‘Oh, wouldn’t it be awesome to own one of these things?’ So, that's usually my wife's role. Like, ‘Oh, we should buy one of those.’ 

“And I'm always like, ‘Okay, if we do that, I've got to keep it maintained and patched, and it needs IP addresses, and it needs batteries, and it's going to break. . . . Always think through what you're getting yourself into when you add complexity into your life, or it can just own you.”

Achieving success in the cloud computing industry

Depending on where you’re at in your cloud journey, the pinnacle of cloud success can feel out of reach. But Jeff and other cloud leaders’ stories show you how to scale the summit and how small steps can take you to the top. So, get inspired, keep learning, and keep being awesome.

You can read Jeff’s full story and get insights from other cloud professionals in the Cloud Career Journeys book. Each purchase of the book comes with one free one-month Pluralsight Skills Premium subscription worth $45. Purchase on Gumroad for 25% off the ebook or 50% off the Starter Kit

Want more insights from and interviews with cloud leaders? Check out the blog posts in this series: 

Pluralsight Content Team

Pluralsight C.

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