How to unlock your leadership potential on a cloud migration project: A guide for the DBA, part 1

cloud migration

If your organization is embarking on a cloud migration project, it can be a great opportunity to develop skills and qualities that will help unlock your leadership potential. But what skills should you look to be honing, what areas should you focus on, how do you get involved in a cloud project in the first place, and what qualities can prepare you for leadership responsibilities?

We spoke to some notable industry experts to find out. In this Q&A session, Chris Yates from Republic Bank, Kendra Little from Dutchie, and Matt Gordon and Joshua Higginbotham from Centric Consulting share their insights on how to seize the full potential of a cloud migration project for career advancement.

In part one of the two-part series, we discover the skills to be gained, the unique career opportunities cloud migrations offer, and the best ways to get involved.

What skills can a DBA gain from working on a cloud migration project?

The answers here are enlightening because the skills that might be expected go far beyond the traditional remit of a DBA. The usual suspects like the need for backups and restores fade into the background, and a wider knowledge of networking and project management as well as cloud infrastructures becomes much more important.

Joshua Higginbotham puts it really succinctly: “A better understanding of networking and overall security practices across the estate is probably the biggest that I’ve personally gained from a migration. As a traditional DBA, my purview was at the SQL Server Instance and below.”

Matt Gordon is also clear about the skills to be gained: “Cloud migration projects are a great way for DBAs of any experience level to learn new skill sets such as networking, cloud storage, securing cloud resources. The cloud frees up DBAs to do things like advanced performance tuning, data modelling and redesign”

Chris Yates widens the gate to include gaining technical skills around software development, cloud computing and even AI, along with planning and project management, and data analysis skills. He also pinpoints the importance of: “Identifying opportunities to move databases to the cloud, or optimization techniques, or to even understand the business well enough to increase database capacity only when needed.”

I like Kendra Little’s answer because she brings in collaboration as well: “A cloud migration project is an opportunity to refresh on and learn infrastructure skills – particularly in a cloud environment – as well as to build new patterns of communication and collaboration with other teams.”

What specialized areas within cloud migration projects offer unique career opportunities?

We’re seeing in the discussion that a cloud project will open doors to gain new skills above and beyond SQL Server. Whether that’s in cloud infrastructure or performance and optimization techniques, or the soft skills that are increasingly becoming necessary, it creates new opportunities for DBAs to develop careers along a different path.

The first is how the move to the cloud will change infrastructures in the future. Chris Yates focuses on this and provides a neat summary: “Cloud data warehousing is one area where DBAs can excel and lead their organizations through planning, execution and beyond, by partnering with business leaders before migrations and empowering colleagues to solve problems.”

It’s not just the technical aspects that are important. It’s how the technical knowledge and skills waiting to be gained can bring in additional opportunities. Matt Gordon sums it up really well: “The one opportunity that has always stuck out to me is the ability to demonstrate leadership and strategic vision. While not every DBA aspires to leadership and strategy roles, for those that do these projects can offer you a platform to showcase those skills that you know you have, or don’t know you have but found along the way!”

Kendra Little brings in a really interesting point of view because she talks about cloud migrations from a business perspective: “Even when an organization takes a ‘lift and shift’ approach, there is usually a desire to start understanding what trade-offs may be made to leverage PaaS capabilities in the future for some parts of the environment. Cost analysis and the ability to make proposals to modernize are skills that can really shine in this moment, and these can earn you the ability to make a big difference.”

I like how this shifts the spotlight from technical challenges to business outcomes, and Joshua Higginbotham rounds off the answers neatly by bringing in leadership as well. “Moving to a cloud system like Azure opens a multitude of opportunities for advancement towards modern solutions to your current architecture as well as leadership opportunities within your organization. These projects allow you to display leadership and technical skills that might not be as evident day to day.”

What’s the best way to get involved in a cloud migration project?

While a cloud migration project might not be happening or it’s waiting to be implemented, Matt Gordon urges data professionals to take a more proactive approach. “I would strongly endorse taking advantage of community training like blogs, videos and SQL Saturdays, and networking within the community. If people are aware of your aspirations and passion, there will be roles on migration projects that are open to you because you’ve demonstrated that attitude, and hopefully knowledge.”

Chris Yates recommends helping your business establish goals about what it expects to gain from a migration, and then leans heavily on taking a proactive approach to planning for one. “Shift toward creating an effective cloud migration plan that includes detailed information about any applications you want to migrate, what kind of availability is needed, downtime and service level agreements, and project migration milestones.”

What about when it comes to implementing a cloud project? Given the skills and talent shortage prevalent in many sectors, Joshua Higginbotham gives some really relevant advice. “Getting adoption and buy-in takes time. What helps is ensuring you have the right resources to complete the project, whether that’s full-time employees or contractors/consultants that you bring in to support the project.”

This is the first in a two-part series about cloud migrations. Be sure to check out part two of the series and our other resources to help you on your cloud migration journey: