How to unlock your leadership potential on a cloud migration project: A guide for the DBA, part 2

cloud migration

In this two-part Q&A series, we’re looking at how to seize the full potential of cloud migrations to advance your career. In part one, we talked with four industry experts about the skills DBAs can gain, the unique career opportunities that come up, and the best way to get involved in a cloud project. Chris Yates from Republic Bank, Kendra Little from Dutchie, and Matt Gordon and Joshua Higginbotham from Centric Consulting shared their insights and provided some really valuable advice.

In part two, we’re getting to the really interesting part of the conversation, the part where leadership comes fully into the picture. The part where you can advance your career. Let’s talk about the kind of leadership opportunities that typically come up, how you can prepare for the responsibilities that entails, and the best ways to demonstrate your potential to take on those responsibilities.

What leadership opportunities does a cloud migration project provide?

For Matt Gordon, the complexity of a cloud migration project is a chance for DBAs to demonstrate the technical skills and knowledge they already have that are frequently hidden behind the scenes. “For a DBA with a diverse technical skillset, there are often opportunities to take advisory or leadership roles at a project level beyond their teams. These can open many career doors after the project that otherwise likely wouldn’t be open to someone who is considered ‘just a DBA’.”

Beyond the technical expertise required, Joshua Higginbotham brings up the opportunity to demonstrate wider leadership abilities. “These projects require a good deal of resources and budget allocation to complete. With that, oversight of the overall project as well as the teams is paramount to the overall success of the project. So as a leader, you may be coordinating resources, handling communication for maintenance events, or reporting results to stakeholders.”

Those opportunities are not just short term either. Alongside the intricacy of a cloud migration project are the lead times that are typically involved, as Kendra Little explains. “Most cloud migrations don’t happen overnight: these projects often have timescales of years rather than quarters. Continuous teamwork and leadership within each participating team are needed to keep the project moving and to try to spot any risks or missing items in the planning.”

Kendra also makes a good point about waiting for your turn in the spotlight. “This type of project allows your team to rotate leadership opportunities between team members on a regular basis, both to share opportunities among the team as well as to prevent any one person from burning out on the project.”

I’ve saved the answer from Chris Yates until last because alongside managing projects and mitigating risk, he brings in another leadership skill. One that is sometimes underrated, yet often the one that is the most important. “One soft skill that can be targeted exponentially is the art of communication. I have always thought that where there is no communication, negativity sets in. In a cloud migration project, there are a lot of moving pieces. Communication will be key.”

What advice would you give to someone who aspires to take on a leadership role in a cloud migration project, and how can they best prepare for such responsibilities?

Rather than waiting for a leadership role to be discussed, Matt Gordon makes a fascinating point when he advises you should ‘listen between the lines’. As he explains: “What you are much more likely to hear is ‘We’re lacking a bit of direction in this area’, or ‘The team needs some goals and timelines set for them’. Those types of discussions are golden opportunities to step up and say, ‘I’m willing to take that on’. That attitude and willingness will pay dividends at that company or, if not, on your resume when you are looking for your next opportunity.

Once established in a leadership role, Chris Yates talks about how important planning is – and sharing the plans with team members. “There cannot be a siloed approach. Each team member needs to have a clear understanding of the goal and what you are trying to accomplish. Planning is a huge proponent of this type of initiative. Keep planning and when you think you’re done, review the plan again. Leadership will be key here, set benchmarks and make it happen.”

Business outcomes should never be forgotten either, and Joshua Higginbotham provides some really good advice. “Let’s not forget this is a business. Make sure to take time to plan out the impact on resources and budget before taking on the project. Identify as many dependencies as possible and place them in a buffer in the project plan to account for the unknowns. Typically, I’ve seen a bit of a bell curve in expenses post-completion. So again, make sure to set the expectation upfront that it may take some time to see the desired result.”

Kendra Little talked earlier about how long cloud projects can take and she sees communication as key through the whole process. “Communication and collaboration with other teams involved in the migration will be key, but migrations can be long, stressful projects that can degrade relationships. Invest in building healthy communication patterns early in the project where you can give and receive feedback from key partner teams. Regularly meet and maintain those relationships throughout the whole project timeline.”

How can a DBA demonstrate their leadership potential and take on more responsibilities within cloud migration projects?

Cloud migration projects are often big projects involving a variety of roles from IT architects to infrastructure engineers, security experts to business teams as well as DBAs. So there are likely to be opportunities in many part of the project, as Joshua Higginbotham points out. “While there always needs to be that central leader keeping the core project on track, there will be plenty of opportunities for you as an individual to take ownership of a subset of the project and lead it to completion. Be open and transparent with your desire to fill that role and lean into your team to help along the way.”

This mix of different teams and technical disciplines also presents an opening to gain wider recognition, as Matt Gordon explains. “They are great opportunities to demonstrate leadership both within your team (by stepping up to guide them through the project) and outside of your team as well by being the point person to coordinate your team’s actions with the critical path actions of other teams on which your team’s success may depend.”

Within the team itself, Chris Yates has some sage advice about ensuring the team actually works as a team. He recommends a neat approach: “Primarily, We > Me. You can exercise your leadership skills by including your entire team in projects, meetings, and key decisions. Open yourself to innovative approaches and consider other innovative viewpoints. With that, you can build a more capable team in the process.”

The move to the cloud also requires a move in mindset, and Kendra Little has a good take on keeping the planning and the project on track. “As much as possible, ask lots of questions and be open to things working differently than they’ve worked in your on-prem model. Focus on learning and adaptation when you can. Use concepts like Recovery Point Objective, Recovery Time Objective, and Service Level Agreements to help map your migration plan to business requirements and create additional success metrics as you can.” 

And finally, a fitting quote from Matt Gordon to end this two-part series about unlocking your leadership potential: “These projects are often of great interest to executives and managers who are sponsoring or championing the project, so beyond the leadership opportunities themselves, those opportunities are a great stage to showcase your skills and set the stage for the next step of your career.”

This is the second in a two-part series about cloud migrations. If you haven’t read part one, now’s the time to do so because it offers some great insights into the skills to be gained, the unique career opportunities cloud migrations offer, and the best ways to get involved. Be sure to also check out our other resources to help you on your cloud migration journey: