Photo by Josep Castells on Unsplash
Photo by Josep Castells on Unsplash

Cloud Engineers have to understand a number of cloud systems, their strengths and weaknesses, and the variety of tools they offer. Supporting these solutions is so complex that many of them offer expensive certifications that often take weeks of extensive study to earn. In addition to the technical complexities of the tooling, Cloud Engineers often have to understand the organizational impacts of migrating from an on-premise legacy system to a cloud implementation. I’ve successfully completed dozens of these migrations, and the people and process challenges are often the hardest to solve.

There is another cloud system that Cloud Engineers need to know, and it has no certification program. It’s the Inclusive Cloud, and, like other cloud systems, the people and process challenges are often way more difficult than the technology.

The Inclusive Cloud is a collection of skills and perspectives from a wide variety of backgrounds. It includes a representative set of genders, races, levels of physical ability, sexual orientations, and other diverse characteristics.

The Inclusive Cloud reflects the reality that cloud computing is more than a set of servers, processes, tools, and code running in someone else’s datacenter. It’s a set of opinions, politics, and policies.

Cloud Conflict

We see this reality in the legal challenges that some of the biggest corporations who power cloud technology faced at the end of 2019. GitHub, the de facto tool for open source cloud software, faced backlash for its involvement with ICE. Oracle, a leading cloud database provider, came under investigation for wage discrimination against people of color and women. Google, the maintainer of several cloud technologies including Kubernetes, also came under federal scrutiny for how it handled has handled employees engaged in activism.

Our politics and our programming have always been intertwined, and supporting the Inclusive Cloud can help mitigate the risk of running afoul of the law. The senior leaders of GitHub, Oracle, Google, and many other powerful technology companies show a homogenous perspective that could have benefitted from other points of view. In fact, the business case against homogeneity should be raised far more often than the business case for diversity.

Why Inclusion Matters

However, I’ll make the business case for diversity because that’s usually table stakes for talking about the Inclusive Cloud. In October 2019, the Wall Street Journal published a piece that demonstrates how diverse and inclusive companies produce superior business outcomes. The researchers ranked the Fortune 500 companies from 0 to 100 based on their levels of diversity and inclusion. This ranking was based on the age and race/ethnicity of the workforce, the percentage of women in leadership roles, members of the board, if diversity and inclusion programs were in place and other characteristics.

The results were telling. The S&P 500 companies who ranked in the top 20 in terms of inclusion and diversity had stronger financial performance than the lowest ranked companies over five- and ten-year periods. These top companies had an average operating profit margin of 12% versus the 8% average operating profit margin achieved by the least diverse companies.

I could share decades of research that show how inclusive and diverse companies outperform other companies in terms of revenue, profitability, and innovation. While you may enjoy geeking out over the data, I don’t think that will fully change your mind. Diversity and inclusion work addresses the systematic inequalities that have been built into our society and culture for centuries. This makes the work uncomfortable, especially for members of the dominant group who have benefitted from these inequalities.

Inclusive Cloud Benefits

I think that data can only go so far in convincing you to support the Inclusive Cloud. So, let’s talk about how inclusion can benefit you. No matter what you do as a Cloud Engineer, you will see companies that embrace inclusion and diversity outperform those that don’t. That delta in performance will only grow wider because it will become increasingly hard for companies that lack diversity and inclusion to attract talent.

People of color, women, members of the LGBTQ community, and other diverse groups know the companies who included them and the ones that were resistant. As they do the hard work of overcoming societal and cultural resistance to their very presence, they will find the pockets of acceptance in the industry. They will become Cloud Engineers and Cloud Architects, and they will become beacons of inclusion. As they advance in their careers and become viable candidates for leadership roles, they will screen out the companies that rejected them. Also, they will spread the word to their networks.

Corporations are often cited as drivers in diversity and inclusion work, but these efforts have to be personal. As a Cloud Engineer, you have a role to play in supporting the Inclusive Cloud. If you directly engage and commit to making Cloud Computing inclusive, you’ll help your company and the tech industry enjoy the business benefits of diversity and inclusion.

Spinning up Your Inclusive Cloud

How do you start this direct engagement? Start small. Follow people on social media who don’t look like you in terms of your presenting gender, race, sexual orientation, level of physical ability, etc. Spend a few months just reading what they have to say. You’ll see that the things you have in common far outweigh your differences. They geek out on cool tech and contribute to many of the open source repositories you use in your work. You’ll see that they just want to find a job that treats them with dignity and respect.

Once you’ve spent a few months just reading, spend a few weeks lightly interacting. Like and share a few of their posts every now and the. I can promise you that you’ll find compelling content. Try adding replies along the lines of “I agree” or “This is such a good point.”

You’ll eventually have a diverse network of people that you can plug into the job opportunities that come up at your company. That’s right, you can be the infusion of innovation that your company has been looking to hire.

Inclusive Cloud Clarity

Supporting the inclusive cloud will help remove the blindspots of homogeneity that exist at your company. It will also provide necessary perspectives for the very real challenges that are coming to Cloud computing. The end of 2019 also saw a federal investigation into an algorithm used by many healthcare providers to determine who gets follow-up care. It turns out that Black patients were routinely harmed by this algorithm and did not provide the care they needed. Algorithms, most of them running on cloud servers and working on data stored in cloud databases, will increasingly be involved in determining almost every aspect of our lives. They will have a role of deciding who goes to college, who gets hired, who is found guilty in court, who gets insured, who gets approved for loans, and even who lives and who dies. If these cloud algorithms aren’t built with the experiences of groups who may be harmed by them, then we will simply enshrine our biases and injustices in digital form. It’s possible that they may become permanent.

If we blindly let machine learning run on data that reflects the status quo then the problematic parts of the status quo becomes the learned outcomes the algorithms will try to reinforce.

Lend a hand to the Inclusive Cloud because the business outcomes are clear. You’ll enrich the experiences of the people who work at your company, and their diverse perspectives will improve the many business and technical processes of your organization. You may also be instrumental in replacing a world shaped by centuries of bias and inequality with a world of true equality where everyone can live without being penalized for simply being different.