I have hired many people over my 10+ years in technology, and helped others transition into their first tech jobs through the #CloudGuruChallenge. In all that time, the worst way to find a cloud job that I have seen is by playing a game I call Resume Roulette.
Resume Roulette: a losing game
Resume Roulette is easy to play but very hard to win. Here are the rules:
- Wait for random companies to post public job listings
- Spam out a bunch of applications
- Hope that some stranger likes your resume enough to set up an interview
- If you don’t strike it lucky, repeat steps 1-3 indefinitely until you get hired or burn out
Do people get hired by doing this? Sure, every day. You can find the inspiring stories on LinkedIn of people who sent out 190 job applications, got 10 interviews and 1 job offer. But far more get discouraged and give up long before then. I know I would.
In fact, when I do hear of someone beating the odds and getting hired after sending out hundreds of cold resumes, I don’t think “Wow, that’s great perseverance” (although it certainly is) — I think “We are celebrating a broken process.”
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How hiring happens
Let me tell you what happens inside most companies when they list a public job posting:
- 150 random people submit their resumes, some of which are pretty good and some of which are pretty bad. (Hard to say without really digging in.)
- Three current employees know somebody who would be great in the role, and they submit referrals with a glowing recommendation: “I worked with her at Company X! She would kill at this!”
If you’re a recruiter (or especially a time-strapped hiring manager), which resumes are you going to move to the top of the pile?
Many companies offer referral bonuses to their employees for exactly this reason: the best hire is often someone your existing team already knows. And it’s much more efficient to vet those people than to do a phone screen with 150 total unknowns.
(Yes, there are a few companies out there, the Googles of the world, that have such a massive recruitment engine that they can reliably crank through hundreds of thousands of unsolicited resumes every year. But you’re fighting a numbers game there as much as anywhere else – you’re just more likely to get a formal rejection, rather than having your application sit ignored for six months.)
Network Bets: a better game
But that doesn’t mean you’re stuck on the outside looking in. You should not have to send out 190 job applications to get a cloud job. There is MASSIVE demand for qualified professionals in this field! If you know your stuff, companies should be basically coming to you.
But to come to you, they have to know about you!
So in my experience, the BEST way to get a cloud engineering job is to play a different game, one we might call Network Bets, a game with many ways to win but just two rules:
- Own your credibility
- Build connections
Owning your credibility
I covered foundational cloud skills in more detail in my “How Many Certs” post, so I won’t reiterate everything here, but if you’re brand-new to cloud you need to make sure you have:
- A solid ability to write code in Python or another common back-end language
- Hands-on familiarity with Linux and network fundamentals
- A foundational cloud certification or two
If you don’t get your feet under you here, you’re just going to be demoralized coming out of interviews. I don’t want you to be demoralized! I want you to skip to the head of the line. Getting proficient at code, networks, and Linux (not a rockstar! Just the basics!) is your cheat code. Seriously. Do it. You can get there faster than you think.
Yes, this is the part where we talk about networking. No, not about getting your CCNA, I’m talking about knowing the right people to work with.
I’ve noticed that a lot of engineers tend to bristle when faced with the idea that they might have to network in order to land a good job: “My skills should stand on their own. My career shouldn’t depend on having connections; that’s not fair.”
But what they are missing is that connections go both ways. You are more than just an interchangeable YAML-generation unit. You are a person with likes and dislikes and personality quirks of your own. There are tech jobs out there that would be toxic for you, where you would not be happy or productive — and plenty more where the work itself simply isn’t interesting or beneficial to your future career. And when you fling random job applications into companies you know nothing about, you face the very real possibility that even if you do win the lottery and get hired, it’ll be on a team that is nothing but bad news.
Networking is your chance to vet the job market at the same time they are vetting you. It lets you figure out the good people to work with, at companies where you will fit in and be set up for success.
But I’m an introvert … I can’t network!
I’m an introvert too! In fact, I’d venture to guess the majority of people in technology are. The amazing thing about building public credibility in tech is that you don’t have to go around glad-handing, passing out business cards or whatever. (Not that that would even work!) As my fellow introvert and AWS Hero Alex DeBrie points out, the internet lets you connect with people very effectively through less draining, more asynchronous means. As long as you are demonstrating passion for your skills in public, you’ll find yourself encountering great people and opportunities.
So let’s run through three practical ways to make that happen.
Here are my 3 cheat codes for networking your way to a cloud job that will actually be good for you and your career:
- Find a new niche
If you’re new to the cloud, you stand an obvious disadvantage against more experienced people. Many people try to close this gap with certifications, but the most common entry-level credentials are not that impressive to hiring managers. (You have an A+ cert? Cool, so do 100 million other people!)
So the smart move is to stop playing the game everyone else is playing — to skip to the head of the line and get good at cloud services that are so new, nobody has that much experience in them. After all, nobody can ask for 5 years of experience in a technology that’s only existed for 18 months.
I’m not talking about becoming an expert in a huge, broad area like the entire Kubernetes ecosystem. You can find a niche here that is really specific. Here is a list of some hot cloud tools and services that are in desperate need of more community attention. There are many, many others; this is just what I could write down in 60 seconds.
- AWS AppSync/Amplify (managed GraphQL gateway and associated front-end framework)
- The AWS Code* stack (CodeBuild, CodeDeploy, CodePipeline)
- Serverless workflow services (AWS Step Functions, Azure Logic Apps)
- A managed Kubernetes service like GKE, AKS or EKS
- Popular Infrastructure as Code tools like Terraform or the AWS CDK
If you get good at any one of these 5 things, you are guaranteed to make some interesting friends and raise your profile as a cloud technologist, as long as you also …
- Plug into the community
As you start getting hands-on with your chosen technology, write about what you are learning. I suggest using an established developer blogging platform with some built-in network effects, like Hashnode or dev.to. For example, if the service you are learning about releases a new feature, write up a short exploration of what it does and why you are excited about it.
Then, SHARE those good vibes! And tag the creators of the feature you are excited about. Devs love to see their good work recognized, and they will welcome you with open arms.
You will also start to discover Slack and Discord channels, Twitter hashtags, etc, that your chosen community rallies around. Engage with these outlets and note who the influencers are — the people you would want to be your mentors if you knew them. I highly recommend joining Twitter and following key influencers in your niche. Engage with them, reply to their tweets with questions. People remember people who engage with them positively and helpfully. And you’ll start to branch out into other connections as well.
Then, when you see a job opportunity pop up inside that community (which is guaranteed to happen)…
- Ask for referrals
This feels really uncomfortable at first, but it’s way easier than it seems. You can literally just message people who work at the company you are interested in and politely ask for a referral for the open job position. Without pestering, you could even ask if they have any openings that are not publicly listed. The worst they can do is say no.
But remember – they’re likely incentivized by their company to say yes. And they’re much more likely to give you that boost if you’ve interacted with them by building and sharing work in their space in the past. If you’ve blogged or built open-source projects, they can pass that along to their internal recruiters. And familiarity with them gives you a shared basis of trust to know if this role and company would really be a good fit for you.
Play the long game – it’s a shortcut
Landing a job through the Network Bets process — nailing down the fundamentals, finding a cloud niche, and getting plugged into the community — is not necessarily fast. It could take six months to a year or more. But that’s a lot faster than getting a college degree. Plus, you can do it very cheaply and in your spare time – while building connections that ultimately will pay off for decades to come.
On the contrary, Resume Roulette has no barrier to entry, but is a bad game because it has so many poor outcomes:
- You compete with everyone else on the job market, decreasing your chances of getting hired
- You go months or years without getting hired, and you get so disillusioned that you stop searching
- You actually *do* get hired, but in a job that’s not a good fit for you
So be active, not passive. Own your credibility. And create a niche for yourself, don’t wait for the perfect opportunity to open up. That’s the best way to find a cloud job that becomes the foundation for an awesome career.