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Gearing up for the Cloud, AT&T Tells Its Workers: Adapt, or Else

AT&T’s Chairman and Chief Executive Randall Stephenson gets it, as is documented in this a recent New York Times article entitled, Gearing up for the Cloud, AT&T Tells Its Workers: Adapt, or Else., He sends a powerfully simple message to his 280,000 employees: “learn new skills or find your career choices are very limited.” In the face of the emergence of cloud computing, Mr. Stephenson shares AT&T needs to “reinvent the company so it can compete more deftly,” or else “in three years, we’ll be managing decline.” To compete more deftly, this means the workforce needs to be retrained to deal with the emerging technology that is cloud computing.

What would this education look like?

We believe it would have these eight attributes:

  1. Begin with every employee learning a common language and framework in which to discuss the cloud; otherwise, fundamental communications and understanding will break down from the start. It’s important to appreciate that “cloud computing” can mean many things to many people. For instance, if I work in the network delivering cloud services, cloud computing can mean something very different than if I deliver applications from the cloud. Perhaps an obvious point, but if I’m talking about apples and you’re talking about oranges but we’re both calling it the cloud, then there is a high risk for miscommunication.
  2. The education must be provided in plain language and not be littered with technical jargon and acronyms. Otherwise, expect a majority of your workforce audience to simply tune out.
  3. A common framework must be provided so people have a mental place to fit all the components. As an analogous example, you can’t expect 280,000 people to individually construct 280,000 consistently built houses if you supply them with nails, lumber and tools but no blueprint.
  4. The content must be broken down into 20-minute or less TED Talk-sized chunks. I have two young kids so I never have two or three straight hours to sit down and educate myself on something. That said, I relatively frequently have 10-20 minute windows of time that I could use for something more productive than checking Facebook or the latest game scores.
  5. Content must also be delivered via mobile. These 10-20 minute windows are typically when I’m away from the office, like hanging out at my son’s baseball practice or driving to work.
  6. The education must be delivered with both audio/video and text, as some people learn better by listening or watching while others learn better by reading.
  7. The education must be vendor agnostic. Today, so many pieces on the cloud have been generated with vendor-specific spins because the vendors themselves are writing them. For an employee or customer to trust that they’re getting a holistic education in the cloud, it can’t favor a particular vendor.
  8. The education must originate from a “player-coach” that has walked the talk. I can’t tell you how much marketing fluff I’ve read about the cloud, written by well-intentioned marketers trying to create thought leadership drip content. An education in the cloud doesn’t come in a two-pager At-a-Glance or a seven-page whitepaper. If you’ve walked the talk, you get this in spades; a holistic education on the cloud must span from application cloud services down to network cloud services and include the various layers in between. And the more case study examples, the better.

Now, before you shake your head and label this as unattainable wishful thinking, let me share that at least one solution to this challenge exists.

An answer:

One of the largest telcos in the world believes what AT&T and Randall Stephenson believe, and as a result the telco is deploying innovative education utilizing a set of next-generation books, the Cloud Computing Trilogy

  1. A common language on the cloud
  2. Buzzword free
  3. A common framework
  4. 27 chapters, each the length of a TED-sized talk
  5. Optimized for mobile
  6. Each chapter includes both audio/video and text
  7. Vendor agnostic
  8. Authored by a player-coach who has walked the talk and shares over 75 case studies. Trilogy has roots in the Stanford University class on Cloud Computing CS309A which was rated one of the Top 8 for continuing education in the cloud

If you’re a telco—or any enterprise for that matter—why aren’t you educating your entire workforce on cloud computing?

Example Customers

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