Using the Cloud as a Career Development Tool
Photo by Kevin Dooley
This year, I presented at a session at the NTEN NTC designed by Idealware blogger Peter Campbell called Earth to Cloud: When, Why and How to Outsource Applications. The room was packed. I know “the cloud” is a buzz term right now. What particularly surprised me, though, is one of the topics we talked about the most at the session: email.
There was a mix of people in the room from organizations that ranged in size very large (50-100 or more users) to very small (5-10 users). I assumed that the small and medium-sized orgs would all have moved their email to free Google Apps by now. When we asked who was still running an in-house mail server, about half the room raised their hands! Whoah. Why?
What emerged in discussion was that though many techies themselves had been sold on migrating to the cloud, they had come up against logistical and cultural challenges that have kept them from doing it thus far. Peter shared that for him, the technical logistics of migrating about 175 users at Earthjustice is part of what’s held him up, but that he is interested in Google Apps and continues to evaluate when and if it might be feasible to make a move. For all sizes of orgs who had not yet moved their email to the cloud, session attendees reported other barriers that included (both valid and exaggerated) fears about data privacy and ownership, and cultural attachments to on-site servers and desktop email apps like Outlook.
In some cases, the overloaded techies just didn’t have the time yet to make the shift to the cloud, even though they wanted to. And this was an a-ha moment for me. Yes, outsourcing to the cloud can create efficiencies that give you more time and therefore increase your staff capacity. But in my experience, moving certain things to the cloud was actually a key to my own professional development.
At my last org—where we had 6-10 users at any given time—I first (pre-Apps) moved our email server onto our virtual server with our web site. We had an on-call server admin to help us run it. But even that level of cloud needed a lot of my attention. Spambots would take our server down. V1gara blither blather would annoy my staff, and some of the explicit emails that made it past our filters were actually upsetting. I didn’t enjoy babysitting my mail server and worrying about spam. Server management is not the best use of my skill set. It ate time when I could have been learning about and trying new tech things that were a better match for my abilities.
I used the opportunity to move to Google Apps as a way to shape my job responsibilities and get rid of the ones I didn’t want. I didn’t like having to be the one to draft bulk emails, either; ConstantContact was in the cloud, affordable, and had a UI that most of our staff could use, so I got rid of that task, too. What did I gain? More time to do things that the org really needed and that also interested me—like researching social networking trends and fundraising; planning and strategizing about how best to use tech to get our mission work done; re-building us a newer, better Drupal site. I know I was lucky that I had an Executive Director who gave me the room to run and let put the time in to manage migration to the cloud and the office changes that came with it. Even though it can feel like a Faustian bargain to use the cloud—with a lot of unanswered questions about privacy and ownership—my org's programs gained an innovative edge because we had time to put energy into mission work instead of just infrastructure.