Today’s story is adapted from the Cloud Resume Challenge Book (10% off at that link!), which breaks down many more inspiring stories of people who followed a nontraditional path to cloud.
Let me tell you the story of the greatest cloud resume I’ve ever seen. It contained zero professional IT experience, which is partly why it was so great. But to really convey the unlikely brilliance of this resume, we have to start at the beginning. The stinky beginning.
The stinky beginning
When COVID-19 hit, Daniel Singletary was already pretty much fed up with his job. As a commercial and residential plumber in metro Atlanta, he pulled 11-hour days working some of the dirtiest, stinkiest problems in the country.
Take, for example, the day he got a call about an unexplained odor in a suburban shopping strip. Daniel and a coworker headed to the scene. There was no mistaking the smell. It was sewage, and it was raw.
On a reconnaissance trip to the restrooms, Daniel noticed something odd: a current of air was flowing around the base of the toilets. When he levered a commode off the floor, he staggered backwards, hit by a blast of noxious wind. "Imagine," he wrote later, "a leaf blower blowing sewer gas in your face." Not only is this unusual, it shouldn't even be possible. Sewer pipes don't blow air. And yet somehow, this entire shopping strip was passing gas.
How do you troubleshoot a mall?
There was nothing to do but work the problem step by step. Over the next three days, Daniel and his partner worked over the building from opposite ends, unsealing and re-fitting every plumbing fixture they could find. Eventually, they narrowed the source of the mystery airflow down to two possible locations: a hair salon and a restaurant.
This is where the problem got extra tricky. How do you troubleshoot the plumbing in a restaurant without, you know, closing down the restaurant? Eventually Daniel had a bright idea: a smoke test. Literally. Up to the roof vents he went, armed with smoke bombs. His reasoning: "Wherever sewer odor can get in, so can smoke … except we can see smoke with a flashlight."
Sure enough, following the clouds of smoke cleared up the mystery. Someone had tied the vent hood for the restaurant's stove into the sewer system, forcing air into the pipes. The immediate problem might be solved, but Daniel's desire to leave plumbing, maybe even to a job where he could choose what to smell, was only growing.
The plumber’s guide to cloud
It was around this time that Daniel and I met. His roommate, an IT worker, had shown him a blog post I wrote about something called the Cloud Resume Challenge. The challenge was designed to help people get their first job in cloud. It came with a promise: host your resume in the cloud, and I'll do whatever I can to help you get it in front of the right people.
Daniel wasn't a professional cloud engineer. He'd never even seen YAML before. So he did the first thing that occurred to him: he went out and bought a whiteboard. He called what he drew there to help him make sense of the project an "engineered print," just like he'd used countless times as a plumber. He didn't know he was drawing a cloud architecture diagram.
Finally, miraculously, he completed the challenge. I reviewed his code myself; it was solid. And you can check out his resume page for yourself. It's not flashy, but it contains probably the greatest combination of credentials I've ever seen. Daniel is licensed in backflow prevention, journeyman plumbing, residential / commercial septic installation … and oh yeah, he's earned four certifications on AWS.
One of the most important requirements of the challenge is to write a blog post about your learnings. Daniel's post, A Plumber's Guide to Cloud, went viral on LinkedIn and was shared more than 200,000 times. That got the attention of hiring managers.
And barely a month later, he started his first tech job as a cloud DevOps engineer. From all reports, he's killing it.
What really made the resume great
Now, to be clear, Daniel's success didn't come from some magic contained in the Cloud Resume Challenge. It came from Daniel. It came from his hard work, his perseverance, and (just as importantly) from the skills he'd mastered in his plumbing days.
For instance, if I'm a hiring manager on an infrastructure ops team, I'm taking away quite a few things from Daniel's story of the leaf-blower sewer:
He knows how to troubleshoot. Given a fairly enormous problem (this entire building stinks), Daniel didn't flail around or try random stopgap measures. He narrowed the problem down to a root cause (the blowing air) and then methodically eliminated possibilities until he found the solution.
He knows how to collaborate. Daniel worked closely with a colleague throughout the onsite engagement, dividing and conquering to speed up the "debugging" process. Pair programming will feel natural to Daniel because he's used to having a sounding board to work out complex problems.
He knows how to test and observe. Until I met Daniel, I actually didn't know that "smoke testing" was a term with a literal smoke-related meaning. I'd always heard it used in the context of software tests. Daniel used a tracing technique to follow a problem to its source, instead of just making random guesses.
He understands business continuity. Daniel had to keep several businesses online and operational while conducting his diagnostics and resolving the problem. He couldn't simply flip a switch and cut the building's water supply for a few days while he figured out what was happening.
Put simply, Daniel had rock-solid real-world ops skills, better than that of most university computer science graduates I've met. What the Cloud Resume Challenge did was fast-track Daniel to the hands-on technical abilities he needed to build on that wealth of trade experience and vault into the cloud.
What’s your superpower?
Daniel's story is unique, but he's not alone. In the past 16 months, thousands of people have attempted the Cloud Resume Challenge. The majority of them don't get far; it's not easy, that's what makes it worth doing.
But those who persevere have seen incredible results. Career-changers have made the jump to cloud jobs from fields as diverse as food service, HR, retail, and recruiting. And even more people have used the challenge to polish up their existing IT skills and leverage better jobs within the industry.
You'll hear many of their stories in the book. Like them, you bring skills and perspectives that the tech industry needs. Daniel’s resume is still the greatest I’ve seen - but I hold out hope that someday, it’ll be dethroned by an even more amazing story. Will that story be yours?
Links and Events
I just heard from a couple of folks the other day who got job offers through the “Best Jobs in Cloud” newsletter, which makes me super happy. If you are hiring for an awesome cloud role, I would love to feature your job in the next edition - particularly if it is a junior- to mid-level role. You can submit job postings here.
I am starting to get into Google Cloud a little bit, and the first thing my AWS-scarred brain noticed was just how intuitive and non-footgunny the project and identity setup is. I wrote up a Twitter thread on this that inspired a lot of discussion.
Finally, my recent post on why every engineer should do a stint in consulting found its way to the top of Hacker News, and you can read all the comments if you dare.
In France, every recruiter would've told him "You're challenge-driven, determined and atypical. You will have a great career. Still, no experience in the cloud DevOps field. Sorry. On the other hand if you consider learning COBOL we would be glad to train you"