How a cloud engineer at DBS Bank charted his career

A cloud engineering leader at DBS Bank offers a glimpse into the tasks and challenges of a cloud professional and how his team is organised to support the bank’s public and private cloud infrastructure

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A career in cloud computing can be highly rewarding yet challenging at the same time, given the rapid pace of digital transformation and technology innovation.

In fact, to Koh Jit Soon, executive director for cloud engineering and services at DBS Bank, technology never sleeps, and his team has had to resolve problems even outside of office hours. That’s on top of staying updated on industry developments and finding talent who are well-versed in multiple cloud platforms.

In an interview with Computer Weekly, Koh offers a glimpse into the tasks and challenges of a cloud professional, the key skills required in the job and how DBS’s cloud team is organised to support the bank’s public and private cloud infrastructure.

What exactly is your job like on a typical 24-hour day?

Koh Jit Soon: A typical day at work starts as early as 7am for me, but given my role in overseeing production services for DBS’s cloud technology, my work hours are seldom cast in stone. Technology never sleeps, and there are times when my team encounters issues with production services even outside of office hours. When that happens, I’ll work with the team via audio or video conferencing to resolve the situation. 

Was it a conscious decision or a serendipitous event that led you to a career as a cloud professional at DBS?

Koh: I made a conscious decision to be in the technology space once I completed my studies, with a specific focus on technology infrastructure. After I started working in this field, I gained an interest in on-premise private cloud activities.

I was fortunate that there was an opportunity at DBS to further expand my horizon by moving into the public cloud space in 2017. This was just about the time that DBS was starting to ramp up experimentation in the public cloud as part of our digital transformation.

Did you pursue any specific education and personal training regime to give you an edge in this career?

Koh: I did an MBA in computer science many years ago, and that gave me a strong foundation to further develop my career in technology. But technology today develops at rapid clip, so to keep myself updated even while working, I try to participate in product training and seminars offered by technology vendors.

This keeps me plugged in to developments in the field, even as I supplement my learning with tools provided by the bank, such as complementary access to technology-focused digital learning libraries such as O’Reilly and Pluralsight.

In a field like technology, you must not underestimate the value of learning by doing, and a lot of new skills and knowledge is picked up on the job. I always encourage my team to learn from each other through in-teaching and peer sharing, and to contextualise the learnings to how DBS is adopting new cloud technologies and practices.

How is your cloud team organised? Who are the members and what are their responsibilities?

Koh: My team consists of a few groups, with some focusing on the private cloud, and others on the public cloud. For the private cloud team, our DevOps engineers support our on-premise private cloud infrastructure, handling the process from end-to-end, including engineering, implementing and operating the private cloud infrastructure’s open systems. Our public cloud team covers the control and monitoring of our public cloud usage, managing operations and supporting new applications that are onboarded to the public cloud.

Are there any roles that are not usually seen as cloud roles but are instrumental to the success of clouds teams?

Koh: We do have team members who provide complementary skillsets to ensure that our cloud strategy continues to be successful. For instance, we have colleagues who provide development and automation services of end deliverables, while others support the onboarding of new services by providing guidance on infrastructure adoption. We also have groups that focus on new microservices to support forward-looking technology.

What are the skills required in your role?

Koh: A good grasp of most technologies is useful, so as to provide leadership to different teams who have different skillsets. Beyond the technical skillsets, people management and leadership skills are also important, given the size and diversity of the team.

What was the biggest challenge you have ever faced in your job?

Koh: Every career journey comes with its own challenges, but I think for a technology career, there is a unique challenge of needing to keep up with new technology changes given the very quick pace of change. We need to keep ourselves and our teams updated on these trends and developments, so that we can make the right recommendations to ensure that the larger organisation remains competitive and relevant in the digital economy.

What are some of the challenges that the DBS cloud team faces in managing multiple cloud services, and what are the skills needed to overcome those challenges?

Koh: Most cloud talents in the market are proficient with one cloud platform. It is challenging to find ready talent in the market that is proficient across multiple cloud platforms. Different cloud platforms typically run on different technologies, and thus call for different skillsets.

As we integrate services from different cloud platforms into our ecosystem, we will increasingly need to cross-train our talent to become familiar with the newly onboarded platforms. This is an ongoing challenge, because with more cloud providers coming into the market, we will constantly need to keep up with what the various cloud providers provide to gain an in-depth understanding.

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