No silver lining in tax change

The government's recent decision to cap tax-exempt expenditure on self-education could hold back the development of much-needed skills in cloud computing because of the increasing role of open-source software, in which self-education plays a significant role.

The government's recent decision to cap tax-exempt expenditure on self-education could hold back the development of much-needed skills in cloud computing because of the increasing role of open-source software, in which self-education plays a significant role.

Last month the federal government released its National Cloud Computing Strategy, saying it would "encourage discussion between tertiary education stakeholders to consider strategies to ensure graduates have the right skill sets", and would ask the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency to undertake "further examination of the current and future skill needs of the ICT industry". It gave no information on either of these initiatives, promising to release details later this year.

The strategy, however, clashes with moves announced by federal Treasurer Wayne Swan in April that from July 1 next year claims for work-related self-education expenses would be subject to an annual cap of $2000 a person. At the moment there is no limit on the amount that can be claimed.

Aidan Tudehope, managing director for hosting with Macquarie Telecom, said the $2000 figure would probably deter people from gaining additional skills in IT. "The reality is that the technical training courses tend to be more expensive than others, so this is not helping the more highly skilled people to become increasingly skilled."

Peter James, managing director of cloud services provider Ninefold, said self-funded education was a significant source of new skills in cloud computing. "Self-learning is happening particularly in the developer community, in the languages that harness the power of the cloud. Many of the apps are being built in open-source languages that you don't learn at university.

"Many of the people we hire don't have computer science degrees. They learn through community-based programs. They go to meet-ups where they share their learning. And their learning is self-funded."

Alan Perkins, CTO for Rackspace in the Asia-Pacific region, said the OpenStack open-source software of managing cloud computing environments was "the fastest growing open-source project in history and seems to be the de facto standard for open-source public and private, or hybrid clouds".

"More businesses are going to take advantage of having cloud on their premises because of OpenStack and there needs to be people who are well versed in running cloud within their organisations, particularly at the larger end of town."

Mr Tudehope predicted that the growth of cloud computing, as prescribed by the national strategy, would lead to an increase in the need for software development skills within enterprises at the expense of systems administration and IT management skills.

"Cloud computing allows a software developer to bypass the sysadmin and deploy their code directly onto servers because some cloud providers have made their portals very easy to use," he said.

"So I think there will be a power shift between the infrastructure folks and the software developers. When I look forward, software is king."

Sean McCartan, NSW general manager of IT recruitment company Talent International, also identified a shortage of cloud skills in organisations as a growing problem.

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