How Engineers Can Own the Cloud Cost Narrative

Being a “good” developer, engineer, architect, product manager that just builds great products isn’t enough any more. There was a time where technical experts in companies would be left alone. As long as their products worked, kept working and stayed within budget, few questions were asked. The cloud has unlocked incredible opportunities for engineers, but also opened the door to a new line of scrutiny and questioning. Instead of “Can we build it?” engineers and product leaders must answer questions like: “Should we build it?” “Is this the most cost efficient way to build it?” “Why did we build it this way in the first place?” “What other ways could we build it?” “What if we built it someplace else?” “What will happen when we build it and add more users/customers/logins/data than we have today?” This leaves many engineering leaders wondering, “Can’t I just do my job?” Welcome to the new era of engineering – this is your job. On the surface, these new questions seem like more work. However, these questions give engineering leaders the opportunity to own the cloud cost narrative and draw a direct line between their work and the bottom line of the business. Being a good steward of the cloud spend Typical interactions between finance and engineering are reactions to unexpected costs and are therefore contentious and defensive. “My number one goal when working with my CFO is to have no surprises,” says a VP of Engineering from a SaaS company with a cloud spend of almost 20% of their P&L. This is important because surprises and uncertainty with your finance leaders result in the need to quickly reestablish balance – questions, meetings, and in the worst cases, cuts. Many engineers will push back at this point with, “Finance just doesn’t understand.” And they are most likely right. Truthfully, finance does not want to understand microservices or containers or any technical decision that you make. They want to be confident that you are thinking about the financial impact of these details and decisions before they have to ask about why costs are going up. (See Manage Your Cloud Like an Operator) In other words, they want to know that you are being a good steward of the business. When you do, the cloud cost narrative becomes yours to own and explain its impact instead of a story where you appear to play the villain. How engineers can become the hero of the cloud cost story Think about how you measure the success of your cloud projects, products, or program today. Uptime? Milestones? Completion? Controlling the cloud cost narrative begins with talking about the impact of your cloud spending in business outcomes. This applies not only to explaining past spending, but also to future planning. For example, spending money on VM instance-hours for development purposes may be viewed as wasteful. The business necessity may not be clear If the justification is something akin to “we need to develop and deploy quickly” or perhaps something more technically […]

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