Is Your Head in the Cloud?


We most often use the term “cloud computing” in the context of applications — Software as a Service (SaaS) if you will.  Venkatesh Rao of the Xerox Innovation Group has coined a new term, “cloudworker”, which humanizes our concept of the cloud.  On his blog,, Venkatesh defines a cloudworker as:

“the prototypical information worker of tomorrow.  He overachieves or coasts remotely, collaborates or backstabs virtually, and delivers his gold or garbage to a shifting long-tail micro-market defined only by his own talents or lack thereof.  The cloudworker manages personal microbrand equity and network social capital rather than a career.  Over a lifetime, through recessions and bubbles, he navigates fluidly back and forth between traditional paycheck employment, slash-work and full, untethered-to-health-insurance free agency.”

Venkatesh’s vision of a cloudworker meshes nicely with my views on Work 2.0, the changed and continuously shifting contract between employees and employers.  I’m undecided on the vialibility of the term that he has minted — I think cloudworker is too strongly tied to the cloud computing fad of the moment — but I’m highly sympathetic to the notion of knowledge workers shifting between regular employment, freelance work, and anything in between.  I have made those shifts several times in the last ten years and anticipate doing so again during my career.

The piece of Venkatesh’s definition of a cloudworker that resonates most strongly with me is his statement that “the cloudworker manages personal microbrand equity and network social capital rather than a career.”  In other words, building a strong network of colleagues in your area of expertise, developing your reputation within that network, and leveraging those relationships and their perception of your reputation is more important to work success than trying to climb the career ladder in an organization.

As I said in the initial post on this blog, “I have reached a point where the benefits of being an employee of an organized, legal entity (a corporation) and my ability to collaborate with others to address business opportunities and issues — independent of my employment — have reached equilibrium.  My employer offers some very attractive compensations for my client-facing work, namely a salary and strong benefits package.  However, I no longer rely exclusively on IBM for channels through which I can collaborate with others.  I can work and innovate with, learn from, influence, and lead others without that organizational affiliation, largely thanks to the Internet and social software.”

So, to me, Work 2.0 is about more than just the cloud.  Yes, the Internet is a critical enabler of the emerging way of working, but it is not the primary one.  People are always more important than technology.  The key to Work 2.0 is collaboration — specifically, the building of a solid network of peers and interacting with them to identify and respond to business opportunities.


4 responses to “Is Your Head in the Cloud?

  1. Interesting that you are being overtly articulating your career positioning vis-a-vis your employer. I am in a similar situation as you, but somehow I feel uncomfortable making “locked-down” statements of any sort.

    Perhaps I am just suspicious of any perceived sense of ‘equilibrium.’…

    Anyway, welcome to the cloudworker-blogosphere 🙂

  2. @Venkat Thanks for your comment! I was not trying to say that I don’t need regular employment any longer, because I do. That’s simply economic reality at this point. I can augment my income by doing freelance work, but I couldn’t replace my regular employment earnings if I left my job to fly solo.

    The equilibrium that I was attempting to highlight was the ability to find, explore, and respond to business opportunities regardless of employment status. Thanks to my established social network and the public availability of collaboration tools, I can do business without being under a regular employment contract. Not so many years ago I was completely dependent on an employer to provide the software tools and Internet connectivity needed to collaborate virtually. That is no longer the case, thank goodness.

    So I think we’re in agreement in principle, but perhaps I’m a bit more willing to begin to distance myself from my regular employer. There are a number of reasons for that, which I won’t go into here. The interesting observation that springs from your comment is that each individual’s stance toward regular employment will be different because of specific circumstances. That’s not a surprise, but it’s certainly worth remembering.

  3. Just checked back after a while. You’ll be happy to know ‘cloudworker’ won the plantronics contest 🙂

    And yeah, I think there is a rubber-band like spectrum of association with one’s employer….

  4. Congratulations to Venkat on winning the Plantronics contest! It will be fun to watch the term he coined to see if it continues to be adopted into the mainstream vernacular.

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