5 Key Steps to Becoming a Highly Valued Cloud Computing Expert

August 1 2016 | by Jonathan Maresky

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There’s never been a better time to work in the cloud computing industry. As enterprises modernize their IT and adopt agile and DevOps processes, they’re moving in increasing numbers to cloud-based environments. And the result has been a huge demand for people with cloud expertise.

The market is particularly buoyant in the US, where cloud professionals are amongst the highest earners in the IT sector. And the boom isn’t just restricted to technical roles. People with expertise in cloud brokerage, sales and IT financial management are also in very strong demand.

What’s more, a career in cloud computing is highly rewarding, as it offers an exciting new method of planning, developing, testing and implementing IT projects, quicker and more convenient ways to provision compute resources and a switch from traditional IT financial accounting to a new operational expenditure (OPEX) model.

But being attracted to a career in cloud computing is one thing. Landing your first job is another. So, in this post, we cover the most important steps you need to take in order to develop your cloud knowledge and transform yourself into a highly valued cloud computing expert. But first, let’s briefly look at what cloud computing is and the types of cloud job you’re likely to find.

What Is Cloud Computing?

Though the cloud means different things to different people, as a basic concept, it’s really very simple. Instead of storing data and running applications on your home or work computer, it’s stored and processed on remote machines that are accessed via the Internet. This alternative method of computing has spawned a variety of new concepts, technologies and services, some of which have made their way back to the in-house computing environment in the form of private clouds.

There are three main categories of cloud computing services: Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS). But here we’ll focus on IaaS, where you purchase raw hardware, servers, storage and other on-demand cloud services and manage those resources yourself, as this is most likely to be of interest to aspiring cloud gurus.

What Are the Career Opportunities?

The cloud offers a wide range of excellent career opportunities. These include cloud software engineer, cloud software application engineer, cloud architect, cloud consultant, and cloud security expert. You should research each of these roles carefully to find out what level of knowledge and experience you need.

But, as we’ve said, you don’t necessarily have to be a technical wizard to build a career around the cloud. Cloud vendors, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), offer a mind-boggling array of on-demand, PAYG compute services with different features and pricing structures. To deal with this complexity, enterprises call upon specialist cloud financial managers to help keep costs in check. And for those companies that sell their own cloud services, specialist sales and marketing professionals are essential to grow their business.

1. Master the Concepts of Cloud Computing

Your first step towards becoming an expert is to learn the key concepts of cloud computing. It’s first important to understand the elastic nature of the on-demand cloud environment—the fact you can dynamically scale out your infrastructure as code (IAC) to meet demand. This is important both to prospective cloud developers and operators, who’ll be concerned with the logistics of managing their workloads, and to cloud financial managers, who’ll primarily be concerned with balancing costs.

Another concept that’s central to the cloud is DevOps. DevOps brings the roles of development and operations closer together, largely through agile methodologies and automation tools. To properly understand DevOps, you’ll need to get to grips with other important aspects to the cloud, such as virtualization, containers, continuous integration (CI) and continuous delivery (CD).

Start by learning the basics. Then develop your knowledge by focusing on specialist areas, such as specific vendor platforms or cloud-oriented technologies, as this will give you a competitive advantage. You can learn more by reading the Cloudyn blog or one of the many other information technology blogs that cover the cloud.

2. Get Practical Experience

Getting practical experience of working in the cloud is easier than you might expect, as all the leading cloud vendors let you try their platforms for free. For example, market leader AWS offers a free tier, which can give you up to 12 months’ free usage. Its nearest rival, Microsoft Azure, offers a $200 starter credit, which is available for a 30-day trial period. Similarly, Google Cloud Platform (GCP) offers you a $300 free credit, which you can spend over 60 days.

These trials are a great way to get first-hand experience of how the different vendor platforms work and the business benefits they offer. And even once your trial runs out, the charges are still relatively cheap if you’re just using the platforms to explore the various services. Self-taught success stories are very common whenever new technologies emerge, so this kind of hands-on experience can go a long way. You could also demonstrate your commitment to the cloud cause by starting your own personal IT project, which makes use of popular open-source technologies, such as Chef, OpenStack and Docker.

3. Learn New Technologies

Prospective cloud architects, engineers, developers and operators will all need to master cloud-based technologies. But technology awareness is also important to many other cloud roles. For example, deeper technological insight will help a CIO make more informed decisions about IT strategy, an ITFM appreciate the financial benefits of cloud adoption and cloud sales teams better understand the needs of prospective customers. You may also need to learn Linux, as this is the most dominant operating system in the cloud.

4. Gain Industry-Recognized Certification

An industry-recognized certification is not only a trust signal that shows potential employers your cloud skills are up to standard. It also shows them you’re the type of person who never stops learning.

The two main vendors, AWS and Azure, each offer comprehensive training courses and assessments to help you consolidate your hand-on experience. Both vendors provide certification for solutions architects, solutions developers and systems administrators. AWS also offers certification for DevOps engineers.

But don’t forget: Formal qualifications aren’t the only way to earn recognition for your new cloud skills. You can also enhance your reputation by making contributions to open-source projects or by building a profile on code-sharing and IT social network GitHub.

5. Get Wise to Cloud Optimization

The cloud has introduced a completely new way of financing IT. Instead of putting capital into new and replacement infrastructure, enterprises are switching to an operating expenditure (OPEX) model, where they consume resources on a PAYG basis.

But this new financial model presents new challenges. Developers and operators can spin up new server instances in a matter of minutes, organizations can have thousands of virtual servers running at any one time and costs can escalate without proper transparency and control over a complex enterprise cloud environment.

A competent cloud professional will understand the fine balance between operational performance and cost. They’ll know how to get the best use out of the cloud—not only by optimizing performance and costs, but by keeping their environment compliant, implementing automation and driving innovation. Cloud financial specialists will also need to make use of automated usage and cost monitoring tools to ensure they stay on top of the financial complexities that come with having cloud deployments.

You’re Closer Than You Think

A career in the cloud computing industry typically requires a much wider range of skills—not just those specific to the cloud. For example, if you’re already an IT financial expert, you have an existing base of core skills you can build upon. If you’re still working in traditional IT, you can put that knowledge and experience to good use in cloud migration projects that require understanding of legacy technologies. And it’s also important to remember the soft skills you can bring to the table, as you may be tasked with leading people who are resistant to new technologies.

Some people will pick up the cloud incredibly quickly. Others will need more time. Much will depend on your own individual background and experience. But the most important thing is to stay committed and learn at a pace that suits you. Because one thing is for certain—demand for cloud computing experts will just keep on growing.

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