Friday, December 8, 2023

Cloud Engineer Career Path: What You Need to Know

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Cloud engineers play a critical role in any organization that relies on a public or private cloud. In broad strokes, they are responsible for designing, implementing, and managing an organization’s cloud infrastructure. On a day-to-day basis, they must also optimize the efficiency, security, and scalability of various cloud services. What does a cloud engineer career path actually look like?

As we explore cloud engineer careers, keep in mind that success in this role (as with so many other roles in technology) hinges on a blend of technical and “soft” skills. It’s important to have a deep understanding of cloud infrastructure deployment and management; but you must also know how to effectively communicate and work alongside stakeholders throughout an organization.

What Skills Do Cloud Engineers Need?

Organizations everywhere tend to rely on a small cluster of public cloud services, which any cloud engineer should learn before embarking on a cloud engineering career:

If you want to learn AWS, start with education and training programs such as AWS Academy and AWS re/Start. For Azure, Microsoft has its own training courses. And for Google Cloud, Google has training options tailored to your specialization

Some companies may ask you to master other public clouds, including those maintained by Oracle and IBM. As he broke down on Dice’s ‘Tech Connects’ podcast, Kevin Kelly, Director of Cloud Career Training Programs at Amazon Web Services (which include the education and training programs AWS Academy and AWS re/Start), believes cloud mastery hinges on the following concepts:

  • Compute
  • Storage
  • Network
  • Database
  • Security

Anyone who wants to embark on a successful career in cloud engineering will need a high degree of familiarity with each of those concepts. On a tactical level, those concepts translate into overseeing data storage solutions, configuring networks, and ensuring the robustness and reliability of cloud environments. Cloud engineers must also safeguard sensitive information and implement robust security measures to mitigate potential threats in the cloud.

Aspiring professionals eyeing a career in cloud engineering will find multiple rewarding paths, with career trajectories branching into several specialized tracks. From cloud architecture and security to DevOps and data engineering, the avenues for advancement in cloud engineering are diverse.

Cloud Engineer Career Path: Education

Ajaya Kumar Loya, senior engineering manager, cloud infrastructure and security team for LeanTaaS, says he would encourage those considering a cloud engineering career to pursue a bachelor’s degree in computer science or information technology.

“A blend of technical and practical skills, along with relevant certifications, is essential to kickstart a career in cloud engineering,” he adds.

More valuable skills to learn include:

  • A comprehensive understanding of diverse cloud platforms
  • Proficiency in networking and security
  • Expertise in automation (especially with tools like Terraform and Ansible)
  • Scripting skills (with a focus on Python and Go)
  • Familiarity with containerization technologies such as Docker, ECS, and Kubernetes

For those just starting their career, he recommends gaining exposure to and experience with CI/CD pipelines, and a grasp of observability concepts: “Certifications like AWS, Azure, or GCP Solution Architect, along with DevOps certifications, Terraform, Kubernetes, Docker, further enhance your qualifications in the field.”

Two Main Career Paths for Cloud Engineers

Scott Wheeler, cloud practice lead at Asperitas Consulting, says there are two major paths in becoming a cloud engineer.

“The first is the application developer route, which is the path most people take due to the number of developers that exist,” he explains. “The second is the infrastructure route.” That means some cloud engineers focus on application tasks (DevOps pipelines, etc.), while others concentrate on infrastructure tasks (networking, security, and more).

“Application developers have an advantage as most of them know how to code, and coding is one of the primary skills in cloud engineering, as the best practice is to create your cloud environment with code,” Wheeler says.

The downside is that many application developers don’t know a lot about networking, security and other infrastructure-related technologies. “Infrastructure engineers have an advantage [on that front] as they usually have great knowledge on networking, security and other infrastructure-related technologies used in the cloud,” he adds. “Unfortunately, it is unusual for infrastructure engineers to know how to code, which is an area they need to learn.”

Wheeler says certifications are usually the first step in moving into cloud engineering. “As cloud engineering is specific to the cloud vendor, you need to pick which public cloud you want to focus on first,” he says. “Amazon Web Services and Azure are the most popular public clouds with Google Cloud coming in significantly behind these two.”

Some popular cloud engineering certifications include:

“Most certifications from cloud vendors have a timeframe during which they are valid and you will need to retake the certifications periodically,” Wheeler adds.

Every company has comparable roles, but the distribution of tasks often involves subdividing them into specific teams. “Therefore, positions like DevOps engineer, infrastructure engineer, cloud support engineer, cloud security engineer, release engineer, and DevSecOps engineer are the ones you should consider applying for and targeting to secure a job,” Loya says.

Cloud Engineer Career Path: Practice (and Training) Make Perfect

If you’re just starting out as a cloud engineer, Loya says contributing to open-source libraries and constructing a portfolio of projects on platforms such as GitHub can effectively highlight your skills for prospective employers: “It’s crucial to stay abreast of industry trends, engage in online communities, and consistently enhance your knowledge to adapt to the evolving landscape of cloud computing.”

Practice and continuous training are required, as cloud services change all the time. The services and features available on AWS and Azure, for example, have multiplied over the past few years, expanding into new arenas such as artificial intelligence (A.I.) and machine learning.

Ambitious cloud engineers can move into architect positions where the scope of the responsibility is larger. You’ll tackle how multiple applications will operate in a cloud environment or address the ways an entire company will secure its cloud against internal and external threat. “Ten years ago, there were far fewer services in the cloud, but they were changing at a tremendous pace,” Wheeler says.

Today, there is a slower pace of change in the number of cloud services offered, but the sheer proliferation of apps and features within those services means that cloud engineers will often specialize in subsets. Keeping your skills up-to-date will allow you to switch specializations as the need (or want) arises.

“As you accumulate experience, consider focusing on either data engineering or machine learning specialization, and aim to progress your career towards roles such as architect or lead,” Loya says.

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