The trend towards cloud computing was gaining momentum even before the pandemic. The lower cost of ownership, greater flexibility, and scalability of the cloud, when compared to physical infrastructure, makes good business sense. While the shift to remote work further accelerated that movement, companies are also recognizing that cloud infrastructure supports the future of computing: big data analytics, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) models, Internet of Things (IoT), and Business Intelligence (BI).
Cloud engineers are critical to managing a company’s infrastructure and migrating functions to the cloud. And, as companies move more of their workloads onto the cloud, the demand for cloud engineers is increasing. Statistics clearly demonstrate just how prevalent cloud computing is becoming:
- 94% of companies use cloud services;
- The average employee uses 36 cloud-based services (such as Dropbox, Microsoft Teams, and Google Suite) every day;
- The amount of corporate data stored on the cloud has doubled from 30% to 60% since 2015;
- From 2010 to 2020, the global cloud computing and hosting market size increased by 535%;
- The number of cloud computing apps have nearly tripled since 2013, from 454 to 1427; and
- The market for the cloud computing industry is expected to grow by $287.03 billion between 2020-2025.
As the cloud continues to grow and evolve, new technologies are emerging within it, and these new technologies drive further growth.
The increased adoption of cloud-based computing, combined with the significant knowledge, skills, and experience required of cloud engineers, means that the demand for professionals in the field is very high. And the average salary reflects that demand. In the United States, the average salary for a cloud engineer was $120,000 in 2022, with some positions/companies offering much higher remuneration.
What Is A Cloud Engineer?
Cloud engineers are IT professionals who require a high level of technical expertise. In their role, they’re required to evaluate a company’s computing infrastructure and determine which functions and processes can be migrated from the existing physical infrastructure to the cloud. They are then responsible for that migration and for managing and maintaining tthe company’s cloud-based systems.
In addition to their technical expertise, cloud engineers should have strong communication, teamwork, leadership, and general people skills. For most cloud engineers, working closely with vendors, IT teams, and senior management is a key part of their role. As outlined in a piece by Raji Oluwaniyi, specific duties may include:
- Setting up architectures with cloud providers like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud;
- Migrating existing infrastructures to cloud-based systems;
- Managing security and access of cloud-based infrastructures; and
- Handling the ongoing administration, maintenance, and troubleshooting of the company’s computing infrastructure.
A level of complexity can be added to the role when companies have a hybrid cloud, meaning a combination of at least two distinct computing environments that work in tandem. In that case, a cloud engineer would likely need to be conversant in several different programming languages and with the different cloud providers.
How To Become A Cloud Engineer
Cloud engineers require a high level of technical expertise that is typically gained through a combination of post-secondary education, certifications, and demonstrated expert knowledge and experience on the job.
If you’re quite certain early on that the role of cloud engineer is your ideal career, you should pursue a bachelor’s degree in computer science, information technology, software engineering, or a related field. Since a cloud engineer requires a wide range of expertise, it’s not necessary to focus on a specific area of study. A wide variety of courses are applicable to the field and you may choose to study in any or all of the following areas:
- IT fundamentals and applications;
- Network and security;
- Web development;
- Scripting and automation;
- Cloud computing and architecture;
- Data management;
- Systems administration; and/or
- Security testing.
A master’s degree, with its advanced level of knowledge, can enhance your career and open up further job opportunities. The time and expense spent pursuing a higher degree is often well worthwhile.
If you decide to advance your studies to the master’s level, focus on a technical field related to cloud computing, such as software engineering or systems engineering.
Certifications in cloud computing are rarely required for cloud engineering jobs but those certifications can give you an edge since they demonstrate that you possess the practical technical skills needed in the role.
There are many different certifications available. Some are quite general while others are more specialized, like Microsoft’s Cybersecurity Architect Expert Certification. Do some research and choose the one(s) that interest you the most. More general certifications include those like:
- Google Cloud Engineer Professional Certificate, offered by Coursera;
- GCP Associate Cloud Engineer – Google Cloud Certification, offered by Udemy; and
- Microsoft Azure Cloud Engineer Master Program by Edureka.
Knowledge And Experience
Programming skills are key for cloud development and operation. Cloud engineers need a strong knowledge of programming languages such as Python, C++, Java, Ruby, PHP, SQL, and Golang.
As well, since many companies use the Linux operating system for cloud development, it’s important to have a sound understanding of the Linux OS, including its architecture and operation, and how to maintain its servers.
In a blog piece, Alison DeNisco Rayome advises that some background in cybersecurity can also be very helpful since “40% of IT professionals report stalling their cloud migrations due to a shortage of security expertise.”
It’s unusual for IT professionals to begin their careers as cloud engineers. The role typically requires well-developed technical skills and most employers will look for candidates who have at least a few years of work experience in the technical field. Entry-level roles that help you hone the skills and languages needed for cloud engineering are a terrific springboard for mid- and upper-level positions.
A Day In The Life Of A Cloud Engineer
Typically, a cloud engineer’s duties are a mix of hand-on work and consultation with team members, upper management, and vendors. Their days might be quite structured with time to devote to projects filtered in around regularly-scheduled meetings.
Many cloud engineers begin their days with a daily “stand-up” – a short meeting with the project development teams that they support. These meetings give everyone a chance to explain what they’re working on and to talk about the problems that they face. This helps cloud engineers to understand how the cloud can better support the team and the business.
Other than meetings, a cloud engineer will need to manage projects and assist with cloud maintenance in a variety of ways.
Creating Monitoring And Alerting Services
As pointed out in a blog post by Charles Miller, cloud experts “have the skills and know-how to create processes that can alert the Operations Center the moment a glitch in the cloud causes problems for the end users.” This is critical because it’s the cloud engineer who ensures that the cloud resources are up and available 24/7 for all those who need access to them.
Maintenance, Troubleshooting, And Patching
Most businesses use public clouds, where the cloud resources (including hardware software, and other components) are owned and maintained by a third party, such as Amazon or Microsoft. Those third-party cloud service providers operate and maintain the cloud infrastructure, and the staff working for those providers are constantly monitoring, upgrading, and maintaining the public cloud resources. For this reason, a cloud engineer shouldn’t have to deal with too many issues where troubleshooting is required but sometimes something will go wrong on the provider’s end or a bug will cause issues in your software or services. Cloud engineers are generally on call at all times so that they can work with developers, administrators, and operators to find and fix the problem as quickly as possible. Additionally, there may be times when your solution components require patching and upgrading.
Documenting Cloud Designs and Data Flows
While documentation is often assigned lowest priority by engineers, it’s critical. Creating applications and solutions requires creativity and if the details behind that creativity aren’t captured, it may slow down troubleshooting and make it difficult to solve issues.
A cloud engineer’s day is full of complexity, requiring sound technical knowledge as well as excellent people skills. The role is challenging and rewarding, and with the continued growth within the sector, opportunities for career satisfaction and advancement are plentiful