How to Start a Career in Cloud Computing

Cloud computing career and tips on gaining experience

I recently participated in a career fair for different areas of Information Technology. Since most of my experience comes from the IT infrastructure side of things, I really wanted to emphasize the importance of "Cloud Computing" as a career path to students. While discussing what cloud computing is and why it’s important, I received 2 really interesting follow-up questions from a few students:

1. How do I get started in cloud computing?

2. What cloud provider should I focus on? 

Introduction to Cloud Computing

Before diving into cloud careers, it helps to level set on what cloud computing entails. At a high level, cloud computing involves storing data and running applications over the internet rather than on local servers. Popular cloud providers include Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform (GCP). Cloud computing has quickly become one of the most in-demand career fields. With many companies migrating to the cloud, there is a growing need for professionals with cloud skills. For beginners, getting started in a cloud career can seem daunting. However, with the right skills and motivation, anyone can successfully transition into a cloud computing role. 

Some major benefits of using cloud technologies include:

- Cost Savings - No need to invest in on-premises hardware and continuous hardware refreshes. 
- Agility - Resources can easily scale up and down on demand. 
- Productivity - Access apps and data from anywhere with an internet connection.
- Reliability - Redundancies ensure continuity even if failures occur.

As more workloads move to the cloud, IT roles are shifting as well. This transition creates many new cloud computing job opportunities.

Top Cloud Computing Careers for Beginners

Let’s focus on the first question which was how someone gets started in a career in cloud computing. The cloud field includes roles in architecture, engineering, development, operations, security, and more. For those just starting out, here are some of the top entry-level cloud computing roles to consider:

- Cloud Support Associate - Help customers troubleshoot issues with cloud services and provide technical support.
- Cloud System Administrator or Cloud Engineer - Manage user access, governance policies, and cloud operating system management. 
- Cloud Security Analyst - Enforce security standards and conduct vulnerability assessments.
- Cloud Developer - Create and deploy cloud-native applications using various cloud services.

These roles involve working directly with core cloud infrastructure and services. They allow beginners to build hands-on experience while learning the cloud stack. You might be looking at all this and wondering, how would I even get started in one of these roles? 

How to Start your Career in Cloud Computing

Transitioning into the cloud computing industry can be challenging for those just starting their tech careers. Here are some top tips to help you successfully get started:

- Pursue entry-level cloud computing jobs that align with your long-term career goals. Look for titles like “associate” or “junior”. The companies and hiring managers listing these roles will know they are getting someone early in their cloud career. If you show passion and the willingness to learn and grow, you will put yourself at an advantage when applying and interviewing.
- Obtain baseline certifications like AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner or Microsoft Azure Fundamentals to validate core cloud computing knowledge. If you are wondering which certification to get, I will explain that later.
- Build hands-on cloud computing skills through personal projects deploying resources on public cloud services like AWS, Azure, or GCP. Most of these cloud platforms provide free credits for students or even free trials to start using their services. You could set up something simple like a WordPress website on one of them to show some experience. Just be careful to set spending limits. There are lots of horror stories of inexperienced people leaving cloud services on and racking up large bills.
- Perform informational interviews with cloud computing professionals to gain insights about day-to-day responsibilities.  There are lots of resources out there and plenty of people willing to share their knowledge on this. That’s probably something I love the most about the IT community. We all have different skills and career paths, and we are always willing to share what we know.
- Consider a cloud internship or apprenticeship to gain real-world experience. This is dependent on finding a company who uses cloud infrastructure and has a mature cloud footprint. Another option would be to look at interning with a managed service provider. They will usually have a wide variety of clients who utilize different cloud platforms.
- Make learning a daily habit, continuously expanding your knowledge of new services and tools. This is extremely important. You need to be disciplined and willing to learn. Cloud computing is a very complex field and requires constant learning. There are a lot of learning resources to use, especially for free, but you need to hold yourself accountable. Maybe form or find a study group and try to learn with others.

What Cloud Certification Should I Get?

This was the other interesting question I received. As I mentioned in the previous section, working towards a baseline certification from Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud Platform is a great way to get started in a cloud computing career. But which one should you get?

My first answer to this question is it depends. If you are working for a company that is already invested in a particular cloud provider, like AWS for example, it might help to work on the AWS Cloud Practitioner. If they have a future opening for a cloud support role, you could put yourself at an early advantage. You could even mention to your manager that you are working towards that certification, and you would be interested in pursuing that as a career option. If your company is investing in Azure, then it would make sense to go down that route. It wouldn’t hurt to get multiple certifications like the AWS Cloud Practitioner and Microsoft Azure Fundamentals either.

You might be asking yourself are you stuck to that one cloud platform moving forward? Maybe in the beginning to establish your cloud skills but not in the long term. I know multiple engineers who went down the path of a particular cloud platform, like Azure and into senior roles for it and then move over to AWS later. If you understand a lot of the infrastructure components of cloud computing, you can find your way around the different platforms. There will be a learning curve to each but getting foundational cloud computing skills will be immensely helpful.

Can I Get a Degree in Cloud Computing?

Yes, it is possible to get a degree focused on cloud computing. This is still a newer concept at universities because cloud computing technology moves so fast. Here are a few options:

- Bachelor's degree in Cloud Computing - These programs provide a broad education in cloud computing concepts, technologies, security, architecture, and more. Students learn how to design, deploy, and manage cloud infrastructure and applications.

- Master's degree in Cloud Computing - Graduate programs in cloud computing go more in-depth into topics like scalable systems, virtualization, distributed computing, cloud security, and big data analytics using cloud services. 

- Bachelors degree in Computer Science - If your college does not offer a cloud computing degree option, a computer science degree would be the ideal alternative. 

Additionally, many computer science, information technology, and engineering programs incorporate cloud computing course content into their curriculum without being specifically cloud degrees. So there are a variety of options available depending on your interests and career goals related to the cloud. Many programs also include hands-on learning using public/private cloud platforms and tools.

Launching a cloud computing career while still new to the field does take dedication. But for self-motivated learners who are eager to gain hands-on experience, it is very much within reach. Developing fundamental technical and soft skills will help you gain that critical first role and start building your cloud computing career path.

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Jamie Larson
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