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Cloud certifications play supporting role in IT hiring decisions

Certifications that are specific to a particular cloud provider are a great way for IT professionals to grow their foundational knowledge, but they shouldn't stop there.

To grow the pool of talent around their relative platforms, public cloud providers continue to expand their certification programs. While these vendor-specific designations might help a candidate's resume stand out, it's hands-on experience, increasingly around multi-cloud, that reigns supreme with most IT hiring managers.

The three leading public IaaS providers -- AWS, Google and Microsoft -- all offer cloud certifications. The AWS and Microsoft Azure programs are the most extensive in terms of the number and variety of available certifications, but Google continues to expand its training lineup as it pushes into the enterprise market.

The Google Associate Cloud Engineer certification, introduced in April, targets those who want more basic knowledge around how to deploy and operate a workload on Google Cloud Platform (GCP), potentially as a stepping stone toward Google's more advanced, professional-level certifications, said Rochana Golani, Google's director of cloud learning and enablement.

"It's definitely meant for those who are early in their career," she said.

Cloud certifications like these provide some objective measurement of a job candidate's skills, which is particularly important in today's rapidly evolving market, Golani said. But they won't make or break the candidate's chances to land the job, which is where hands-on technical experience comes in.

This rings true with CTOs, as well.

[Cloud certifications] would complement industry experience but would not replace industry experience.
Dale HopkinsCTO, Vendasta Technologies

"[Cloud certifications] would complement industry experience but would not replace industry experience," said Dale Hopkins, CTO at Vendasta Technologies Inc., a provider of sales and marketing software for media companies, based in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and a GCP user. "But if I have a choice between somebody with or without [a certification] and neither have experience, then it will make a difference."

Cloud engineers themselves tend to emphasize these certifications as a way to trace the progress of their careers, more than an IT hiring manager generally would as a fit for a job, said Dave Tucker, CTO at Workiva Inc., a financial services software provider in Ames, Iowa, that also uses GCP.

"I prefer hands-on learning over certificates," Tucker wrote in an email. "Real nitty-gritty learning comes from making something work in production, and that comes down to the nuances around things like scalability and resiliency, more than simply learning how to use a technology."

Get your hands dirty

So, how do IT pros, especially those early in their careers, get hands-on experience under their belts? Fortunately, they have a few options.

For starters, the Big Three public cloud vendors, in addition to a host of independent cloud training providers, offer hands-on labs. Another option-- at least, to learn some of the basics of a particular public cloud platform -- is for IT pros to experiment with some of these technologies at their own pace.

"[Getting hands-on experience] is not hard to do, because all the vendors offer free-trial accounts," said Guy Hummel, Azure and Google Cloud content lead at Cloud Academy Inc., an independent cloud training provider.

Even if a candidate has experience with a technology through a personal project -- as opposed to through a formal career role or education -- that makes a significant difference, Vendasta's Hopkins said. For example, maybe a candidate built a website for a family member and took the time to implement content delivery network caching and then host it on a public cloud, such as Google or AWS.

"With so much information on the internet, it's easy for somebody to just copy and paste a tutorial and deploy their first [Google] App Engine application," he said. "But to actually build something, that takes a fair bit of work and understanding, so that's the kind of stuff that I look for."

Make way for multi-cloud

In addition to hands-on experience, enterprises increasingly factor multi-cloud management experience into their hiring decisions.

"Most of the customers who we talk to, they are probably using one of the cloud providers more than the others, but lots are using more than one," Hummel said. "Two is very common and, sometimes, even three."

As this trend continues, skills related to open source technologies, as well as tools that enable cross-cloud portability, will grow in value compared to those that are relevant to a specific vendor's infrastructure, Hopkins said.

"More and more, we find that Google and other providers use open infrastructure initiatives like Kubernetes and Istio that allow you to switch vendors," he said. "It feels like the certifications around how to manage infrastructure have become more and more niche."

Cloud providers themselves have warmed, at least somewhat, to this multi-cloud reality. Google offers "Google Cloud Platform for AWS Professionals," a six-hour, hands-on course aimed at AWS Solutions Architects who want to become familiar with Google cloud technology, billing structures and more.

"That continues to be a course that we invest in and see high traction in," Golani said.

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