Cloud computing skills are in high demand now more than ever.
Larger businesses have been making a move to the cloud for several years, gradually reducing their levels of investment in on-premises data centers and servers. But the trend toward cloud adoption has seen a significant uptick in recent years, as the COVID-19 pandemic forced organizations of all sizes to enable and support more remote, distributed workforces.
This called for the deployment of cloud-enabled video conferencing tools, including Zoom and Microsoft Teams. There was a spike in demand for employee productivity and collaboration products, such as Google Docs. And streaming services, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, gained in popularity as extended lockdowns and stay-at-home orders were in effect.
What is cloud computing?
Cloud computing enables people to access software applications, data storage and other services over the internet instead of through traditional physical servers in a back office.
The cloud computing model enables users of internet-based computing services to be charged for what they consume on a pay-per-use basis. This is often referred to as a consumption-based pricing model and is a departure from more traditional subscription-based pricing models.
There are three main types of cloud services:
- Software as a service (SaaS). These are on-demand hosted services that provide access to business applications.
- Platform as a service (PaaS). These are web-based services and deployment of applications in the cloud.
- Infrastructure as a service (IaaS). These are virtualized computing resources over the internet and often offer storage.
For many businesses, the attraction of cloud services lies in the fact that they don't need to buy and maintain their own physical technology products, software, storage and infrastructure.
The cloud computing world is currently dominated by a handful of large, public cloud service providers (CSPs) and their products. These include AWS, Google Cloud Platform (GCP) and Microsoft Azure. These vendors can deliver the same service to hundreds of thousands -- or even millions -- of customers of various sizes and across different industries at an attractive price point.
Cloud computing jobs beckon
Cloud computing is firmly entrenched in all aspects of business and home lives, and it's here to stay. That means increasing numbers of businesses are actively seeking out qualified and experienced cloud experts across several domains, including engineering, database management, programming, development, security and analytics. LinkedIn rates cloud computing as the most sought-after tech skill, alongside artificial intelligence and big data. This presents an opportunity to those who are willing to rise to the challenge of mastering the basic and more advanced cloud computing skills.
Here are the top cloud computing skills you'll want to obtain in 2023.
Key general cloud computing skills
1. Cloud service platform expertise
Gaining a thorough understanding of the CSP marketplace is a good starting point. Familiarize yourself with the three big public cloud computing platforms, which are AWS, Microsoft Azure and GCP. Other companies with cloud platforms include IBM, Oracle Cloud Infrastructure, DigitalOcean and Alibaba Cloud.
There are also several widely deployed open source technology platforms that are used by organizations and CSPs alike to build public and private cloud services, including OpenStack and Apache CloudStack.
It's essential to differentiate between providers in terms of which may be most appropriate to host different applications or on which to run different types of workloads. You will need to be able to point out the pros and cons of each and select the best option to meet a specific need.
Each of the leading cloud platforms has its own strengths and each CSP also has its own cost structure.
2. Programming languages
Read more here about the top six programming languages.
3. Application programming interfaces (APIs)
APIs are widely used in modern software development both on premises and in the cloud. APIs enable different services and applications to interact with one another for data exchange. Building, linking and integrating different workloads in the cloud often requires the use of APIs. As a cloud professional, you must be adept at coding these APIs and the links used to integrate workloads into the cloud. The most common types of APIs used in the cloud are REST and GraphQL.
4. Database management
One of the most widely used application services in the cloud today is the database. Cloud databases offer organizations the advantages of managed offerings with a high degree of scalability and availability.
The major cloud providers all have multiple types of database services, including relational database, NoSQL, graph database and data warehouse offerings. Understanding the different database types, how they work and what they enable is a critical skill set for aspiring cloud professionals.
5. Network management
Knowledge of networking basics, including how to establish connections across resources and locations, is an essential skill in the cloud.
Cloud resources are often connected to on-premises locations enabling an organizations to establish services such as a virtual private cloud and secure connectivity. The cloud also requires that the organization can effectively access cloud resources, which can require some network management.
In cloud workload deployments, virtual networks are commonly used with different approaches to enable networking connectivity across resources and sometimes also across clouds, in multi-cloud deployments. All that requires networking skills.
6. Development and operations (DevOps)
In today's cloud environments, the days when developers and operations support personnel worked in their own silos are long gone. DevOps is the practice of harmonizing and integrating development and operations activities throughout the entire software development and application service lifecycle, including design, development and production support. This approach significantly reduces time to market for applications and eliminates unnecessary bottlenecks. DevOps workflows also commonly involve the use of CI/CD services in the cloud, as well as observability and monitoring for operations.
7. Machine learning and AI
Any aspiring cloud computing professional should gain a firm grasp of the fundamentals of AI and machine learning. In cloud environments, much activity takes place without a high degree of human interaction. Machine learning and artificial intelligence skills are among the scarcest and most sought-after technology skills out there today.
All the major public cloud platforms provide some form of AI and machine learning services that can be used to help build new capabilities.
Take this quiz to see what you know about machine learning and AI.
8. Cloud security
In cloud computing environments, as with any other IT environment, security is an absolutely essential function.
Identity and access management is an essential cloud service and having the right skills to manage and configure it properly is paramount. Securing personally identifiable information stored in the cloud is also essential.
The negative effect of the loss or breach of personal customer data or proprietary company intellectual property can be devastating for businesses from both a reputational and financial perspective. Today, the demand for cybersecurity talent well outpaces its supply, and the ongoing rise in cloud computing technologies means that this trend is only set to continue.
9. Hybrid cloud
While the cloud has many benefits, it is not suitable for every part of a business's IT infrastructure, applications and workloads. For this reason, the notion of adopting a hybrid cloud approach has gained popularity in recent years.
In a hybrid cloud model, certain elements are retained on premises or in a dedicated private cloud, while less sensitive or more modern applications are migrated to a public cloud. To make the correct decisions about what belongs where, cloud professionals will need an understanding of how each cloud model works and how to unify them into a hybrid arrangement.
Data lies at the heart of cloud computing, so it is essential to understand how and where to store it. Depending on a business's needs and the type and volume of its data, it may select one or more of the following types of storage:
- personal cloud storage
- public cloud storage
- private cloud storage
- hybrid cloud storage
The benefits of cloud storage include the following:
- fast deployment
- data backup and recovery
- lower cost
In-depth understanding of how each type of cloud storage works is a valuable skill for cloud computing professionals.
Containers provide a packaging mechanism in which applications may be abstracted from the environments in which they are running. This decoupling process enables businesses to deploy container-based applications swiftly and consistently. Knowledge of today's most popular container technologies, such as Docker and Kubernetes, will increase your likelihood of securing employment in a cloud computing role. Every major cloud platform now has some form of container or Kubernetes service to help organizations manage deployments, and it's critical for cloud professionals to understand how they work.
12. Data and application migration and deployment
Moving software applications from a data center into a cloud environment is more complex than copying files from one server to another. That's because applications running on premises often include software and even hardware dependencies that don't always directly translate into the cloud, in a lift-and-shift approach.
As the cloud is a different environment, a thorough assessment needs to be undertaken before any cloud migration is carried out. The best cloud professionals will treat each application on its own merits and be prepared to work with business stakeholders to chart the best course forward.
Key advanced cloud computing skills
Automation is one of the most significant benefits of cloud services. If applications can be programmed to make their own, correct decisions without human intervention, it can increase efficiency. Of course, cloud professionals have a role to play in facilitating this kind of automation. Specifically, they need to be well versed in the mechanics of a business's cloud architecture and the different components that interact with or depend on one other.
One of the most common forms of automation in the cloud is autoscaling, which helps applications and services to scale up or down based on demand. Being able to correctly implement autoscaling configuring policies is a critical cloud skill.
14. Cloud orchestration
Many cloud deployments rely on multiple services working together. At the scale the cloud operates, manually getting cloud services working together isn't an option. This is where cloud orchestration technology fits in.
Cloud orchestration involves the automation and coordination of multiple tasks instead of just one. Having the skills to properly configure cloud orchestration is another top cloud skill.
With rare exception, many cloud services, including those running on Microsoft Azure, benefit from the use of the open source Linux OS.
Linux is used for containers as well as VM instances across the cloud, as it provides a low- or even no-cost OS on which applications and services can be delivered. Linux offers features such as easy customization and security. The demand for cloud professionals who can design, build, deploy, maintain and administer Linux-based servers is on the rise.
16. Performance testing, metrics and analytics
Testing the performance of cloud environments enables you to gauge how effectively they're operating. It also uncovers areas for potential iterative improvement. A key element of testing is having the right metrics and analytics in place to understand the performance of a given cloud service or application.
Expertise in metrics and analytics -- and understanding which metrics should be applied to specific cloud services -- will stand you in good stead. That's because these skills enable you to demonstrate the ROI of a business's cloud technology.
17. Cost and workload management
The ability to determine and monitor cost and workload estimation are valued skills. For instance, they will enable you to pinpoint if and where certain set data limits are being exceeded, which can lead to a business incurring unforeseen costs. It also enables the identification and elimination of any features that are not being used.
18. Change management
As opposed to on-premises environments where hardware is fixed and services can be more static, cloud environments are extremely fluid. This means that the best cloud computing experts are comfortable functioning in an atmosphere that is continually in flux and can stay on top of constant changes to the underlying infrastructure, including databases, servers and network connections.
19. Cloud partnering
With the myriad services and complexity that can come with a large cloud project, it isn't uncommon for businesses to engage with external consultants and contractors to benefit from their specialized skills. These cloud partners can bring invaluable experience and new insights into a project team. Prospective employers will look for candidates who are at ease with these kinds of arrangements.
Serverless computing capabilities that enable event-driven computing, also sometimes referred to as functions as a service is an increasingly important cloud skill. Serverless enables organization to have very tight control over costs, because a serverless function only runs when triggered, as opposed to being on all the time like a container or VM image.
21. Infrastructure as code
For the deployment and management of cloud resources, few skills are as critical now as understanding infrastructure as code (IaC). With IaC, cloud engineers programmatically define the cloud resources and the configuration for the desired state for a specific cloud service deployment. Among the most commonly used IaC tools is HashiCorp Terraform, which has its own configuration language known as HCL (HashiCorp Configuration Language).
Gone are the days when using a single cloud provider is considered an IT best practice. In 2023 and beyond, many organizations are moving to a multi-cloud approach that limits the risk of vendor lock-in to any one specific provider.
Multi-cloud also provides resilience, enabling organizations to deploy in more locations. It's incumbent upon cloud professionals to learn how best to design, deploy and manage multi-cloud deployments for operational resilience, availability and cost control.
Analysis and visualizing big data represents an important skill set for big data implementations in the cloud. Having the right skills to transform and process data sets helps in the creation of streaming pipelines for real-time analytics and choosing the most appropriate use cases. The ability to deploy real-time streaming and analysis depends on capabilities for Dataflow interoperations and BigQuery and Pub/Sub deployments.
How do you gain these key cloud computing skills?
There is no shortage of available learning resources to help you build and continually augment your cloud computing skills. These include both formal training at colleges, as well as free and paid online resources. Many businesses also offer on-the-job training opportunities.
Every major cloud provider has its own set of certifications and there are a wide range of additional third-party certifications that are recognized globally, including:
- AWS. AWS has a growing number of training and certification programs, including programs for cloud architectures, operations and developers. The entry-level certification is the AWS certified cloud practitioner credential. Website: https://aws.amazon.com/certification/
- Microsoft Azure. Microsoft's cloud certification offerings are intermingled with its overall certification programs, which span across every product in the company's portfolio. The entry-level cloud certification is the Microsoft Certified: Azure Fundamentals designation. Website: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/learn/certifications/
- GCP. Google Cloud's certification programs include foundational, associate and professional levels. The entry level under the foundational path is the Cloud Digital Leader certification. Website: https://cloud.google.com/certification
- IBM. IBM has a series of training and role-based certifications for the cloud with the Associate, Professional and Advanced levels. At the entry level is the IBM Cloud Associate Advocate certification. Website: https://www.ibm.com/training/cloud/jobroles
- (ISC)2. For those looking specifically for a security-related cloud designation (ISC)2 provides the Certified Cloud Security Professional (CCSP) certification. Website: https://www.isc2.org/Certifications/CCSP
- CompTIA. CompTIA offers a series of broad IT certification programs and has a generalist cloud designation known as CompTIA Cloud Essentials+, which provides a vender neutral approach. Website: https://www.comptia.org/certifications/cloud-essentials
As the adoption and popularity of cloud services become entrenched in every facet of life, a world of opportunity is opening for aspiring cloud computing gurus.