This feature first appeared in the Fall 2020 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
It's generally accepted that American novelist and humorist Samuel Clemens made a famous comment about the weather in New England. To wit, Clemens remarked that anyone finding the current presence (or absence) of rain or snow, of a cooling breeze or muggy heat, not to their liking should simply wait briefly and it would change.
Clouds, as we conceive of them in information technology (IT) terms, do not more or less directly determine weather the way that atmospheric clouds do — but there is a sense in which Clemens' observation could be applied to them: Cloud technology is expanding so rapidly, and being put to such a variety of uses, that if it's not available to affect something that interests you, well, just wait a few minutes.
The rate of change and growth in cloud computing has certainly been dizzying. Cloud computing as most people think of it — which probably lags a few iterations behind how many businesses already use it — has been with us for about 10 years. Amazon Web Services (AWS) had barely crested the horizon by the end of 2006, and Microsoft's competing Azure service didn't show up until 2010.
The paradigm is already shifting, however, from the mental image many people have of cavernous server rooms remotely managing everything from data storage to business software distribution. Experts predict that distributed cloud computing, which involves cloud service providers scattering their computing load to far-flung micro data centers geographically closer to customers, will become both figuratively and literally widespread by 2023.
The All Things to All People malleability of cloud technology means that we're probably only scratching the surface of what the cloud can be and do, and certainly still on the rising slope of an employment curve that could eventually encompass nearly all IT disciplines. There are already cloud certs specific to networking, security, data storage, Linux, and more.
If you don't have a cloud certification already, then there's probably never been a better time to get one. And if no one is offering a cloud credential that aligns well with the career path that you're already following, well, Sam Clemens might have some advice to offer about that.
With cloud computing expanding as rapidly as it has, of course, these are bound to be both pain points and red flags — areas where growth is outstripping available infrastructure and areas where acceleration is blowing past sensible precautions. Hence, in our recent Cloud Computing Certification Survey, we asked certified cloud professionals to help us sort through some of the various obstacles to continued large-scale cloud integration and adoption.
Our results indicate that, out of all the potentially entangling perils of charging whole hog into cloud everything, certified professionals are most concerned about security conundrums. An alarming 90 percent of those surveyed are either very concerned (65.6 percent) or concerned (24.7 percent) about cloud data security, while just 10 percent are either somewhat concerned (5.4 percent) or not concerned (4.3 percent).
A related issue generated the next-highest level of concern: cloud identity and access management. On this point, 81 percent of respondents are either very concerned (51.6 percent) or concerned (30.8 percent), with 19 percent either somewhat concerned (9.9 percent) or not concerned (7.7 percent).
Data ownership also rated a high level of concern. Among the vast hordes of users who communicate, shop, and transact business via free e-mail accounts, for example, what level of discretion does the service provider have to mine and sell personal information? The prospect of setting and enforcing limits and restrictions is at least some what daunting to almost everyone who participated in the survey.
A sobering 95 percent of those surveyed are either very concerned (40.9 percent), concerned (39.8 percent), or somewhat concerned (13.6 percent) about data ownership, with just 5.7 percent of respondents essentially shrugging off the issue. Less concerning at present are such down-the-road land mines as standardization across cloud platforms, and capacity management.
Surprisingly, though recent employment research indicates that nearly a third of high-demand cloud computing roles could go unfilled over the next three years, only about 17 percent of survey respondents are very concerned about the availability of skilled cloud personnel. A notable 43.5 percent did say they are concerned (if not very concerned) about the issue.
A skills gap, of course, can portend good things for both skilled professionals and those working toward becoming skilled professionals (whether through certification or by other means). Skilled cloud technologists might not quite have the freedom to name their salary, but they are likely to find plenty of employment offers out there.
It's probably also worth noting that the least of anyone's concerns is the pointed issue of monetization. For now, at any rate, it would seem that getting money out of cloud computing is a given in the eyes of many, if not most, certified professionals.
Cloud computing forecast
We also looked into which of all the various cloud technology applications holds the most potential for future growth. In the eyes of certified cloud professionals, it's a tight race between Software as a Service (SaaS) and data analytics, though at least for now, SaaS has a clear lead.
Using cloud technology to unify, centralize, and simplify business operations and other large-scale endeavors is probably where there's the most heat in cloud computing right now. In addition to SaaS being seen as holding the greatest growth potential, there's also the fact that Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) generated the third- and fourth-highest levels of response.
Remember when everyone's most immediate conception of the cloud was as a nebulous digital nether realm where everyone's files are stored? Our survey respondents rated data storage a distant fifth in terms of its growth potential, followed by the even less trendy applications of backup/disaster recovery and research and development.
That should offer at least some indication of what skills to emphasize for cloud professionals or aspiring cloud professionals who are eyeballing continuing education and career development opportunities. And if you are in that boat, then it may be worth asking your employer about compensation for training and certification.
While a little less than half of survey respondents (43 percent) paid the total cost of their most recent cloud computing certification, roughly 40 percent got the company they work for to foot the entire bill. That's about an eight-point increase in the percentage of respondents who got the boss to pay for their most recent credential since the last time that we asked this question, in 2018.
Who's got a certification?
There's some evidence that certification is still catching on in the cloud computing arena. For as much as there may be rising demand for skilled cloud computing professionals, there's not much to suggest that employers are asking for specific cloud credentials by name. Just 22 percent of survey respondents were required to hold one or more cloud certs in order to accept their current job.
When you additionally factor in that 61 percent of those surveyed hold either just one (36.4 percent) or two (25.6 percent) cloud certs altogether, it seems clear that there's room for growth in the field. Then again, when we asked this question two years ago, 50 percent of respondents had just one cloud cert — the pace of certification is clearly picking up.
There's also some indication that certification is vital to long-term employment in cloud computing. You can break into the industry and start flexing your IT muscle, but the odds are high that you won't be there long before the degree of difficulty points you toward certification.
Among survey respondents, 76 percent worked in the field for three or fewer years before getting their first cloud certification, and 34 percent didn't even make it an entire year before getting a cert.
Workplace and education
There's a fair amount of freedom to move around in cloud computing. We asked survey respondents to identify the industry in which they are currently employed, and no one field captured even 25 percent of the overall group.
Popular employment sectors include computer and network consulting, which claims 23.7 percent of those surveyed; software (15.1 percent); finance (10.8 percent); health or medical services (8.6 percent); local, state, and federal government (6.5 percent); and education (4.3 percent).
For teens and young adults who are considering cloud computing as a potential career, definitely don't rule out higher education. Among survey respondents, 85 percent pursued their education far enough to hold some level of university or college degree, including 31.5 percent who topped out with a bachelor's degree, and 39.4 percent who went one step further and claimed a master's degree.
There's more information to come from our survey. Over the coming months, we'll be posting additional findings online at CertMag.com, where you can also find ongoing dispatches from our 2020 Salary Survey.