This feature first appeared in the Fall 2020 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
When is the last time that you looked at the local forecast and saw nothing but clouds? Some days are like that, as the saying goes (even in Australia). In the information technology (IT) realm of the last few years, it’s kind of like that any time that you look at any forecast.
One report released at the end of 2021 predicts that the global cloud computing market will balloon from the $445.3 billion (in 2021) to $947.3 billion — more than doubling in size — just by 2026. A different, slightly older report estimates the compound annual growth rate of the cloud computing market at 17.9 percent through 2028.
A 2020 survey of business leaders conducted by Harvard Business Review and data analytics software firm Splunk uncovered the following:
More than 80 percent of survey respondents affirmed that cloud computing is either very or extremely important to future strategy and growth.
More than 65 percent of survey respondents said that nearly two-thirds of organizational infrastructure would be cloud-based by — wait for it — 2022.
Look around: Do you see the cloud?
The shape of cloud computing changes almost as quickly as the shape of clouds in the sky. One report of cloud computing trends for 2022 advises IT professionals to be on the watch for integration of machine learning and AI to improve cloud efficiency, as well as growth in cloud-based disaster recovery and increased introduction of Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) to improve cloud security.
A different report suggests that key developments in cloud computing this year will include rapid adoption of serverless computing, integration of Kubernetes and blockchain — to improve cloud scalability and availability — and widespread growth of cloud-enabled online gaming. You don’t need a high-powered gaming rig when everything is in the cloud.
All of this is swirling around like snowflakes in a blizzard. 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 12 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.
If you don't have a cloud computing 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, things probably won’t stay that way for long.
An ill wind?
With cloud computing expanding as rapidly as it has — most recently spurred by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — there are bound to be both pain points and red flags. Areas, in other words, where growth is outstripping available infrastructure and areas where accelerating demand is blowing past sensible precautions.
In similar fashion to the last time that we addressed this topic, our recent Cloud Computing Certification Survey queried certified cloud professionals about 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 85 percent of those surveyed are either very concerned (70.5 percent) or concerned (14.8 percent) about cloud data security, while just 14.7 percent are only somewhat concerned and no one checked the “not concerned” box.
A related issue generated the next-highest level of concern: cloud identity and access management. On this point, 83 percent of respondents are either very concerned (42.6 percent) or concerned (41 percent), with about 16 percent either somewhat concerned (13.1 percent) or not concerned (3.2 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 somewhat daunting to almost everyone who participated in the survey.
A sobering 92 percent of those surveyed are either very concerned (32.8 percent), concerned (34.4 percent), or somewhat concerned (24.6 percent) about data ownership, with just 8.2 percent of respondents essentially shrugging off the issue. Less alarming at present are such down-the-road land mines as standardization across cloud platforms and capacity management.
Current employment research indicates high demand for skilled cloud computing professionals, and those who participated in our survey have noticed. A notable 69 percent percent of survey respondents are either very concerned (27.9 percent) or concerned (41 percent) about the availability of skilled cloud personnel.
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 applications
We also investigated 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) generated the third-highest level of response.
In 2020, data backup and disaster recovery rated near the bottom of the “growth potential” list. Not anymore. Data backup and disaster recovery surged upward this year to rank fourth, bumping Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) down to sixth place.
Remember when everyone's most immediate conception of "the cloud" was as a nebulous digital nether realm where all of our files are stored? Our survey respondents rated data storage a distant fifth in terms of its growth potential, followed by the even less trendy realm of 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 more than a third of survey respondents (36.1 percent) paid the total cost of their most recent cloud computing certification, roughly 35 percent got the company they work for to foot the entire bill. What’s become much more common of late is a cost-sharing paradigm where employer and employee split the tab — 20 percent of survey respondents followed that model to claim their most recent cloud credential.
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 20 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 70 percent of those surveyed hold either just one (41 percent) or two (28.2 percent) cloud certs altogether, it seems clear that there’s room for growth in the field. Then again, when we asked this question in 2018, 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, roughly 80 percent worked in the field for three or fewer years before getting their first cloud certification, and 33 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 15 percent of the overall group.
Popular employment sectors include computer and network consulting, which claims 14.6 percent of those surveyed; local, state, and federal government (14.4 percent); education (12.9 percent); finance (8.1 percent); health or medical services (8.6 percent); and telecommunications (8.1 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, 80 percent pursued their education far enough to hold some level of university or college degree, including 38.2 percent who topped out with a bachelor’s degree, and 32.6 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 2022 Salary Survey.
TABLE TALK: Here's how certified cloud computing professionals grade certification providers.