This feature first appeared in the Fall 2020 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
The last several months have certainly been a roller coaster of change for all professional environments. Even before the widespread disruption caused by COVID-19, however, the occurrence of remote work had increased dramatically over the last decade, climbing almost 160 percent across 12 years.
Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), which was almost unheard of 10 years ago, now generates almost $50 billion per year with an annual growth rate exceeding 20 percent. The global cloud services market is expected to reach about $258 billion in 2020. The need to access data anytime and anywhere has created a demand for data science and artificial intelligence professionals that can't be met.
These statistics, along with a variety of other business needs, reveal a glaring IT hiring need. There is an insatiable demand for cloud computing expertise — for seasoned cloud computing professionals who can design, manage, and maintain critical IT infrastructure in cloud environments.
The cloud employment landscape
For those who are new to cloud computing, it may be helpful to define the work environment, background, and technology skills employed by a cloud professional. Prior to the emergence of cloud technologies, almost all technology, software, database, server, and other IT requirements were managed on-premise by IT administrators with backgrounds in servers, networking, storage, and more.
Cloud technology has allowed businesses to shift the management of some, or all, of these responsibilities to third-party cloud providers. The three major types of cloud service offerings include Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), and Platform-as-a-service (PaaS).
SaaS started gaining prominence in the late 1990s. Farsighted business management solutions companies such as Concur and Salesforce launched a pioneering shift toward software license sales and cloud accessibility, with all aspects of the software being managed by the SaaS provider.
IaaS is a relatively newer field, with Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google, and Microsoft's Azure rising to prominence in the late 2000s and early 2010s. IaaS companies provide virtual machines, servers, storage, and networking to allow customers to shift their applications, databases, OS, and data to an online environment, without giving up all control to the IaaS provider.
PaaS is the smallest cloud segment. What we find here is typically an enhancement of IaaS offerings that consists of shifting OS and database control from the customer to the PaaS provider, while the customer retains management of applications and data.
A lack of qualified applicants
Among common cloud professions, system administrator, DevOps engineer, cloud engineers, cloud architect, software engineer, security engineer, and solutions architect are all job titles that are in high demand. These jobs offer high-pay, high-skill opportunities that require a variety of IT experience and skills.
For example, employment facilitator Indeed reports that the average cloud engineer in the United States earns more than $120,000 per year. The job description of a typical cloud engineer demands a broad array of knowledge that crosses several IT concentrations, including computers, servers, networking, cybersecurity, data analytics, programming, and cloud technologies such as AWS and Azure.
With employers requiring such a diverse skill set, it is often difficult for them to fill open cloud positions. Additionally, since many cloud technologies are relatively new, it is often difficult to find professionals with lengthy experience to fill high-level and management positions.
Complicating the cloud professional shortage, education has lagged behind the IT industry in providing training and certification opportunities both to students and established professionals. While 94 percent of enterprises have adopted cloud solutions, recent TestOut research indicated that only about 50 percent of higher education institutions provide cloud-centric courses.
Additionally, only a very small percentage of those institutions offer degrees or pathways in cloud management or related fields. Until the higher education realm begins to focus on cloud technology, there will continue to be a lack of entry-level professionals to fill the growing number of available cloud computing jobs.
Given that there are readily identifiable roadblocks to filling open positions, as well as a clear lack of experienced professionals, changes must be made to meet the market demand for cloud professionals. Academic institutions and employers will both play a key role in improving the availability of qualified cloud professionals.
The role of academia
As previously mentioned, TestOut found that only about 50 percent of higher education institutions offer any type of cloud course. Only a fraction of these provide a degree or learning pathway in cloud computing. The lack of qualified professionals will continue unless there can be a solid stream of entry-level cloud professionals from academic institutions.
Many are left wondering what an ideal cloud program should look like. Programs must include a wide base of knowledge while still providing the advanced, highly specialized skills needed to embark on a successful cloud computing career.
An early adopter in cloud learning is Purdue University Global, providing a Bachelor of Science in Cloud Computing and Solutions that covers the major needs of most current cloud job descriptions. There are 25 required courses in the program that train students with skills in IT basics through advanced cloud technology.
Students begin with conceptual courses in cybersecurity, software development, cloud computing, database, management, and networking. Advanced courses include project management, visualization, cloud security, cloud services management, cloud application development, windows administration, routing and switching, cloud applications, and system design.
The number of topics covered by this program may seem out of proportion with the requirements of a single major, but that is the reality of molding a qualified cloud professional. For those looking to create a four-year cloud degree, Purdue Global has provided a great template for what to include.
For career colleges or associate programs, it's difficult to conceptualize how to slim down something so complex into a two-year (or shorter) program. Just in the last year, Amazon Web Services has started partnering with colleges to provide cloud certificate programs, though these are heavily focused on AWS technology. While this is a noteworthy step forward in cloud education, many employers want workers who have experience with multiple cloud technology providers.
One of the very few two-year degrees in cloud computing is offered by Delgado Community College. Instead of focusing specifically on a single cloud services provider, they have selected courses to provide a foundation in hardware, cloud foundations, network security, project management, databases, Windows servers, Linux, and management.
Delgado has chosen to emphasize a well-rounded core set of skills over specific learning related to a single provider (such as AWS). Either approach has the potential to be very successful, but one may limit what future opportunities are available to graduates. The most important thing we need out of cloud education is more of it. More courses, more degrees, and more industry alignment.
The role of employers
At some point, employers must accept that there are not currently enough available cloud professionals and they must begin offering internal training pathways. Certifications and educational materials are already in place from the major cloud software providers, so that's probably the best place to start.
AWS provides affordable foundational, associate, and professional level certifications, as well as offering many free learning resources. Microsoft offers more than 50 different certification exams for Azure. Google offers 10 Google Cloud certifications. There is no shortage of certification opportunities and learning materials to help move employees from any IT role into that of a qualified cloud professional.
Employers also hold a tremendous amount of power in determining education curriculum. Most academic institutions consult with industry boards to develop and approve course offerings. Becoming active in local schools, including high schools, can have a dramatic impact on the training of entry-level professionals in a given region.
With so many cloud job openings, there is also a great opportunity for individuals to enhance their résumés and shift to one of the fastest growing segments of the entire IT industry. The aforementioned variety of certification and training options can help any individuals become qualified for a variety of cloud job roles.
For the benefit of anyone looking to expand his or her skill set, AWS provides many free learning materials. Google has partnered with Coursera to provide training materials. Most certifications are very affordably priced.
The ubiquity of cloud technologies and solutions is only going to increase moving forward. Employers and academic institutions must embrace the shift to the cloud and make efforts to prepare the next generation of cloud professionals. Until then, we will continue to see more and more cloud job openings go unfilled.