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It's more than an IT job -- it's a cloud career

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Are you on the right cloud computing career path?

As the use of cloud computing increases within companies, jobs with cloud skills also emerge. Are you on the right cloud career path?

While the rise of cloud computing frightens some in IT, many see the technology as an opportunity to accelerate their careers and grow their bank accounts. However, those attempting to navigate their cloud careers must take specific paths, and understand certain skill sets are valued more than others.

IT pros have good reason to be optimistic about finding riches in the cloud. In the U.S. today, 3.9 million jobs are associated with cloud computing, with 384,478 of them in IT, according to Forbes. The median salary for IT professionals with cloud computing experience is $90,950. Currently, there are 18,239,258 cloud computing jobs worldwide, 40.8% of which are located in China.

There is an explosion in both cloud computing use and demand for people who can help with cloud migrations. There are about 100 jobs chasing each qualified candidate at this point in time, according to technical recruiters. That disparity will likely grow later this year, and in 2016.

Choosing a cloud career path

There are two types of emerging cloud computing careers: IT pros with specific cloud skills and IT admins with cloud architecture know-how.

Companies that require specific cloud computing skills or development skills are typically already committed to a specific cloud provider, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud Platform. These positions are often tied to emerging DevOps automation tools and processes, and usually in newly formed enterprise groups.

As Docker and container technology trends, there's demand for knowledge or experience building portable applications with containers. Figure 1 shows the explosive growth of Docker in the last few years based on the number of job postings reported by Indeed.com.

Figure 1: Docker has driven a number of job postings since early 2014.

Docker knowledge is a highly sought skill, as most cloud providers adopt this container technology. A background in container-clustering technology, such as Google's Kubernetes and Docker Swarm systems, is also in demand.

Roles requiring specific cloud skills account for the majority of cloud computing jobs today. Job postings seeking AWS skills lead by a large margin, followed by those requiring Google and Microsoft expertise. Figure 2 shows an increase in job postings for AWS talent, with explosive growth over a six-year period. These jobs include configuration, development and operations positions, with salaries ranging from $110,000 to $220,000 annually, depending on location.

Figure 2: The number of AWS job posting growth since 2006.

In the last year, Google Cloud Platform and Microsoft Azure have shown stronger growth rates, exceeding that of AWS in some respects. This led to more job openings that focus on Google and Microsoft, a trend that will likely continue as enterprises use a mix of public cloud providers. However, IBM, HP, Verizon and CenturyLink are still in the mix, generating demand for jobs related to their own cloud platforms.

Building the cloud and your career

Companies with cloud architect positions seek people who can define the cloud -- from business requirements to the actual cloud deployment. These jobs tend to be with companies that have yet to define their path to the cloud and need some assistance. They may be defining the use of existing private and public clouds, or building clouds from the ground up.

Typically posted as "cloud solution architect" or "cloud architect," cloud architecture jobs require strategic knowledge of most cloud computing technology and providers, as well as the ability to form those clouds to fit enterprise goals or needs.

Cloud architecture candidates should have enterprise architecture and/or service-oriented architecture experience, with some knowledge of proper cloud computing technology use. Salaries range from $150,000 to $250,000 annually, depending on location and experience. Consulting firms typically pay the most, but these jobs require a great deal of travel, and you can bet your dance card will be full.

Making it official with cloud certifications

The rise of cloud-related jobs brings the rise of cloud certification programs. Top cloud certification programs include:

As expected, technology providers tend to focus these certification programs on their own products. However, they do provide the basics around cloud computing architectures. If you are someone who learns through this type of training and needs that piece of paper, then these cloud certification programs might work for you.

The majority of IT pros who work in specific cloud positions either learned on the job or are self-taught. That may change, however, as these programs become more popular and employers require the certifications. But the required skills go well beyond what people are able to learn in the classroom. As a result, those cloud experts who have a consistent motivation to learn and keep up with the rapid changes typically do better, and therefore make more money.

Investing in cloud computing skills and knowledge is a good bet -- and a wise career move. While many IT admins will seek cloud skills and knowledge through training and certification programs, cloud computing is moving too fast for those programs to keep up. It's up to you to do the extracurricular work to stay ahead of the game.

About the author:
David "Dave" S. Linthicum is senior vice president of Cloud Technology Partners and an internationally recognized cloud industry expert and thought leader. He is the author or co-author of 13 books on computing, including the best-selling Enterprise Application Integration. Linthicum keynotes at many leading technology conferences on cloud computing, SOA, enterprise application integration and enterprise architecture.

His latest book is Cloud Computing and SOA Convergence in Your Enterprise: A Step-by-Step Guide. His industry experience includes tenures as chief technology officer and CEO of several successful software companies and upper-level management positions in Fortune 100 companies. In addition, he was an associate professor of computer science for eight years and continues to lecture at major technical colleges and universities, including the University of Virginia, Arizona State University and the University of Wisconsin.

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This was first published in March 2015

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Essential Guide

It's more than an IT job -- it's a cloud career

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