Cloud computing enables access to software applications, data storage, and other services over the Internet instead of through physical servers.
Technology’s movement to the cloud is “inexorable,” says Ian Gorton, PhD, director of the graduate computer science programs at Northeastern University—Seattle. Large companies have been shifting to the cloud for several years. The IT analyst firm Gartner predicts that half of all companies worldwide will adopt an all-in cloud strategy by 2021. This means that they will stop investing in onsite data centers and servers or replace them entirely, and instead shift these resources to the cloud. Large companies and government agencies may employ hundreds of people to assist with a transition from onsite to cloud-based systems, Gorton adds.
The move to the cloud has also picked up in the months since the COVID-19 pandemic struck, as companies have shifted to support remote workforces with video conferencing software such as Microsoft Teams as well as collaboration products such as Google Docs. In addition, popular consumer sites such as Netflix and Spotify run using cloud services, and as they continue to grow, they too will need software engineers and architects with cloud computing skills.
According to Dice, landing a job as a software engineer, developer, or architect increasingly requires cloud computing experience. These skills come with an increase in salary—the median annual salary for cloud computing roles is $107,000, compared to $94,000 for other tech salaries.
Many of the traditional software development principles apply to cloud computing, but certain practices are especially valuable because of the way cloud-based services are managed. This article provides a closer look at what cloud computing does and provides 15 specific skills that will help you advance your cloud computing career.
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What is Cloud Computing?
Cloud computing refers to a range of computing services that are available over the Internet and not stored on your own computers or servers. Users pay for cloud-based services on an as-needed basis, whether it’s the amount of storage needed, the number of users of a software application, or the variety of services used.
There are three main types of cloud computing services:
- Infrastructure (servers, storage, and networking)
- Platform (databases, operating systems, and development tools)
- Software (applications)
Cloud computing is often beneficial for organizations that don’t want to buy and maintain physical technology infrastructure, especially if they aren’t planning to access applications or databases 24/7. Organizations such as hospitals, however, who often run mission-critical software in their own onsite data centers, are less likely to benefit from cloud services.
Meanwhile, major cloud services providers, like Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, and Microsoft Azure, benefit from scale. They can provide the same single service to thousands of customers of various sizes and in various industries.
Did You Know? The term “cloud computing” arose because the first schematic diagrams from telecommunications companies used the cloud to represent the Internet.
The skills needed to manage cloud computing services fall into two buckets: The fundamentals that are an important part of everyday work and the more advanced skills that are part of larger IT projects and IT management. Here’s a look at these skills in more depth.
Fundamental Cloud Computing Skills
These eight cloud computing skills are an important part of the day-to-day work of a cloud engineer or cloud architect. Honing these skills will help you contribute to a team that’s designing, developing, securing, and maintaining cloud services within an organization.
2. Platform Expertise
Amazon, Microsoft, and Google lead the cloud services market. Knowing how each of these three platforms works is a necessary skill for cloud computing professionals. Other companies with cloud platforms include IBM, Dell, Oracle, and Alibaba, which has a large presence in China. While each of the major vendors offers a certification program, a Graduate Certificate in Cloud Software Development will provide a well-rounded look at the cloud platforms as a whole.
3. Selecting the Right Services
Each cloud platform has specific strengths. Amazon is a leader in infrastructure; Microsoft is known for software; Google integrates with other vendor’s products; IBM focuses on artificial intelligence; Cisco Systems is a leader in networks, and so on. To work with cloud services, you need to be able to evaluate each platform and select the best option for a particular need.
4. Managing an Integrated Environment
Because platforms have different strengths, organizations are unlikely to use a single cloud platform. Data integration across different platforms is a highly sought skill among cloud computing professionals. This is especially true for organizations that use cloud services alongside legacy onsite client-server applications. Additionally, a multi-cloud strategy is beneficial for the sake of redundancy, as it gives an organization a fallback option if one cloud service is down.
5. Maintaining Databases
Storing data on the cloud isn’t the same as using an onsite data center. Challenges include storage limitations, security, and database performance. What’s more, vendors typically offer a variety of databases, with some better suited for analyzing large data files and others optimized for processing transactions, Gorton says. Cloud computing professionals need to understand which databases and services best suit a particular business need.
6. Managing a Network
With multiple cloud services interacting with one another, network management is a critical skill for cloud engineers. As with databases, different networks are suitable for different cloud services. For example, organizations often require employees to log into a virtual private network to access applications with access to sensitive information such as financial reports or personnel files; meanwhile, services such as videoconferencing may be routed on a different network because of performance requirements. As more employees continue to work remotely in the wake of COVID-19, effective network management will be an increasingly important cloud computing skill.
7. Securing the Cloud Environment
Ensuring that an organization’s cloud services are secure requires particular attention to detail. It’s not enough to secure the data itself; organizations need to protect the applications that use the data as well as the servers on which the applications run. Devices that transmit data to the cloud must be secured as well, whether they’re the smartphones in employees’ hands or the sensors transmitting data from the hospital room. Staying on top of emerging trends in cybersecurity will help you keep your organization a step ahead of major threats.
8. Adapting to New Roles and Technologies
The rise of cloud computing has led to a shift away from the traditional specialization of IT roles. While an onsite data center may have a system administrator, network engineer, security analyst, and storage engineer, today’s IT professionals need to be comfortable wearing each of those four hats—and taking on additional responsibilities or learning new technologies as necessary.
Advanced Cloud Computing Skills
These seven skills apply to long-term cloud computing projects that an organization is likely to undertake as its use of cloud services matures. Developing these skills will further demonstrate your cloud expertise and enable you to take on additional responsibilities, which will help you build your resumé and advance your cloud computing career.
9. Migrating Data
There are two major types of data migration to the cloud: Moving an old (or legacy) application from an onsite server to the cloud and moving from one cloud platform to another. To successfully migrate data, cloud professionals must be able to assess and map out their infrastructure, understand each cloud platform’s process for data migration, and indicate where data has been moved to—all while ensuring that nothing is lost during the process.
10. Automating Key Tasks
Automation is a major benefit of cloud services. When a piece of software can input information and decide the next action in response, an end-user doesn’t have to make that decision, which further improves efficiency. Programming this automation requires knowledge of artificial intelligence and machine learning, as they enable the creation of complex algorithms that help computers make decisions. The ability to automate multiple tasks also requires knowledge of the organization’s cloud architecture, namely which individual systems interact with or depend upon each other.
11. Designing Distributed Systems
Cloud computing is less about building new systems from scratch and more about putting systems together based on existing services, Gorton says. Assembling these distributed systems—so named because resources are located in different places—requires several skills, Gorton adds. These include predicting and monitoring system performance and comparing attributes of different services and data models.
12. Managing Change
It’s important to be able to draft plans for migrating data, bringing a new database online, creating a new network connection, or introducing another change to an organization’s cloud environment. These plans should include a written step-by-step procedure and a fallback option, which returns the project to its original state if a problem arises. The plans that organizations use for onsite changes such as server migrations or network upgrades can be applied here, though updates will be necessary to accommodate for the cloud.
13. Estimating Cost and Workload
Cost and workload estimation are critical skills due to how cloud service providers write their contracts, Gorton says. For example, if a data limit is exceeded, or an application requires more computing power to complete data analysis, organizations can expect to be hit with an overage. Another essential but often-overlooked consideration is what Gorton calls “orphaned resources,” or features that are created, misplaced, and created again, at a cost to an organization. Keeping a watchful eye on whether features are no longer being used can help keep costs down.
14. Measuring and Analyzing
Employers value job candidates with expertise in metrics and analytics. For example, it’s important for organizations using third-party cloud services to monitor application performance, as this ensures that they are getting their money’s worth from a service provider’s contract. Or, a network engineer may be tasked with evaluating and comparing cloud-based communication services as a way to replace landline telephones. Understanding which metrics set apart a certain service, or which features will cost the most money in the long run, is an important cloud computing skill.
Beyond your range of technical skills, soft skills such as communication and decision-making are valuable for a career in cloud computing. Internal stakeholders will turn to you for advice as they evaluate cloud platforms for their departments (or the entire company), so it’s important that you can clearly explain the benefits and drawbacks of each option. Cloud engineers working in customer-driven industries such as retail or travel should also be comfortable communicating directly with a company’s vendor—especially when experiencing problems or negotiating a new service contract.
How to Gain Cloud Computing Skills
If you’re interested in developing the cloud computing skills that will help you advance your career, consider a Graduate Certificate in Cloud Software Development from the Khoury College of Computer Sciences.
Through this program, you’ll learn through hands-on work on projects sourced from the industry’s leading cloud computing platforms, including Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, and Microsoft Azure. You’ll collaborate with faculty members who have implemented cloud services in a variety of industries, including finance, biomedical science, and the U.S. military, and who can bring real-world experience into the classroom setting.
To learn more about Northeastern’s cloud computing program, explore the program page here.