The cloud industry continues to grow, meaning there are more and more opportunities for careers in cloud computing. If you’re planning to go to a university to get a degree before entering the field, you’re going to be faced with a possibly overwhelming number of options. Let’s look at what cloud computing involves, and then see how different degree programs match the required skills; then we’ll talk about how advanced of a degree you’ll want.
There are many fields within cloud computing, but the two most common are administration (where you manage cloud systems) and programming (where you develop apps that run in the cloud), and they have significant overlap. If you’re planning to go into administration, you’ll need a complete understanding of how cloud services work and how they fit together, along with some programming knowledge, especially in languages such as python. If you’re planning on going into programming, you’ll need a basic understanding the cloud services and strong programming knowledge.
Cloud platforms have a huge number of services (around 200, give or take). Of these, there is a core set you’ll want to be familiar with, such as compute services (which run apps and code), database services, networking services, and user administration services. It’s a lot to master, which helps explain the incredible demand for cloud talent out there.
Understanding networking is especially important so that you know how to connect all these services together. Additionally you’ll need to understand how to coordinate and manage services using automation and orchestration tools. You’ll also want a good grasp of software architecture, even though you aren’t planning to build software yourself. As such, you’ll want to find a degree program with emphasis on these technologies.
Here are a couple of the more common names for such degree programs; they’re all essentially the same with different names:
- Information Technology
- Information Systems
- Information Science
- Information Technology Management
- Business Technology
One interesting aspect is that you’ll find such degrees taught in two distinct schools within a university: Engineering or Computer Science Schools, and Business Schools. The programs will be essentially the same, except the ones run by the business schools will likely require you to take basic business administration and accounting courses.
Pro Tip: Most degree programs are flexible. There will be a core set of courses you take, and then electives. If there are a couple semesters of cloud computing courses, definitely take those. If not, take classes on networking, database management and administration, and at least one intro-level programming course. Then you might want to look at third-party cloud certifications in addition to your degree.
Cloud Programming and Development
Finally, you’ll need to learn how to use the various cloud frameworks that allow your apps to easily integrate with the different cloud services. That means finding a program that teaches you programming and software development skills along with some cloud architecture coursework.
There are two main programs you’ll encounter (and different universities don’t seem to agree on the scope of these programs), but in general they’re similar:
- Computer Science: This is the most common program for going into computer programming with the goal of building general-purpose applications that run on PCs and smartphones.
- Software Engineering: This program is usually geared more towards building software that either runs behind the scenes (such as the software that makes the iPhone function) or highly-specialized “device” software (such as IoT and embedded systems).
Pro Tip: Make sure the program is a software development program. Another program you might encounter is called “Computer Engineering” (note the lack of ‘software’ in the name), which will be more geared towards hardware (such as building computers) rather than programming. But again, look carefully at the program, because some universities name their programs differently.
Second Pro Tip: You might not find a program that’s suited exactly to what we’re talking about here. Instead, you might want to go with a degree that teaches you software development, and then take additional electives that teach the cloud aspects. If such electives aren’t available, then you might want to get the degree and then obtain some third-party cloud certifications to complete your knowledge.
How Far Should You Go?
When pursuing a cloud degree, you can obtain anything from an associate’s degree (which typically takes two years) all the way through a doctorate (you’d need a decade or more). Let’s consider the differences:
This is usually a two-year program, and typically found at a community college. This is a great starting point, as the courses tend to cost far less than the equivalents at a university (even though they’re virtually identical). Many people do two years at a community college and then transfer to a university. Be wary of stopping after you obtain an associate’s degree however, as you might not have a chance to learn everything you need to know for a career in cloud computing. This could put you at a disadvantage when applying to jobs. Many of the topics you need to study are found during the third and fourth year of a bachelor’s degree.
This is by far the most common level of degree people obtain as part of their cloud-based education. There’s plenty of time to learn as much as you can about cloud computing, and most universities have programs in both administration and programming. These degrees usually take four years, but some people prefer to go a bit more slowly and take five years (or even six).
Pro Tip: Go at your own pace. Companies hiring people rarely ask how many years it took you to obtain your degree, because it really is irrelevant. And if you’re working a day job, you can often take night classes, which will likely take six years.
The general idea from an academic perspective is that a master’s degree completes your knowledge and training in a field before you go to a level of being a researcher. That is to say, you have “mastered” the knowledge needed.
Pro Tip: You can land a job pretty easily with only a bachelor’s and not a master’s. But often a master’s degree will earn you higher pay. What many people do is get the bachelor’s, start working, and after a couple years go back to school to get a master’s.
What about Doctorate Degrees?
After you have “mastered” a subject, the next level up is to specialize within the general field, and become so knowledgeable and proficient that you can begin to do research. That’s what the PhD or doctorate level is usually for; most people who obtain a doctorate have the goal of teaching at a university and doing research rather than working in the industry. Remember, it can take years to obtain a doctorate. The general rule of thumb is “eight years” from starting college to finishing a PhD, but many people take longer.
Pro Tip: While we would never discourage anyone from advancing their education to this level, the reality is you may end up at a disadvantage when applying for jobs if you go all the way from starting college to finishing a doctorate without taking a break to get a few years of practical experience.
While a PhD typically commands a higher salary, such lack of experience forces you into a junior level position. Companies don’t want to pay PhD rates for a junior-level position and may well skip over your resume. If you want to go all the way to PhD, consider first getting a bachelor’s, and then take a few years to get some real-world work experience. Then you can enroll into grad school. (Also, a lot of grad programs have a dual program where you enter as a PhD student and are awarded a master’s degree midway through.)
Now that you’ve decided you want to go into cloud computing, think about which specialization you prefer (administration or software development). And then take time to look at the actual courses a university’s program offers. Does it fit with your goals? If not, see if additional electives will complete the program; if there’s no good elective pathway, check other universities. The right program is out there; you just have to find it. Then get ready to work. But the rewards of the career will make it worth it.