As businesses migrate more and more of their core operations to the cloud, the importance of cloud engineers only increases. If you’re wondering how to become a cloud engineer, it’s important to learn not only the most popular cloud platforms and how they can best serve organizations, but also how to migrate any on-premises apps and services to a cloud-based environment, which is a key requirement for many cloud engineering jobs.
Successful cloud engineers not only have lots of technical knowledge—they also possess incredible “soft skills” such as empathy and communication, as they must effectively convey information (and secure buy-in) from multiple stakeholders throughout an organization, from software engineers to senior executives.
Here are some questions you might have if you’re interested in how to become a cloud engineer:
What skills do cloud engineers need?
On the technical side of things, the necessary skills often depend on the size the organization, the industry, and the size of the team. For starters, though, cloud engineers should have a solid grasp of the three major cloud platforms often utilized by businesses:
A cloud engineer is expected to understand the options available on each of these platforms, including storage (and how to deploy/manage it) and compute. During the interview process, a candidate for cloud engineering position will likely face some highly technical questions designed to test their cloud-platform knowledge, so it’s not something you can fake.
As more network functions migrate to the cloud, cloud engineers should also know as much as possible about cloud-based network management, from spinning up virtual networks and servers to security. (At moments, a cloud engineer job might seem virtually identical to a network engineer job, depending on the cloudiness of the organization’s IT stack.)
Web services and APIs are also key, which means cloud engineers must be familiar with XML, SOAP, and how to automate processes.
Do you need degrees and certifications to become a cloud engineer?
Shira Shamban, CEO at Solvo, a security automation enabler for cloud development and production environments, suggests that, much like in other technical fields, degrees and certifications aren’t mandatory to become a professional in cloud engineering.
“They are, however, useful in several cases like when you're looking for an entry-level position and want to have some kind of advantage,” she says. “This would show potential employers your motivation, ability to learn on your own, and prove to them you have some basic knowledge in the field.”
Certifications can also be useful when you want or need very specific knowledge in a narrow, cloud-related domain like cybersecurity. “These domains have a lot of nuances and just reading documentation won't help you get things done," she says. "Of course, the ideal scenario would be working hands-on while getting some certifications, so you can implement and experiment with things that you learned in the lab."
What training resources are available for cloud engineers?
For those who want to become a cloud engineer, there’s always a more traditional route. Nathan Demuth, vice president of cloud services at Coalfire, says his career started with studying information systems in college. “Cloud was just starting to gain traction at the time I finished my degree and represented an opportunity to get invested in a domain that even top professionals at the time didn't fully understand, and with nothing to lose,” he explains.
There are also lots of online training camps, academies, and fast courses for you to improve your skills, whether or not you have a degree. Demuth points to a variety of training sources he's used, including formal training camps. These programs are often “tiered,” allowing you to access more basic or advanced content depending on your skill level.
“These usually offered extensive videos, exercises, and materials to guide you through self-learning projects,” he says. “Some of these are also geared around a curriculum to pass CSP certifications.”
On a more informal basis, forums such as Reddit and Discord are full of professionals who are often willing to provide advice. If you ask nicely, these technologists will often share their knowledge about everything from managing cloud resources to the processes and tools of a CI/CD pipeline.
“The other skills that make a successful cloud engineer include having an understanding of every CSPs shared responsibility model, and how that does or does not impact your work and architecture--especially security responsibilities,” Demuth adds.
What’s a good skill for cloud engineers to know?
Shamban believes a good cloud engineer doesn't wait for problems to occur. Planning in advance is really important, especially if you want to deliver the right solution at the right time (i.e., when problems are still small, and definitely before the production environment breaks).
"The cloud as we know it today is very different from what it was five years ago," she says. "So other than keeping yourself up-to-date with new technologies, cloud engineers need to have a good understanding about what a product and application in the cloud is doing in order to build the ideal infrastructure to support it."
In today's reality, she says cloud engineers also need to understand where their crown jewels are; that will allow them to secure the most valuable data and services from internal and external threats.
Cloud engineering is complex, so keep cool
Demuth says a general knowledge of datacenter architecture and design principles is also important. Although many businesses are migrating to the cloud, many still rely on on-premises solutions; chances are good you’ll be working within a “hybrid” environment, including localized servers and hardware.
"Don't be overwhelmed by the vastness of vendors, domains, and skills you see listed to become a cloud engineer," he advises. "While it is a lot, it is absolutely doable if you take it one step at a time."
As you begin your training journey, Demuth recommends leveraging CSPs’ free tier to open accounts and build things. “Find open-source projects and challenges to build out environments and complete them,” he says. “It doesn’t matter if your work sucks at first, just start getting the experience.”
If you’re able to afford it, prioritize your budget for self-paced online learning courses and potentially a conference or two (if possible). And make sure to document all the projects you work on: when it comes time to apply for jobs, a portfolio of work can really impress a hiring manager and/or recruiter.
In terms of a portfolio, don’t be afraid to show off your personal work, even if it’s just some code on GitHub. “This will both make you think through what you did, and why, to reflect on your strengths and weaknesses, and will pay off later in interviews as you can share that work with potential employers to see your progression and commitment,” Demuth says.
Are there free cloud engineer training options?
Shamban points out that all the big cloud providers have free training, labs, and workshops; some will even give you a few hundred dollars in credit to start exploring and playing around.
“Take one of the labs and start building your projects,” she says. “But don't forget to shut down your cloud assets when you're done, because these bills add up.”
Demuth notes it’s important to make sure you truly understand what value cloud offers over other types of systems… and why. “Ask yourself where and how it adds or subtracts value from the mission objectives you’re working on and the problems you’re trying to solve,” he says. “Understand alternatives, and when and why they may be more suitable.”
Above all, he says, stay curious, and continue to set time aside throughout the weeks and years to keep up on whatever Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Oracle, and other vendors produce next. “It may not be critical for you to become an overnight expert on everything new, but cloud is a rapidly changing landscape and you don't want to be fully caught off guard with changes,” Demuth says.
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