We recently shared advice on becoming a cloud computing leader within your company (See 4 Steps to Becoming a Cloud Leader in Your Company.) Now we’re focusing on what it takes to build a cloud-first career. The idea is to make yourself invaluable to the growing numbers of organizations where cloud computing is becoming the default mode of operations. These firms need bona fide expertise to get the best business results out of their strategic technology investments in public, private, and hybrid cloud approaches.

man looking at clouds, dreaming of cloud computing careerCritically, a successful cloud career requires not just a technical background, but also the right mix of business skills, as noted in a recent TechTarget report. And while there’s not just one successful cloud career path, the six key skill categories outlined here will likely define the successful modern cloud pro—a person who’s going to be highly sought after for the foreseeable future.

We want to examine each of these skills in some depth, so we’ve split this post into two parts. In this Part One, we’ll look at the key technology-oriented aspects, including technologies and platforms, integration and multi-cloud issues, and training and certifications. In Part Two, we’ll address the more business-focused skills.

1. Technologies and platforms

Seasoned IT pros don’t need to abandon their prior experience to prep for a cloud career, but you’ll need to add some new skills. For instance, you’ll be hard-pressed to get anywhere without developing expertise in at least one of the public cloud behemoths, namely Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, and Microsoft Azure.

Should you focus on one vendor or build multi-platform experience? The latter approach will make you more versatile on the job market, though picking one to start with isn’t a bad idea. Amazon’s popularity and explosive growth make it a sensible first choice, though TechTarget contributor David Linthicum noted that both Microsoft and Google have shown more robust growth rates in the past year. There’s been a corresponding increase in related job openings as well, and that trend may be bolstered by the ongoing cloud price wars spurring enterprises to consider a multi-cloud approach. Of course, those aren’t the only cloud platforms in town, with IBM, HP, Verizon, Rackspace, and CenturyLink also generating employment demand.

Don’t lose sight of OpenStack, either—there’s a lack of qualified talent for this open source cloud option, according to 451 Research, and that’s driving up labor costs (read: your potential salary).

Containerization is increasingly a must-have, especially for developers building and running applications in the cloud. Docker has become the go-to option, though there are plenty of alternatives worth keeping an eye on. As Docker adoption grows, so will demand for cloud pros experienced with it.

Automation software is another technology category gaining steam in cloud-first environments, especially those that have adopted DevOps, according to InformationWeek. This includes tools like Puppet, Chef, Ansible, and others, and as their usage grows, so does employer demand for people who know their way around these platforms. Hiring interest in Puppet’s automation and configuration management suite jumped 67% from January 2014 to January 2015 on tech jobs site Dice, for example.

2. Integration and multi-cloud environments

“Cloud” means different things to different audiences. Too often it’s used as an umbrella term for anything and everything delivered online, from Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications to Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) and more. But this terminology confusion reflects a real trend: Organizations will increasingly have to manage a mix of cloud services and vendors, as well as cloud types (public, private, and hybrid). Part of the task of the cloud pro, then, is to help efficiently manage multi-cloud environments.

multiple cloudsIntegration of data across applications—often acquired from different vendors and platforms or residing in different data centers—is a big deal in the cloud. It gets even more complicated when you want your cloud systems to talk to your legacy systems, too. But before you begin kicking the tires on potential integration tools, an important fundamental for future cloud architects and other cloud-first professionals is to include integration as a first step. Scrambling to address integration after the fact is like building a house and adding the wiring and plumbing after you’ve already put in the flooring and walls.

In a strategy piece for TechTarget, CIMI Corporation’s Tom Nolle points to workflow analysis as an essential skill in successful cloud integration. The site also offers a useful series on the subject of cloud integration:

3. Trainings and certifications

Industry and vendor certifications have long been an essential part of IT resumes. And now cloud computing has hopped on the certification bandwagon. Major vendors like Amazon and Microsoft run various training and credentialing programs, and industry association CompTIA offers the Cloud+ certification. Tom’s IT Pro checks in with its own list of the best cloud certifications for 2015.

Aspiring cloud professionals should remember that certifications alone won’t ensure your career success. In fact, Mark Broderick, IT applications director at Eliassen Group, tells us that when it comes to helping your organization develop the right cloud strategy, “traditional training and the accumulation of certifications are not always the best predictors for a successful outcome.”

That’s not to say certifications aren’t useful. They advertise particular skills and interests to employers; if you want to focus on, say, Microsoft Azure cloud environments, getting a Microsoft Specialist certification in Azure can only help. But it makes sense to treat certifications as a complementary piece of your career foundation.

In his TechTarget piece, David Linthicum points out a clear reason why: the pace of change in cloud computing makes it difficult for even the best certifications to stay current. So while employers may increasingly include them in their job descriptions, self-motivated, do-it-yourself cloud pros will retain an edge: “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,” Linthicum writes.

Be sure to also read 6 Key Skills You Need to Build a Career in the Cloud: Part 2


Cloud header, ladder, and multiple cloud images courtesy of Shutterstock.com.

Kevin Casey writes about technology and business for a wide variety of publications and companies. He won an Azbee Award, given by the American Society of Business Publication Editors, for his InformationWeek story, “Are You Too Old for IT?” He’s also a former community choice honoree in the Small Business Influencer Awards. View posts by .

Interested in writing for New Relic Blog? Send us a pitch!