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Top 20 cloud computing skills to boost your career in 2021

As cloud adoption increases, so too does the need for IT experts with cloud computing skills. Here are 20 key skills to help you on your journey.

Cloud computing skills are in higher demand now than ever.

Larger businesses have been making a move to the cloud for several years, gradually reducing their levels of investment in on-premises data centers and servers. But the trend toward cloud adoption has seen a significant uptick over the last year, as the COVID-19 pandemic forces organizations to enable and support more remote, distributed workforces.

This called for the deployment of cloud-enabled video conferencing tools, including Zoom and Microsoft Teams. There was spike in demand for employee productivity and collaboration products, such as Google Docs. And streaming services, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, gained in popularity as extended lockdowns and stay-at-home orders were in effect.

What is cloud computing?

Cloud computing enables people to access software applications, data storage and other services over the internet instead of through traditional physical servers in a back office.

The cloud computing model enables users of internet-based computing services to be charged for what they consume on a pay-per-use basis. This is often referred to as a consumption-based pricing model and is a departure from more traditional subscription-based pricing models.

There are three main types of cloud services:

  1. Software as a service (SaaS). These are on-demand hosted services that provide access to business applications.
  2. Platform as a service (PaaS). These are web-based services and deployment of applications in the cloud.
  3. Infrastructure as a service (IaaS). These are virtualized computing resources over the internet and often offer storage.

For many businesses, the attraction of cloud services lies in the fact that they don't need to buy and maintain their own physical technology products, software, storage and infrastructure.

The cloud computing world is currently dominated by a handful of large, public cloud service providers (CSPs) and their products. These include AWS, Google Cloud Platform (GCP) and Microsoft Azure. These vendors can deliver the same service to hundreds of thousands -- or even millions -- of customers of various sizes and across different industries at an attractive price point.

Top cloud providers graphic

Cloud computing jobs beckon

Cloud computing is firmly entrenched in all aspects of business and home lives, and it's here to stay. That means increasing numbers of businesses are actively seeking out qualified and experienced cloud experts across several domains, including engineering, database management, programming, development, security and analytics. LinkedIn rates cloud computing as the most sought-after tech skill, alongside artificial intelligence and big data. This presents an opportunity to those who are willing to rise to the challenge of mastering the basic and more advanced cloud computing skills.

Here are the top cloud computing skills you'll want to obtain in 2021.

Key general cloud computing skills

1. Cloud service platform expertise

Gaining a thorough understanding of the CSP marketplace is a good starting point. Familiarize yourself with AWS, Azure and GCP. Other companies with cloud platforms include IBM, Dell, Cisco Systems, Oracle and OpenStack.

It is essential to differentiate between providers in terms of which may be most appropriate to house different applications or on which to run different types of workloads. You will need to be able to point out the pros and cons of each and select the best option to meet a specific need.

Each of the leading cloud platforms has its own strengths. AWS takes the lead in infrastructure. Microsoft excels in software. Google offers easy integration with other vendor products. IBM has honed artificial intelligence capability. Cisco Systems is a frontrunner in networks. And OpenStack is dominant in the software development market.

2. Programming languages

Knowledge of mainstream programming languages and the ability to write code to build, deploy and manage applications quickly are core capabilities for cloud architects, engineers and administrators. Certain programming languages, such as Java, JavaScript and Python, are best suited for cloud-based software. Database programming requires familiarity with SQL, NoSQL and Linux.

Read more here about the top six programming languages.

3. Application programming interfaces (APIs)

APIs are cloud-based software applications that interface with a number of networking and system components. To link and integrate different workloads to the cloud requires knowledge in the use of APIs. As a cloud professional, you will need to be adept at coding these APIs and the links used to integrate workloads into the cloud.

4. Database management

Today, businesses' databases are quickly moving to and running in cloud-based environments. This is an evolution from the days when databases were housed in physical data centers and managed in local geographies. Cloud databases can reside anywhere within a cloud infrastructure. If you have your sights set on becoming a cloud engineer, you will need to have skills that extend beyond what is required to manage databases that run in traditional on-premises data centers.

5. Network management

Knowledge of the basics of networking and the ability to integrate cloud services with the underpinned networks are essential skills. That's because, in the world of cloud computing, centralized computing resources are shared among a number of users. As a result, more and more core network management tasks and functions are being pushed into the cloud, which reduces the number of customer devices required to manage the environment.

If you're looking to become a cloud engineer, your duties will include ensuring that the network is stable and responsive to user demands by implementing automatic adjustment procedures. This calls for an understanding of the mechanisms of virtual networks.

6. Development and operations (DevOps)

In today's cloud environments, the days when developers and operations support personnel worked in their own silos are long gone. DevOps is the practice of harmonizing and integrating development and operations activities throughout the entire service lifecycle, including design, the development process and production support. This approach significantly reduces time to market for applications and eliminates unnecessary bottlenecks.

7. Machine learning and AI

Any aspiring cloud computing professional should gain a firm grasp of the fundamentals of artificial intelligence and machine learning. In cloud environments, much activity takes place without a high degree of human interaction. Machine learning and artificial intelligence skills are among the scarcest and most sought-after technology skills out there today.

Take this quiz to see what you know about machine learning and AI.

8. Cloud security

In cloud computing environments, both the storage and retrieval of data are performed beyond the traditional corporate boundaries and firewall. The cloud is particularly vulnerable to attacks and compromises, simply because the threat surface is so immense. This calls for a focus on security.

The negative effect of the loss or breach of personal customer data or proprietary company intellectual property can be devastating for businesses from both a reputational and financial perspective. Today, the demand for cybersecurity talent well outpaces its supply, and the ongoing rise in cloud computing technologies means that this trend is only set to continue.

9. Hybrid cloud

While the cloud has many benefits, it is not suitable for every part of a business's IT infrastructure, applications and workloads. For this reason, the notion of adopting a hybrid cloud approach has gained popularity in recent years.

In a hybrid cloud model, certain elements are retained on premises or in a dedicated private cloud, while less sensitive or more modern applications are migrated to a public cloud. To make the correct decisions about what belongs where, cloud professionals will need an understanding of how each cloud model works and how to unify them into a hybrid arrangement.

10. Storage

Data lies at the heart of cloud computing, so it is essential to understand how and where to store it. Depending on a business's needs and the type and volume of its data, it may select one or more of the following types of storage:

  • personal cloud storage
  • public cloud storage
  • private cloud storage
  • hybrid cloud storage

The benefits of cloud storage include the following:

  • accessibility
  • reliability
  • fast deployment
  • data backup and recovery
  • lower cost

In-depth understanding of how each type of cloud storage works is a valuable skill for cloud computing professionals.

11. Containers

Containers provide a packaging mechanism in which applications may be abstracted from the environments in which they are running. This decoupling process enables businesses to deploy container-based applications swiftly and consistently. Knowledge of today's most popular container technologies, such as Docker and Kubernetes, will increase your likelihood of securing employment in a cloud computing role.

12. Data and application migration and deployment

Moving software applications from a data center into a cloud environment is more complex than copying files from one server to another. That's because applications include elements such as code and files that execute commands and perform tasks, so a thorough assessment needs to be undertaken before any cloud migration is carried out. The best cloud professionals will treat each application on its own merits and be prepared to work with business stakeholders to chart the best course forward.

Common migration methods graphic

Key advanced cloud computing skills

13. Automation

Automation is one of the most significant benefits of cloud services. If applications can be programmed to make their own, correct decisions without human intervention, it can increase efficiency. Of course, cloud professionals have a role to play in facilitating this kind of automation. Specifically, they need to be well versed in the mechanics of a business's cloud architecture and the different components that interact with or depend on one other.

Common cloud automation tasks graphic

14. Cloud orchestration

Cloud orchestration is much like cloud automation; however, it involves the automation and coordination of multiple tasks instead of just one.

15. Linux

Linux is an open source OS that offers features such as easy customization and security. The demand for cloud professionals who can design, build, deploy, maintain and administer Linux-based servers is on the rise.

16. Performance testing

Testing the performance of cloud environments enables you to gauge how effectively they are operating. It will also uncover areas for potential iterative improvement.

17. Metrics and analytics

Expertise in metrics and analytics -- and understanding which metrics should be applied to specific cloud services -- will stand you in good stead. That's because these skills enable you to demonstrate the ROI of a business's cloud technology.

18. Cost and workload management

The ability to determine and monitor cost and workload estimation are valued skills. For instance, they will enable you to pinpoint if and where certain set data limits are being exceeded, which can lead to a business incurring unforeseen costs. It also enables the identification and elimination of any features that are not being used.

19. Change management

Cloud environments are extremely fluid. This means that the best cloud computing experts are comfortable functioning in an atmosphere that is continually in flux and can stay on top of constant changes to the underlying infrastructure, including databases, servers and network connections.

20. Cloud partnering

In cloud computing environments, several IT functions may be outsourced. It is not uncommon for businesses to engage with external consultants and contractors to benefit from their specialized skills. These cloud partners can bring invaluable experience and new insights into a project team. Prospective employers will look for candidates who are at ease with these kinds of arrangements.

How do you gain these key cloud computing skills?

There is no shortage of available learning resources to help you build and continually augment your cloud computing capabilities. These include both formal training at colleges, as well as free and paid online resources. Many businesses also offer on-the-job training opportunities.

Certifications that are recognized globally include the following:

  • AWS Certification
  • IBM Certified Solution Architect
  • Microsoft Azure certifications
  • Google Cloud Associate and Professional certifications
  • (ISC)2 Certified Cloud Security Professional
  • CompTIA Cloud+

As the adoption and popularity of cloud services become entrenched in every facet of life, a world of opportunity is opening for aspiring cloud computing gurus.

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