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With companies such as Google, Amazon and Microsoft using the cloud to change the way businesses store data, the demand for people with skills in cloud computing - and cloud architects specifically - has increased rapidly.

"Most, if not all, companies operate within the cloud now, so the demands for cloud architects have never been higher. With this in mind, aspiring enterprise cloud architects need to be flexible, fast learners, and equip themselves with a wide array of hard and soft skills," said Gunnar Menzel Chief Architect for cloud infrastructure services at Capgemini.

"The role of the architect is to understand the needs of the business and work out how to implement this change through technology – they are the intermediators between the engine room and the boardroom, ensuring that both sides have visibility on the task in hand to get the job done," he added.

Read on for information on the cloud architect job description, salary expectations, skills and qualifications and how the role is adapting.

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How to become a cloud architect: What is a cloud architect?

A cloud architect is responsible for overseeing an organisation’s entire cloud environment, making design decisions and planning how new hardware and software will fit in with both the cloud strategy and environment.

Working across varying cloud environments including public clouds, private clouds and hybrid cloud structures, a cloud architect will also monitor the deployment of applications over the cloud.

"While the term tends to cover a wide range of positions with different functional roles, a cloud architect is essentially an architect of distributed systems who works with very specific building blocks e.g. private or public cloudAPIs, orchestrators etc," explained Octavian Popescu, director, hosting development and cloud platforms at Interoute.

"It is their role to design and build scalable and resilient cloud environments, mapped as closely as possible to an enterprise’s business needs," he added.

How to become a cloud architect: Qualifications and skills

One of the main challenges for aspiring cloud architects is obtaining the right skills. Like any growing job role, cloud architecture doesn’t have a fully formed career path so some may feel under pressure to get as much experience as possible.

"The cloud architect faces a number of challenges, but in particular he or she has to make decisions about what technologies are worth incorporating across the organisation,” said Nidhi Gupta, SVP of Engineering at Hired.com.

"For example, should they be using Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure? Which technologies will add value and which are just shiny new toys?

"It’s not just the tech they need to worry about either. Cloud architects must also take into account critical information to choose which practices, methods and processes will best enable the organisation to be successful," added Gupta.

Generally speaking, employers will be looking for candidates with experience in numerous cloud computing disciplines. These include virtualisation, network infrastructures, virtual storage, software-defined networks, physical data storage and disaster recovery technologies.

Cloud companies will offer cloud certification specifically designed for their own cloud environment.

Big technology firms like AWS, Google and Dell EMC offer extensive cloud architecture certification and while this comes at a price, it could be the most effective way of ensuring a role as a cloud architect, if not a little limiting.

For example, for Dell EMC offer a three-pronged cloud architecture certificate that should suit most people’s budgets. An instructor-led course will set you back $2,700 (£2,168) while a video-based package will cost around $600 (£482). Alternatively, you can opt for a package which combines both instructor-led and video-based training for $1,700 (£1,365).

Other companies such as AWS only provide the certification exam with training carried out online. Meanwhile classroom training providers such as QA and Course Academy run courses priced at around £1,700.

"Typically cloud architects will have at least six to eight years of experience or more. Employers will look carefully at what you’ve done and learnt on the job. They’re after candidates who have managed large teams and used a range of different cloud technologies so they can compare and contrast them and optimise practice. In our experience, employers place equal value on candidates having the right degree and on-the-job knowledge. Not having higher-level theoretical education isn’t an issue for most employers," explained Gupta.

Alternatively, Interoute’s Octavian Popescu believes that more ‘basic’ infrastructural knowledge should also be possessed by a cloud architect. A holistic approach to applications in a cloud environment will set candidates apart.

"Despite the ever-growing layers of abstraction and the drive to have software-defined building blocks which take over the intelligence from the infrastructure, a cloud architect should always possess a good understanding of the back-end together with its low-level resources: networks, storage, systems and hypervisors.

"Enterprise cloud platforms should be designed on the assumption that any part of their foundation might break and this is where a capable cloud architect can make the difference. By understanding the various quirks and limitations of the back-end systems an architect can design for them and mitigate the associated risks in the upper layers of the infrastructure," said Popesu.

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What about non-certified skills?

In technical roles it’s easy to just focus on formal skills that are vital to the role. However, the cloud architect role also requires a range of soft skills, from communication and leadership skills to enthusiasm and passion for cloud infrastructures.    

The common thread is these people are all 100 percent passionate about what they do – to the extent that even if they weren’t getting paid pretty well to do their job, they’d probably be doing it at home anyway. This means we hire people who’ll be genuinely excited about what’s happening within the company or the next thing that’s coming along the pipeline,” said Alex Bartfeld, VP Professional Services at cloud-based data management and analytics firm Cloudera.

Similarly for Nidhi Gupta, technical skills will only get you so far, it’s so important to master non-technical skills. Gupta said:

"Collaboration and people skills are key – Like all DevOps roles, cloud architects are highly collaborative by nature. Employers are looking for people who can cope with managing complex systems, deal with internal customers, demonstrate leadership and work across departments. Show off your people skills and how you’d deploy these in your job."

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How to become a cloud architect: Salary expectations

According to IT Jobs Watch, in the UK a cloud architect could expect to receive on average around £75,000 annually, this is considerably higher than the average salary for those in the cloud computing sector in the UK (this being £57,000 per year). 

What's more, between 2015 and 2016, the average UK cloud architect salary increased by 7.14 percent, growing from £70,000 to £75,000 in a year. 

In the last three months, IT Jobs Watch has recorded 313 cloud architect job advertisements, beating both cloud solutions architects and cloud infrastructure architects. This growth highlight the increasing demand for cloud architects.

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How to become a cloud architect: Is the role changing?

Historically, technology careers can change shape pretty quickly as new tech trends come and go. Knowing how your role could change will set you in good stead for any potential career moves. 

"The cloud architect role is particularly dynamic and the requirements are constantly evolving. This reflects the evolution of cloud technologies over time, the move from private, on-premise clouds to public clouds and not least, the high fragmentation (and lack of unified standards) of the services offered by public cloud vendors.

"One of the most notable changes in recent times is a shift of focus from back-end resources (e.g. hypervisors, storage, network infrastructure) to a more abstract, API-driven view of the platform that might lead in time to a pure infrastructure as a code approach where the end-to-end management of the platform is primarily done by software engineers," said Popescu.

Cloudera's Alex Bartfeld recalled when he joined the company, and how the changes he's seen over the past few years have been huge.

"The biggest change is the product. The product when I joined Cloudera in 2013 had very little resemblance to what we have now, that’s the main difference.

"As a technical architect in a software company, these are the people who understand our business and customers’ business – their mission isn’t just high quality deliverables to customers, but to get a value and ensure they come back and buy more product from us.

"So we’re increasingly seeing people need to have a business development role but also understand what the customer wants, as well as being able to speak the industry’s language, using financial services as an example. A technical architect at Cloudera would want to understand market risk and have enough knowledge to bring that technical vision to fruition."

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How to become a cloud architect: Testimony

Paul Bretan, senior manager, virtual data centre cloud architecture at Interoute said:

"Being a cloud architect for the past five years at Interoute, I can say for certain that there is no single definition that covers the role entirely. It’s a demanding role that requires a lot of adapting and constant research.

"For me, moving from a pure enterprise hosting architecture role into the much more dynamic cloud architect role required a change in mentality. Customer demands drive ever more agile infrastructure deployment and as we’ve moved forward, our remit has widened from infrastructure to services and products.

"Today, my role requires more involvement with software providers and developers who are trying to bundle a variety of products into service offerings that bring value to our customers and are attractive enough for them to consider us above our competitors.

"The most crucial thing to grasp as a cloud architect is that you can add value to a company by being an enabler in this complex process of digital transformation which enterprises are currently experiencing or will be in the near future," he concluded.

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