How to become a cloud architect

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Here's what you should know about cloud architecture jobs including skills, qualifications, responsibilities and salary expectations

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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.

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"Most, if not all, companies operate within the cloud today, so the demand for cloud architects has never been higher," said Gunnar Menzel, chief architect for cloud infrastructure services at Capgemini. "This means that aspiring cloud architects need to have strong work ethics, be fast learners, and equip themselves with an array of hard and soft skills.

"However a cloud architect’s role has become much more than just IT knowledge. For many businesses, cloud is now central to their day-to-day operations, and they rely on architects to help shape digital strategy and drive opportunity through technological innovation.

“Ultimately, they are now responsible for connecting the boardroom with the IT engine room and are a key asset in achieving digital and overall business success," he added.

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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 in the cloud.

"Today’s cloud architect needs to understand the business sector they are working in, develop technical knowledge related to the business, and deliver impact in their work by thinking about ways to improve business performance," said Menzel.

Qualifications and skills

One of the main challenges for aspiring cloud architects is obtaining the right skills. Like any emerging 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.

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 certifications 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.

For example, 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 while a video-based package will cost around $600. Alternatively, you can opt for a package which combines both instructor-led and video-based training for $1,700.

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 £1,846.

Speaking with ComputerworldUK earlier this year, Nidhi Gupta, SVP of engineering at Hired.com said: "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," concluded Gupta.

Aspiring cloud architects should make sure they have a firm and thorough knowledge of the basic infrastructure within cloud environments. A holistic approach to applications in a cloud environment will set candidates apart.

It's all good and well having advanced knowledge of the business structure, but fundamentally, you'll still need to have a firm understanding of the basics.

Cloud platforms will crumble if their foundations can't properly support their frameworks. By knowing every quirk and issue within the platform, you'll be able to avoid risks associated with design, architecture and security.

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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.

You'll need to be passionate about cloud infrastructures, and be interested in parts of tech that could improve the cloud sector as a whole.

It's extremely important to master non-technical skills as well as technical ones.

You'll find as a cloud architect, you'll need to collaborate with different people within the IT department, as well as teams outside of it.

Experience with working across multiple departments is a massive plus for employers, as it not only demonstrates excellent communication versatility but also highlights solid leadership skills.

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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 November 2016 and November 2017, the average UK cloud architect salary increased by 3.45 percent, following a 7.14 percent growth from 2015 to 2016.

In the last three months, IT Jobs Watch has recorded 333 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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Testimony

Speaking to ComputerworldUK in February, 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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