At this juncture, the cloud is “old” technology. Nonetheless, businesses are still switching over from their existing tech stacks to cloud-native platforms. And that, of course, offers lots of opportunity for tech professionals who can effectively wrangle the cloud.
Earlier this year, COMPTIA cited “cloud” (as broad as that term is) as one of the top five skillsets targeted by employers this year. Meanwhile, Gartner has forecast 18 percent growth for the public cloud services market in 2017, to $248 billion.
And yes, demand creates supply. For tech pros, the big question is whether you have the skills and certifications necessary to land the most lucrative cloud positions—and if not, how to obtain the necessary training. Fortunately, no two paths to training nirvana are alike; you have lots of opportunities to create your own path forward.
Building Blocks Reach Up to the Cloud
Cloud Foundry is a nonprofit dedicated to becoming the open-source platform for PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service). Last June, the organization launched a training program that has already enrolled 8,000 people.
In some ways, Cloud Foundry’s approach is similar to that of the Linux Foundation, explained Chip Childers, CTO of the Cloud Foundry Foundation. In other words, the organization can train people to become competent in a “kernel,” and that knowledge forms the foundation of further competencies. “We are more about the end-user… than anyone else here,” he said.
The organization offers two courses. “Introduction to Cloud Foundry” is pitched to systems administrators as a way to understand development in the cloud environment. The next level up is “Cloud Foundry for Developers,” which goes deeper into the architecture. Both courses are offered online, and can be licensed to other companies or colleges in need of cloud curriculum.
While completion rates for online courses are notoriously low, Childers notes that those enrolled in cloud courses are motivated to complete the material: “Employers are asking them (the students) to demonstrate a competence.”
The four-hour final exam in Cloud Foundry’s developer course is short on questions but long on trouble-shooting, writing code and pushing it to applications, Childers added: “The candidate performs the work to pass the exam.”
Although this two-course approach is intended to provide a foundation for cloud computing, it leaves the tech pro alone to tackle the next level up: particular vendor-based cloud products. Let’s explore.
Although many tech firms approach their cloud certification from different starting points, their coursework generally progresses from basic cloud concepts all the way up to the finer points of solutions. There is generally a crawl-walk-run approach.
Take Azure, Microsoft’s cloud platform. Certifications associated with Azure include Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD), Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE), and others. The coursework explores implementation issues; as you progress, you eventually learn how to design public- and hybrid-cloud solutions, including Amazon Web Services (AWS) implementations.
Microsoft’s training goes hands-on for infrastructure services, virtual machines, storage and networking. That’s one reason why pursuing an Azure certification is useful; and you’ll note that many companies demand these certs as a prerequisite of a job. (Currently, Microsoft offers over 20 courses via a self-paced, massive online learning platform on edx.org.)
“As new services are created, we consider the training needs of the audience and determine the most appropriate way to help people build skills and to help organizations build capability at scale.” said Keith Boyd, Director of Business Project Management at Microsoft. A lot of customer feedback goes into crafting new coursework. “Some scenarios are simpler than others—we rely on our customers and partners to provide guidance on where our learning solutions can have the greatest impact.”
New courses in Azure DevOps and Azure Cloud Administration are expected to go live soon. The tests at the end of the process shouldn’t present any unexpected challenges to those who have gone through Microsoft materials before. “For practitioners who already have a lot of experience (at least six months of practical experience) provisioning or using Azure services, a quick refresher may be all that’s needed.” Boyd noted.
With regard to the cloud and certifications, Cisco’s coursework serves two broad certifications: Cisco Certified network Administrator (CCNA) and the higher-level Cisco Certified Network professional (CCNP). CCNA coursework provides an intro to cloud fundamentals and cloud administration, while the CCNP goes through four courses: implementing and troubleshooting the Cisco cloud infrastructure, designing the cloud, automating the enterprise cloud, and building the cloud with application-centric infrastructure.
(Cisco also offers another certification category, Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) for networking.)
“Basic knowledge of networking, servers and storage is a requirement when it comes to cloud certifications,” said Antonella Corno, senior manager of product strategy, Learning@Cisco. “The CCNA Cloud Certification, for instance, is Cisco’s entry-level certification for cloud but still requires some basic knowledge of networking, servers and storage. These basic requirements make this certification easily accessible to virtually all branches of IT, and it prepares individuals for a career in cloud. Cisco CCNP builds on CCNA, and assumes the exam-taker holds a CCNA Cloud or has equivalent experience.”
These days, technology often evolves faster than the time it takes to complete a certification journey from rookie to master, Corno explained. Now Cisco adds components to its coursework as new technology emerges in the market, be it mobile, security, or Internet of Things (IoT). “Some certification tracks are converging and mixing,” she said. “For cloud in particular, there are several aspects of training that have a lot in common with some of our other tracks, such as Service Provider certifications.”
Oracle’s training extends across a spectrum of corporate cloud applications: service, sales, financial, portfolio management, human capital management (HCM) and supply chain management. However, no category is “siloed” the same way. For example, the HCM cloud offers courses spread out over compensation, benefits, talent management, payroll, absence management, time and labor and capital management. The Oracle sales cloud will be tiered from administrator to implementer to developer.
Oracle has shifted how it tests candidates seeking certification. “We plan to further expand our exam offerings to allow for more performance-based exams, with tests involving the use of live environments,” said Damien Carey, senior vice president of Oracle University. “There will also be several opportunities to build exams that integrate different cloud families (example ‘PaaS for SaaS’). Finally, we will also explore building exams for new modules and new cloud based job roles.”
Over the past five years, Oracle has also shifted the majority of its coursework from in-class to online, even offering courses on a subscription basis. “No longer is it realistic for students to participate in live classroom sessions every few months for updates, and therefore our subscriptions have been designed for students to easily receive training updates online,” Carey said. “There is also a change in learning styles as Millennials enter the workforce. They prefer more modular-based content that is shorter in duration.”
As a legacy database company, Oracle has a large install base of certified associates that numbers roughly two million. Certification naturally evolved from the conventional database to the conventional cloud. “For example, DBAs who know conventional database principles will find it easy to become cloud DBAs, as many of the fundamental principles are the same,” Carey said. “If a user already knows an existing programming language like Java, Ruby, Python etc., we offer courses to help them leverage this knowledge to build and deploy applications on the cloud. It is also possible for existing professionals to cross-skill into related areas and expand their expertise across the cloud stack.”
What It All Means
Chances are good that your company’s cloud environment isn’t homogeneous; your people will rely on various platforms to accomplish certain tasks within your tech stack. With that in mind, at least a glancing familiarity with these platforms (along with Amazon, which we covered in an earlier piece on certifications) is essential; and full-on certification—provided you have the time and funds—can’t hurt.