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APAC career guide on cloud computing

Besides having engineering chops and certifications, aspiring cloud professionals should have curiosity and soft skills to succeed in the evolving cloud computing landscape

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: CW Asia-Pacific: CW APAC: Career guide to cloud computing

As executive director for cloud engineering and services at Singapore’s DBS Bank, Koh Jit Soon oversees a team of engineers who run production services for deploying the bank’s cloud technology on private and public cloud environments.

That includes DevOps engineers who support DBS’s on-premise private cloud infrastructure in areas such as implementing and operating open systems, as well as public cloud engineers who monitor and manage the bank’s public cloud usage.

When Koh joined DBS in 2017, the bank was just starting to ramp up its use of public cloud services as part of its digital transformation efforts. Four years later, with rising cloud adoption, cloud computing experts like Koh are now in short supply across the Asia-Pacific region.

“Considering cloud computing requires additional skill subsets, the shortage becomes somewhat more pronounced,” says Tejas Patel, Accenture’s managing director for technology strategy and advisory in growth markets.

“When you compound that with the exceptional rate of cloud deployment due to the pandemic, it becomes clear that we will need more cloud computing professionals relatively quickly, especially given that post-deployment will only further heighten the need to optimise cloud infrastructure and investments.”

In Australia, for example, many organisations have been adopting cloud to compete and prepare for future uncertainty, resulting in talent shortages, particularly for senior and principal roles, says Tim Hope, chief technology officer of cloud services consulting firm Versent. For junior cloud roles, the lack of incentives in graduate programmes for technology has led to a talent shortage as well.

Most people looking to break into the cloud space would have a degree in computer science or certifications from at least one of the major public cloud providers: Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud or Microsoft Azure. Having certifications for more than one cloud platform can offer an upper hand as they can come in useful should a potential employer be looking at using a multicloud model.

“We have noticed that clients are also increasingly keen to see cloud professionals equipped with the skills needed to manage cloud security, blockchain, automation, DevOps engineering and machine learning and artificial intelligence,” says Patel.

“Maintaining a portfolio that displays basic certification and deeper cloud skills would already make a professional an attractive potential hire. Showcasing a keenness to continue to upskill would definitely contribute to sealing the deal as firms will constantly look to reskill and upskill IT staff as cloud priorities are expected to change over time.”

Koh says with different cloud platforms typically running on different technologies, it has been challenging to find talents who are well-versed in different cloud environments. “As we integrate services from different cloud platforms into our ecosystem, we will increasingly need to cross-train our talent to become familiar with the newly onboarded platforms,” he says.

Cloud teams also always need an iteration manager to lead the team and an architect to drive the technical direction. Testing and documentation is something that everyone in the team should do
Tim Hope, Versent

Top cloud skills

But what are the top cloud skills that are in demand? To Patel, cloud security, cloud architecture and cloud software engineering skills are the most sought after.

Cloud security: This refers to threat detection, response, and prevention of cyber incidents within the organisation. Network security, threat intelligence and security testing are key capabilities and skills, because a single security breach has the potential to expose customer data, steal valuable intellectual property, and permanently damage a company’s reputation.

Cloud architecture: This refers to the capability to architect and operate virtual infrastructure, platforms and apps to improve speed and agility. With enterprises adopting multicloud models, expertise with key cloud service providers and service models is key.

Cloud software engineering: This refers to expertise in the design, development, release and maintenance of cloud-native applications. Engineers would need to be skilled in programming languages such as Python and Java, microservices, application programming interfaces and container technologies such as Docker and Kubernetes.

Jay Jenkins, technology strategist and evangelist at Google Cloud in Asia-Pacific, says Python is a good skill to have because it is used for data processing and analytics, as well as machine learning. New software libraries continue to be created and it has a very active developer community. For enterprises, Java continues to be one of the most popular languages.

“With applications moving to microservices architectures, this is the time for the polyglot,” says Jenkins. “Teams can decide what language is the most appropriate for the service being created along with the skills of the team. The service interface allows the application team to benefit from that service no matter what language it is written in.”

Versent’s Hope says data skills are also highly sought after for cloud computing roles. Individuals who have data engineering, modelling and architecture backgrounds, and are able to build directly into software-as-a-service (SaaS) or platform-as-a-service (PaaS) technologies, are highly regarded.

Certifications to consider

All major cloud suppliers have certification programmes spanning different competency levels, from foundational to associate and professional certifications in the case of AWS. For Google Cloud, domain specialisations such as machine learning and data engineering are also being offered, in addition to cloud engineer and cloud architect certifications.

Jenkins says cloud architecture certifications are most popular among developers and are a good entry point for those who are just beginning their cloud journeys.

“From there, it’s important to specialise,” he says. “Employers are looking for specialisations in data, security, infrastructure and networking. Getting certifications aligned to those specialisations will make you very attractive to employers.”

Versent’s Hope urges aspiring cloud professionals to choose certifications around the industries they want to work in. “This will help you to understand what vendor the business is using or working with, and what the organisation’s offerings are,” he says.

Jenkins says industries such as retail and finance are using predictive analytics to gain insights on customer churn and investments, while manufacturing firms are looking at leveraging data for supply chain management and predictive maintenance.

Some technology suppliers have published salaries achieved by individuals with various certifications, but Patel cautions against using salary information to determine which certifications to go for because it could be quite short-sighted.

Cloud is still evolving. We need people who will continue to challenge and inspire us
Jay Jenkins, Google Cloud

Career pathways

Hope notes two typical cloud career paths, the first being application development, where people have gone into software engineering and then ventured into DevOps and cloud computing.

Then there are infrastructure engineers who do additional courses in software automation and cloud principles and have landed themselves cloud technology roles.

But to Accenture’s Patel, there is no typical career path in cloud computing because of its fast pace and dynamic nature.

“Today, cloud computing is a C-suite agenda and is about pivoting the organisation to be ‘cloud-first’, which makes the opportunities in this field infinite,” he says. “To launch your career in this field, your initial years should be focused on developing a broad knowledge base for cloud technology.”

Patel encourages aspirants to take every opportunity to meet and work with as many cloud practitioners as possible to understand how cloud solutions are designed and built.

“Think about and explore how cloud technologies integrate with other systems, the flexibility they offer versus on-premise solutions, common deployment and adoption challenges, and how cloud technology benefits the business,” he says.

“Since jobs in the cloud industry evolve much faster than other tech positions, this industry promises excellent career opportunities. As needs change, companies are eager to attract professionals with the right talent and skillsets. So, no matter the direction you choose, professionals in this industry are going to take their careers to the next level.”

Cloud roles

Cloud teams are generally Scrum-based and organised in an agile fashion. A cloud team comprises a lead engineer, an architect and, depending on the desired outcome, will have additional software engineers and a third-party product specialist, says Versent’s Hope.

“They might also have a storage or networking specialist in the team,” he adds. “Cloud teams also always need an iteration manager to lead the team and an architect to drive the technical direction. Testing and documentation is something that everyone in the team should do.”

Cloud teams may also include data engineers and data scientists who perform exploratory work with data that funnels back to engineering teams, says Google Cloud’s Jenkins.

They are supported by data and machine learning operations teams who are tasked with maintaining and continuously improving machine learning models. A team may also have application, enterprise and cloud architects who oversee everything in an organisation, including legacy applications.

Patel says the eventual makeup of a cloud team will depend on several factors, such as the cloud model being used, an organisation’s size, maturity of cloud adoption, usage of external service providers and the actual cloud applications being run.

Outside a cloud team, there are some roles that are not usually seen as cloud positions but are instrumental to the success of cloud initiatives. These include traditional infrastructure roles, as well as the executive sponsor to spur adoption of cloud practices.

“Cloud adoption and deployment is a complex and sometimes lengthy affair,” says Patel. “To be successful, the cloud team must have support from the company’s leadership team, so that they can add value to the organisation. A cloud programme can only be successful if end-users are encouraged to adopt the new solutions put in place. This depends heavily on buy-in from key executives.”

Skills and experience notwithstanding, Google Cloud’s Jenkins says the most vital trait that cloud professionals need to succeed is curiosity.

“Curiosity about the larger picture and applications enables IT professionals to ask questions like ‘why do we need this solution?’ and ‘what are the other ways we can improve this situation?’. And with this comes a drive for self-learning and self-development that’s so important for career development,” he says.

Another soft skill is customer and user empathy because it is important to understand how cloud technology can be leveraged and continuously improved.

“Cloud used to be theoretical,” says Jenkins. “It was viewed as a datacentre and now it’s becoming a globally scalable distributed network of compute, storage and services.

“It’s a platform that allows businesses to focus on their ideas and differentiation instead of focusing on infrastructure. Cloud is still evolving. We need people who will continue to challenge and inspire us.”

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