How to Shift Your IT Job to a Cloud Career

By Robert Half on February 27, 2017 at 9:00pm

As more businesses shift traditional IT spending to the cloud and pursue cloud deployments, more IT professionals are visualizing a future working in cloud careers.

They almost can’t avoid it: It seems like many IT job descriptions today make some mention of the need, or at least a strong preference, for candidates who possess some type of cloud computing experience, knowledge or skill set. And cloud-specific roles, like cloud engineer, are increasingly in demand.

Because cloud computing is still an emerging and rapidly evolving space, however, IT professionals with broad or deep cloud experience are scarce. And that has many employers worried that they won’t be able to secure the skilled talent they need for these initiatives. For their part, many job seekers with traditional IT skills see the transition to cloud careers as an upcoming struggle.

Justin Watkinson, manager of DevOps Engineering for Robert Half, says that there is a solution for both sides of the employment equation: training. He explains, “Many employers will find they can probably build a good cloud engineer on their own. They just need to be ready to train the right person. And candidates must be willing to learn new skills, even if it’s on their own.”

Cloud careers require a new mindset

All of the traditional IT things still happen in the cloud, like designing software programs and applications. They just happen in a different way. One of the biggest challenges for IT professionals who want to move into cloud careers, aside from overcoming critical skills gaps, is changing their mindset, according to Watkinson.

“It’s important to understand that all of the traditional IT things still happen in the cloud, like designing software programs and applications. They just happen in a different way,” he explains. “For example, in the cloud there is more focus on automating infrastructure. For a traditional systems engineer, not having to log in to a server and do everything manually can be a difficult adjustment at first.”

Watkinson says candidates can start to shift their mindset by thinking about how the work they currently do in an on-premises environment would need to be executed in a cloud environment. Then, they can determine what skills and tools would be needed to do that work.

He also recommends that professionals considering cloud careers learn how to work with popular cloud computing platforms such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform. “There is definitely value in learning more than one platform,” Watkinson says, “especially now that more companies are starting to explore use of multicloud environments as a way to manage fault tolerance.”

Learning these platforms requires an investment in time and may involve some costs — although some cloud providers do offer free resources to beginners. Either way, the hands-on experience can prove invaluable to IT professionals who want to pursue cloud careers. Watkinson offers this advice for candidates learning how to work with cloud platforms: “You can use APIs to create copies of your infrastructure far more easily than you ever could in the traditional IT world. And the ability to work according to the Agile software development methodology, and as part of Scrum teams, is becoming increasingly important for developing in the cloud.”

Also, learning common configuration management tools like Chef, Puppet and Ansible is essential for many cloud careers — particularly, for developer and administrator roles.

Traditional IT roles that can translate to cloud careers

So, what types of traditional IT positions are now “morphing” into cloud jobs in many organizations? Below are just three examples, along with details about core job responsibilities and requirements:

Systems engineer

Systems engineers need in-depth technical knowledge of an employer’s software and hardware, as well as advanced analytical, troubleshooting and design skills. Employers generally prefer candidates with at least five years’ experience working with the hardware and software systems used by the company, as well as a bachelor’s degree or equivalent experience.

Typical duties include:

  • Developing, maintaining and supporting technical infrastructure, hardware and system software components
  • Performing installation, maintenance and support of system software and hardware and user support
  • Configuring, debugging and supporting multiple infrastructure platforms
  • Performing high-level root-cause analysis for service interruption recovery and creating preventive measures

For a cloud career, in-demand skills that can increase starting compensation for this role include cloud-relevant abilities such as virtualization skills and LINUX/UNIX administration skills.

Watkinson says, “The systems administrator role is changing a lot because the cloud is commoditizing IT. For example, many systems administrators now need to learn programming languages like Python in order to interact with a cloud vendor’s APIs.”

Network engineer

Network engineers must be detail-oriented and have in-depth knowledge of networking hardware and software. A bachelor’s degree in computer science or electrical engineering and five or more years of experience in areas such as network design and implementation, security, and server and network infrastructure are typical job requirements.

Typical duties include:

  • Engineering enterprise data, voice and video networks
  • Establishing and operating network test facilities
  • Maintaining a secure transfer of data to multiple locations via internal and external networks
  • Working with vendors, clients, carriers and technical staff on network implementation, optimization and ongoing management
  • Providing high-level support and technical expertise in networking technology

How do you build a cloud career in this job? In-demand skills that can increase starting compensation for this role include cloud-relevant abilities such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) administration skills.

“Networking in the cloud is very different from traditional networking,” says Watkinson. “A traditional network engineer needs to know a lot about specific network components such as firewalls, switches and routers. But most cloud providers offer networking as a service. So, cloud network engineers focus more on network design. They might also be responsible for auditing the cloud environment to make sure rules that were designed in are being applied.”

Database administrator

Database administrators need a strong technical foundation in database structure, configuration, installation and practice. Knowledge and experience in major relational database languages and applications, such as Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle and IBM DB2, are typically required. Effective database administrators must have keen attention to detail, a strong customer service orientation and the ability to work as part of a team.

Typical duties include:

  • Managing, monitoring and maintaining company databases
  • Making requested changes, updates and modifications to database structure and data
  • Ensuring database integrity, stability and system availability
  • Maintaining database backup and recovery infrastructure

Build your cloud career by integrating in-demand skills that can increase starting compensation for this role, including cloud-relevant abilities such as Hadoop and Oracle database skills.

“When an organization moves to the cloud, database administrators don’t need to worry much, or at all, about setting up the server,” says Watkinson. “Database backup and recovery also may no longer be their domain. However, they may still need to do things like set up tablespaces, optimize queries, and evaluate and execute table structure changes.”

Solving problems in the cloud

Because many organizations are only now making their first foray into the cloud, they need access to skilled IT talent that can help solve problems and innovate along their journey. Watkinson says that’s why it’s essential for candidates vying for cloud jobs to be able to demonstrate that they’re capable of providing that type of support — even if their professional experience is rooted deeply in traditional IT.

He recommends this strategy to ensure candidates can address such questions during the interview process for cloud careers: “Take something that’s very cookie-cutter in the on-premises world — setting up a LAMP stack (open source web platform), for example — and think about how you’d approach it in a cloud environment. Then, use available tools to actually do it so you know that it works.”

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