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What Does a Cloud Engineer Do? Job Overview & Skill Expectations

By Ryan Loftus

In 2021, the size of the global cloud computing market was valued at $445.3 billion. And it’s expected to grow to $947.3 billion by 2026. That’s a blistering growth rate of 112.7 percent in just five years.

However, the tech industry is facing a huge deficit in the number of skilled cloud engineers available to build this growing industry. If left unchecked, this hiring gap could hinder the growth and innovation of the cloud computing industry writ large. 

In this post, we’ll break down the statistics, job requirements, and responsibilities of a career in cloud engineering.

Overview of the Duties of a Cloud Engineer

Companies of every size and industry are racing to the cloud. Cloud computing is a service that provides on-demand access to computer system resources without direct management or ownership by the party using the service. These services include computing power, data storage, platforms, infrastructure, and software.

Cloud engineers are IT professionals responsible for a company’s cloud computing infrastructure, including design, implementation, maintenance, and support.

Cloud engineers will work in a variety of cloud environments, including Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform (GCP).

On a more technical level, the core job responsibilities of cloud engineers include:

  • Writing highly scalable, testable code
  • Building cloud environments on cloud infrastructure platforms
  • Configuring cloud infrastructure components including networking and security services
  • Discovering and fixing programming bugs
  • Presenting and demonstrating features to internal and external stakeholders
  • Keeping up-to-date with advancements in technology
  • Working in an agile environment

What Kinds of Companies Hire Cloud Engineers?

Any company that’s looking to build cloud infrastructure or migrate their existing systems to the cloud will need to hire cloud engineers. As companies of every size transition to the cloud, the industries that cloud engineers work in continue to expand.

This trend was already well underway, but it was dramatically accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic and prolonged global lockdowns. Overnight, a majority of the world’s work, education, and entertainment shifted online, leading to a dramatic spike in the demand for platforms, databases, and technologies supported by the cloud. This has left many companies struggling to find the cloud engineers they need to scale in a remote-first world. 

Retail, entertainment, software, consulting, financial services, defense, education, fintech, telecommunications, healthcare — the demand (and opportunity) for cloud engineering is nearly endless. 

In addition to the companies hiring engineers for their in-house teams, Microsoft, Amazon, and Google employ thousands of cloud engineers to work on their infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), and serverless computing environments.

Unsurprisingly, this growth in the demand and applications for cloud computing has had a direct impact on company hiring needs and the career outlook of cloud engineering.

In 2020, there were 775,022 cloud computing jobs posted, up 94% from 400,500 jobs posted just three years earlier. In comparison, all tech job postings grew around 20% during that period. That means the demand for cloud computing and engineering talent is growing nearly five times faster than the rest of the tech industry. 

It’s no understatement to say this explosion of cloud engineering demand has created one of the biggest talent needs in the tech industry.

This gap between supply and demand has had a direct impact on the companies unable to meet their hiring needs, keeping many businesses out of the cloud. As the cloud computing industry continues to grow, competition for great cloud talent is fierce and will be for the foreseeable future.

Types of Cloud Engineer Positions

The titles cloud engineers hold vary drastically, depending on their experience, education, and the company they work at. The title of a graduate from a coding bootcamp might look different than a candidate with a four-year degree. And the role of a cloud engineer in a five-person startup will be different than at a 5,000 person company.

At the beginning of their career, a cloud engineer will start out with an entry-level role, like Cloud Engineer I or Junior AWS Engineer. New cloud engineers will typically start their careers by working on internal or external project solutions along with systems and integration testing. They can expect to work in one of these roles for one to three years.

From there, they’ll have the opportunity to move into more senior-level roles with hands-on engineering experience, such as: 

  • Senior Cloud Engineer
  • Cloud Engineer II
  • Cloud Engineering Manager
  • Cloud Security Engineer
  • Senior AWS Engineer
  • Systems Engineer
  • Cloud Developer
  • Cloud Architect
  • Network Engineer

While they spend several years honing their skills, their responsibilities expand to include taking ownership of projects, working independently in a team environment, and mentoring project team members. Senior cloud engineers might also choose to specialize in a particular technology or discipline, such as cloud security or DevOps.

With some experience under their belt, a cloud engineer often faces a crossroads in their career having to choose between two paths. 

The first path is to pivot into people and team management functions. Hiring, mentoring, resource planning and allocation, strategy, and operations become a larger component of the responsibilities of cloud engineers pursuing this career path. At the higher levels of an organization, these titles include:

  • Director of Cloud Networking
  • Cloud Operations Manager
  • Director of Solutions Architecture
  • Chief Information Officer (CIO)
  • Chief Technology Officer (CTO)

The second possible career path is to continue as an individual contributor. Many cloud engineers opt to continue their careers as individual contributors, enjoying equally fulfilling careers and developing deeper technical expertise in various languages and frameworks.

The motivation behind this decision is that experienced cloud engineers aren’t necessarily interested in or qualified to be managing a team. And an engineer in an individual contributor role has the opportunity to focus on growing their technical skills and learning the newest emerging technologies.

Data is scarce on how this career decision will impact long-term earning potential. Career outlook for individual contributors and managers will also depend on a number of other factors, including industry, company size, and experience.

Salary Comparisons & Job Outlook

On average, cloud engineers tend to receive a salary significantly higher than the national average in their country.

For example, in the U.S. the average salary in 2020 was $53,400. In contrast, the average base salary for cloud engineers in the U.S. is $114,323 to $130,977. That’s 114 to 145 percent more than the national average.

Junior cloud engineers can expect to occupy a lower salary band at the beginning of their careers. In contrast, senior positions provide a higher average compensation, though data for this specific salary band is hard to find. Industry and company size also affect the salary band dramatically. Historically, though, geography has had a significant impact on the compensation of technical talent — and that includes cloud engineers. 

Requirements to Become a Cloud Engineer

Technical Skills

Cloud engineers use a range of technologies to build cloud-based platforms, infrastructure, and applications . 

A core requirement of cloud engineering is expertise in the technologies offered by cloud-hosting providers. These include, to name a few:

  • AWS
  • Azure
  • GCP
  • IBM Cloud
  • Oracle Cloud

Recruiters and hiring managers who are hiring cloud engineers should look for in-demand competencies with the specific services and products offered by these platforms. An AWS engineer, for example, might be familiar with Amazon cloud products such as Glue, Lake Formation, Redshift, Athena, MSK, and Kinesis.

Many cloud engineering roles require knowledge of data-oriented and object-oriented languages such as Java, Python, or Clojure. Some roles also require familiarity with a general programming language, such as C, C+, C#, or Go. 

Depending on the role, software engineers might also work with databases (SQL, MySQL), CI/CD tools (Gitlab, Jenkins, Nexus), and message brokers (RabbitMQ, ActiveMQ, Kafka). Understanding of Windows and Linux operating systems is also necessary. And some cloud engineers will specialize in DevOps, a set of practices that combines software development and IT operations.

Soft Skills

Technical competency alone isn’t enough to succeed in a cloud engineering role. Mathematical, analytical, and problem-solving skills are a must in any technical role. And soft skills are even more critical in a digital-first or digital-only environment.

Employers may put even more stock into engineers with strong soft skills, such as:

  • Time management
  • Communication
  • Project management
  • Problem solving

Communication skills, in particular, are critical to cloud engineering. Cloud engineers often work in client-facing or consulting roles that require them to communicate complex information to stakeholders in other departments or companies. The ability to turn technical subject matter into easy-to-understand solutions is highly valuable to cloud engineers — and the teams that employ them.

Certifications

All of the major cloud providers offer certification courses to cloud engineers, including AWS, Azure, and GCP. In addition to providing training in the platforms, certifications also serve as a credential for cloud engineers. For roles requiring experience with cloud providers, having a certification in the appropriate platform is a mandatory or nice-to-have qualification. 

Experience & Education

After competency, the most important qualification for cloud engineers is experience. On-the-job experience and training is a critical requirement for many employers.

Then, there’s the question of education. The education requirements for cloud engineering positions vary widely. Many employers still require cloud engineering candidates to have four-year degrees. Some might even expect graduate-level degrees.

But competition for skilled cloud engineers is fierce, and it’s common for job openings requiring degrees to go unfilled. There are simply not enough engineers with degrees to fill thousands of open roles out there. Companies looking to hire cloud engineers will have access to a much larger pool of talent and achieve their cloud initiatives if they recognize other forms of education and experience. 

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