Computer Science

How (And Why) to Become a Cloud Architect

How (And Why) to Become a Cloud Architect
Cloud architects start their careers anywhere in IT where they can develop the technical proficiency necessary to design cloud solutions. A master's degree is helpful but not essential. Image from Unsplash
Kenrick Vezina profile
Kenrick Vezina March 10, 2020

Cloud architects assess an organization's needs and draft a plan—a blueprint—that lays out how cloud technology can be used to achieve operational goals. They're hybrid professionals who combine technological mastery with top-notch planning and leadership skills.

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The cloud is one of the buzziest topics in technology today, but many users have only the vaguest idea of what it is and what it does. So, what is the cloud? Basically, it’s any computing that takes place remotely via the web rather than locally on the hardware in front of you. Your device lets you command the activity and view the results, but it’s not actually doing the work.

Cloud services today encompass everything from simple remote storage (e.g., Google Drive) to media streaming services (e.g., Netflix) to sophisticated off-site data processing and high-powered analysis used by scientists and big businesses.

Any organization hoping to remain competitive these days needs someone on their team who knows how to make the most of the cloud, and nobody understands the cloud better than cloud architects. These are the people whose job it is to know the current state of cloud computing—what it can do, what it can’t do, and everything in between—and use that expertise to lead businesses through the rapidly changing terrain of cloud computing.

If this sounds like a potential career for you, you’re probably wondering how to become a cloud architect. This article explains it. It also covers:

  • The pros and cons of becoming a cloud architect
  • Kinds of cloud architect careers
  • How to become a cloud architect
  • Resources for becoming a cloud architect
  • Career trajectory for a cloud architect

Pros and cons of becoming a cloud architect

Let’s start by considering the reasons you might want to pursue a career as a CA, as well as any reasons you might want to consider other careers.

What are the benefits of becoming a cloud architect?

The cloud is growing, and salaries for cloud specialists are growing right along with it, on a trajectory that can fairly be called “stratospheric.” Glassdoor puts cloud architect salaries at an average of $107,000 per year, with a low end of $79,000 and maximum of $142,000. Further, it’s a specialization likely to remain in high demand for the foreseeable future as cloud technology improves and more and more businesses realize they need someone to help them make the most of this new technology.

It’s also worth noting that there’s a high degree of overlap in the requirements for many high-demand tech jobs, so aiming for a cloud architect job will naturally open many opportunities along the way (more on this in the next section).

What are the disadvantages of working as a cloud architect?

The “disadvantages” of a cloud architecture career are largely subjective. As a senior position that answers directly to upper management and is tasked with making significant decisions about a company’s future, there is a lot of responsibility associated with being a cloud architect.

On a related note, cloud architects are not purely technical professionals—they’re just as much managers, leaders, and planners as they are programmers, troubleshooters, and engineers. If you’re someone who prefers to work on a project in isolation and submit it when it’s done, you might chafe at the demands of a cloud architect job.

How can you decide if a career as a cloud architect is right for you?

Frankly, it’s almost impossible to know until you’ve had some experience as both a cloud-technology specialist and a manager. The good news is: you will have time during your career to accrue this experience before taking on a cloud architect role. Pay attention to what aspects of your work you find most rewarding (and most frustrating) and adjust your plans accordingly.

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Kinds of cloud architect careers

What are the different specialties of cloud architects?

Although there are no specialities per se, cloud architects can be loosely categorized according to the cloud-computing platforms with which they are most familiar. The three major platforms are:

  • Amazon Web Services (AWS)
  • Microsoft Azure
  • Google Cloud Platform (GCP)

There are also many less popular, smaller, or more specialized platforms, including IBM Cloud (formerly Bluemix), Hadoop, SalesForce, and many others. Most aspiring cloud architects naturally find themselves working with at least one of the major platforms early in their careers. How and when to specialize is mostly a matter of personal preference and specific job requirements.

What are the typical responsibilities of a cloud architect?

In general terms, a cloud architect must:

  • Assess business goals and develop cloud-computing solutions to meet these goals
  • Bridge the gap between business and technology
  • Improve and maintain existing cloud-computing architecture
  • Guide the implementation of their cloud architecture throughout the company
  • Develop models and visualizations to communicate their plans with team members and stakeholders
  • Stay on top of new developments and best practices in cloud technology and their chosen industry

How to become a cloud architect

Becoming a cloud architect can take the better part of a decade and requires dedication and perseverance—as you might expect from a lucrative, upper-management position. You’ll need to get an undergraduate degree and perhaps a master’s, then spend several years building relevant experience and taking on roles of increasing management responsibility. Eventually, you’ll prove yourself ready to take the lead for an entire organization’s implementation of cloud technology.

Educational commitment to become a cloud architect

You’re probably wondering: how long does it take to earn a degree in information technology (IT) or computer science? Usually, four years, though some enterprising students find ways to squeeze the required coursework into a shorter period. When looking at bachelor’s programs, it’s a good idea to look for cloud computing specializations.

A master’s degreeis not required, but depending on your circumstances you may want to pursue one to further develop your skills and improve your resume. One degree to consider is the Master of Business Administration (MBA), particularly if your undergraduate education lacked coursework in management, leadership, planning and other business-oriented skills you’ll need to take on the cloud architect role.

What else can you do with a degree in IT?

Quite a lot! A degree in IT or computer science is extremely flexible. Generally speaking, you can proceed down any number of specialized technical career paths; there are many different flavors of developer and engineer jobs. Or, you can combine your IT knowledge with business and management training to seek out management and consulting jobs where your specialist background will be a major asset.

For example: individuals who focus on cloud computing in their education and training will find themselves well-suited for work as back-end or full-stack web developers and cloud engineers. Likewise, given the importance of security in cloud computing, they should have a relatively easy time seeking IT security consultant, cyber security analyst, or security architect positions.

What roles do cloud architects usually begin their careers in?

Once they’ve completed their education, cloud architects may enter the industry in any number of entry-level IT jobs; they don’t need to specialize in cloud computing right off the bat. The heavy overlap in many basic IT skills means that there are dozens of viable starting points for aspiring cloud architects. Anything that helps them begin developing some of the technical expertise and experience they’ll need is fair game. Here are a few examples:

  • IT support technician
  • Cloud support associate
  • Web developer (back-end, front-end, or full-stack)
  • Cloud engineering intern
  • CMS manager
  • Web editor

Resources for becoming a cloud architect

There is a nearly infinite variety of materials available to help aspiring IT professionals, ranging from helpful wikis to coding tutorials to full university courses on computer science offered for free online. Here’s a sampling of some of the best resources for IT students, aspiring professionals, and interested amateurs:

  • MIT OpenCourseWare and Coursera are online course catalogues backed by two of the world’s leading institutes—Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University, respectively. Everything on OpenCourseWare is free and available at all times, like a glorified textbook. Coursera’s offerings are typically structured like traditional online courses with video lectures, etc. They also include a mix of free and paid offerings.
  • Udemy is a “learning marketplace” which hosts courses of every type imaginable. Quality varies, and courses can be expensive, so you’ll want to read up on any course you’re interested in before committing money to it.
  • Cloud Academy and Linux Academy have the advantage of not emphasizing any particular platform over another and offering extensive training in cloud computing specifically. Both cost money, however.

What are some financial resources for earning a degree in IT?

If money is a concern, don’t panic: there are a lot of ways to seek assistance.

First off, every school has its own financial aid office staffed with professionals whose job it is to help you navigate the confusing world of financial aid—definitely look them up and reach out for assistance. Likewise, your school should have a student services office that can help with handling the sometimes-difficult act of juggling living expenses and pursuing a full-time education. Finally, if you belong to an underserved or underrepresented group (e.g., you’re Native American), there may be an on-campus group that will help you find what you need.

Scholarships for aspiring cloud architects

There are also dozens of scholarships available to students across disciplines and education levels. Probably the hardest part of applying for scholarships is identifying the ones you qualify for. Many come with requirements on the applicant’s sex, career choice, grades, residency, race, and so on.

You can find external scholarships by searching for relevant organizations and through online databases and articles, including Noodle. Fastweb maintains a list of scholarships for IT majors and U.S. News & World Report has a similar list for aspiring IT professionals, as well. A few highlights:

Undergraduate Scholarships

  • Lockheed Martin STEM Scholarship: up to $10,000/year (renewable) for undergraduate students with demonstrated need
  • Graduate Scholarships

    • Emmy Noether Award: top prize is $75,000 ($25,000/year) for women pursuing STEM who live in Louisiana, Mississippi, or Alabama

    Career trajectory for a cloud architect

    How often do cloud architects need ongoing training?

    Continuing education is an essential part of a cloud architect’s job. Technology—especially cloud computing—changes at a rapid pace, and you’ll be expected to keep abreast of the latest developments. This won’t necessarily take the form of formal training programs, certifications, or professional courses: keeping your skills up-to-date just as often involves reading trade and technical publications and conferring with other professionals in the field.

    That said, cloud computing certifications can be an excellent way to develop your skills and demonstrate your proficiency. There are more options than we could possibly cover here, but know that each of the three major cloud providers (AWS, Azure, and GCP) offers multiple cloud certification programs to develop and demonstrate your skills with their platform. There are also security-focused certifications, platform-neutral certifications, and many others.

    What are the most common terminal positions for cloud architects?

    For some, cloud architect is terminal—it’s a senior title commanding excellent pay and high prestige, as well as a great deal of responsibility within an organization. Some cloud architects may seek out enterprise architect jobs at bigger companies where they oversee more specialized architects (e.g., data architects, solutions architects) or otherwise take a broader responsibility for their organization’s business architecture.

    For cloud architects who want to move further up the management ladder, the next logical step would be chief information officer (CIO) or chief technology officer (CTO), heading up the entirety of their organization’s IT. They may also work to get promoted to CEO or found their own company using their high-level technical and business knowledge.

    The future: how long do people usually work as cloud architects?

    This is a difficult question. Given the rate of change within any technology-oriented career, it is entirely possible that the job “cloud architect” as we currently understand it won’t exist in a decade. Even its current conception hasn’t been around long enough to provide reliable data about career lengths.

    That said: cloud environments are only growing in popularity right now. Even if the cloud as we know it today fades a bit in popularity in the coming years, IT and computer science specialists will remain in high demand—even more so for architects with the ability to combine those technical skills with excellent leadership ability.

    So don’t wait, get yourself started today: explore more of our resources on seeking an education in computer science, start teaching yourself to code, or look into other high-paying IT careers.

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    Questions or feedback? Email editor@noodle.com

    About the Editor

    Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

    To learn more about our editorial standards, you can click here.


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