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What companies are seeking in a Cloud Architect: Five trends

Five trends, gathered from common hiring requirements, that will help Cloud Architects maintain a competitive edge in the job-hunting quest.
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Cloud architecture starts with scaffolding and builds up to cloud infrastructure.

As the IT Architect's role evolves, it helps to have a means of keeping tabs on how things are changing.

That's all the more true if you're entering the job market or plan to in the future. (If we use a broad definition of "the future," this roughly translates to: pretty much everyone.) In an industry that regularly stresses the need for continuous learning, it literally pays to make sure that what you're learning will be in demand.

Fortunately, we have a steady torrent of information: Online job postings. Whether on a jobs site like Indeed, a professional networking platform like LinkedIn, or on a corporate careers page for a particular organization, you've got ready access to what companies are looking for in a specific role.

"Hiring managers have begun leveraging the ubiquity of LinkedIn [and other sites] to advertise their roles directly to the market; on an individual basis, by posting their own comments about a role on their team, and also on a corporate level, by sharing the careers page and individual links to roles on their teams. This is a great way to showcase a more personalized approach to hiring. We are also seeing companies begin to leverage specialist sites on a skill-set by skill-set basis."

- Paul Wallenberg, Director of Technology Recruiting at LaSalle Network.

There's some healthy debate from time to time about online job postings: Are companies actually hiring via these sites? If clicking an "Apply Now" button is the only tactic you're using in your hunt, then you may be short-changing yourself. At the bare minimum, though, you're getting insight into how a particular hiring manager or company is thinking about a specific position.

We recently spent time looking at Cloud Architect job listings online to get a renewed feel for how companies advertise and recruit for this particular domain. As with IT Architects in general, this is no one-size-fits-all role—especially given the relative youth of cloud compared with other IT Architect domains. However, we noticed certain required and preferred qualifications repeating themselves in recently posted Cloud Architect job descriptions.

This is, of course, a qualitative analysis rather than a scientific study—there are always exceptions. That said, we found visible patterns in some of the characteristics companies are currently seeking in their Cloud Architects.

#1 Significant engineering experience

Job descriptions show a long list of hands-on experience with architectural decision-making. Some of these might meet your expectations, like "Eight years experience building SaaS architectures." Other expectations are not quite so straightforward.

Imagine, for instance, a job description asking for someone with "5+ years of experience with service mesh technologies such as Istio." Expectations like these are common, and there's an occasional joke—of the sort that's usually good for a few chuckles—about unreasonable expectations on the part of hiring managers and recruiters when it comes to experience with a particular tool or technology. The punchline, in this case, is that Istio launched in 2017.

While these "oops" moments aren't in every job description, it reflects a more general issue with experience requirements. If a hiring organization says it wants six years of experience in a particular skill or technology, will they really not consider someone with five years under their belt? They likely would, and that judgment call can be a challenge for job-hunters to navigate.

Yet experience continues to be listed as at least a preferred characteristic, if not a hard requirement, for many IT roles.

Cloud Architect jobs do not appear to be an exception. In fact, we're drilling down into this one because many Cloud Architect roles have some fairly substantial requests in terms of years of overall IT experience. This reflects the reality that these are usually mid- or high-level roles in any organization. Moreover, requirements for longer-term experience here are often more general rather than tied to a particular technology or even to the Cloud Architect title itself.

While anecdotal, eight appears to be a magic number: As in, eight years of experience in software engineering, infrastructure engineering, or similar roles. For example, a posting for a Senior Cloud Architect at Nokia lists "8+ years of architecture, engineering, development, or infrastructure experience" as a required qualification. I found similar requests for Cloud Architect roles without the "senior" designation, such as a Cloud Architect position at Milwaukee Tool that wants eight years of software engineering experience. Ditto at Ent Credit Union, a bank with $5 billion in assets that is recruiting someone with "8+ years of experience in a relevant cloud engineering/architecture role" for its current IT Cloud Architect opening. Similarly, First American, a Fortune 500 title insurance firm with more than 19,000 employees, lists 8+ years of software engineering experience among the necessary qualifications for its open Cloud Architect position.

Experience requirements always vary, but here's the point to keep in mind: You need some seasoning in engineering or other architecture-relevant positions to be competitive. Cloud Architect roles aren't typically aimed at early-career IT pros. Aspiring Cloud Architects with less experience may be better served to search for Cloud Engineer or Junior Cloud Engineer positions, or traditional IT titles like "System Administrator" that have clear-cut responsibilities for cloud-based systems. You may also want to check out our recent article, "How to build your career as an IT Architect."

#2 Programming chops, especially with automation

Cloud Architect roles often require (or at least prefer) programming skills, which is one reason why software engineering is a common pathway to architect roles. While the specific languages differ by company, the theme here is apparent: Cloud Architects need a working knowledge of scripting and how it can or should be used to operate effective cloud systems.

There is a regular emphasis on programming-adjacent knowledge. YAML and Kubernetes are one such pairing. For example, according to the job description, the ideal IT Cloud Architect at Ent Credit Union, mentioned above, will understand YAML, CloudFormation, and PowerShell.

Python is another regular in Cloud Architect job descriptions, as are JSON and Bash. It's not necessarily the case that you need to know all of these languages or syntaxes; instead, it's good to know at least one or two. An opening for a Senior Cloud Architect at IBM, for example, lists scripting knowledge with "one or more" of YAML, JSON, PowerShell, Bash, or Python among its qualifications.

A common characteristic of these languages is that they're good choices for folks whose primary responsibility is not necessarily writing code, such as sysadmins, which again highlights that IT Architects come from a variety of backgrounds.

#3 Knowledge of multiple cloud platforms

There are plenty of platform-specific roles in IT, and cloud is no exception. You can readily find positions—including Cloud Architect roles—where the primary focus is on building systems to run on a particular cloud or solution. That said, those roles most likely have that platform in the job title, such as an OpenShift Architect or similar.

While a Cloud Architect might focus more on one platform than another, we found multiple current job openings with a stated preference for a working knowledge of at least one other platform in addition to the core environment. For example, the Nokia role requires expertise in Google Cloud Platform and prefers someone with knowledge of at least one other major cloud offering. Hybrid cloud is the new norm.

This is one area in which certifications can be useful to differentiate your resume. While they should rarely be considered your only credential, they're good indicators of a willingness to learn and that you understand multiple platforms or ecosystems at some level, which is increasingly a requirement of many IT Architecture domains. Wallenberg from LaSalle Network notes that AWS certification tracks have been popular in the cloud realm and are likely to remain so. Still, he expects job descriptions to include an increasingly diverse set of certifications going forward.

"Azure's certification track has become an area of greater emphasis for Microsoft, so I expect to see requirements for those certifications appear in hiring initiatives at all levels as well," Wallenberg says. Nokia lists the Google Professional Cloud Architect certification as a requirement and lists "Additional Major Cloud Provider Certifications" in the Education section. Similarly, the Senior Cloud Architect at IBM description includes the following regarding certification: "Certified in one or more cloud platform (Red Hat, AWS, Azure, GCP) is required. Multiple certs preferred across two or more cloud ecosystems."

#4 Knowledge of multiple modern architecture patterns

Diverse knowledge and experience are key to the IT Architects in general, and the Cloud Architect domain is not an exception to this trait. Breadth is important not just across environments but across tooling and methodologies.

Expect to see job descriptions list a variety of representative cloud-native or cloud-centric architectures. They can include general architectures, such as Cloud Architect roles that seek someone with knowledge of containers and container orchestration. They can also get more specific—the description might specify specific implementations of Kubernetes and other tools from the Cloud Native Landscape. A similar pattern is true in the DevOps space. Some job descriptions combine the high-level category with the specific tooling in the same breath: "Knowledgeable of DevOps and CI/CD automation tools such as Git, Jenkins, Terraform, Ansible, and cloud-native scripting such as CloudFormation and ARM templates," reads the description for the IBM role.

Software architectures are also important. Many Cloud Architect roles mention microservices specifically, and some mention shifting from monolith to microservice.

This is also a good example of how Cloud Architect job descriptions often reflect the multi-platform, multi-architect nature of IT Architecture overall. Cloud Architects increasingly need skills in or knowledge about the complete platform: orchestration, automation, testing, monitoring, logging, security, and so forth. This is not a plain-vanilla job.

#5 You work with people, not just technology

It's not just a tooling concern: Cloud Architect roles also regularly require or prefer people with experience in modern methodologies and cultures, such as Agile and DevOps. Architects don't often have organizations report to them, but they must influence change throughout systems.

This is also a reflection of the strategic nature of today's Architect: It's not just about technology. Cloud Architects (as with other Architect domains) are increasingly visible, strategic roles that lead or connect teams. Working with people is just as important as working with technology.

That Cloud Architect position at Milwaukee Tool we mentioned above works across four different Product teams in the company. The description requires experience with Agile methods such as Scrum or Kanban. But that's really just a reflection of how IT has changed in a broad sense. Terms like Scrum or Kanban are no longer left to a single project manager or scrum master to manage.

The more telling trend comes at the end of the relatively brief list of required skills. The "Technical Requirements" section concludes with this bullet point: The job is "50% Leadership (Coaching, mentoring, driving processes)." That quote tells it all: Cloud Architect roles are leadership roles.

Becoming a Cloud Architect in five significant steps

Cloud Architect roles are senior technical positions that are in high demand. Based on a qualitative review of available job descriptions, the skills that differentiate a candidate stand out. The most significant takeaway is that this is a role with a lot of experience across several domains. It's also a position for leaders. Bring your experience, expertise, and excitement to this role, and you are sure to thrive.

Topics:   Career  
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Kevin Casey

Kevin Casey writes about technology and business for a variety of publications. More about me

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