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What Separates a Good Cloud Engineer from a Great One

Feb. 16, 2021
Jeff Peters

The cloud has been around for over a decade, but great cloud engineers are in short supply. What sets a great cloud engineer apart from simply a good one? Experience plays a big part, and the general expectation seems to be that you will become great by putting in your time. However, the truth is that to be a great cloud engineer you do not just slowly grow into your role. You actively aim for ways to improve both your skills and your approach to using technology. Here are three examples of what great cloud engineers do to be highly successful.


1.Embrace the Cloud

The first step is to give the process of going to the cloud more than just lip service. “Going cloud-native” is a term that is being used too loosely as many people seem to think it only entails using services through a cloud provider. Inexperience may be the culprit here since the reality is a total change in how applications and architectures are designed and deployed.

Removing dependencies, refactoring applications, and taking advantage of serverless technologies are all steps in that direction. These are not simple decisions to make since adapting existing systems may require months of development and a good amount of cash to get things done. Still, the resulting product will be cost-effective, resource-efficient, and capable of further change when future needs dictate it.

Cloud engineers understand this about cloud-native engineering

Great cloud engineers recognize that cloud-native engineering dictates building scalable, highly available environments which take advantage of managed services in the cloud. These practices make your work life easier in the long run but require solid Knowledge and training to successfully accomplish. Not everyone has the persistence to learn the intricacies required to do this.

Good engineers work in the cloud. Great engineers make the cloud work for them.


2.Evolve, experiment and proactively discover what’s possible

You cannot do the same things over and over without it getting stale. Great engineers know that the cloud is a place of agility and change and constantly strive to keep abreast of the newest technologies. If you aren’t adapting your environments and applications to take advantage of those offerings, you are wasting money, time, and effort unnecessarily.

The old axiom “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is in direct opposition to successful cloud practices. Both old and new projects should constantly be evaluated for change since cloud providers consistently add dozens of new products and features each year. These are not just new hardware offerings but include specialized products designed to lighten an engineer’s load and reduce your list of responsibilities. Something as simple as transitioning backups from tape to the cloud can save hundreds of thousands in large companies.

One of the benefits of the cloud is that you can change your environment as soon as a situation or demand changes. You can put automation in place to handle scaling, but you always need to review your systems to incorporate new ideas. Experimentation is easy when you can turn off failed attempts and stop paying for them immediately.

Training and self-study are essential to innovating in the cloud

The most difficult aspect of this process is keeping up with the innovations of the cloud providers. Instructor-led classes immerse you in real-time environments where an expert guides you through the newest features, the value they deliver and how to use them. Self-study is a necessary complement to classroom training because when you have awareness into where you can focus your time and build further expertise, you’re more intentional with your time.

To innovate in the cloud, you need to know what the cloud can do.

If you’re reactively discovering what’s possible in the cloud, you’re potentially missing better ways to develop solutions. No one person knows everything that Azure or AWS can offer. Great engineers are proactive in uncovering the ins and outs of the cloud and seeing how it can benefit their job and organization.

View cloud computing courses.

Cloud certifications force you (in a good way) to expand your know-how

Certification is another worthwhile goal in this vein. Some people scoff at their worth, but according to the worldwide IT Skills and Salary Report, 87% of IT professionals hold at least one certification and 94% of IT decision makers say certified team members bring more value beyond the cost of the certification. I find them to be valuable.

I’ve taught classes where the depth of student knowledge in a few particular areas was impressive, but I’ve never taught a class where a single student had experience with all of the services or strategies covered during the training. The testing process forces you to solidify at least a basic understanding of many topics. It’s that width of Knowledge that is essential to the cloud-specific ideal of constantly moving forward.

View cloud computing certifications.


3.Plan for the worst

Amazon CTO Werner Vogels has a famously pessimistic quote: “Everything fails, all the time.” Assume the worst-case scenarios are possible and plan mitigations that will turn them into inconsequential events when handled properly. High availability is not something that you can assume is baked into the DNA of the cloud’s infrastructure. Failures at the individual server, data center, or even regional levels can be quickly alleviated if professionally managed, but without proper planning and execution, the results can be disastrous.

Unfortunately, hardware failures and power outages are not the only worst-case scenarios we need to consider. Malware, hackers, and denial of service attacks are not disappearing because you’ve moved to the cloud. Security on-prem and in the cloud are too often reactively implemented after a breach occurs and the damage is done.

Cloud savvy engineers incorporate security

To be a cloud-savvy engineer, you need to build security into every level of your work and look to incorporate new services to fill gaps with automation. Implementing automated log analysis, machine learning-based threat detection, and built-in DDoS protection is standard in the cloud. These protections can mean the difference between blocking an attack and finding out that a dozen of your servers are mining cryptocurrency for an unknown benefactor.

That is not to say that all great cloud engineers build impregnable defenses. The bad guys are smart, and new flaws and exploits have the possibility to outpace us all on occasion. What sets great cloud engineers apart is how they handle the breach, patch the flaw, and learn from the experience.

There are many paths forward into a career as a cloud engineer. Some of you will be updating your skills to work in the cloud and some will be starting with the cloud as your only frame of reference for infrastructure. Regardless of whether you are starting as a new recruit in the ranks of information technologists or you have already earned your spurs through years spent in server rooms and cable closets, now is the time to sharpen your focus and become a truly great engineer.


Courses I recommend to accelerate your path to Cloud Engineer greatness


About the author

Jeff Peters

Jeff Peters is a systems engineer, cloud architect, and technical trainer with over 20 years of IT experience and a current focus on Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure. He holds several MCSEs from Microsoft along with Professional and Specialty certifications from Amazon. Jeff resides in Metuchen, NJ, with his wife and two sons, who all roll their eyes when he gets overly excited about technology.