Cloud skills certification can add zeros to your pay cheque

Grab some letters to put after your name

As IT recruiters collectively bemoan the dearth of cloud professionals, the doom-and-gloom predictions that cloud services would result in the death of the IT department now seem nothing short of laughable.

The most recent research from industry body the Cloud Industry Forum suggests that cloud computing has achieved mainstream deployment in the UK, with 78 per cent of organisations adopting at least one cloud-based service.

Conducted in June 2014, the survey of 250 senior IT and business decision makers indicates 15 per cent growth since September 2013 and 62 per cent growth since 2010.

Large private enterprises show the highest rates of adoption at just over 80 per cent.

But as cloud comes of age and organisations scramble over one another to tie their colours to its mast, the excitement over the flexibility of cloud services is being tempered by concerns over the security of cloud data storage.

When it comes to recruiting, there is nothing like an inherent fear to drive demand for people with the requisite know-how. The result is a thriving market for certifications, as individuals desperately attempt to differentiate themselves from others in the job market and organisations try to remove some of the risk from the recruitment process.

“Cloud computing is becoming very much the norm,” says Anthony Sherick, managing director of recruitment website Technojobs, which attracts 20,000 visits each day.

"Demand for cloud skills over the last couple of years has grown by about 20 per cent as companies look to embrace a cloud computing strategy."

Terry Erdle, head of skills and certifications at trade association CompTIA, agrees. “Cloud is a very important piece of the whole technology milieu,” he says.

“Everyone is going to the cloud, yet very few people understand its technical nuances, particularly when it comes to a business-critical service.”

Rumblings about a massive shortage of cloud professionals are certainly not new. Back in 2012 a study by analyst IDC, commissioned by Microsoft, found that 1.7 million cloud computing jobs were unfilled across the globe, and predicted that by 2015 there would be 7 million unfilled vacancies.

The paper’s assertion that the IT workforce generally lacks the necessary training, certification and experience for the cloud should perhaps be taken with a tiny pinch of salt, given the vested interests of its sponsor.

Nonetheless, other studies back up its prognosis, including a report by hosting company Rackspace published last year. This warned that 48 per cent of businesses in the UK were hindered by a lack of cloud skills and two-thirds of them had no idea where to acquire them.

Where's the cream?

There is no denying the proliferation of cloud certifications, and the number seems to grow exponentially as the market matures. For IT managers looking to recruit the crème de la crème, understanding the relative benefits of one certification over another can be something of a minefield.

A company looking to spin up test and development servers will have a very different check list to one looking at alternative ways to deploy core critical applications.

Individuals struggling to decide which certification will fill the cloud-shaped hole in their CV may take some solace from an analysis of jobs posted on the Technojobs site.

It shows that the proportion of jobs for which cloud certifications are a prerequisite verges on the insignificant, largely due to supply and demand economics.

“I would expect this to evolve as demand and interest in cloud computing continues to grow and employers look for greater differentiation and skill sets in candidates,” Sherick says.

Analysis by US-based Foote Partners shows that shifts in IT roles have had a profound impact on the IT skills market. Employers are aggressively pursuing multi-talented workers with a mix of technology, domain, business, process and people skills. It writes:

It can also be a unique combination of pure tech skills: for example, cloud administrators who are adept at automating the configuration and operations in a cloud environment by combining a variety of different skill sets around systems administration, virtualization, storage and network administration. It’s not about just configuring and running a server. Or cloud developers who have mastered new sets of APIs, new frameworks, and non-relational databases like NoSQL to develop elastic and scalable apps in the cloud.

After seven years of sustained overall market value decline, Foote Partners’ latest IT Skills and Certifications Pay Index shows that in the US IT certifications are once again driving pay hikes.

Cloud is one of the areas leading that trend, alongside architecture, project management and IT security. VMware Certified Design Expert – Cloud and HP/Master ASE – Data Center and Cloud Architect V1 are among the certifications listed as gaining 10 per cent or more in market value on the previous quarter.

Some form of certification will undoubtedly tick a box for recruiters, offering them reassurance and third-party acknowledgement of the skill levels job seekers claim to possess.

NaviSite managing director Sean McAvan says recognised certifications such as VMware, VCP and Cisco CCNA provide the right mix of product specialisation and general IT knowledge.

For technical implementation and support staff, his company demands certifications in Cisco with a minimum of CCNA-level training, ideally at CCNP levels.

Engineers supporting Microsoft Exchange environments would need Expert-level knowledge of Microsoft Exchange 2010, ideally with experience of Exchange 2007 and/or Exchange 2013.

Triumph of experience

“The focus is on recent qualifications and consistent hands-on experience,” McAvan says.

“While qualifications are quite important, some candidates may not have applied this knowledge in recent years, so on paper they look great but they fall down when asked technical questions.

“Certifications don’t mean everything and will not replace practical experience. It is important to look for a balance of both in the candidate.”

Ross Spelman, a senior consultant and head of cloud assurance at information security company Espion, adds: “When trying to identify staff, it is important that the foundation principles of the cloud are in place."

Espion has tied its colours to the SANS and CompTIA certification streams. “In our opinion they are the best for a thorough understanding and give a very good overview of the core cloud computing principles,” says Spelman.

For more in-depth certification, meanwhile, Espion has opted for the CCSK+ (Certificate of Cloud Security Knowledge certification) from the Cloud Security Alliance, a not-for-profit organisation set up to promote best practice for security assurance in cloud computing.

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