I was recently approached by a person via Linkedin, asking for some career advice on moving into a “more tech oriented” position. This person had read some of my earlier blog posts on gaining cloud certifications and was looking for an answer more tailored to her needs and something that would be updated to the state of 2020.
I spent the better half of my day mentally drafting my response, but my processing of the issue didn’t stop after I pushed the “send”-button. Instead I was left with an idea of a blog post, and spent the next few days first setting up a simple blog platform and then rephrasing the original idea into a more coherent piece of advice.
For familaritys sake I’ll use “learning an cloud platform” as an example on this post, but for other than the last part About cloud platforms my thoughts should be universally applicable on learning any new IT technology.
If talking about advancing in one’s career, we should approach learning new stuff as a tool of getting something that you want, a leverage of sorts. You might want a better job or a different role with your current employer. You might also just want to keep your current job as these days in tech it’s not enough just to stay put - you have to move with the times (“advancing to stay relevant”).
If a new job is something you are aiming at, it’s better to focus your aim for a specific job on a specific employer. This way you can focus your studies on tech that would land a job there. Heck, you can just call their HR and ask what kind of skills do they require. The same mindset can be applied to advancing on your current company, or keeping with the times: just ask around, people are generally really helpful on these things.
If the joy of learning stuff is what you want, then by all means, go and learn new stuff. The effort won’t most probably not hurt you (if you don’t over-do it). As the topic of this blog is about advancing your career, we won’t delve into this topic more extensively.
Starting from zero, I would assume that after half an year of studying (1h/day) one would have learned the basics of any chosen cloud platform. This would mean that one would be able to use their skills in a professional context on a junior level. For people new in tech, or just reinventing themselves, aiming for a junior position is a solid idea. I’ve done it twice (with good results): first the switch from power engineering to linux tech support, and after a few twists and turns from managerial position to doing cloud stuff.
If the goal is a more senior position, you need actual working experience to with the required skills. There is just no way around it. If your current company is suitable for gaining that experience, great! If not, consider doing a tour somewhere where you can grow and continue towards your “end goal” later down the road (if the idea still seems relevant). If the journey can be measured in years, it’s also a good idea to sit back and think for a minute whether the stuff you are learning now will still be valid when you get there.
Certifications: worth it?
I’ve been an advocate of learning through certification courses, and you can probably find some earlier bloggings of mine on the subject with Google search. Even though there is the problem that the courses focus on passing the actual certification exam, the exams are usually structured in a way that a solid foundation on the subject is required to pass them.
“Can’t you just use the courses for studying and skip the actual exams?” Yes, you can, and sometimes even should. I like to think that certifications are like school grades: they are relevant when you are starting in working life and don’t have other methods of proofing your potential value. After a few years on the job, they both lose their meaning and future employers are pretty much only interested in your job experience.
“But aren’t there people who study a collection of certifications?” Well, yeah, but even weirder shit has happened. I don’t think the addition of new certs really matter career-wise to those people anyways. Also there are some public tenders and amount of certifications companies have to have in order to have some silver/gold/uranium level of partnership with a cloud vendor, but for most of us these things do not really matter.
About Cloud platforms
Every cloud platform has it’s benefits. Let’s list a few:
- AWS and GCP are quite similar and to learn one after another
- Azure integrates nicely with Azure AD
- AWS has the biggest variety of tooling
- GCP is the sexiest
- Azure is most focused on hybrid solutions
- GCP has the best tooling offering for containers
But in the job market I think the deciding (but boring) factors are
- The supply &
- the demand
And in Finland the status seems to be the following:
|AWS||Starting point of many, biggest supply, “learn a new career in AWS”-trainings, strong communities||Wide adaptation causes consistent demand. “Good people” are always in demand||Safe bet for learning|
|Azure||Lots of people with MS ecosystem background, lots of “learn a new career in Azure”-trainings going on||Supply seems to lag behind demand, big companies turning to Azure||Lagging supply result to better salaries, but inconsistencies with stability on the platform make Azure less safe learning investment|
|GCP||Lots of people kicking GCPs' tires but not many professionals||Hamina didn’t really kick the business on high gear, market still not mature||Not a safe bet to get a job in the near future|
What about Kubernetes?
“It really seems like a really good idea to study Kubernetes”
– Everyone, circa 2020
Kubernetes is implemented on every top major cloud platform and is spreading like wildfire. It’s ideally an abstraction layer on top of the underlying infrastructure, but in reality you have to also know the bits and pieces of whatever K8 is bolted on top of to get it purring. So I wouldn’t say that Kubernetes is replacing the need for platform specific knowledge, but rather complimenting it.