Not long ago, the trend in IT recruiting was to attract generalists for system architect positions. If the generalist had a few specialized certifications, so much the better. Today, that’s not enough. Certified specialists are essential, in part due to the increasingly popular cloud and associated cloud-based services, so it is important to stand out. An easy and effective way to do this is with accreditation from Microsoft, Amazon, or Google, which provide instruction on cloud computing best practices and the latest features.
Cloud computing is an integral part of everyone’s day-to-day lives. The global end-use of cloud computing services is expected to increase by 20.7 percent in 2023 to a total of $591.8 billion, up from $490.3 billion in 2022 according to the latest forecast from Gartner Inc.
The fact that specialists are higher in demand than ever before is supported by The State of Cloud-Native Security Report 2023:
- 76 percent of respondents deploy new or updated code to production weekly.
- 72 percent of organizations report an above-average turnover rate in cloud security roles.
- 77 percent of organizations say aligning security tools with security goals is challenging.
These issues require cloud security specialists to resolve. In this Q&A, Sathish Krishnan, a cloud infrastructure architect at Amazon Web Services (AWS) and networking and security expert, offers insights about why becoming a specialist is important.
What skills do IT generalists have, and what skills do IT specialists have?
Krishnan: IT generalists, also called cloud architects, plan, design, and improve cloud-based servers and systems to meet customer requirements. They must have basic knowledge of a wide array of processes and programs so they are flexible and versatile. During migration to the cloud or when a company wants to scale and needs a system that can best suit its growth plans, generalists may be tasked with redesigning the architecture of an existing system, taking scalability into account, and planning the schedule.
Some of their other responsibilities include:
- Defining and developing operating procedures
- Installing and configuring software
- Possessing a strong understanding of Azure/AWS/GCP.
It’s vital that specialists first fulfill the prerequisite of being a generalist, but they also need to hone their skills in a few specialized areas. This results in efficient and time-saving problem-solving. The general overlap for skills required for both is in the foundational cloud knowledge regarding computing, storage, and networking.
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How have you implemented your specialized skills?
Krishnan: I created a recommendation system for a large fintech customer who wanted to analyze browsing patterns. Then, I implemented real-time model predictions using AWS SageMaker and created a data analytics pipeline using Kinesis Streams, Managed Services Kafka, and AWS Glue. Once the data was ingested, I performed feature engineering and deep learning and created model predictions using many SageMaker service—including SageMaker Domain, SageMaker Studio, SageMaker Inference, and SageMaker Clarify—then shared the SageMaker predictions with AWS Quicksight, which was leveraged by leadership for customer insight. This would not have been possible without the machine learning specialty certification, one of the 12 that AWS offers, and all of which I have completed.
In what environments are there needs for IT generalists, and which require IT specialists?
Krishnan: Generalists are well-suited for smaller companies that do not have the budget for numerous specialists. They are required for workload migration from on-premises to the cloud or when going from one cloud to another. Generalists lay out the migration strategy by choosing from one of the seven Rs: re-host, re-platform, retire, re-architect, re-factor, retain, or re-purchase. In addition, they prepare a well-architected framework based on the six pillars of operational excellence: security, reliability, performance efficiency, cost optimization, operational excellence, and sustainability. Generalists also set up the landing zone or blueprints for running the migrated workloads.
IT specialists are important in larger organizations and begin their work once the generalists complete the landing zone setup. For example, when there is a need to design routing for the hybrid infrastructure, network and security specialists work in tandem to create a perimeter firewall for the landing zone and set up traffic patterns. They will also help design a high-performance, cost-efficient security infrastructure.
How do cloud complexity and ongoing innovation produce a need for more IT specialization?
Krishnan: Back in the early 2000s, before the advent of cloud services, when a company requested a complete provisioned server, they had a wait time of four to six months. Even back then, this required assistance from an infrastructure or data center architect and a hands-on technical person.
Cloud has reimagined the IT landscape and environment by provisioning the complete bootstrapped server—a server with all the requirements and software necessary to get the workload running within a few minutes. With the evolution of microservices and containers, workloads are now being created in serverless and managed-container platforms, propelling the need for container and cloud-native specialists who are certified in developing, securing, and administering Kubernetes.
Today’s modern infrastructures are powered by DevOps or DevSecOps-certified professionals. With the race toward releasing software every day, specialists are required to handle the ongoing innovation in the continuous delivery of IT infrastructure and code.
What is deep-dive specialization and how can companies ensure their IT personnel develop it?
Krishnan: Deep-dive specialization involves a comprehensive understanding of the services for specialized domains such as ML, security, network, and more. Consider security specialization. The specialist must understand three important areas of security: preventative controls, reactive controls, and responsive controls. Companies can ensure they provide hands-on, real-world scenarios based on security controls.
For example, I developed simulation labs to implement privilege escalation, workload lockdown, and data handling, basing the controls on services offered by AWS such as IAM, service control policies (SCP), and key management services (KMS). I also implemented real-world use cases for detective controls to spot suspicious behavior and fraud, and report compliance and automated analysis of logs to detect anomalies and other indicators of unauthorized activity. These simulations have helped many people not only to get insights on the real time scenarios but also helped them to complete the security specialty certifications for multiple clouds.
What different types of certifications are offered and what companies out there provide them?
Krishnan: Specialist certifications fall into several major categories—security, networking, data engineering, machine learning, and DevOps. Many places offer these programs, but the three big providers right now are AWS, Google Career Certificates, and Microsoft’s Azure Certifications.
What final advice do you want to share?
Krishnan: Pursue certifications because they provide real-world solutions that help solve customer problems and develop trust with clients, not just because they are viewed as badges of honor. The skills gained from these certifications not only improve one’s standings in leader dashboards on LinkedIn and other recruiter systems, but also serve as brand ambassadors for the cloud providers. Moreover, people desire a salary that reflects their abilities, so it’s also important to understand that specialists receive higher pay, often 10-15 percent more than a generalist in the same field because clients and partners can trust the specialist’s abilities.
A commitment to professional growth
The technology industry is vast, but if people are looking for careers in security, networking, data engineering, machine learning, or DevOps, investing in as many certification courses as possible is the best course. The easiest way to start is by visiting AWS, Google, and Microsoft Azure and reviewing the certifications offered in a given career path since these are the most recognizable companies. Then an individual can start with whichever one is best suited at the moment and go from there. Most certifications, like Amazon and Google, only last three years because of ever-evolving technology, so frequently checking back for new opportunities is recommended. Becoming a specialist in each field rewards a person with specialized knowledge, opening up many more opportunities for the future.
About the Author
Diana James is an author and freelance writer and editor for both non-fiction and fiction works. She writes for numerous trade publications, including those in the medical, accounting, and technology industries.
Disclaimer: The author is completely responsible for the content of this article. The opinions expressed are their own and do not represent IEEE’s position nor that of the Computer Society nor its Leadership.