I do a lot of informal mentoring with people looking to get into cloud computing or who are already in and are looking to improve their income, education, or professional satisfaction—all good objectives. 

There are three “meta career paths” that most cloud pros are on, and of course, each has good and bad points. Much depends on the company you’re working for, as well as your organization within the company. You could be on the right meta career path but working for the wrong company. You need to understand how to recognize that as well.

We’re living in good times to be a cloud pro. Demand for good cloud talent is increasing and is expected to remain high for the next few years, even during economic downturns. This will keep wages up and unemployment to a minimum, depending on the country and region where you’re working. I’m often told that the lack of available cloud talent is the single biggest factor limiting migration to the cloud for many enterprises, something we are desperately attempting to overcome. 

What are the three meta career paths, and what are the ups and downs of each? Here is my take. I’ve done all three in my career.

Consulting

Cloud computing consulting offers a dynamic and versatile career path, and we are always looking for new cloud talent. Consultants are pivotal in guiding organizations through the cloud adoption and migration process by using processes and best practices that have been proven in other domains. You’ll collaborate closely with clients to understand their business needs, develop cloud strategies, and implement customized solutions. Essential skills required in this track include technical knowledge of cloud platforms, strong problem-solving abilities, project management expertise, and excellent communication skills.

You gain exposure to various industries and organizations, leading to diverse experiences. I always tell people you’ll get 2.5 times the experience per year than other meta career paths. Consulting is often good for those just starting who want to build up cred. The constantly evolving technology landscape allows for continuous learning and development. The pay is usually higher because the work is more challenging.

The downsides are well understood. You’ll travel a great deal and sacrifice evenings at home to wait for a canceled flight at the airport. Some people seek more consistent work environments, which won’t often be the case as a cloud consultant. Good consulting firms will attempt to mitigate these downsides, including ensuring that everyone is back from travel on Fridays, extra vacation time, and bigger bonuses.

Industry

Cloud computing careers within an industry, such as working for a manufacturing company, retailer, or other non-technology-focused vertical, involve working for organizations that heavily rely on cloud technology for their day-to-day operations. Professionals contribute to planning, deploying, and managing cloud infrastructure and services specific to a particular industry and company. They collaborate closely with internal stakeholders, understanding their unique needs to design and implement efficient cloud solutions.

Some advantages include a deeper understanding of a specific industry, its challenges, and how cloud technology can address them. Also, you’ll find opportunities to specialize in niche domains such as healthcare, finance, or e-commerce.

The downside is that pay is normally less than roles with consulting or technology vendors. You’re not a part of the primary business but are in a supporting role. I found that when I worked for an energy company years ago, they often did not pay as much attention to IT, including cloud computing, as they should and thus morale and turnover became a problem considering that many felt underappreciated. 

Technology vendors

Professionals here focus on building, maintaining, and supporting cloud platforms or services that customers use. They engage in product development, testing, troubleshooting, and customer support.

The primary advantage is that you’ll get hands-on experience with cutting-edge cloud technologies and platforms. Vendors build things that are state of the art, thus, you’ll be working with the newer stuff. 

The opportunity to work closely with renowned experts and contribute to the technology’s evolution is another upside. These players are often cited in the press as technology leaders, considering they build something tangible and directly valuable to the business. Everyone knows who developed key technologies, and they are often heralded as heroes in the industry. Working with key technology leaders taught me a great deal about using technology effectively. Also, exposure to a broad customer base allows for a deeper understanding of industry needs.

The pay is normally a bit lower than consulting but higher than industry, depending on the type of company you’re working for and their maturation stage. Often, you get an equity stake in the company that can really pay off in the future if the company goes public or is sold. They may ask you to give up some pay for more equity. Remember that in many cases, that equity could become much less valuable than you think or even turn out to be worthless. I’ve made big gains and big losses working with technology vendors, including with companies that I helped start.

Make sure you have a good understanding of the career options available to you and the ups and downs of each. Of course, companies vary greatly in how they deal with cloud pros, and you’ll want to understand the particular culture and opportunities before signing the offer letter.

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