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Best cloud certifications: Skill up to earn more

Faster development of safer, more reliable, more user-friendly cloud-based systems is creating a flood of new positions; here are the certifications that lead to the highest-paid cloud development jobs.
Written by Chris Preimesberger, Contributor on

Up until about a decade ago, most enterprises simply didn't trust having their business and customer data in someone else's cloud data store. Security and easy accessibility were the pain points, but that old school of thought has dissipated with the fast development of safer, more reliable, more user-friendly cloud-based systems.

This change, led largely by the fintech sector, has brought huge success to service providers such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, and others. As a result of all this movement to the cloud, a great deal more software development is being done for applications that connect business data to processors and storage in public cloud systems. This is creating more jobs in this sector, so a whole new group of people needs to be instructed about how to facilitate safe and reliable cloud architectures and services. 

If you've chosen to pursue a career in cloud infrastructure and development, you have some excellent options for upskilling. Key questions to ask: Are you going to cast your lot for an AWS certification career path? Or perhaps you want to enlist for a Microsoft Azure certification; maybe you want to master multi-cloud development? Hard to go wrong with any of these choices.

Here is a listing of the most respected and highest-valued cloud development certificates now available, ranked according to average salaries.

While Google Cloud (GCP) may be third in public cloud usage, this challenging certification has been number one across multiple lists of top-paying IT certifications since it became available in 2017. Professionals who earn the certification of Google Certified Professional Cloud Architect average $169,029 per year, according to a survey conducted by Global Knowledge. This is the highest-ranked salary level for a cloud architect certification and second-ranked on the overall IT salary list only to Google Certified Professional Data Engineers, who bring in $171,749. 

Google's Professional Cloud Architect (PCA) certification exam is difficult, according to industry insiders and test-takers. To answer the questions asked in the Google certification exam, you need to have solid experience in working with GCP. Compared with a similar AWS test, both challenge the skills of the candidates based on scenario-based questions, but GCP's exams also require candidates to have a developer background.

For more information about GCP and affiliated training, check out Intellipat's GCP certification course. Here is a YouTube video on Google Cloud Training. Average salary range: $139,000 - $175,000

This is one of the most important certifications for Azure, is in high demand, and also is one of the most difficult. Every day more native developers appear in the cloud, and an architect role that gives guidelines and assembles the architectures that the developers will implement is essential. 

Achieving this Microsoft certification and owning its two daunting exams, the AZ-303 and AZ-304, is one of the most challenging feats in cloud certification. CIO.com calls it one of the most in-demand IT certifications for 2021. Average salary range: $119,000 - $152,000

The AWS Certified Solutions Architect -- Associate is one of the most difficult AWS certifications to earn. To obtain this certification, candidates need in-depth knowledge of cloud computing and many of the essential AWS services. Prior to gaining this certification, most successful candidates already had several years of AWS experience.

The AWS Solutions Architect – Associate is the most popular AWS certification, which means it's one of the most popular cloud certifications available. The most likely job role for people with this credential is cloud architect, and 75% of cloud architects have earned one of them; 28% have both, according to Global Knowledge. Average salary range: $113,000–$149,000

Seventy-six percent of candidates taking their first shot at the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional exam passed it, which is a pretty high percentage. The practice exams apparently are more difficult than the real exam; based on two attempts, candidates were successful 63% and 65% of the time, respectively. AWS's SA pro course is a good introduction to solutions architecting, but candidates need to do deep research on the different services to get sufficient understanding to pass the exam.

The CSA Pro is one of the most challenging and well-respected certifications in IT. It was projected to be the most pursued cloud certification in Global Knowledge's survey. Average salary range: $129,000–$133,000.

The AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner Certification is the foundational certification for Amazon Web Services. Unlike the other AWS certifications, this exam is not focused on a single technical role. This is one of the many highly sought-after certifications for companies that are leveraging the cloud. This path covers the four key areas that are covered by this certification, including cloud concepts, security and compliance, technology, and billing and pricing. The information and resources contained in this path will be vital in preparing to take the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner exam.

The AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner exam is often the first step on the cloud path for most would-be cloud-service developers. About 12% of IT pros in U.S. companies pursued this certification in 2020; the average AWS CCP certification-holder has more than five other credentials under his/her cloud belt, according to Global Knowledge. Average salary: $131,000

After staying in the top five on Global Knowledge's salary list for 2018 and 2019, the AWS Certified Developer – Associate certification fell to sixth in 2020. But Indeed.com reports that demand for skilled developers continues to be high. Developers with this certification have the technical ability to develop and maintain apps on AWS, and there's a ton of demand for that skill set. 

Cloud Academy's certification Learning Path is specifically designed to prepare candidates for the latest exam. Hands-on experience is mentioned as a pre-requisite of the AWS exam blueprint, so CA has included more hands-on labs in its latest release to fast-track learning and help candidates succeed. Average salary range: $101,000–$130,000. 

Azure Fundamentals certification is an opportunity to prove knowledge of cloud concepts, Azure services, Azure workloads, security and privacy in Azure, as well as Azure pricing and support. So why is an intro-level certification landing a high position on the list, and why is it one of the top-paying Azure certifications? It's likely because there are so many roles that can benefit from the fundamental understanding of cloud and Azure that comes with it. This means it's not just Azure engineers and architects but cloud-adjacent folks, from leadership to sales to support, who are also in the mix.

Coursera's program and others cover the basics of Azure. Average salary: $127,000.

Candidates for the Microsoft Certified: Azure Administrator Associate certification should have subject matter expertise in implementing, managing, and monitoring an organization's Microsoft Azure environment. Responsibilities for this role include implementing, managing, and monitoring identity, governance, storage, compute, and virtual networks in a cloud environment, plus provision, size, monitor, and adjust resources, when needed. An Azure administrator often serves as part of a larger team dedicated to implementing an organization's cloud infrastructure.

A candidate for this certification should have at least six months of hands-on experience administering Azure, along with a strong understanding of core Azure services, Azure workloads, security, and governance. In addition, this role should have experience using PowerShell, Azure CLI, Azure portal, and Azure Resource Manager templates. Average salary range: $80,000–$126,000

How did we choose these certifications?

We put together the list after referencing a number of excellent resources, including home sites of AWS, Google Cloud Platform and Azure. Additionally, we referenced Pluralsight's ACloudGuru.com, Coursera, Cloud Academy, Udemy, Global Knowledge, Indeed.com, Statista, Simplilearn.com, and Payscale.com

How do you determine a cloud career path that's best for you?

It's logical to select the certification with the promise of the highest average pay. But there are other things to consider; you should give careful thought about which cloud you're going to concentrate in. 

AWS is the market leader among public cloud platform providers, with 76% of global enterprises running apps or experimenting with them on Amazon's cloud, according to Statista. Microsoft is second with 63% market penetration, and Google is third with 35%. Generally, AWS and Azure cater more often to enterprises of various sizes and a number of smaller businesses, while Google is used more often by developers at tech companies, the military, and scientific organizations.  

A cloud platform's greater market share doesn't necessarily mean higher pay for the professionals who work with it. In fact, expertise on a smaller but growing platform can be lucrative. Google Cloud Platform, for example, doesn't have the market penetration of AWS or Azure, but its top certification yields the highest average salary for cloud professionals. That's not to say you should ignore market share; a platform's adoption and popularity can help you assess the health of the job market in your area. 

Online communities, such as LinkedIn groups, cloud-related sub-Reddits, various discussion forums, or the ACG Discord server, also can also provide valuable insights from a wider field of professionals.

Remember, it's not like you're limited to the first cloud certification you choose. Getting certified within and across cloud platforms isn't just a possibility, it may be a requirement at some point as you advance in your cloud computing career. According to Global Knowledge, about 64% of cloud professionals were cross-certified in 2020, and that number is expected to grow.

Quick facts on cloud certifications

  • 80% of people say a higher salary was a direct result of cloud certification, according to ACG's State of Cloud report.

  • 52% said cloud certifications expanded their career opportunities.

  • $12,000–$13,000 is the average raise IT pros who gained new skills and/or certifications reported receiving, according to Global Knowledge.

  • Statista survey found that Senior Solutions Architects earn the highest average salary across cloud jobs, bringing in an average of $141,000 USD. 

  • Other high-paying cloud jobs, according to Monster, include cloud architects ($135,977) and DevOps engineers ($121,216).

  • Demand for cloud skills continues to grow. In ACG's State of Cloud report, 82% of hiring managers report cloud certifications to make a candidate more attractive. 

  • A 2020 report from CBRE tracked the demand as a 12% year-over-year increase and said that the typical turnover rate is at 42% — well above the U.S. average for all tech skill sets, which is another indicator suggesting robust hiring demand.

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