Cloud specialists get the big bucks, but there's still a role for generalists

Specialized cloud skills, such as AI and analytics, carry very hefty premiums.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer
A blurred road leading to clouds
Getty Images/nadla

As the world continues to move to the cloud, there's going to be an increasing need for engineers, AI specialists, and operations people who can keep things connected, secure, and running. While there's less or a requirement for the cloud "generalist" -- who handles everything from purchase to configuration and onto data uploading -- organizations still need big-picture thinking.

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That's the word from David Linthicum, chief cloud strategy officer for Deloitte Consulting and author of the just-published book, An Insider's Guide to Cloud Computing. It's fair to suggest that Linthicum is the ultimate insider on all-things cloud, having consulted with numerous companies, and having written a range of books and articles.

Just as IT itself has traditionally been a broad discipline requiring numerous specialties, so now is the world of cloud computing. "Just a few years ago, a cloud certification focusing on a single, popular cloud provider was enough to get you a 'cloud job,'" says Linthicum. "These days, the focus is on specialization, such as [name a public cloud brand] security engineer, or [brand] developer, or [brand] architect. The focus is on very specific skills in the narrow versus general skills in the wide."

The upwards trajectory in rates is clear, even for generalists: "In 2010, a cloud-computing specialist or an experienced consultant cost about $35-$45 USD per hour, or about $80,000 per year if salaried. If you're a cloud-computing generalist in 2023, you'll likely make at least $75 USD per hour, or about $140,000 per year in salary." 

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Importantly, specialized cloud skills carry even bigger premiums, says Linthicum: "If you're a specialist and focus on specific technologies, such as data analytics in the cloud, AI, or machine learning, or if you are a cloud-computing architect, then the salaries and hourly rates carry huge premiums. It's not unusual for a cloud-technology specialist with specialized certifications to command $200 per hour, with salaries well over $275,000 on the top end." 

While generalists, including good cloud architects, are still in demand, cloud has grown increasingly sophisticated. The cloud is now so essential to today's complex enterprise requirements that it would be unrealistic to rely on one type of individual. Importantly, specialized cloud skills carry very hefty premiums, says Linthicum: "This could lead to problems if only a few hires are looking at more holistic issues within the cloud architecture."

During the next five to 10 years, Linthicum expects to see a huge increase in demand for cloud operations skills, including AIOps, observability, and FinOps. AIOps is the employment of AI to monitor and improve technology deployments. FinOps (Financial Operations) is an emerging practice that involves managing and automating cloud spending. 

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The demand for CloudOps skills, meanwhile, is based on a need to "combine many similar or related operations tasks within a single technology stack," says Linthicum and to, "deal with increasing overlap in operations such as performance, backup, recovery, and reliability,"

Security -- while always in play -- "will grow a bit, but not as much as many would predict," he adds. "Development automation will reduce the need for development and deployment skills, as infrastructure automation will reduce the need for infrastructure skills."

Still, while the age of cloud specialization is upon us, Linthicum issues a word of caution: businesses will still need leadership -- generalists if you will -- to provide the scope and context of cloud services. 

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"Cloud providers offer certifications for narrow skill sets and then convince enterprises that they need these specific skill sets to survive," he says. "It will take time for enterprises to realize they also need cloud generalist skill sets."

Crucially, Linthicum says the unintended consequence of specialization is that IT often misses the bigger-picture issues that will only be caught by experts with a broader knowledge of all solutions, both cloud and non-cloud. 

"Thus, IT staffs will often lack the ability to take a more strategic look at the big picture of cloud technology. I suspect that this inability to see the big picture will have a few negative effects, including the fact that many viable solutions won't be considered because no one in the organization understands how they work, or why they should be leveraged as an alternative to the current path."

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