So you’ve chosen to pursue a career in cloud infrastructure and development. Or you’re leaning that way. It’s a major decision, but not the only one you’ll have to make. The cloud is a vast space, and deciding which disciplines, certifications, and cloud platform or platforms to pursue can have a big impact on your future career opportunities.
Eyes on the prize
Let’s cut to the chase. Which cloud certifications offer the most bang for the buck? And how much can you earn as a cloud-certified IT pro?
According to the 2020 Global Knowledge report, the top-paying cloud certifications for the year are (drumroll, please):
- Google Certified Professional Cloud Architect — $175,761
- AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate — $149,446
- AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner — $131,465
- Microsoft Certified: Azure Fundamentals — $126,653
- Microsoft Certified: Azure Administrator Associate — $125,993
Google Certified Professional Cloud Architect took the top spot of all IT certs (again), followed by the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate. The most likely job role for those with these certs is “cloud architect,” and 75% of cloud architects have earned one of them; 28% have both. The AWS Solutions Architect – Associate was on the list last year but climbed a couple of spots to the number 2 ranking overall for 2020.
Of course, cloud and cybersecurity are two of the two areas of investment for businesses, so it’s no shocker that the top IT certs tend to be around those areas. IT pros with these skills remain in high demand and tend to pull in the biggest salaries in the industry.
Cloud architects in particular enjoy even higher annual pay, with ZipRecruiter reporting average salary nationwide at more than $153,000 and ranging from $89,000 to as high as $210,000.
Global Knowledge reports that the average cloud computing professional in the U.S. pulls in $160,000, writing:
“…IT decision-makers are struggling to find qualified candidates for cloud job openings. They’re in such demand, the average cloud computing professional in the U.S. makes over $160,000 a year…”
Check out the full report for the top 15 paying IT certifications, which also include certifications around security, networking, and project management.
How do those certs and salaries compare to 2019?
To see how things have changed, these were the top cloud certifications (and the average reported salary) for 2019:
- Google Certified Professional Cloud Architect – $139,529
- AWS Certified Solutions Architect — Associate – $132,840
- AWS Certified Developer — Associate – $130,369
- Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert: Server Infrastructure* – $121,288
Microsoft muddies the waters
You may have noticed the asterisk next to Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert: Server Infrastructure in 2019 listings. This is because Microsoft did some rejiggering of its certifications. Long story short, the MCSE:SI was replaced with multiple distinct certifications more tied to role and workload, including three cloud-focused Azure certifications:
- Microsoft Certified: Azure Administrator Associate
- Microsoft Certified: Azure Developer Associate
- Microsoft Certified: Azure Solutions Architect Expert
You can see the Microsoft Certified: Azure Administrator Associate made the list this year, joined by the Azure Fundamentals cert.
Money isn’t everything
It might seem logical to simply select the certification with the promise of the highest average pay. But there are other factors to consider.
For example, AWS is the clear market leader among public cloud platform providers, with 80% of global enterprises running apps or experimenting with them on Amazon’s cloud, according to Statista. Microsoft is second with 67% market penetration and Google is third with 41%.
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 for the second year in a row.
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. On that front, AWS offers as close to a guarantee of employment as you can find, while Azure is a strong second. Of course, cloud skills are in such high demand that opportunity is out there, whichever platform you choose to specialize in.
Your situation might also point you toward a particular certification track. Maybe your current career would benefit from going deeper in a specific discipline or expanding into a different cloud platform. Perhaps your employer’s roadmap calls for a specific set of skills that a certification could position you to meet. It’s always smart to consult with mentors, recruiters, and peers about which path to choose. Online communities – such as LinkedIn groups, cloud-related subreddits, or our own discussion forums – can also provide valuable insights from a wider field of professionals.
And 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’s likely to be a requirement as you advance in your cloud computing career. Some 64% of cloud professionals were cross-certified as of last year, and that number is only growing, according to Global Knowledge.