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Which Google Cloud certification is best for me?

Mattias Andersson
Mattias Andersson

Considering your options when it comes to Google Cloud (GCP) certification paths? This post will cover the various GCP certifications, what each cert covers, what it could mean for your career, and how you can set (and achieve) your own personal goals.

We’ll start with some basic common questions around certifications and then dig into each cert one by one. Ready? Let’s dive in!

What do Google Cloud certifications mean?

Google’s Cloud certifications are some of the strongest certs out there. But like Amazon Web Services (AWS) certifications or Microsoft Azure certs, a Google Cloud certification isn’t a magical golden ticket that will guarantee you success in your cloud career. 

However, if you want to be effective at using Google Cloud Platform (GCP) in a real-world role, then these certifications can help you do that. If you’re smart about it.


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How much experience do you need to get Google Cloud certified? 

At the very highest level, all of Google’s certifications have one purpose. That is, according to Google, to “validate your expertise and show your ability.”

Google sort of assumes your interest in certifications starts after you’ve already gotten all the skills. But the vast majority of people would likely fail the exams because they’re just not ready—even ones who have been using the platform for years! 

These certifications are much broader, deeper, and more varied than almost anyone’s real-world experience. So people—and, assuming you’re a person, this includes you—will usually use certifications as a guide to learn whatever skills they’re missing from their own backgrounds.

Some people start with a ton of great experience, and so the gap is fairly small. But most people have a fair amount of stuff they need to study to be well-rounded enough to pass the exam and get the cert. Regardless of what Google might have intended, that’s fine! In my opinion, this is actually the primary value of certifications.

What are the different Google Cloud certification roles?

When Google went about creating each certification, that included the hard work of doing a Job Task Analysis to discover and catalog the most important things that affect people in those different real-world roles. 

Roles like Cloud Engineer, Data Engineer, DevOps Engineer, Network Engineer, Security Engineer, Machine Learning Engineer — well, lots of engineers, obviously. But also Cloud Developer (which I’m not sure why they didn’t just call that Cloud Software Engineer). And also the much-desired and particularly profitable role of Cloud Architect.

What are the different GCP certification levels?

Google buckets certifications into three levels: 

Foundational

Currently, only the Digital Cloud Leader is “Foundational.” This level of cert “validates broad knowledge of cloud concepts and Google Cloud products, services, tools, features, benefits, and use cases.” This cert is ideal for people in technical roles who can benefit from understanding the basics of cloud.

Associate

The Cloud Engineer cert is considered an “Associate” certification. This is the ideal starting point for those going on to pursue Professional certs and covers the ” fundamental skills of deploying, monitoring, and maintaining projects on Google Cloud.”

Professional

Each Professional-level certification is about a specific advanced role. All of Google’s certifications have fairly broad scope, but the Professional certs all go much deeper than the Associate one does—into both the technology and the business realities surrounding those roles.

What do I need to know to get Google Cloud certified?

Before we move on, I want to call out one more important thing about Google’s Cloud certifications, and it’s this: Google’s certifications also require you to know non-Google stuff.

What I mean is that you’ll very likely get exam questions that have nothing to do with Google, specifically. And even the ones that do will still also include non-Google things. And it’s because, remember, each certification is based on a real-world Job Task Analysis. And no real-world job is 100% Google-specific. 

To succeed in any role, you need to be able to work with the relevant general industry technology and best practices. And you need to be able to deal with pre-existing technology, too—whether for migration or some hybrid setup.

What are the different Google Cloud certifications?

So let’s take a look at each cert and hopefully give you a better sense for it and how each might be valuable to you.

Associate Cloud Engineer (ACE)

We’ll start off by looking at the ACE — The Associate Cloud Engineer certification. Both because this is definitely where you should start, too, but also because this is arguably Google’s most important certification. (I’ll explain why in a bit.)

What does an Associate Cloud Engineer do?

Google defines an Associate Cloud Engineer as someone who “deploys applications, monitors operations of multiple projects, and maintains enterprise solutions to ensure that they meet target performance metrics. This individual has experience working with public clouds and on-premises solutions. They are able to use Google Cloud Console and the command-line interface to perform common platform-based tasks to maintain one or more deployed solutions that leverage Google-managed or self-managed services on Google Cloud.”

How to pass the Associate Cloud Engineer certification

The ACE is all about being able to use the Google Cloud Platform—both through the web UI and the command line. 

This cert focuses on the most important foundation of GCP. It includes all the critical building blocks for systems: processing, remembering, and moving data around.

  • Processing — When it comes to how your system does its processing, that means things like Compute Engine for running and managing as many Virtual Machines as you need. And Kubernetes Engine for running and managing your own clusters. And App Engine to enjoy a lower ongoing operations burden.
  • Remembering — Of course, your system also needs to remember data, so that means getting a good handle on Google Cloud Storage for your objects and Persistent Disks for your VMs’ block storage. But this also includes using Cloud SQL to hand off database management to Google. Or going for broke on Big Data by having BigQuery store and process all your Terabytes, Petabytes, or Exabytes of . . . cat videos? Meow. (DISCLAIMER: We do not recommend storing your cat videos in BigQuery. Treat those cat videos right and put them in Cloud Storage.)
  • Moving But what good are cat videos that just stay on Google’s servers, right? You need to move them around the world to wherever you and your billions of users want to watch them! So you’ll need to understand the VPC (the Virtual Private Cloud) and how it connects up the parts of your system globally and lets you make them securely available to your users.
  • Security — Now, speaking of security, that also very much applies to how you set up and manage your system, internally. You’ll need to understand how Projects and IAM (Identity and Access Management) can help you keep everything organized and accessible to exactly the right people.
  • Management — And, of course, you also need to manage things—both in terms of making sure that all of the pieces of your system are working properly—using Cloud Monitoring, Cloud Alerting, and other operations stuff that originally came from Stackdriver. And also you need to watch and analyze spending to manage costs over time, with billing alerts and exports.

Phew! But all of what I’ve just listed is still only scratching the surface! The ACE really is a well-rounded foundation! And not only for using GCP, I mean, but also for any of the Professional certifications. The Pro certs are all rather challenging, so it’s important that you have a strong foundation before you take any of them on.

Why is the Google’s Associate Cloud Engineer (ACE) certification the most important GCP certification?

This is why I feel so strongly that Google’s ACE certification is the most important GCP certification. It’s the combination of these two things:

  1. It guides people to competent ability to use GCP, day-to-day.
  2. This certification is achievable. I mean, you can learn your way to this certification. And I don’t just say this as a hypothetical, because I have taught this stuff to tens of thousands of learners from all sorts of different backgrounds. Of course, it’s easier for some people than for others, but it’s possible if you set your mind to it. If they can do it, then you can, too!

Professional Cloud Architect (PCA)

The first Professional role we’re going to cover is the Professional Cloud Architect Google Cloud certification—partly because it’s the most general one, partly because it’s so highly sought-after, and partly because it’s a good way to give context to all the rest of the certs and roles.

What does a Professional Cloud Architect do?

Everything we’re talking about—the stuff we build in GCP—is a software system. It manages the flow of some data to serve a purpose. And architecting that system is all about optimizing that system across a whole bunch of tradeoffs, to increase value while reducing cost and risk. Want to get better at doing that? Well then this Professional Cloud Architect cert is right up your alley. 

The way Google puts it this individual “can design, develop, and manage robust, secure, scalable, highly available, and dynamic solutions to drive business objectives.”

How to pass the Professional Cloud Architect certification?

Google’s Professional Cloud Architect exam will try to determine whether you could actually be a successful Cloud Architect . . . And that is a massively different thing from determining whether you just understand GCP. This is not a test about the tools, primarily; it’s a test about the role. And that has a lot of impact.

For one, it makes this certification more valuable. Achieving it means you actually know what you’re doing, and I would go so far as to say that it would even be a good indicator of whether you’d be a good Cloud Architect in Amazon’s AWS or Microsoft’s Azure

Not that you really know those tools, but that you understand how to use the cloud in a professional setting—balancing tradeoffs, managing costs, keeping it secure, making it maintainable, yadda, yadda, yadda. The thought process applies everywhere, even though Google, of course, hopes you’ll use GCP! So, this might be a strange thing to read in a blog post all about Google Cloud certifications, but I think this could be a pretty valuable cert to get even if you never use GCP.

Google describes this by saying: 

“Through an understanding of cloud architecture and Google technology, this individual designs, develops, and manages robust, secure, scalable, highly available, and dynamic solutions to drive business objectives. The Cloud Architect should be proficient in all aspects of enterprise cloud strategy, solution design, and architectural best practices. The Cloud Architect should also be experienced in software development methodologies and approaches including multi-tiered distributed applications which span multi-cloud or hybrid environments.”

Professional Cloud Architect certification exam pro-tips

  • The exam for this will include a bunch of questions about realistic case studies. Now, you should definitely read and study these descriptions of the fictional companies and their cloud projects—and you should do that in advance of your exam, so that you don’t waste your limited testing time trying to do that.
  • As far as the scope is concerned, this cert includes every product and service in GCP! But, thankfully, it doesn’t require you to know every last detail about every one of them. The technical depth is notably shallower than all the other Professional certs because PCA’s real focus is on the business and architecture.

Professional Cloud Developer (PCD)

Speaking of all those other certs, let’s move on to the Professional Cloud Developer certification, which I consider to be the last of Google’s general certs; the others are all rather more focused. 

Now, a part of why I say that this Professional Cloud Developer cert is general is because Google, as a company, is very developer-focused. From Google’s point of view, pretty much everyone who works in technology is a developer—just some people deal more with program code than others do. I will acknowledge that they have started to realize that not every organization structures themselves in the same way as Google does, but Google still sees development as the core to everything.

In Google’s mind, architects are lead developers who don’t write as much of the code themselves. People in operations—including DevOps Engineers and Site Reliability Engineers—are developers who write software to manage the operations activities. Data Engineers are developers who—well, I’m getting ahead of myself, here. Let’s focus back on the Professional Cloud Developer cert.

What does a Professional Cloud Developer do?

Here’s what Google has to say about the PCD: 

“A Professional Cloud Developer builds scalable and highly available applications using Google-recommended practices and tools. This individual has experience with cloud-native applications, developer tools, managed services, and next-generation databases. A Professional Cloud Developer also has proficiency with at least one general-purpose programming language and is skilled at producing meaningful metrics and logs to debug and trace code.”

How to pass the Professional Cloud Developer certification

There’s a lot to unpack in the bit above, but I think the simplest high-level summary is that a PCD makes stuff—building the actual systems that people use. That’s definitely going to include writing some program code in some programming language—and one of the domains in this cert is all about that: calling service APIs securely, writing your own service APIs, and stuff like that.

But I think one of the most important callouts here is the point about managed services. Just like how a powerful programming language means you have to write very little actual code to get the job done, managed services take that to the next level—the next level of abstraction, I mean. Effective use of managed services—things like Cloud Storage, Cloud Pub/Sub, and Cloud Run, for example—can make an enormous difference to a software project. 

Indeed, as Fred Brooks wrote in his influential work, No Silver Bullet: 

“The most radical possible solution for constructing software is not to construct it at all. Every day this becomes easier… The development of the mass market is, I believe, the most profound long-run trend in software engineering.” 

Given that the very next sections of his paper correctly predicted the need for what we now call Agile software development methodologies, there’s very good reason to consider his advice. Now that we have public cloud with such amazing services, what he predicted goes way beyond packages within one application and extends to huge parts of the entire system.

In this way, the Professional Cloud Developer role overlaps with the Professional Cloud Architect role. Developers do not only need to be able to understand cloud-native architectures; they also need to be able to create those system designs, themselves—at least to some extent.

But Professional Cloud Developer also includes proficiency with the tools of the trade. Tools to build and test the applications in your system. Tools to continuously deploy them—CI and CD. And tools to manage their performance, longer-term.

Now, all of these things also include the related best practices, not just the tools in isolation, and functioning in a DevOps team environment. So, this Professional Cloud Developer is expected to understand most of the things that a Professional Cloud DevOps Engineer does, too—just at a more general level than what we’ll cover below for the DevOps cert.

Get a more detailed breakdown of what’s on the Professional Cloud Developer certification exam.

Professional Cloud DevOps Engineer (PCDOE)

What does a Professional Cloud DevOps Engineer do?

Here’s the official blurb for the Professional Cloud DevOps Engineer cert: 

“A Professional Cloud DevOps Engineer is responsible for efficient development operations that can balance service reliability and delivery speed. They are skilled at using Google Cloud Platform to build software delivery pipelines, deploy and monitor services, and manage and learn from incidents.”

Many people hear the word “operations” and then just tune out all the rest. Bad idea! This role—which is also called Site Reliability Engineer, especially in Google’s world—does way more than just that. And it handles the operations stuff quite differently, too.

At its core, this whole SRE role is about enabling the entire team to make better software faster. And if you spend all your time just putting out fires and chasing your tail, that’s not going to happen. So it uses the power of software development to magnify the impact of your time. 

It used to be the case that Operations people would unbox hardware and set it up and configure it and set up the application dependencies and install the apps they got from the devs. Not anymore.

Instead, SREs write declarative manifest files and procedural scripts to do all of that stuff—complete with error handling and logging and version control and all the other things that software engineers use to control chaos. Because SREs are software engineers—just internal ones that enable the entire development team to make better software faster.

But it also goes beyond the stuff that devs use, because it also includes intentional risk management. Notice that I didn’t say risk avoidance. This role does not fear risk, it embraces it! Yes, be willing to cause errors sometimes, because the risk is worth the reward: you make the software better, and the overall effort actually winds up taking less time, too, in the end. People can be skeptical about this, but it’s absolutely true.

How to pass the Professional Cloud DevOps Engineer certification

In terms of GCP products that this role and cert focus on, they include all the observability stuff that used to be called Stackdriver: stuff like Cloud Monitoring, Cloud Logging, Cloud Trace, Cloud Debugger, and Cloud Profiler. Also, CI/CD stuff like Cloud Source Repositories, Artifact Registry, and Cloud Build. And Infrastructure as Code stuff like Cloud Deployment Manager and TerraForm.

This role is often really misunderstood, but it can definitely be an incredible part of a team when it’s actually empowered to succeed. If you want to dig deeper into this and how it could benefit you and your team, you might want to go through the course I made on the topic: Google Professional Cloud DevOps Engineer Certification Path Introduction. It’s a quick course that goes through both the role itself, in more detail, and also the context for the role. And it also happens to be a great first step towards this Professional Cloud DevOps Engineer certification, if that interests you. 


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Professional Cloud Security Engineer (PCSE)

We all know that everyone is responsible for security and must do their part, right? (RIGHT?) While that’s true, the Professional Cloud Security Engineer role spends all day, every day dealing with security stuff—just different flavours of security, from task to task.

What does a Professional Cloud Security Engineer do?

What Google says about this certification:

“Through an understanding of security best practices and industry security requirements, this individual designs, develops, and manages a secure infrastructure leveraging Google security technologies. The Cloud Security Professional should be proficient in all aspects of Cloud Security including managing identity and access management, defining organizational structure and policies, using Google technologies to provide data protection, configuring network security defenses, collecting and analyzing Google Cloud Platform logs, managing incident responses, and an understanding of regulatory concerns.”

Mmm… “regulatory concerns.” Everyone’s favorite, right? Maybe not. But it can be important, and there is an amount of satisfaction to be had from doing important jobs. Regardless, that’s only one part of this much larger role.

The key is that this person “designs, develops, and manages a secure infrastructure” — like, the whole thing. But, again, they are still not working alone, because this Security Professional leads the team on security things. The rest of the description is all just to give more specifics.

How to pass the Professional Cloud Security Engineer certification

In terms of focus areas, this Google Cloud certification has a heavy emphasis on IAM, of course, and using the resource hierarchy to put projects into folders and organizations. And also Service Accounts, Cloud Identity, Groups, and Directory Sync get involved.

For networking, Google is very big on the BeyondCorp zero-trust network model and using Identity-Aware Proxy to achieve that. But it’s still quite reasonable to use network-based security as an additional layer of protection. Defense in depth, right? So VPC structures like firewalls, peering, and Cloud Interconnect need to be set up in a way that enables safe connectivity.

Across all of this, everything and everyone must have the least privilege they need.

As for the data you store, you shouldn’t need any regulation to tell you that it’s a bad idea to collect unnecessarily detailed information on your customers, store it insecurely, and then let that data fall into the wrong hands. Right? Data breaches destroy trust and often kill companies—so it’s just bad business, too. So you redact sensitive info with the DLP API; you tokenize stuff; you encrypt and manage keys with Cloud Key Management; and you expire data with Object Lifecycle Policies. Et cetera.

Finally, there’s not just the passive or preparatory security stuff. You sometimes also need to take action to respond to security events, like a DDoS or Zero-Day.

I could go on, but I hope you now feel secure in your understanding of this role.

A side note about Google’s Developer Perspective

So here’s a fun fact: Google’s first version of their Professional Cloud Architect certification was pretty much a mash-up of all of the other certs that we’ve covered above. (Well, a bit of the ones that we’ll cover after this point, too, but mostly the ones before it.) 

For example, the first time I sat the PCA exam, one question had me debug a snippet of program code—I can’t remember if it was Python or Java—and it didn’t even have to do with Google! 

That’s the type of thing that has since been moved into the Professional Cloud Developer exam, and the PCA now focuses more on the architecture. But I think it shows you how Google’s original mindset really has been that technical professionals should all have a foundation in software development—at least to some extent. 

Now, I don’t want this to scare you off, though!

I just want you to understand Google’s interesting view on many real-world roles so that you’re not thrown off by stuff that seems irrelevant to you based on your own background. I’m sure that you can also learn the few extra things they expect, so don’t stress! And, to be honest, I think you will find most of those things quite valuable, after the fact.

Professional Cloud Network Engineer (PCNE)

Next, let’s dive into one of the truest specialty roles: the Professional Cloud Network Engineer.

What does a Professional Cloud Network Engineer do?

Google says that this person “implements and manages network architectures in Google Cloud Platform… [and] may work on networking or cloud teams with architects who design the infrastructure. By leveraging experience implementing VPCs, hybrid connectivity, network services, and security for established network architectures, this individual ensures successful cloud implementations using the command line interface or the Google Cloud Platform Console.”

Before we move on to the rest of the stuff, I want to make one comment about that very last phrase. Sure, it’s important to note that the role and exam expect the ability to work via both the command-line and the web console UI. But the thing I want to point out is what’s missing: Unlike networking specialist roles of the past, this one never interacts with any hardware. This is all about software-defined networking. Cloud Network Engineer, right?

How to pass the Professional Cloud Network Engineer

Even though the overall description of this Google Cloud certification reads much more like the “get your hands dirty and do it” sort of a person instead of the “sit back and figure it out” kind, this role definitely does include designing, planning, and prototyping networks in GCP. In fact, that’s the first domain listed in the exam guide.

But all the other domains are very much more about the day-to-day implementation and management stuff: 

  • Configuring and managing the Virtual Private Cloud (or VPC) network that connects everything together. 
  • Doing the same for the network aspects of many of the things that connect into that VPC—like the VMs, GKE clusters, corporate data centers, and whatnot. 
  • We talked a bit about the networking stuff involved in the Cloud Security Engineer role, and those are all included here, too—but this Cloud Network Engineer turns it up to eleven. DNS, BGP, TCP/IP, SSL, HTTPS, GKE IPs, NAT, VLAN, IPSec, VPN, SSH, CDN, BBQ, LOL. (OK, I added those last two. But seriously, there are a lot of details to handle.)

And those details extend beyond the network-only services, because this role gets involved in some of the IAM stuff, too. Remember, it’s all software-defined networking, so all access control is managed centrally. This is very powerful, and many old-guard networking people who move to the Google Cloud find it a joy to work with these cool new toys that magnify their impact.

Professional Data Engineer (PDE)

Next, we’ll dive into what makes a Professional Data Engineer, or PDE.

What does a Professional Data Engineer do?

Well, to start with, data, right? That’s clearly the focus, but the question to ask is “Why?” Why do we care so much about all that data? Let’s hear from Google, again: “A Professional Data Engineer enables data-driven decision making by collecting, transforming, and publishing data.” 

There it is: “data-driven decision making.” As an industry, we’ve learned that there is a ton of business value locked up in data, and this role is all about coaxing it out and introducing it to the whole organization.

They continue on: “A Data Engineer should be able to design, build, operationalize, secure, and monitor data processing systems with a particular emphasis on security and compliance; scalability and efficiency; reliability and fidelity; and flexibility and portability.” 

That’s a lot of “ilities.” Because tradeoffs are at the core of every IT role, and definitely including this one. 

If you’re dealing with data, you obviously have to respect the privacy and security concerns that it represents, so that overlaps a bit with the Security Engineer role. But like I mentioned, security truly is everyone’s responsibility. And there’s plenty of overlap with the Architecture role, too, since this Professional Data Engineer very much includes architecting all Big Data systems for the entire data lifecycle: ingesting, storing, processing, analyzing, exploring, and visualizing.

How to pass the Professional Data Engineer certification

In terms of GCP products that are core to this role and the related Google Cloud certification, I would say that a few really stand out: DataFlow, DataProc, BigTable, and BigQuery.

But that’s not to say that the others aren’t important, too: things like DataPrep, DataLab, Data Studio, Cloud Storage, Cloud SQL, and Cloud Pub/Sub. Anything that stores and processes data, really. But it’s not just about setting these things up. This role also involves monitoring, maintaining, debugging, and over time enhancing these pipelines.

One additional call-out, here, is that this role will also need to be able to use industry standard non-Google stuff—things like Hadoop for MapReduce-processing large datasets and SQL for writing all sorts of data queries.

Now, the final sentence Google uses to describe this role is: “A Data Engineer should also be able to leverage, deploy, and continuously train pre-existing machine learning models.”

So even though there’s a special cert just for Machine Learning, this one definitely includes it, too. This means you need to understand GCP’s pre-trained models, like Vision API and Translation API. But also be comfortable with training your own models through something like AI Platform. And then there’s also the “middle of the road” “Auto” APIs—like AutoML Vision and AutoML Tables—where Google does most of the heavy lifting but you still get to be involved in the training. 

Notably missing from the scope, here, though, is designing your own custom models from scratch to solve new problems; that’s more the realm of the specialist Machine Learning Engineer.

Professional Machine Learning Engineer (PMLE)

Speaking of that ML Engineer . . . The Professional Machine Learning Engineer may be one of Google’s newest certifications, but I think it may become one of their most valuable ones—potentially even attracting interest from people who have no plans to use GCP. (Well, not yet, anyway.)

The Professional Machine Learning Engineer role definitely includes all of the Machine Learning stuff from the Data Engineer role, plus a whole lot more. So let’s take a closer look at what more.

What does a Professional Machine Learning Engineer do?

Google’s write-up says: 

“A Professional Machine Learning Engineer designs, builds, and productionizes ML models to solve business challenges using Google Cloud technologies and knowledge of proven ML models and techniques. The ML Engineer is proficient in all aspects of model architecture, data pipeline interaction, and metrics interpretation and needs familiarity with application development, infrastructure management, data engineering, and security.”

“Productionizes” is a fun word, but the key thing here is the inclusion of designing and building the ML models, not just training and using them like the PDE.

And, as it calls out, this Professional ML Engineer is “proficient in all aspects of” Machine Learning. All aspects. Not just what relates to Google Cloud. That’s the very biggest thing to know about this cert. Sure, it is a Google Cloud certification—and it does require a fair bit of GCP ability. But this will also test you on way more than just the Google Cloud–specific stuff. I think this Machine Learning Engineer is probably the Google cert with the most non-Google content. And that also gives it excellent reach beyond GCP, should you ever need to work multi-cloud or hybrid.

How to pass the Professional Machine Learning Engineer certification

The first section of the exam guide is all about framing business problems and data in a way that could be served by ML, so that doesn’t have anything to do with Google aside from their AI principles and practices you should follow. Interestingly, you also need to be able to recognize situations that should not use ML.

When it comes to designing the Machine Learning solution, you have to consider some more Google-y things, like how to build security and privacy into your pipeline using things like IAM and Key Management. 

You also need to know when you should use VMs, containers, GPUs, and/or TPUs for training. 

You also need to be able to leverage AI Platform to good effect, including ways it can do distributed training, the algorithms it has built-in, and its features like Explainable AI and Continuous Evaluation. 

It’s also important to know when the right decision is to use fully automatic pretrained models like Speech-to-Text or Recommendations AI—or see when the AutoML versions offer the best set of tradeoffs. Architecting your ML solutions is a big part of the exam because it’s an important part of the role.

Moving forward, it’s important to be able to use Cloud Dataprep to explore and clean your data, and then also all the Data Engineering tools we covered to process it—of course, with less depth and emphasis here than there was in the Professional Data Engineer cert. Just to be clear, that means things like BigQuery, Cloud Dataflow, and Data Studio.

Finally, making all your Machine Learning dreams a reality involves putting everything into practice. And this means implementing your architecture, but it also includes automating and monitoring things. In an ideal world, not only are you not doing any manual training to update your model, you even have a CI/CD system in place—MLOps—to automatically test and deploy new models. So the DevOps tools (like Cloud Build and Cloud Monitoring) are all interesting, here, too.

Throughout all of the stuff I’ve mentioned, everything is soaked in a generous serving of the open-source TensorFlow. TensorFlow ALL the Things!

Cloud Digital Leader

This foundational-level certification may be the most significant thing that Google has ever done to bring people into the GCP ecosystem.  You probably think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not.

Azure has the AZ-900 Microsoft Azure Fundamentals, AWS has the Certified Cloud Practitioner (CCP), and now Google Cloud has the Cloud Digital Leader, which is currently in beta.

Extremely few people use certifications like this one to prove their ability. Instead, almost everyone uses them to guide their learning. People have an interest to learn—whether because they need it for their job or because they’re just curious—and a non-technical entry-level certification like this is a perfect way to start! It’s attainable, focused, valuable, and non-threatening. It’s pure goodness!

If you’re a non-technical person, then a certification like this can build a really valuable framework for understanding how the cloud works—both the public cloud, in general, and the Google Cloud, specifically. You’ll need to understand how it can simultaneously reduce total costs and dramatically increase business agility.  

What does a Cloud Digital Leader do?

As Google puts it, “A Cloud Digital Leader can articulate the capabilities of Google Cloud core products and services and how they benefit organizations. The Cloud Digital Leader can also describe common business use cases and how cloud solutions support an enterprise.”

Google also points out in the exam guide that this person needs to understand some key tradeoffs, including the ones “between costs versus responsibility” and “between level of management versus flexibility when comparing cloud services.” It also gets into the Shared Responsibility between Google and us to manage security and other aspects of the systems we build.

If you’re technical, why should you care about this certification?

Imagine if every person at your work—everyone—actually understood the basics of cloud. You could spend less time and energy re-explaining the same things and correcting misunderstandings based on assumptions of how technology used to work. Being able to speak “the same language” lets teams understand technology and communicate intelligently about it.


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Google Cloud Certification Paths

This might all seem like a lot to take in, but don’t worry about trying to remember everything. What matters more is that you can use this understanding to shape your own path forward. Remember, the point here is to help you succeed in your work. The certs are only tools you can use to help you achieve that more easily and quickly.

So, then, what’s your goal? What are you driving at?

Getting started

  • I know nothing about cloud or tech.
    Don’t even understand what the cloud is? Everyone has to start somewhere, and ACG has you covered with your first steps into the world of tech. Wrap your head around the basics and concepts of cloud and GCP with courses like Introduction to Cloud Computing and Google Cloud Concepts. These courses are short enough to watch over a lunch break (and they’re totally free). From there, you should be ready to dig into the Cloud Digital Leader and then the GCP Associate Cloud Engineer course.
  • I’m just breaking in.
    If you’re just trying to break into the cloud, you should start with the Cloud Digital Leader and then the Associate Cloud Engineer (ACE) cert. Targeting this will force you to get a really well-rounded foundation in how the cloud works, in general, and how GCP works, specifically. It won’t be easy, but it will be possible — and rewarding. 
  • I’m starting with some tech experience.
    If you already have some experience—be it GCP, AWS, Azure, or just IT in general—you should start with the Associate Cloud Engineer (ACE) cert. It will identify and fill the holes in your foundation for all of this GCP stuff. And if you’re already a good bit of the way there, it’ll go more quickly for you than for someone without your background. But it really is still worth your time and energy to take care of this before moving on to any Professional-level role. Tons of well-meaning and super-smart people have blind spots (unknown unknowns) that really sabotage their effectiveness until they address them. Don’t let pride take you down.

Architect

Whether it’s because they’ve seen salary reports, because they want the prestige, or because they just love creating awesome systems, many people want to become a Professional Cloud Architect. So the obvious next target here is the Professional Cloud Architect, right? Well, maybe.

  • PCA with more experience
    If you already have a strong background in designing and building software systems, this could work fine. Because the PCA is so broad and generic, a non-GCP architecture background still helps a ton. I’ve heard people in this group report that the Google’s PCA exam felt easier to them than some other clouds’ equivalents because it was less about technical details.
  • PCA with less experience
    Without a background, going straight from ACE to PCA could be a rather rough ride. And many people in this group report that the PCA is the hardest exam they’ve ever seen. There’s so much stuff to learn, here, that you could use a stepping stone to help you bridge that gap. In particular, I’d suggest that you consider going for the Professional Cloud DevOps Engineer cert next, between ACE and PCA. It’s still serious business, but I’d say it’s pretty accessible in comparison and builds up your abilities in a narrower but overlapping scope.
  • Going beyond PCA
    Either way, once you’ve actually gotten your Professional Cloud Architect certification, there’s a good argument to continue developing your GCP skills—especially by (1) following up with the Professional Cloud Security Engineer, to make sure you robustly cover that critical skillset, and (2) looking at the Professional Data Engineer so that you are really solid on how businesses can best leverage all their data.

Developer

Next, let’s consider the role of a developer. Like I’ve mentioned, you really should start with ACE, but what next? 

Well, the most valuable next cert for a developer is going to be the Professional Cloud Developer one, or PCD. Surprise, surprise, right? 

If you want to, you could do the Professional Cloud DevOps Engineer cert before PCD, but it’s just fine if you’d rather do it after. But I definitely do recommend that every developer learn and really understand DevOps and Site Reliability Engineering.

Seriously, in this day and age, a developer who doesn’t grok DevOps and SRE is completely limiting their career.

Now, after these more core developer certs, you can definitely still get value from continuing forward. A good next option is the Professional Cloud Security Engineer Google Cloud certification, because an insufficient appreciation of security is one of the biggest and riskiest problems for developers.

After that, because the role of a developer, in particular, gets magnified by adding new tools to the toolbox, I would suggest looking at the Professional Data Engineer and Professional Cloud Architect certs. At minimum, a better understanding of those broad sets of tools would mean that you could confidently bring them to the table in team collaboration. 

But the truly amazing thing about the developer role is that it is becoming more independent! Because of the magnifying effect of this higher-abstraction technology, a single developer can now often accomplish what used to require a whole team of people. And if you manage to get yourself to that position, you’re set. Of all the roles I’m mentioning, I believe this is the most future-looking one.

DevOps

One of the things I’ve been harping on is about how important DevOps is. Right? And there’s a reason for this. 

Software development, as an industry, has learned through the decades how to and how not to do things. And one of the super-important lessons is Agile. If you’ve never read the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, you should. (Seriously, it’ll take you less than one minute—and that’s even if you’re a slow reader.) But the key is that successful software development requires a short feedback loop, and that is what DevOps is all about! 

A software development team without any DevOps expertise is like a hockey team playing without a goalie: sure, you can do it, but you’re playing at a significant disadvantage. (Side note for hockey fans: That’s playing without a goalie, not pulling the goalie.)

So, to drive toward the DevOps Engineer role, start with ACE—as always—and then dive straight into the Professional Cloud DevOps Engineer cert. Just this, by itself, is awesome. But…

After that, to go deeper, I think you’d get a lot of value by digging into the dev side of your DevOps and targeting the Professional Cloud Developer. Some of it may feel like a stretch, at first, especially if you haven’t done any programming, before, but I’m sure you can do it. And it’s very valuable to elevate the development that you definitely will do as a DevOps Engineer.

After that, the Professional Cloud Architect is a great way to open up the whole rest of the cloud world. DevOps and Site Reliability Engineering are all about managing risk, so a better understanding of how the cloud systems all work is very beneficial.

Security

Targeting a Security role is another useful option. Unsurprisingly, here, my recommendation is to start with ACE and then beeline for Professional Cloud Security Engineer. Done and dusted, right? Well, maybe not. Sure, this is absolutely a solid achievement! No question! But Security roles can also have areas of specialization!

One option for going deeper than PCSE is to dig into the Professional Cloud Network Engineer. This is a cert that I would absolutely recommend as situational. If you either have a pre-existing networking background or are working in an organization that makes heavy use of network-based security, then this could be an excellent add. Either you leverage your background to make yourself more valuable as a Security Engineer, in general, or you flesh out a highly-relevant skill set.

Another good addition for a Security Engineer is the Professional Cloud Architect. Security comes from applying your brain based on good understanding, not from doing certain activities or checking boxes (right?) so driving toward the PCA is a really great way to make sure you properly understand the breadth of products and services that will show up in the systems you need to help secure.

Data / Machine Learning

If you want to focus on data—and I’m not talking about Brent Spiner—then you will be right at home in the Google Cloud. Data is where GCP really shines. Now, if you thought that I was going to once again start with ACE, then you’d be wro–right! Of course! ACE is always the critical foundation. But for data, I think your next step should be the Professional Data Engineer. Then after that, the Professional Machine Learning Engineer. 

Now, if you’re in a situation where you do almost exclusively Machine Learning or absolutely none at all, then you might well want to tweak that. But if you’re not really sure about some better plan—or maybe even if you are—then this is a very reasonable one. PDE makes sure that you have a very solid handle on the broader data lifecycle and how to take advantage of it, and the PMLE deepens that in what is undoubtedly the most important way of leveraging data, going forward.

After you take care of the data-focused stuff, it could be a good idea to either focus on rounding out your developer side with the Professional Cloud Developer, or go broader into architecture with the Professional Cloud Architect. With either choice, you’ll learn a lot more about how to make good tradeoffs in two critical arms of data engineering: designing the systems and implementing them.

Next steps

Now, what kind of guide would I be if I stopped before offering you some ideas for how you, personally, can move forward with all of this info around Google Cloud certifications? 

A Cloud Guru has put together a ton of training material and support systems to help you. It’s our mission to teach the world to cloud! And in particular, we’d like to teach you! We have training courses for certifications, plus other courses, standalone videos, practice exams, guides, an ACG official Discord server, discussion forums, yadda, yada, yadda.

But the thing that I think can be the most useful to you is what ties all of these things together: Learning Paths

For each of most of the roles described above, our platform shows you an ordered path of all the different stuff you can use to learn it, including courses, certifications, and lots of optional stuff, too. 

Oh, and because it’s critical that you get your hands dirty and actually use the cloud, an A Cloud Guru membership includes tons of hands-on labs, which let you can dive straight into the cloud and do real stuff without real risks. These labs show up in courses and these learning paths, or you could go through them independently. 

I hope that this post helps you find success in the cloud, but I also hope that I’ll get to interact with you again as you go through your cloud learning journey.

Maybe you’ll take one of my courses. Maybe you’ll connect with me on LinkedIn. Maybe we’ll wind up chatting on the A Cloud Guru discussion boards. Reach out if you have any questions or comments. Take care of yourself — and keep being awesome!


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