How To Become A Cloud Architect: From Any Experience Level

Amber Israelsen
Amber Israelsen
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As cloud computing continues to grow, so does the demand for people who can design and implement cloud solutions.

This means that if you’re looking for the next step in your tech career, then becoming a Cloud Architect could be the perfect role for you.

And the pay? Well, it's very good 😀... but that's partially because it's very hard to get this role until you've already spent a few years in a related tech role first, such as DevOps, Database Administration, SysAdmin, Cloud Practitioner, or even a Software Developer with some System Design interests.

Even then, you have to make sure you fill out the skills required across a range of topics, which I'll share in this post in just a second.

This does mean that if you're just looking to switch to a career in tech, I'd recommend starting with one of those first and then working towards a role as a Cloud Architect.

If you are in tech and looking for a change, then you probably want to know what this role even entails, what skills you need, and what steps you should take to land a job.

Good news. In this post, I’ll walk you through exactly what the Cloud Architect role entails, as well as cover required qualifications, how to gain experience, and tips for the interview.

But first, why should you listen to me?

Why listen to me?

Just in case you're thinking, "Who the heck is the person even writing this post? How do I know that they know what they're talking about?"

Well, that would be totally fair so let me introduce myself. My name is Amber Israelsen, and I teach the AWS Cloud Practitioner and Cloud Solutions Architect courses here at Zero To Mastery.

I've been a Software Developer and Technical Trainer since the early 2000s and hold multiple certifications for AWS, Microsoft, and other cloud technologies.

I'm also the former Director of Technical Program Management at GoDaddy, so I understand how to bridge the gap between developers, designers, and others, and more importantly, get stuff built on the cloud!

With that out of the way, let's dive into how to actually become a Cloud Architect.

What is a Cloud Architect and what do they do?

A Cloud Architect is sort of like a traditional architect, who puts together blueprints for how different parts of a system fit together.


But rather than designing a house (or giant fighting titan), a Cloud Architect designs complex systems in the cloud, pulling in servers, networks, databases, and all kinds of other resources and best practices.

Not only that, but the Cloud Architect is also involved with a company’s overall cloud strategy, and helps make important decisions, such as:

  • Which cloud provider (or providers) should the company use, and why?
  • What is the migration plan?
  • What guardrails should be in place for teams as they migrate to, and operate in the cloud?
  • What are potential security concerns and how should they be addressed?
  • What kind of upskilling is needed for teams?

tl;dr A Cloud Architect takes business requirements and translates them into a working solution on the cloud, while ensuring that it's secure, scalable, optimized and cost-effective.

Is being a Cloud Architect a good career?

Cloud computing has boomed in recent years, driven by the need for better performance, reliability, global reach, and all at a lower cost than companies can achieve in their own data centers.

According to Gartner, global spending on public cloud services is forecast to increase 20.4% in 2024 alone!

cloud spending 2024

The thing is though, a lot of companies still haven’t moved to the cloud yet, or are in the very early stages. This means that this demand will continue for many years, and offer a lot of job opportunities for new Cloud Architects, like you!

And the pay? Like I said earlier, it’s really good…

What is the average Cloud Architect salary?

According to Glassdoor, the average salary for a Cloud Architect in the U.S. is around $198,958 per year.

cloud architect average salary

Those with more experience can even see as high as $337,000 per year, not including benefits.

That’s around $162 per hour!

Do I need a degree to become a Cloud Architect?

A college degree isn’t always a requirement, though some companies may ask for it.

A key thing to understand is that the tech industry cares mostly about experience and results. If you can do the work, can showcase previous projects (be it in a role or portfolio), then they don’t care where you learned - just that you can do the job.

These days, there are a lot of great bootcamp and certification programs that you can take instead. Couple that with some hands-on practice and experience, and you can make yourself stand out as a strong candidate.

What skills do I need to become a Cloud Architect?

The Cloud Architect position is typically not an entry-level role.

In fact, a lot of folks spend years in other roles such as Software Developer, Systems Engineer, DevOps Engineer, or Network Administrator before moving on to a Cloud Architect role.


Simply because this role requires experience in a lot of different areas. You’ll be solving complex puzzles with a lot of moving parts, so having a varied background in tech is very helpful.

At a minimum, you should have a good command of the following:

  • Operating systems: Be familiar with Linux, Windows and Ubuntu. Be comfortable working on the command line/terminal
  • Networking: AWS, Azure and Google Cloud Platform are essentially just giant networks, so strong networking skills will get you far. You should also understand things like DNS, TCP/IP, HTTP and VPNs
  • Security: You should understand key concepts like Identity and Access Management, firewalls and encryption
  • Programming languages: Even if you’re not going to be coding day-to-day, knowing the fundamentals of at least one common programming language will serve you very well. Whether it's Python, Java, C#, or JavaScript having some familiarity with at least one (or more) of these will help you prove out concepts. They’ll also help when communicating with people who DO code every day
  • Soft skills: In this role, you’ll commonly have interactions with senior leadership, and they’ll seek out your opinion for key decisions. You’ll also guide and consult with various teams across the company, so strong leadership, communication and interpersonal skills are a must

Finally, I also recommend that you try and pass certifications in each major cloud provider. Companies look for these, and it also helps you stay on top of any intricacies with each platform.

The 3 main certifications are:

How long does it take to become a Cloud Architect?

It really depends. If you already have experience in most of the areas I mentioned above, then you can actually learn cloud architecture and get hired in just a few months!

What if you have zero skills right now, and have never coded before?

Well, it will definitely take much longer, but not as long as you might think. Like I said up top, this job pays well due to the experience and skills required, but let's do a little thought experiment.

If you were to try and go through school to learn this, it would take 4 years or more, and that's assuming they cover each area.

But what if you try to learn it via courses alone?

Well, if you’re incredibly driven then it could be 1-2 years or less, depending on how quickly you pick things up, and how efficient you are.

For example

If we look at course content here on Zero To Mastery, then you would need:

So what's that?

90-125 hours total to watch the video content.

You still need to apply what you've learned though. You can't just watch and be at a level to be hired.

So to actually do the work, rewatch any lessons, get experience and build projects, you would probably be looking at 4x-5x longer, or approximately 500-600 hours.

(Learning a programming language on its own would likely be around 2-3 months, regardless of how long the course is - simply because of the time you'll take to apply that and build projects).

career planning

I know that is a huge undertaking, but we're assuming you have zero initial experience and want to try and get that $200,000 a year job.

You could definitely get hired and start earning money early on in this path, and then continue down it.

Cost and time frame

Also, it seems like a lot of time, but this would still be much faster than spending 30-40 hours a week for 4 years on a degree. (30 hrs a week x 42 weeks a year x 4 years = 5,040 hours total).

It gets even better once you factor in the cost difference.

You can get all of the courses that cover each of the topics above for $279 a year or $999 for lifetime, vs paying out $10,000 for a bootcamp, or around $280,000 in college fees!.

So for less than $1,000 you could learn everything you need to land a job paying ~$200,000 / year.

And like I said earlier. If you already have experience in some of these areas, then you’re already a few steps ahead. A Senior Dev with some system design knowledge could take just a few months to be ready to apply - it all depends on what you have already.

4 steps to becoming a Cloud Architect

Alright so let's break down the path to becoming a Cloud Architect.

Step 1: Get some core knowledge + skills

Like I said earlier, you could start out with a CS degree, but it’s not needed. Instead, make sure you pick up the skills we mentioned above.

You’re going to need these to not only get the job, but to do it also - even if you have a CS degree already.

Step 2: Get some hands on experience + build on the cloud

Apply what you’ve learned and build some cloud projects. This way you can get hands-on experience, while also standing out with your project portfolio.

I recommend you do this, even if you’re an experienced developer already.

Why? Simply because you’ll be able to show specific, relevant examples vs having experience across multiple areas, but never having combined them before.

Amazon actually has a heap of projects and tutorials that you can work on.

AWS tutorials

Sure, they’re not unique but that’s not the goal here. The goal is to show you can build systems on the cloud.

If you want to build anything else and improve on projects you’ve already created, then even better. It doesn’t always need to be from scratch. Heck, you could even show how you migrated one current project onto the cloud.

Step 3: Pass the Cloud Practitioner + Cloud Architect exams

AWS has multiple certification exams, but the 2 we care about most are:

  • The Cloud Practitioner exam, and
  • The Cloud Solutions Architect exam

I recommend passing the Cloud Practitioner exam first, as it will give you a deep dive into cloud systems. Not only that, but Cloud Engineers get paid around $132,000 a year, which is not bad at all.

You could also get hired here if you want to, and build some 'cloud specific' experience while you then work on the final steps for the Cloud Architect role.

cloud architect pays extremely well

But at this point, you might as well just start practicing for the Cloud Architect exam, and learn the ‘Well-Architected Framework’.

Well-Architected Framework

This is Amazon's principles and best practices for building systems on the cloud, so it's pretty handy to know!

Step 4: Apply for jobs

So now you’ve got the skills and experience, it's time to apply for Cloud Architect roles.

apply for cloud architect jobs

If you’re worked in tech for a while, you know that tech interviews are different from most jobs.

They’ll usually have:

  • an application form
  • online assessment
  • in person interview, and
  • a technical skills test

You pass one to move onto the next and so on.

Read this guide to learn how to pass the tech interview, at each stage, as well as this guide for specific Cloud Architect technical questions that may come up in your interview.

It's worth noting that for this role, you’ll likely get a lot of scenario-based questions, such as:

  • How do you architect something in a way that’s highly available?
  • How do you ensure applications can be recovered quickly in the event of a failure?
  • How do you protect your systems and data?
  • The company needs to save money on a cloud computing platform; what do you do?

You may also get some basic questions relating to the specific cloud provider, such as how a particular computing service works, or the performance differences in databases.

Important: For all questions, just make sure that you have a solid understanding of the pros, cons, and trade-offs of a particular approach, as this shows problem solving, flexibility, and adaptability.

For example

Just because you know the best way to theoretically do something, it might not be the best way for that company, as they don’t have the budget for it.

offer multiple solutions and reasons

With this in mind, make sure that you can articulate why you would do things one way or the other, and have lots of examples up your sleeve.

As long as you do the prep, you should be able to smash the interview and secure your new Cloud Architect job. Congrats!

What's next?

As you can see, the Cloud Architect role is incredibly rewarding, but does require you to have a broad knowledge in tech.

It's still totally feasible for you to start from zero experience, and work through a path to become a Cloud Architect via what I laid out above, and then get that $150,000 to $340,000+ a year career. It will just take effort and perseverance, but I believe in you. All large goals require the first step, so go and take it!

And if you’re lucky enough to have a few skills under your belt already, then you can fill in any gaps and practice for the Cloud Architect exam right now.

I teach how to pass this exam via my course here, and you can check out the first few videos for free.

Even better. Once you join, you’ll be able to ask me, and other AWS cloud students, any questions you have via our private Discord channel. Not only will it help you pass and not get stuck, but you can also ask higher level questions from current Cloud Architects!

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