Where To Start With Cloud Computing? 5 Quick Tips To Get Hands-On Today.

Do you have 100 tabs open, reading about Linux, DevOps, CISCO, AWS, Azure, and wondering what it all means and where to start?

I spend a lot of time talking to people getting into the cloud industry, so I know how overwhelming it can be. This very article started life as a LinkedIn question, which became a discussion on Twitter, and now it’s this post!

What’s the antidote to the feeling stuck like a “rabbit in the headlights”? Roll up your sleeves and get started. That’s what we’ll focus on today.

Where to start with cloud computing? Learn a cloud provider (e.g. AWS), infrastructure as code tool (e.g. Terraform), continuous integration (e.g. Github Actions), and a programming language (e.g. Python). Do a hands-on project, e.g. the Cloud Resume Challenge. Take a certificate, e.g. AWS Cloud Practitioner, and join online cloud communities.

Who Am I?

As we might not have met, let me introduce myself: I’m Lou, a software engineer working with the cloud for nearly a decade, now on a mission to help people get their start, and grow their careers in the cloud.

I’ve written a lot on the topic of cloud, everything from Where (And How) to Start Learning AWS as a Beginner to Best Resources For AWS Certifications: An Extensive & Opinionated Guide (So You Pass The First Time!).

Picture of Lou

Learning cloud is all about tech, so it would be fitting to start our conversation by jumping right in the deep end, and talking about which technologies you should be investing your time in when you want to learn cloud.

Tip 1: Know What Tech To Focus On

Putting together a cloud learning plan is a hurdle I see lots of people get stuck on. It’s definitely easy to waste a lot of time doing things like watching tutorials, which can then end up making you feel more overwhelmed.

There’s a lot of nuance and “it depends”-ing when choosing which technologies to learn, and the discussions can get quite heated, opinionated, biased and soon become a distraction from the important part: learning.

For instance, I often recommend people check out the DevOps roadmap, it’s a great resource to see all the different technologies in the cloud space—but then sometimes people look at the roadmap like it’s some sort of checklist. It’s not.

You cannot learn everything, you have to be strategic.

A picture of the DevOps roadmap with an arrow pointing to it, saying "overwhelming"

So what do I recommend you do to create a learning plan? I suggest you choose one (and only one!) tool from each of the following four categories.

  1. A Cloud Provider
  2. Infra As Code Tool
  3. CI/CD Tool
  4. A Programming Language

This approach applies to the vast majority of cloud jobs, whether that’s as a cloud engineer, software engineer, even cloud support.

Now I know what you might be thinking: “these are just categories of tools, but not actual tools? So how should you know which tools to pick?”.

As I mentioned before there are lots of “it depends” involved, so what I suggest is that you research and the tools that make sense for you, and your goals.

But, of course, I know that giving you the answer of “go research it” is going to be quite frustrating, so at least let me give you my personal suggestion.

We could discuss, debate and argue for hours about which are the best tools to learn and why. These four tools are well-adopted and accessible choices for a beginner, based on my personal research.

Are there other choices? Sure.

Are these four tools a good starting point? Absolutely.

It’s up to you whether you go with my suggestion, or you pick your own four based on your research. But no matter your decision, sticking with these four categories should give you the focus you need to start learning.

Tip 2: Get Hands-On With Projects

The best way to learn cloud—or any technology for that matter—is to get hands-on and experiment for yourself. Pick a project and technology that interests you, explore and experiment. In the end, don’t forget to write up what you learned, as it can be useful evidence when it comes to the job hunt.

A great place to start with getting hands-on in cloud is the Cloud Resume Challenge, a 16 step challenge to build an online resume using the cloud. By the end, you’ll have learned about cloud, have a project to talk about in job interviews and have a neat hosted resume! I like the cloud resume challenge that much that I created a YouTube series about it.

A screenshot of the cloud resume challenge steps

When you do get hands-on, don’t forget to set up your cloud account properly.

Each cloud provider works differently, but as a minimum be sure to set up MFA (multi-factor authentication), and set up billing alarms and limits. If you don’t you risk getting hacked and getting a horrifying bill. I should know because it happened to me: Your personal AWS setup (and how to not get hacked).

If the thought of getting hacked or getting a huge bill seems quite daunting, as an alternative to using your own account, I highly recommend A Cloud Guru‘s Playground feature which allows you to launch temporary cloud accounts that run for a few hours so you can experiment worry-free. I’m a big fan.

A screenshot of the cloud playground

Using the playground isn’t free, though and it requires you have an account, which at the time of writing is $35 a month. But, if you’ll use it frequently, it can be a lot cheaper than opening your own personal cloud account, where it’s easy to overspend if you’re not really sure what you’re doing.

Another great resource for getting hands-on that I highly recommend is: The Cloud Developer Workbook by Ryan H. Lewis (check out the current prices on Amazon). In the book, Ryan takes you through 100 different exercises in AWS to introduce you to the services and what they do. You can find it online for free, or you can buy a physical copy (see mine below).

A picture of the cloud developer workbook

It doesn’t matter so much which project you pick to build or experiment with, as long as you don’t get caught out getting comfortable watching tutorials and reading about technologies. Real knowledge comes when you get hands-on.

Tip 3: Get A Certificate

No article about getting into cloud would be complete without a mention of certificates! Certificates are hot topics in the world of cloud.

A picture of the AWS certifications

All the main cloud providers and lots of other cloud tools have certification programs (e.g. the AWS certification program), which can be useful for giving your learning structure and helping validate your skills as part of the job hunt.

Many who are new to cloud do choose to take a certificate as a way to structure their learning, and get some validated skills, and I agree, it is a good idea.

If you want a recommendation of which to start with, I’d suggest getting the AWS cloud practitioner. Why? Because AWS is the biggest cloud provider and the practitioner is their entry exam (it’s also the cheapest!). If you want a thorough explanation about why I think it’s the best first certificate, check out: Which AWS Certification Should You Take First? The Definitive Answer.

Just don’t be fooled by thinking a certificate is enough to get you a job. Think of a certificate like a driving license: it shows you have basic skills, but doesn’t mean that you’re “good”, and employers know this. For more, check out: Is An AWS Certification Enough To Get You A Job? (Spoiler Alert: No).

Tip 4: Join Cloud Communities

If you’re trying to learn cloud on your own, quite frankly, you’re missing out.

A screenshot of the A Cloud Guru homepage

There are so many different communities out there where you can find support, answers to questions and guidance. If you’re looking for a place to start, I can recommend these three communities as great starting points:

  1. Cloud Resume Challenge
  2. 100 Days Of Cloud
  3. ACloudGuru Discord

Don’t be shy, ask questions and join in the conversation(s).

Feel free to find me and say hi on any of these communities, too!

Tip 5: Use Social Media (Especially Twitter!)

Similarly as with joining cloud communities, if you’re not leveraging social media to network and learn you’re missing out on a lot of opportunities. Cloud communities exist on all platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, even Instagram!

It’s also not uncommon to hear stories (like Yusuf Chowdhury‘s story) of how developers landed their first jobs from connections they made on social media.

Which social media platform would I recommend today? Twitter. Twitter has a thriving tech community. But don’t just take my word for it, check out the 100daysofcloud hash tag for tweets from people learning cloud.

The Twitter Logo

When you’ve signed up, here are a few people in the cloud space to follow to get you started: Andrew Brown, Danny Steenman, Forrest Brazeal, Corey Quinn, Rishab Kumar, Open Up The Cloud (but of course, I’m biased!).

These Twitter accounts should start to get you into the rabbit hole of the cloud industry, exposing you to different opinions, ideas, and news, all of which should help you get an understanding of how the industry works and start to build connections that could help you get your first job.

Itching To Get Started?

If you’re itching to get started, I’d suggest you take the AWS cloud practitioner exam (here’s a free course on YouTube), do the Cloud Resume Challenge, and trying a learning platform (e.g. A Cloud Guru or Cloud Academy).

If you liked this article, and want to read more, I’d suggest Where (And How) to Start Learning AWS as a Beginner (which is my most popular article) and don’t forget to also check out My (Highly) Recommended Books & Courses.

I really hope this article helped to give you some clarity and direction for where to start when it comes to learning and getting into cloud, just don’t forget to get hands-on and start building your skills—good luck!

Lou Bichard