What is a Cloud Architect: the Difference Between a Cloud Architect & Cloud Engineer?

August 5, 2021
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Do you want to learn the difference between a cloud architect and a cloud engineer? 

In this article, we’ll go over the differences between a cloud architect and a cloud engineer. Both are fantastic careers, but they are very different careers and require completely different skillsets. Because they are such different careers, they require very different training. We find many people are confused regarding these roles, which causes them to learn the wrong skillset, which prevents them from getting the career they desire.

The Primary Difference Between a Cloud Architect and Cloud Engineer

When you’re trying to get your first cloud job, whether it’s as a cloud architect or as a cloud engineer, you need to be what the employer desires. Let’s go over the primary differences in the roles. The first difference between an architect and an engineer is the actual job. First and foremost, cloud architects and architects in general design things. Cloud engineers and engineers in general build and configure things. There’s a big difference between designing something and building something. If you want to train to design, train to design; and if you want to train to configure and build, train to configure and build.

Cloud architect training, therefore, revolves around end-to-end system design. By comparison, cloud engineering training needs to revolve around building and configure services on the cloud. Typically, certification training revolves around the name of a cloud service, and how to configure the service. This type of training is great for a junior-level implementation engineer but is completely insufficient for a cloud architect or solutions architect.

A cloud architect’s training should encompass the following:

  • End-to-end systems design
  • Networking
  • Datacenter
  • Executive Presence
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Communication Skills
  • Sales Skills
  • Business Acumen
  • Presentation Skills
  • Negotiation Skills
  • Writing Skills
                  

As you can see many of these skills are business-related. This is because the cloud architect role is truly a hybrid business/technical role. A cloud architect systems designer. Cloud architects do not configure, code, automate, or operate the systems they design. This is a design position. The cloud architect needs to have detailed knowledge of how all the systems in the network and datacenter work. It would be impossible to design an end-to-end solution without deep technical knowledge of how the parts all work together as a complete system. This should not be confused with knowing the details of how to configure services.

Cloud architects look at the business goals, legal and regulatory requirements, current systems, and develop a solution to improve the business’s performance.  As you can see there is almost no relationship between the role of a cloud architect and AWS certifications. That is why architects require very different training than cloud engineers. For cloud architects, AWS (or comparable) certifications are only 10% of the training needed.

While the cloud architect may not configure or code, it is a completely different story for the cloud engineer. The cloud engineer will be constantly building and configuring services. In addition to configuring services, cloud engineers may be involved in automation with terraform, cloud formation, python scripts, bash scripts, and other shell scripts. Cloud engineers will constantly be on the command line interface and the management console. They will spend most of the day behind a desk while a cloud architect/solutions architect could spend half of their time in customer meetings.

What Does This Difference Really Look Like?

Let’s look at regular activities for a cloud architect:

  • Phone calls with clients
  • Lunch/Dinner with clients (relationship development)
  • Meetings with clients’ executive
  • Meetings with clients’ technical teams
  • Presentation with clients
  • Design and document solutions
  • Solicit feedback on proposed designs from client
  • Work on interdisciplinary teams (ie engineers, architects, security, etc.)
  • ROI modelling for clients
  • Leading teams and mentoring others
  • Obtaining internal resources to assist with solution design and deployment

 Let’s look at regular activities for a cloud engineer:

  • Some meetings with management and clients, specific to technical requirements and troubleshooting
  • Extensive time at the computer (80% of the day)
  • Configuring systems through command line interface and management console
  • Writing automation scripts
  • Document configurations as deployed

Summary

As you can see the cloud architect is a hybrid between a technical professional and a business executive. Conversely the cloud engineer is a hands-on technical role.

Now that you understand the architect is more about knowing the overall package of how the pieces integrate, and the engineer is more about the detailed configuration; you know how to focus your training for the role you desire.

If you want to be an architect, learn:

  • System Design
  • Virtualization
  • Containers
  • Storage (file, windows, Linux, block, object)
  • Load Balancers
  • DNS
  • Networking
  • Security
  • Executive communication skills
  • Leadership Skills
  • Presentation Skills
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Executive Presence
  • Business Acumen

If you want to be an engineer, learn:

  • Vendor services, such as AWS/GCP/Azure etc.
  • Develop excellence in configuring these services
  • Scripting (python/shell)
  • Automation tools (such as Terraform and Cloud Formation)
  • Linux knowledge and system administration
  • Lean the details and idiosyncrasies of all the above

Now you know the difference between these great careers. Focus your time and effort on obtaining the skills and knowledge for your goal career.  Train hard, train fast, and train smart. Go after your dreams, don’t let anything hold you back. And celebrate your success.

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