The complete guide to cloud engineering interviewing

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Cloud engineer roles are on the rise as one of the ten most in-demand jobs of 2019 with an average salary of $119,135. For many companies, migrating to the cloud is no longer a question of if, but when. In fact, an expected 83% of enterprise workloads will be in the cloud by 2020—good reason to make the jump into cloud computing, if you haven’t already.

But what skills do hiring managers really want to see? Where can you find the most demand for cloud engineers? And what types of interview questions should you expect?

Below, we’re answering these questions (and then some) to prepare you for your next cloud engineering interview—and help you seal the deal.

Table of contents

  1. Top skills: what employers want in a cloud engineer
  2. 5 cities where you can land your next cloud engineering interview
  3. Ace your interview: 5 cloud engineering principles you need to know

Top skills: what employers want in a cloud engineer

Whether you’re new to the cloud or can expertly pilot your way through, you may already know which skills to hone in on for a career in cloud computing. But we’re serving up something extra—the top skills employers are looking for in candidates (based on Indeed data).

1. Amazon Web Services (AWS)

Though the battle of AWS vs. Azure continues, Indeed job postings show that AWS tops the list as the highest in-demand skill for cloud engineer roles.

The first major cloud provider on the market, AWS is now a leader in infrastructure as a service, but also notably strong in platform as a service. In fact, AWS grew a staggering 47% in 2018 and accounted for most of its parent company’s profit, holding 41.5% of application workloads, whereas Azure sits at 29.4%.

With the widest range of offerings spanning compute, storage, networking and database, AWS is Linux-friendly and offers integrations for open source apps. You’re likely to come across AWS whether you’re looking to work at a startup or enterprise because of its affordable pricing model with more flex and a mature environment for big data.

And although it’s not uncommon for companies to take a multi-cloud approach, AWS is, more often than not, the first cloud provider adopted by companies before entertaining thoughts of expansion.

2. Python

Steadily rising in popularity over the years, Stack Overflow’s developer survey shows that Python is the second-most-loved programming language of 2019.

With Python’s versatility and flexibility, it’s no surprise it ranks as the second most in-demand skill for cloud engineers. Not just a winning solution to make sense of data, especially in artificial intelligence and machine learning, Python is also a top choice when it comes to creating and deploying scalable apps that take complete advantage of the cloud’s offerings.

Other benefits to knowing Python as a cloud engineer—aside from being a resume booster—include helping you work with cloud-specific tools written in Python, like AWS SDK for Python and OpenStack’s official clients.

3. Linux

Linux is powering a whopping 90% of the public cloud workload as of 2017. Because Linux is the third most sought-after skill in cloud engineers, familiarity with the operating system will likely give you a head start on your competition.

Fortunately, even if you haven’t made the jump to cloud engineering yet, the same Linux skills used on-premise are transferable to the cloud computing world—and just as useful.

4. Scripting

Fighting repetitiveness with automation, shell scripting earns a top spot on the list of in-demand cloud engineering skills. After all, it’s hard for businesses to say no to higher productivity at a fraction of the effort.

Linux shell is a good start, seeing as about 50% of Azure virtual machines are Linux, according to Scott Guthrie, Microsoft’s executive vice president of the cloud and enterprise group. Writing scripts in Python is another way to automate tedious tasks in the cloud. You can even use scripting tools provided by AWS to manage cloud resources, like pausing and starting EC2 instances, putting backups on autopilot and administering servers remotely.

5. Microsoft Azure

Although behind AWS in terms of demand, Azure is still a major player in the cloud computing world—and that’s in light of its late entry as a cloud services provider, four years behind AWS. Officially released in 2010, it has quickly established itself with services heavily targeting artificial intelligence, IoT and analytics.

In addition to being backed by Microsoft, and seamlessly integrating with existing Microsoft products, Azure competes with AWS in a few areas: hybrid support, security and platform as a service (PaaS) offerings.

For instance, Microsoft equipped Azure to offer plenty of hybrid cloud support. Not only does Azure make moving to the cloud a smooth transition, but it offers help in managing hybrid clouds (e.g., Azure Stack, Hybrid SQL Server) on an ongoing basis.

5 cities where you can land your next cloud engineering interview

Whether you’re looking for a change of scenery or in a market lacking opportunities, there are some cities where cloud engineers might land a new role faster. Here are the cities that have the highest employer demand and cloud engineer openings:

1. Washington DC

Claiming the number one spot for cities hiring cloud engineers, and listed as one of the best cities for women in tech, Washington DC’s tech scene is influenced by a healthy economy and highly educated workforce. What’s more, it’s leading the way in cybersecurity (due in no small part to its strong federal government presence), leveraging the cloud to predict and combat threats in real time.

Jumpstart your job search: 20 amazing tech companies in DC hiring now.

2. San Francisco

A hotspot for startups and enterprises alike, San Francisco’s steadily rising population shares less than 50 square miles. Despite limited space, many of the highest-rated cloud companies are located in the city, including Dropbox, AppDirect and WalkMe. And the demand for office space remains strong as companies, including Adobe and ServiceNow, plan for expansion to match growth.

Join Seen for free to be matched with cloud engineering jobs in top tech hubs

3. New York City

The cultural, financial and media capital of the world, New York City is home to Silicon Alley, an active hub in the Flatiron District featuring big names in tech, including Peloton and Betterment. Other larger firms and startups are scattered across the metro area, like BetterCloud and Symphony, contributing to the city’s growing tech scene.

Fun fact: The New York region routinely ranks second to the Bay Area when it comes to attracting venture capital.

4. Seattle

Seattle ranks as one of the fastest growing cities in the US, a contributing factor in earning the title as the second strongest tech market in North America. On top of being a lively hub for coffee enthusiasts and Seahawk fans, Emerald City cloud engineers find security in a landscape dominated by tech giants, including homegrown Amazon and Microsoft, as well as Facebook, Salesforce and Zillow.

Not only are popular industry leaders embracing Seattle’s promising growth, startups and mid-sized companies offer opportunities in artificial intelligence, virtual reality and big data.

5. Austin

A leading hub for both startups and major tech names, Austin continues to grow as it draws in those looking to advance their careers in the digital space. More than its lively music scene and network of hidden hiking trails, Austin offers a lower cost of living than the national average and opportunities in cloud engineering at companies like AtlassianWP Engine and Forcepoint.

Jumpstart your job search: 25 amazing tech companies in Austin hiring now.

Ace your interview: 5 cloud engineering principles you need to know

Cloud engineering requires talent in all the right areas—beyond just passing a coding challenge. To show the interviewer you have the right blend of expertise and can respond to the unexpected, make sure you’re comfortable with core cloud engineering principles. In this next section, we’re covering five of the most important elements of cloud design, deployment and maintenance.

Security

Some say data stored in the cloud is more secure than on-premise solutions—78% of IT professionals would agree. At the same time, an overwhelming 91% of organizations are concerned about cloud security, according to a 2018 report.

Why they ask: To cope with security threats (e.g., data loss and leakage, confidentiality breaches), organizations want to know you’ll take action to protect cloud workloads. First and foremost, how do you prevent damage, whether from human error or cyber attack? What steps do you follow to recover data? What security tools, technologies and processes have you adopted and rely on?

Example questions

  • What types of security testing have you built out and automated to ensure the deployment of secure cloud-based applications?
  • Talk about the barriers you’ve previously encountered when migrating to the cloud and what steps you took to resolve those challenges.
  • What encryption solutions do you find most effective in protecting stored data?
  • How would you solve for a lack of integration with on-premise security technologies?
  • In the event of a data breach, what’s the appropriate incident response process?

DevOps

DevOps: a by-product of Agile paving the way for better communication, collaboration and automation. Ultimately, faster development and shorter product life cycles. DevOps and cloud computing bring their own benefits to the table—combining the two only complement each other’s strengths for even greater impact. In fact, companies using DevOps in the cloud report an 81% increase in software delivery performance.

Why they ask: Cloud solutions and DevOps go hand in hand. Knowing this, organizations may aim to uncover your level of understanding of how DevOps methods apply to cloud engineering. For instance, what’s the right balance of the two based on company size, team structure and goals?

Example questions

  • What DevOps tools have you previously used and which ones do you prefer?
  • Explain your process for integrating containers into the DevOps process. How do you evaluate application needs to make these decisions?
  • What processes have you automated previously and why? What was the outcome?
  • Tell me about a time you guided developers to implement DevOps practices as they relate to the cloud.
  • Why and how would you set up a continuous integration and continuous delivery pipeline? 

Availability

Managing availability is top of mind for many companies operating in the cloud. Just because cloud platforms promise to deliver 99.99% availability, doesn’t make a company any less prone to unplanned failures or outages. For instance, lightning triggered an automatic shutdown of hardware at an Azure data center in 2018. Earlier that same year, an entire AWS data center failed.

Why they ask: Asking about availability helps a company understand how you plan on providing a fault-tolerant system, and how you’d handle failures. A company wants to understand your approach to availability—how you define needs, battle downtime and recover from the unexpected. Impressive past availability metrics? Don’t be modest.

Example questions

  • How do you determine availability requirements for a company?
  • Explain the steps you took when a service provider failed to deliver the promised availability level. What was the outcome and how quickly did you recover?
  • Do you think a multi-cloud approach is a viable solution for high availability? Why or why not?
  • How do you use cloud architecture patterns for high availability?
  • What processes would you automate to handle failure? 

Scalability

A major plus to operating in the cloud is the ability to scale without tacking on additional physical equipment at a higher cost. But with that growth, companies need to ensure that their systems and applications can handle increased load without crashing.

Why they ask: Questions about scalability shed light on how you’ll manage infrastructure according to fluctuating business needs. In the end, how will you help the company grow more rapidly without frequent crashes along the way? Do you know how to scale appropriately (vertical vs. horizontal vs. diagonal), avoid downtime and add (or remove) cloud provider services as needed?

Example questions

  • What steps do you take to monitor traffic?
  • How do you plan for unexpected traffic spikes?
  • Have you ever had to adjust cloud services based on the level of service needed? Why did you make this call?
  • What’s your experience with load balancers?
  • How have you tested for scalability in the past to prevent bottlenecks? 

Disaster recovery

When things go south, from loss of power to cyber attacks, it’s important to have solid cloud storage and recovery solutions in place to restore compromised data. Tailoring disaster recovery plans to company needs is a must for fast recovery. After all, it’s not uncommon for companies to house some, if not all, sensitive business-critical data in the cloud.

Why they ask: When an interviewer asks about disaster recovery, they’re interested in how you’ll safeguard and retrieve its data—and how long it’ll take. What best practices do you follow when responding to disasters? How might you tailor recovery solutions for the company?

Example questions

  • Tell me about a disaster recovery plan you’ve built out and implemented.
  • What steps did you take to recover from a disaster?
  • How often do you test disaster recovery plans?
  • What orchestration and automation tools have you used to recover data?
  • Talk about your experience merging cloud-native backup with disaster recovery. 

Start interviewing for your dream cloud engineering role

You’re on your way to landing your dream cloud engineering role, armed with the right insight to get you there. What’s the next step?

Connect with leading companies hiring now for cloud engineering roles by signing up for Seen. In one application, you’ll be matched with opportunities you’re most interested based on your role, location and salary preferences. That’s not all: Start a conversation with a career coach for services like resume reviews, mock interviews, salary negotiation tips and more to reach your highest potential.

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