Curtis Cain, an Assistant Professor at the Howard University School of Business, says the university’s cloud curriculum will position graduates as versatile employees.

Aug 23 2022

Cloud Computing Degree Programs Help Fill Workforce Gaps

The demand for cloud computing skills is sky-high, and colleges and universities are helping their students attain them.

The tech industry has long been plagued by a lack of diversity. Sixty-eight percent of business leaders report a lack of diversity in their tech workforce, and in 2020, Google reported that just 5.5 percent of its new hires were Black.

Curtis Cain, an assistant professor at the Howard University School of Business, hopes that the historically Black college’s new programs centered on cloud computing will help students gain the skills companies are looking for.

“We have to be realistic,” Cain says. “When you look at tech companies’ track record of diversity and inclusion, it’s relatively poor. We want to make sure we are positioning students to be successful and taking advantage of all of the lucrative employment opportunities that are out there.”

A number of colleges have recently introduced new cloud computing courses and degrees in an attempt to prepare students to fill one of the biggest labor gaps in today’s job market.

Todd Zipper, executive vice president and general manager of university services and talent development at Wiley, says that Wiley Edge, the company’s talent development solution, has seen a whopping 255 percent rise in demand for cloud computing skill sets compared with last year.

“Employers, especially in the technology industry, are struggling to compete amid talent shortages and widening skills gaps,” Zipper says. “Institutions that build programs to meet market-driven needs will yield greater value for students, employers and society.”

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Cloud Curriculum Helps Students Build Transferable Skills

Last year, Howard and Amazon Web Services announced a partnership to develop courses and a master’s program around cloud computing. Students will begin classes in the spring of 2023, with an expected initial enrollment of around 30 people. Amazon engineers will serve as co-instructors in some courses, and students will get hands-on experience working with AWS resources.

“These types of programs allow students to build portfolios they can show,” Cain says. “It’s not just hypothetical. It will allow our students to begin as cloud practitioners, and then show that they can be solution architects. Then, they can get into more specialty areas like data analytics, machine learning and database systems.”

DISCOVER: How to use analytics in support of university DEI goals.

Cain points out that there are more than 200 different applications within AWS, and he says that course designers are still deciding which resources to use in their classes. In his own classes, Cain plans to help students build skills around Amazon Redshift (the cloud vendor’s data warehousing and operational database platform); Amazon SageMaker (a machine learning modeling suite); and tools that use artificial intelligence for object detection and identification, such as AWS DeepLens.

“A student who enrolls in the program is looking to get a master’s degree, but AWS also has different levels of certification, and we want to see students taking advantage of those along the way as well,” Cain says. “The cool thing about the cloud is that there are foundational concepts that are similar across vendors. Once you learn one of them, you’re better positioned to transition to another.”

Bellevue College Cloud Program Helps Meet Market Demands

Bellevue College in Washington named its continuing and career education arm the Tombolo Institute, after the word for a sandbar that joins an island to the mainland. The institute aims to similarly serve as a bridge, helping working professionals build their careers. When it comes to the cloud, officials are leaning on an ongoing partnership with Microsoft to help midcareer students grow their skills.

“We get input from the job marketplace — from the students and also from our advisory council made up of employers — and there’s definitely a gap in terms of the talent that employers are looking for and the people that want to get into the field,” says Ray Chew, director of technology at the Tombolo Institute. “There are all of these job openings, but you can’t just take a course and then expect someone to hire you tomorrow, so we’ve helped students to bridge that gap.”

Bellevue College’s partnership with Microsoft gives the school access to the vendor’s content and resources. It also provides training for Bellevue College instructors, ensuring that courses are led by professionals with thorough knowledge about the latest tools and practices in cloud computing. Students in the program pursue Microsoft cloud certifications, making them more competitive job candidates, Chew says.

“Cloud computing touches everything today,” says Chew. “Now all of the application services are pretty much cloud-based. If you want to know the world of IT, you need to know how cloud computing works.”

$408.6 billion

The estimated worldwide public cloud services revenue in 2021, representing a year-over-year growth rate of 29 percent.

Source: idc.com, IDC Worldwide Semiannual Public Cloud Services Tracker, June 29, 2022

Community College Cloud Program Creates Pathways to Success

In 2017, leaders at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) began talking with AWS about ways to add cloud computing concepts into the school’s curriculum.

The initial push wasn’t to build a new degree program, but after the college’s workforce development team analyzed the local job market, officials decided that cloud computing degrees would help students to build skills that were increasingly in demand.

“We’re seeing great success for our students after they leave the program,” says Chad Knights, vice president of information and engineering technologies and college computing at NOVA. “We see our students working for AWS, working for managed cloud providers. While we’re using the AWS platform in the classroom, the skills are really transferable. You can pick your platform, and the skills transfer from one to the next.”

In the fall of 2018, NOVA became one of the first two-year schools in the country to offer degrees in cloud computing. The first cohort started with around 60 students, and that number has since risen to approximately 300. Some graduates transfer to partner schools like George Mason University, while others go directly into the workforce after obtaining their two-year cloud computing degrees.

LEARN MORE: How community colleges are setting best practices for hybrid learning.

Students in NOVA’s cloud courses receive a certain number of AWS credits to spin up resources, and instances are disabled if they’re left on too long — preventing scenarios where students rack up big bills by “leaving the lights on,” Knights says.

Although it’s become more possible to learn tech skills outside of the classroom, Knights says that college is still a good option for many people who want to go into IT.

“We have some of the most highly qualified industry professionals and full-time teaching faculty supporting the development of this program and delivering the instruction,” he says. “If someone is looking for instruction and direction and support from a faculty member or a mentor, higher education is a great way for students to pursue that opportunity.”

Photography by Barry Harley

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