Ian Florey, Solutions Engineer Manager at Akamai UK talks about what it’s like to be a solutions engineer and the pressing need for a new cohort of talent in the industry.

The adoption of cloud technology is essential for companies that have aspirations to innovate their products and services at scale. What’s more, many are now looking to recruit the workforce that will help take them to the next level in their cloud journey and drive for even more growth.

This trend is clearly demonstrated in industry data from UK jobs site IT Jobs Watch, which shows that the demand for cloud engineering roles has increased by 17% over the past year, while roles for senior cloud engineers rose by 43% – a definitive sign that there’s a growing demand for cloud talent.

Among the IT Jobs Watch data, which was analysed on 31st August, we found that the most sought after skills are needed for successful cloud migration, such as proficiency in Microsoft Azure, which rose by 62% in the past 12 months. There were also more nuanced skills that were needed across a range of areas in the last year, including:

- Cloud management – both Microsoft Azure and AWS have introduced courses for this

- Cybersecurity – demand for applications with Certified Cloud Security Professional status rose 70%

- Application development – the need for microservice skills rose by 114%

With cloud technology evolving at an unprecedented rate, the industry is going to need a new cohort of cloud specialists equipped with the skills to ensure that organisations of all shapes and sizes can reach the cutting edge when it comes to delivering products and services. What’s more, this also presents a huge opportunity for young people to forge a lucrative career in a growing part of the IT industry. This is particularly the case for those who recentlycollected their exam results and are, perhaps, wondering what to do next. 

In this article, I’ll draw on my own seven years of experience at Akamai, and over 20 years working in information technology as an engineer, in order to give aspiring cloud technologists an insight into what a typical day might look like.

What is a solutions engineer?

The solutions engineer holds a very strong position as the “trusted advisor” to the customer. You are the recognised “expert” in areas such as web performance, security, media and enterprise technologies. At Akamai you work closely with sales to evangelise, strategise, help a wide variety of customers grow their online business, and ultimately, build a better Internet.

This is a multifaceted role using a mixture of technical and softer skills. A typical day for a solution engineer sees them meeting clients and customers out on the road; keeping up to date with the latest technologies and innovations; designing customer solutions, and providing all-important feedback to the product management team.

Businesses using the cloud now expect the whole package – high performance, security and low costs – all while receiving a personalised service that meets their needs. And, as companies expand their proposition to meet their customers’ evolving requirements, as engineers, we need to continually expand our skills sets to ensure that we’re adept in all the technologies required to support those services.

What do individuals need to become a solutions engineer?

Applicants typically need a good engineering or computer science degree to show they have the level of expertise needed for the role. But technical skills alone might not be enough to land a plum position. For instance, having softer skills, like the abililty to communicate well, are an essential aspect of the role – particularly when it comes to presenting technical solutions to clients. On any given day I could be giving a technical presentation to the internal IT team of a customer, or an organisation’s CXOs, many of whom won’t necessarily be particularly technical themselves. 

What advice would you give to young people looking to get into the cloud industry? 

The surge in demand for engineering roles creates a host of opportunities for young people looking to get a career in cloud. One of the biggest issues they will face is technical fluency. Starting early can help with this, and young people should aim to learn as much as they possibly can about how the cloud operates. One way to build up this knowledge is by designing a basic website, then delving deeper into how the technology works. It’s also important for young people to be quite broad in their approach to start with. As long as they learn the fundamentals of the industry, they can then worry about specialising down the road.

What does the industry need to be doing to help young people into the industry?

In order to fulfil the demand for engineers, the industry also needs to play its part. 

Firstly, it needs to sell itself better. This may be down to a language problem, with the industry having traditionally done a fairly poor job at communicating the roles that are out there and what they involve. It’s probably fair to say young people will have heard of web developers, but will they have heard of solutions engineers?  Akamai’s involvement in projects like ‘Girls Who Code’ helps to break down these barriers, but there’s so much more that still needs to be done.

The industry also needs to step up on the training programmes it offers to young people just starting out in the job. There are some companies that do this well, but training should be a fundamental part of the job and those without experience can’t be expected to be experts as soon as they walk in the door.

I don’t believe the perceived skills gap is as wide as many people would like to believe. However, the industry does have a challenge on its hands to recruit the people needed to fill the roles that are opening up. What’s clear is there are many opportunities for young people to enter an industry that is becoming the bedrock of the business world.

Top tips for success 

My company Akamai is in the business of making the Internet work better for its customers, so gaining knowledge and experience with Internet technologies, standards and protocols such as HTTP and DNS will certainly help! Looking back to when I was at school, I’d say anything ICT or computing helped, maths for problem solving and English for building written and verbal communication skills – these are all essential.

Further to this, my advice is to get hands-on as early as possible. Why not start a technology blog, learn how to develop a web site or application and then host it in the cloud? Learn as much as you can, and then take it to the next level by exploring the technology deeper and deeper. Your aim should be to find out how the technology driving some of the web-based innovations we use everyday is working under-the-hood.

Solutions engineer are a fundamental part of supporting the Internet, particularly its continued evolution. As a result it’s an exciting role to consider if you thinking about entering the tech sector.


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