Get started with free trial accounts on each platform. All three major cloud providers offer free tier accounts that give you access to many basic services at no cost for a set period of time (often 1 year). This allows you to build basic projects and gain exposure to each platform without spending any money. Make use of the free tiers to start experimenting.
Sign up for online courses. All the cloud providers offer free introductory online courses that teach cloud concepts and guide you through building simple demo projects on their respective platforms. Even paid courses from providers like Coursera, Udemy, A Cloud Guru can help you learn cloud services in a structured format. Courses teach you infrastructure provisioning, security best practices, monitoring strategies and more.
Setup projects at home. With free tier access, you can start building test/demo infrastructure at home. For example, deploy a basic LAMP stack on EC2, create VMs and web apps on Azure, set up storage buckets and functions on GCP. Follow documentation, blogs and online tutorials to replicate common use cases using each provider’s services. Face real world challenges like security, high availability etc.
Participate in online communities. All cloud providers have active online user forums where you can ask questions and find help from other users when stuck with implementation problems. Sites like Stack Overflow also have large cloud computing tags where professionals actively discuss issues. Participating exposes you to diverse use cases and troubleshooting strategies.
Try out sandbox offerings. Providers offer sandbox environments where you can experiment risk-free without usage costs. For example, AWS offers AWS Sandbox, Azure offers Hands-On Labs etc. Sandboxes give you fully functioning cloud environments to try services and learn without spending money.
Setup test/dev environments for projects. If you are working on personal/school projects, leverage the cloud providers to host your test/dev environments. For example, deploy a test web application on EC2, use Azure Functions for serverless components etc. Facing real challenges of deploying an application end-to-end expands your skills.
Contribute to open source projects. Look for projects hosted on each provider’s infrastructure and contribute code/documentation. For example, projects using AWS Lambda, Azure Kubernetes Service or GCP Storage. Understand how services are leveraged from the developer perspective. Ask questions and solve issues.
Setup a home lab. You can build a small private cloud lab at affordable costs using on-premise servers and virtualization software. Mimic functionality of major cloud platforms to build hands on experience managing compute, storage, networking etc. Resources like KVM, Proxmox, VMware Workstation let you install hypervisors.
Get vendor certifications. All providers offer fundamental certification programs measuring your cloud skills. For example, AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate, Microsoft Azure Fundamentals, Google Cloud Fundamentals: Cloud Infrastructure. Studying for and passing these entry-level exams forces you to learn core concepts and services practically.
Deploy personal projects. Come up with your own simple application ideas and deploy them end-to-end on each provider independently. Ideas could include building simple CRM, CMS sites or IoT projects. Going through full development and deployment cycles like provisioning infrastructure, CI/CD pipelines, logging/monitoring teaches you to leverage cloud as more than just an ‘infrastructure provider’.
Help friends/family with their projects. Volunteer to host or migrate other people’s websites/applications to cloud platforms. Work through real issues faced in migrating applications designed for on-premise environments to managed cloud models. Face challenges of updating architectures, ensuring security and high availability etc.
Find internships or junior roles. Many companies offer internships or junior roles focused purely on hands-on cloud implementation work. Roles would expose you to real-world enterprise patterns, best practices, operational processes used by professionals. On-the-job experience is invaluable for cloud careers.
Thus The best way to gain hands-on cloud skills is by using free accounts to experiment independently, study online courses structured by vendors, contribute to open source, get certified, deploy personal projects end-to-end, and leverage intern/job opportunities for professional exposure. Starting small and facing real challenges leads to the deepest learning.