So you’re thinking about getting AWS certified. That’s great! Cloud computing skills are in huge demand, and whether you’re looking to take your career to the next level or jump into a new field, the right certification can help you open the door to some life-changing opportunities.
But where do you begin? AWS offers ten individual certifications, spread across four different levels. Figuring out where to start, and which AWS certification is right for you and your career goals, can seem super intimidating at first. Fortunately, once you figure out what’s what, the path usually becomes pretty clear.
Before taking a look at the different certifications, it’s important to take a moment to explore what certifications are, and what they are not.
- Certifications are a proof of knowledge – in that you are proficient enough to pass the exam.
- Certifications are not a proof of experience – there is no substitute for actually working in the cloud.
- Certifications are door-openers – they can get you into the interview, or the consideration set for promotion.
- Certifications are not golden tickets – they do not ensure a job. They can tee you up for success, but you have to earn it from there.
- Certifications are rather valuable – the average salaries for holders of AWS certifications are well over $100,000 per year.
- Certifications are not just about earning power – they also validate your knowledge and help ensure that teams possess a common cloud “language”.
It can help to think of a certification like a stepping stone. It can be instrumental in helping you reach that next level, but the actual reaching is still up to you.
Exploring the AWS Certifications
Let’s take a look at the different certifications offered by Amazon Web Services. As of 2019, there are ten distinct certifications, spread across four experience levels – Foundational, Associate, Professional, and Specialty.
Source: AWS Certification
AWS Foundational Level Certifications
- AWS Cloud Practitioner – Foundational
- Scope: 10
- Depth: 2
- Prerequisites: None
- Recommended Experience: 6 months of AWS and industry knowledge
It’s probably for you if: You need to know foundational cloud concepts and how AWS works at a high level, but won’t be getting your hands dirty with implementation.
Every journey starts somewhere. For AWS, that starting point is a Foundational certification. Since there is only one certification at the foundational level, we’re just going to combine our discussion of the level and the individual certification.
AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner –Foundational
The AWS Cloud Practitioner certification gives you a high-level introduction to AWS. It doesn’t go deep on any particular services, instead providing a general overview of how AWS is structured.
We recommend our AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner course as the best place to start for anyone who’s new to cloud computing. This will help you build the, er, foundation you’ll need as you delve deeper into the inner workings of AWS.
Ready to get certified? Prepare for your exam with our AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner course.
AWS Associate Level CertificationsCertifications
- AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate
- AWS Certified Developer – Associate
- AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate
- Scope: 8
- Depth: 4
- Recommended Experience: One year of experience working in AWS to solve problems and implement solutions.
It’s probably for you if: You’re going to be working in AWS in any capacity and need a firm grounding for actually working in the cloud.
If you’re going to be working in AWS in any hands-on capacity, the associate level certifications should mark the point where your journey truly begins. AWS Cloud Practitioner provides a solid conceptual footing, but the AWS associate level certifications are where the rubber really meets the road in terms of day-to-day implementation.
AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate
The AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate certification gives you a broad overview of AWS, and forms a valuable foundation on which you can build everything else you’ll learn moving forward. There’s a reason it’s been the #1 cloud certification for four years running.
The CSA – Associate certification focuses on the core AWS services, like Identity and Access Management (IAM), Virtual Private Cloud (VPC), S3, and EC2. Studying these core services will give you a good understanding of how AWS approaches security, networking, data storage, and compute capability.
For anyone new to cloud computing, we recommend our AWS Solutions Architect – Associate course as the next best step after you’ve gained your AWS Cloud Practitioner certification. You developers and sysadmins might be tempted to go straight at the Developer – Associate or SysOps Admin – Associate certs, and more power to you, but we’d still recommend going through Solutions Architect – Associate first.
Ready to get certified? Prepare for your exam with our AWS Certified Solutions Architect –Associate course.
AWS Certified Developer – Associate
You might think this cert is for developers – after all it says developer right there – but it’s really for anyone who uses AWS.
In terms of focus, this AWS certification takes you deeper into services like Dynamo DB, Elastic Beanstalk, SQS, and SNS, but not too deep. It also expects you to know a bit more about how you would use these services, as well as how they present themselves to the outside world through APIs and SDKs.
This is another certification that we recommend to everyone. In fact, we recommend that you move onto it immediately after you finish the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate exam. There’s a lot of overlap between the certs, and taking them close together makes this one much easier to finish off quickly.
Ready to get certified? Prepare for your exam with our AWS Certified Developer – Associate course.
AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate
This certification is also somewhat misleading. It’s not only for SysOps Admins. It’s for anyone who runs things on AWS. This exam goes rather in-depth on CloudWatch, among other things. Going through this certification gives you a much stronger grasp of what’s actually going on in your AWS architecture.
A word to the wise! SysOps Admin is widely regarded as the hardest AWS Associate certification. But it’s really valuable to finish off all of the Associates before taking on the much harder Professional exams. The Professionals expect you know everything about the Associate level exams like the back of your hand, so skipping one – particularly the hardest one – could come back to bite you.
Ready to get certified? Prepare for your exam with our AWS Certified SysOps Admin – Associate course.
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AWS Professional Level Certifications
- AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional
- AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional
- Scope: 10
- Depth: 8
- Recommended Experience: Two years of comprehensive experience using AWS, with comprehensive experience designing, operating, and troubleshooting solutions.
It’s probably for you if: You’re already experienced working in AWS, have mastered your AWS Associate Level certifications, and are ready to take the next step.
If you’re not sure if you’re ready to pursue an AWS Professional Level certification, you’re probably not! These exams are no joke, represent the pinnacle of AWS certification, and are both broad in scope and deep in focus. You have to know a whole lot about a whole lot!
AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional
AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional is the pinnacle of general AWS expertise. With an CSA – Pro cert, you should be equipped to take any AWS feature or service and make good use of it. Also, because you understand the ecosystem at a deep level, it’ll be much easier to stay up to date as AWS keeps changing.
For the Solutions Architect – Pro, every single service in the entire AWS ecosystem is in play, and quite a bit of depth is required in specific areas like security and Direct Connect. Snagging this certification is not for the faint of heart – you pretty much have to know all the things about all the things AWS has to offer.
Ready to get certified? Prepare for your exam with our AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional course.
AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional
DevOps is all about combining development, operations, and a quality mindset to shepherd systems through time. This exam reflects that, and really requires you to think about not just static systems that are deployed once, but systems that change and evolve over time.
While CSA – Pro is an all-encompassing elephant of a certification, DevOps Engineer – Professional actually goes deeper into specific areas like deployments and lifecycles (and services like CloudFormation and OpsWorks). On whole, though, it has a rather narrower scope.
Guru tip: There’s some wiggle room as to order here. DevOps – Pro is a valuable stepping stone between the associate level certs and the Solutions Architect – Professional certification, so on one hand, it’s a good idea to pass this first (we do think it makes it much easier to pass the CSA – Pro exam). On the other, there’s quite a bit of overlap between DevOps – Pro and CSA – Pro, and plenty of people find it valuable to study for them together.
Ready to get certified? Prepare for your exam with our AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional course.
AWS Specialty Certifications
- AWS Certified Advanced Networking – Specialty
- AWS Certified Big Data – Specialty
- AWS Certified Security – Specialty
- AWS Certified Machine Learning – Specialty
- Scope: 3
- Depth: 10
- Recommended Experience: Two to five years of hands-on experience and advanced knowledge of AWS in the specific specialty area.
It’s probably for you if: You’re already highly experienced in a specific area of AWS, and are ready to validate that experience and take the next step in your career.
AWS Specialty certifications dive extremely deep on narrow focus areas – specifically networking, big data, security, and machine learning. Like the pro-level certs, they are not to be approached lightly, and multiple years of hands-on professional experience in each specialty domain is highly recommended.
AWS Certified Advanced Networking – Specialty
The advanced networking certification digs into both hybrid and AWS-only networks, and includes aspects such as multi-region setups and cost optimization. It’s not an all-encompassing cert – there are some services that you don’t need to know anything about, but where it does focus, it goes very deep. You need to know absolutely everything about certain services like Direct Connect, Border Gateway Protocol (BGP), and routing.
Guru tip: If you do Advanced Networking – Specialty before taking on Solutions Architect – Professional, it’ll make certain aspects of the CSA – Pro exam much easier for you.
Ready to get certified? Prepare for your exam with our AWS Certified Advanced Networking – Specialty course.
AWS Certified Big Data – Specialty
This certification focuses on all the data services, especially RedShift, Kinesis, DynamoDB, and Elastic MapReduce. Exactly what you’d expect for a Big Data certification. But it also includes some things you might not have expected, such as Internet of Things and Machine Learning. Data security is also covered, with this cert roping in features such as Key Management Service (KSM) and Hardware Security Modules (HSM).
Ready to get certified? Prepare for your exam with our AWS Certified Big Data – Specialty course.
AWS Certified Security – Specialty
Of the four specialty certifications, security is the broadest. It only makes sense – security cuts across a ton of other domains, so this cert is less focused on specific services. Still, it does go into depth on a number of security-specific services, such as Identity and Access Management (IAM), Virtual Private Cloud (VPC), Key Management Service (KMS), CloudTrail, AWS Config, and Web Application Firewall (WAF). Some of the most common questions on this exam have you figuring out how different security settings interact or conflict.
Ready to get certified? Prepare for your exam with our AWS Certified Security – Specialty course.
AWS Certified Machine Learning – Specialty
Machine Learning – Speciality is the newest AWS certification and focuses on, well, machine learning. Imagine that. You will be expected to demonstrate an understanding of the underlying concepts of machine learning, such as data collection and analysis, modeling, and machine learning algorithms, as well as proficiency with Kinesis for streaming data collection and SageMaker for building, training, tuning, and deploying machine learning models.
Ready to get certified? Prepare for your exam with our AWS Certified Machine Learning – Specialty course.
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Which AWS certification is right for you?
Okay! So we’ve got ten total certifications (for now), spread across multiple levels and discipline areas. If you’re the sort who just has to collect them all, more power to you. But what if you’re following a more focused track, or pondering a career change into cloud computing? What certifications should you go after?
Start with your goal in mind
Author Napoleon Hill wrote that “knowledge is only potential power”. In a similar vein, certifications are only potential career boosts. They can open doors, but it’s up to you to make good on the opportunities. To that end, it’s important to think of a certification as a means to an end. And what that end is ultimately determines which certifications are right for you.
So…what do you want to do?
It’s not really possible to dive into every possible combination of motivations and ambitions, so let’s divide it up into a few general categories:
I want to learn enough to keep up
If you’re going to be working among the cloud, rather than specifically in the cloud, say in an executive or a marketing capacity, you should consider a Cloud Practitioner certification. Upon gaining this certification, you’ll be able to keep up with your IT teams and understand cloud concepts sufficiently enough to think about how they can apply to your company or industry.
I want to pursue a career in cloud computing
If you’re looking to make a career of cloud computing, you should definitely be going after the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate certification. The CSA – Associate is the jumping off point for all the other AWS certifications and is not only the most popular AWS certification, but our most popular course, as well.
The CSA – Associate certification is widely regarded as one of the most valuable certifications in all of IT, and can not only help you get started in a cloud career, but also provide you a stepping off point toward additional AWS certifications.
I already work in the cloud every day, and want to move to the next level
Okay, so you’re already working in the cloud. Maybe you’ve already got your AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate certification (if not, you should). You’re ready to step it up to the next level, broaden your horizons, secure a promotion. A good place to start is with the remaining Associate-level certifications – Certified Developer and Certified SysOps Administrator. From there, you can pursue the two Professional-level certifications or consider napping some of the specialty certifications.
I already work in the cloud every day in a specialized role, and want to become master of my domain
If you work in a specific area of the cloud, such as security or networking, the AWS Specialty certifications are a natural path to take. You have to have at least one Associate-level certification (or Certified Cloud Practitioner) before you can snag a Specialty cert, but once you meet the prerequisites, you can level up your knowledge in your specific area of expertise.
Cover your bases
Even one certification has the potential to be life-changing. It can open the door to new opportunities. But it’s up to you to take those opportunities and run with them. And in this increasingly DevOps world, you can’t really expect that someone else will be there to take care of all the details you don’t understand. Specialization can be important and teamwork can be critical, but you still need to be able to handle running systems yourself.
Given that, it’s a good idea to go for the three AWS Associate certifications to gain a really solid foundation for using AWS effectively, day-to-day. With these, you’ll understand how to design, build, configure, monitor, and maintain systems built on AWS.
After securing the three Associate certifications, the next logical path is to go after the two Professional certs, and the Certified Solutions Architect – Professional, in particular. CSA – Pro is the absolute pinnace of AWS knowledge, and obtaining this certification is the AWS equivalent of defeating a video game’s final boss.
Suggested order to get the “Core 5” certifications
There are many paths to getting the “core 5” AWS certifications, but we find that doing them in this order provides you some nice stepping stones along the way. And if you start with the optional Certified Cloud Practitioner before this, you can enjoy an easier learning curve as you get comfortable with key AWS services.
- Certified Solutions Architect – Associate
- Certified Developer – Associate
- Certified SysOps Admin – Associate
- Certified DevOps – Professional
- Certified Solutions Architect – Professional
So, which AWS certification is right for you?
If you’re just getting started in the cloud, AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner and Certified Solutions Architect – Associate are definitely where you want to start. From there, it’s possible to pass along information and make some general recommendations, but determining the right certification (or collection of certifications) ultimately comes down to your circumstances and career goals.
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