There are now 11 AWS Certifications under the foundational, professional, and specialty learning paths – so you might be wondering which AWS certification is right for me? And which AWS certification should I get first? It can be a bit confusing at first but once you understand the different levels and the role-based or specialty scope of the exam it becomes much easier to digest.
In this article, you’ll learn about the various levels and how the certifications are designed to prepare you for specific organizational roles working with cloud computing. Before we get to that, let’s just explore some of the reasons why you might want to work in cloud computing and why you might want to earn an AWS certification.
Why work in cloud computing?
As you’re probably starting to realize, cloud computing is a really good space to be in today and its constant growth indicates that it will continue to be a great industry to work in for the foreseeable future. Here are some of the top reasons why you should work in cloud computing:
- Job demand – Due to the huge, continuing growth of the take up of cloud services, there will be ongoing demand for qualified and experienced professionals.
- Skills are globally relevant – Cloud computing providers such as AWS provide services to customers around the world – so you can take advantage of job opportunities globally.
- Rewarding career paths – If you have a passion for technology, working in cloud computing will be one of the most exciting and rewarding careers and provides significant opportunities for career growth.
- Great salaries – According to payscale.com, average salaries in the US can exceed $123,000 per annum.
Why get AWS Certified?
Certifications are a great way to demonstrate your skills to potential employers or to get a promotion into your target job role. With AWS dominating the world of cloud computing and many companies moving services into the cloud, AWS certifications are some of the most sought-after certifications.
What is AWS Certification?
AWS certifications are designed to test both theoretical and practical knowledge so the training programs for getting certified should always include both of these elements. Therefore, you can build practical skills by taking a certification training course that will help you perform well in your cloud computing job role once you get it.
Training for certifications also provides knowledge that you can practically use in your current role even if you don’t work with cloud services today. Most IT roles involve some level of exposure to cloud computing (and very likely AWS). If your role doesn’t, it probably will very soon. Therefore, it’s wise to get ahead of the curve and make sure your skills are relevant in today’s market.
Which AWS Certification should I get?
What Experience do I need?
These are the questions I’ll try and answer for you. We all come from different starting points and the answers to the above questions will depend on your current skills and experience and what your career objectives are. Therefore, I’d like to start with an overview of the different levels of certification available and the scope and depth of expertise required by them. Then, I’ll move onto the role-based structure of the certification learning paths and how they relate to your background and career aspirations.
In 2019 AWS removed the prerequisites from all AWS certifications. This means you can now take ANY AWS certification at any time, you don’t need to complete other certifications first. However, as you’ll now learn, there is a structure to the AWS certification learning paths and it is wise to follow that structure to maximise your chance of success in your exams and to ensure you have a good skill set to take into your working life.
AWS Certification Levels and Specializations
There are three different levels of AWS certification: Foundational, Associate, and Professional. There are then the specializations that sit alongside the other certifications and focus in much more depth on particular job skills.
The key concepts you need to understand in relation to each certification are:
- Scope – this indicates the breadth of coverage of AWS services in the exam
- Depth – this indicates how deep the exam goes in terms of technical knowledge of a specific service
You need to be well aware of these factors when choosing which certification you want to aim for as the scope and depth can vary greatly and this will have an impact on the amount of experience you need before you get started and how much study time you’ll need to put in.
Let’s start with the foundational level first. There is only one certification at this level, the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner. This exam is aimed at those who are new to the AWS cloud and need to understand the basics. It is broad in scope as it covers quite a lot of core AWS services but it is very shallow in depth so questions are fairly easy.
To understand more about the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner certification check out the links below:
- AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner Exam Guide
- AWS Cloud Practitioner Training – What to Expect in the Exam
The associate level AWS certifications are a big step up in difficulty from the foundational level certification, but not nearly as difficult as the professional level or some of the specialty certifications. There are three certification options, each aimed at a specific job role: AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate, AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate, and AWS Certified Developer – Associate.
The associate-level certifications cover a broad scope of AWS services at a medium depth. This means you will need to learn a relatively large number of AWS services at a good level of technical understanding.
Learn more about the associate level certifications using the links below:
- AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate Exam Guide
- AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate Exam Guide
- AWS Certified Developer – Associate Exam Guide
- Preparing for the AWS Solutions Architect Associate Exam
The professional level certifications represent an expert level of knowledge and are aimed at the Solutions Architect and DevOps Engineer job roles. The two certifications are AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional, and AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional. These exams can be very difficult as they cover both a broad scope of services and they cover those services to a deep level of technical expertise.
Though it is no longer a requirement, it’s a good idea to start off by taking the associate level certifications before you take a professional level certification exam. In fact, I would recommend taking all associate-level certifications before you take either a professional level exam or a specialty exam as it will give you a well-rounded knowledge and a good level of technical understanding.
Once you have the required experience and are ready to take on one of these certifications, choose the exam that’s most appropriate for your job role or career aspirations. To gain a better understanding of what is included in each exam – check out the exam guide by clicking the links below:
- AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional Exam Guide
- AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional Exam Guide
Being more specialized, these certifications focus on a much narrower scope of AWS services but the level of technical expertise required is very deep. You need to be an expert in your chosen specialty before taking these exams. Generally speaking, you can expect the overall difficulty to be more akin to the professional level exams than the associate level exams.
These certifications do vary in difficulty however, so make sure you check out the recommended experience as that can give you an idea of how challenging it’s likely to be. For instance, for the AWS Certified Advanced Networking Specialty, AWS recommends a minimum of five years of hands-on experience architecting and implementing network solutions.
Learn more about the specialty exams using the links below:
- AWS Certified Advanced Networking Specialty Exam Guide
- AWS Certified Security Specialty Exam Guide
- AWS Certified Machine Learning Specialty Exam Guide
- AWS Certified Data Analytics Specialty Exam Guide
- AWS Certified Database Specialty Exam Guide
Based on my experience/career goals, which certification should I do first?
The path you choose to take will depend on your individual starting point. To help you identify the best learning path, I’m going to offer a few options based on common scenarios.
1. I’m Completely New to Cloud or IT in General
If this sounds like you, you’re best off starting with the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner. This certification is good for those from both technical and non-technical backgrounds who want to learn what the AWS cloud is, its benefits, pricing models, architectural patterns and gain a high-level understanding of the core AWS services. Once you’re finished with the CCP, you can then move onto the associate-level certifications.
2. I’ve got Basic Experience of AWS or Technical background in IT
If you already have some working experience with AWS cloud services or you have a strong technical background in IT, you can start off with the associate-level certifications. Personally, I would recommend doing the cloud practitioner as well as it will be an easy exam for you and covers a bit more around benefits and pricing models.
So which associate-level certification should you aim for?
- Take the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate first. This is the most popular AWS certification and will give you a strong and broad understanding of many core AWS services.
- If you’re a Developer, do the AWS Certified Developer – Associate next. This exam will teach you some services such as AWS Lambda, Amazon DynamoDB, Amazon API Gateway and the AWS Developer Tools in much greater depth. It will also teach you how to optimize your code for performance and security.
- If you’re a SysOps Engineer, do the AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate next. This certification will teach you about how to optimize infrastructure to run on AWS and goes into lots of details on operations and management (including great depth on Amazon CloudWatch).
3. I’m highly experienced with Strong Knowledge of AWS / Multiple Years of AWS Experience
If you’re already well on your way to being an AWS guru but haven’t taken any certifications yet, you may be tempted to start with the professional level or specialty certifications. Though that could work for you, I’d still recommend doing the associate level certifications first in most cases.
Following this advice will help you to learn how AWS certification exams are structured and what sort of knowledge gets tested. You’ll also become familiar with the style of the AWS exam questions and learn how to manage time in the exams, which will help you when you get to the harder professional or specialty certification exams.
How to Get Started: AWS Training Resources
There are many resources available to help you on your way to becoming AWS certified and fulfilling your career goals. These can vary from totally free online resources to costly classroom-based training. Here are a few options to get you started:
Free AWS Resources
- AWS Website – Use the documentation on the AWS website to get up-to-date and detailed facts. This includes the developer guides, user guides, and FAQs for each AWS service.
- AWS.Training Website – Sign up on the AWS.Training website to get access to free video training for many AWS services. This also includes some learning paths. It’s relatively basic in terms of depth, but a good starting point.
- Digital Cloud Training Cheat Sheets, Videos and Practice tests – Check out our website and YouTube channel to find lots of value-packed training resources for AWS Certifications such as the AWS Cloud Practitioner, AWS Solutions Architect Associate, AWS Developer Associate, AWS SysOps Administrator Associate or AWS Solutions Architect Profesional.
Online Video Training and Practice Tests
As a provider of high-quality video-based training and exam difficulty practice exams, Digital Cloud Training offers everything you need to pass your exam for several AWS certifications at affordable prices.
If you prefer to use instructor-led classroom-based training, there are many options available in the marketplace. A good starting point is the training provided by AWS themselves which you can find here.
Are AWS Certifications worth it?
AWS certifications don’t just look good on your resume—they can significantly boost your salary and help you advance your cloud career. On average, AWS certifications earn a salary of more than $100,000 USD. While certifications don’t always equate to competence, the training you get on the way to becoming certified is invaluable. You’ll learn new skills, understand the platform inside out and discover best practices.
For more information, check out this article on “Are AWS Certifications worth it in 2021?”
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