Which AWS Certification should I get?

There are 10 AWS Certifications under the foundational, associate 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?

A Beginner's Guide to AWS Certification

Choosing the right AWS Certification 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.

If you already know which AWS Certification is right for you, sign up for our monthly or yearly plan to get started with our popular AWS Training courses.

For more detailed information on each AWS certification, get your Free Beginner’s Guide to AWS Certification with 35 pages of practical tips and insights on how to get started with AWS. To download your free ebook, simply complete the form to the right. 

Keep reading to 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.

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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 cloud professionals around the globe.

Rewarding career paths

If you have a passion for technology, working in cloud computing will be one of the most exciting and rewarding careers with significant opportunities for growth.

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.

Great salaries

According to payscale.com, average salaries for a Solutions Architect with 5+ years of experience exceed $129,000 per annum (based in the US).

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. 

Gain theoretical and practical knowledge

AWS certifications are designed to test both theoretical and practical knowledge so the training programs for getting certified should always include both elements. Therefore, you can build practical skills by taking a certification training course that will help you perform well in your (future) cloud computing job roles.

Get ahead of the curve

Training for certifications 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 soon. Therefore, it’s wise to ensure your skills stay relevant.

What Experience do I need to get started with AWS Certifications?

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. We’ll then move onto the role-based structure of the certification learning paths and how they relate to your background and career aspirations.

Are there any prerequisites to take AWS Certifications?

Back 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 any other certification 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 maximize 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 3 different levels of AWS certification: Foundational, Associate, and Professional
The specializations sit alongside the other certifications and focus in much more depth on particular job skills.

Understanding the key concepts

  • 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.


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.

AWS Certifications | Associate Level

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. 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. There are four certification options, each aimed at a specific job role: 

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.


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:

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.

AWS Certifications Professional

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 Certifications | SPECIALTY Level

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.

Which AWS certification should I do first - based on my experience / career goals?

The path you choose to take will depend on your individual starting point. To help you identify the best learning path, we offer a few options based on common scenarios.

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. Learn about its benefits, pricing models, architectural patterns and gain a high-level understanding of the core AWS services. Once you’ve earned your AWS Cloud Practitioner certification, you can then move onto the associate-level certifications.

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 AWS 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).

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 at a minimum the AWS Solutions Architect Associate certification 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.

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 “Are AWS Certifications worth it?

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. Here are our recommended training resources 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 – 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.
  • Free Cheat Sheets, video tutorials and Practice tests – Check out the FREE AWS Resources from Digital Cloud Training and our YouTube channel to find lots of value-packed training resources for AWS Certifications.

Recommended AWS Training

As a provider of high-quality video-based training, Digital Cloud Training offers everything you need to pass your exam for several AWS certifications at affordable prices.

How to best prepare for AWS exam

Here’s an outline of the recommended learning path that will help you prepare for your AWS certification exam. Following these steps will maximize your chances of passing your exam the first time with a great score.

Self-Study Video Courses or join Live Bootcamps

Learn the theory and familiarize yourself with the AWS platform

Take our AWS Practice Exams / Exam Simulator

Assess your exam readiness and identify your strengths & weaknesses

Study Training Notes

Deep dive into specific knowledge areas and get straight to the facts

Get hands-on with Challenge Labs

Learn by doing and gain practical, real-world cloud skills

Get AWS Certified

Pass your AWS certification exam the frst time with confidence ​

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