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Choosing the Right AWS Certification for You and Your Team

As companies increasingly shift workloads to the public cloud, cloud computing has moved from a nice-to-have to a core competency in the enterprise. This shift requires a new set of skills to design, deploy, and manage applications in the cloud.
As the market leader and most mature provider in the cloud computing space, AWS is considered a thought leader and point of reference for all of its competitors. In 2018, AWS continues to lead in public cloud adoption, and it currently offers eight certifications that cover both foundational and specialty cloud computing topics.
Why bother with an AWS certification? Here’s why it matters.

Choosing the right AWS Certification: What’s The Value?

Getting AWS certified shows that you have some of the most in-demand (and profitable) skills as validated by one of the most recognizable entities in cloud computing. In the enterprise, certification demonstrates a shared understanding of a platform, a shared terminology, and a certain level of cloud expertise that can speed up time to value for cloud projects.
Even as enterprises adopt multi-cloud strategies, this doesn’t diminish the importance of an AWS certification–quite the opposite. With more than one million customers, AWS is still the provider of choice for public cloud adoption, where 64% of enterprises and 68% of SMBs are running applications (according to the 2018 RightScale State of the Cloud Report). Continued strong financial performance, a constant stream of new services, and a continuous geographic expansion (including a dedicated intelligence community region announced in 2017) are an indication that there is still much more to come.
AWS certifications themselves stand out for their rigor and thoroughness in evaluating a candidate’s skills, with an emphasis on hands-on experience and best practices. If you’re already working with AWS, preparing for a certification can help strengthen your knowledge by clarifying key concepts. If you’re new to AWS, it can provide the foundational knowledge and skills you’ll need to work with AWS services and solutions down the road. For organizations looking for new recruits, AWS certifications validate a candidate’s familiarity and knowledge of best practices in cloud architecture, management, and security.
In the enterprise, the core training materials used to prepare for AWS certifications are a valuable component in a company’s own internal training path. As IT environments become more customized and requirements for new skills grow, an increasing number of companies are building their own certification programs. Many of them are using vendor certification training paths in connection with internal training materials to stand up certification tracks specific to their business needs.

A Guide to AWS Certifications

AWS currently offers nine certifications: a foundational certification, three associate-level certifications, two professional-level certifications, and three specialty certifications.

  • AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner
  • AWS Certified Developer – Associate
  • AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate
  • AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate
  • AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional
  • AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional
  • AWS Certified Big Data – Specialty
  • AWS Certified Advanced Networking – Specialty
  • AWS Certified Security – Specialty

Let’s take a closer look at each exam.

Foundational Certification: AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner

The AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner is AWS’s newest certification. This entry-level certification is designed to validate a candidate’s overall understanding of the AWS cloud.

  • Pre-requisites: At least six months of general AWS cloud experience in any role (technical, managerial, sales, etc.) is recommended.
  • Format: Multiple-choice questions
  • Length: 90 minutes
  • Cost: $100

Areas Covered:

  • Understanding of basic AWS architectural principles
  • The value proposition of the AWS cloud
  • Key AWS services and their common use cases
  • Basic security and compliance, the shared responsibility model for security
  • Core deployment and operating principles

Start preparing with Cloud Academy’s Cloud Practitioner Certification Preparation for AWS Learning Path.

Associate-Level Certifications

AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate

The AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate exam is designed for those with some experience in designing distributed applications. Candidates will need to be able to demonstrate their ability to design, manage, and implement applications using tools and services on the AWS platform. This exam was updated in February 2018 to include more AWS services and best practices. The original exam will be available through August 12, 2018.

  • Format: Multiple-choice, multiple-answer
  • Time: 130 minutes (based on the new exam)
  • Cost: $150

Areas Covered:

  • Network technologies and how they work in AWS
  • How AWS-based applications work and how client interfaces connect to the AWS platform
  • How to build secure and reliable applications on the AWS platform
  • Deploying hybrid systems – those with an on-premises data center as well as AWS components
  • The exam domains include the design of highly available and scalable systems, (requires familiarity with AWS infrastructure and concepts), implementation and deployment in AWS, AWS-related data security practices, disaster recovery techniques, and troubleshooting

Start preparing with Cloud Academy’s Solutions Architect – Associate Certification Preparation for AWS Learning Path.

AWS Certified Developer – Associate

The AWS Certified Developer – Associate exam is all about developing and maintaining AWS-based applications. You will need to know how to write actual code that uses AWS software to access AWS applications from within your custom business applications.

  • Format: Multiple-choice, multiple-answer
  • Time: 80 minutes
  • Cost: $150

Areas Covered:

  • Understanding of the basic AWS architecture and the core AWS services
  • Hands-on experience designing, developing, deploying, and maintaining applications
  • Working knowledge of applications that utilize key AWS services such as AWS databases, notifications, workflow services, and services for storage and change management services

Start preparing with Cloud Academy’s Developer – Associate Certification Preparation for AWS Learning Path.

AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate

The AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate exam is the only certification that is fully geared toward system administrators. Passing this exam requires both technical expertise and conceptual knowledge of the operational aspects of the AWS platform. Previous experience as a Linux or Windows administrator will be a plus.

  • Format: Multiple-choice, multiple-answer
  • Time: 80 minutes
  • Cost: $150

Areas Covered:

  • Deploying applications to the AWS platform
  • Sending and receiving data between data centers and AWS
  • Selecting the appropriate AWS services to meet an organization’s needs
  • Provisioning, managing, and securing systems in an AWS environment

Start preparing with Cloud Academy’s SysOps Administrator – Associate Certification Preparation for AWS Learning Path.

Professional-level Certifications

AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional

A professional AWS architect is someone who can evaluate an organization’s requirements and make architectural recommendations for implementing and deploying applications on AWS. The Certified Solutions Architect Professional certification requires a high degree of technical skill and experience designing AWS-based applications.

  • Prerequisites: Status as AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate.
  • Two years of hands-on experience designing and deploying cloud architecture on AWS and best practice knowledge of multi-application architectural design is recommended.
  • Format: Multiple-choice, multiple-answer
  • Time: 170 minutes
  • Cost: $300

Areas Covered:

  • Best practices for architecting the designing applications on AWS
  • Selecting the right AWS service for the requirements of an application
  • Migration of complex application systems to AWS
  • Knowledge of cost optimization strategies

Start preparing with Cloud Academy’s Solutions Architect – Professional Certification Preparation for AWS Learning Path.

AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional

The DevOps Engineer certification is all about provisioning, operating, and managing applications on the AWS platform. This exam focuses heavily on continuous delivery (CD) and automation of processes, two fundamental concepts of the DevOps movement.

  • Prerequisites: Status as AWS Certified Developer – Associate or AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate. Experience in provisioning and managing AWS-based applications, as well as a firm understanding of modern application development such as the agile development methodology is recommended.
    Format: Multiple-choice, multiple-answer
    Time: 170 minutes
    Cost: $300

Areas Covered:

  • The basics of modern Continuous Delivery methodologies
  • How to implement CD systems
  • Set up, monitoring, and logging systems on AWS
  • How to implement highly available and scalable systems on AWS
  • How to design and manage tools that enable automation of production operations
  • Specialty Certification

AWS specialty certifications are designed to validate a candidate’s skills in big data and networking.

  • Prerequisites: Current associate-level certification and a minimum of five years of relevant experience
  • Format: Multiple-choice, multiple-answer
  • Time: 3 hours
  • Cost: $300

Start preparing with Cloud Academy’s DevOps Engineer – Professional Certification Preparation for AWS Learning Path.

AWS Certified Big Data – Specialty

The AWS Certified Big Data – Specialty certification is for those with a background in data analytics and experience using AWS services for designing and architecting big data solutions. It is designed to validate a candidate’s experience in extracting value from data using AWS services.

Areas Covered:

  • Architecting best practices for implementing core AWS big data services
  • Designing and maintaining big data
  • AWS tools for automating data analysis
  • Security best practices for big data solutions
  • AWS services covered include: Kinesis, Athena, Quicksight, and Rekognition

Start preparing with Cloud Academy’s Big Data – Specialty Certification Preparation for AWS Learning Path.

AWS Certified Advanced Networking – Specialty

The AWS Certified Advanced Networking – Specialty certification is designed to validate a candidate’s skills and experience in connection with performing complex networking tasks on AWS and hybrid IT networking architecture at scale. Candidates should have a background in architecting and implementing network solutions and advanced knowledge of networking on AWS.

Areas Covered:

  • Designing, developing, and deploying cloud solutions with AWS
  • Implementing core services according to architectural best practices
  • Automation for AWS tasks for network deployments
  • Security and compliance design and implementation
  • Network optimization and troubleshooting

Start preparing with Cloud Academy’s Advanced Networking – Specialty Certification Preparation for AWS Learning Path.

AWS Certified Security – Specialty

The AWS Certified Security – Specialty certification covers topics that security pros and teams need to master security fundamentals, follow best practices, and build deep knowledge in key services unique to the AWS platform. It is designed to validate your AWS knowledge across security topics such as data protection and encryption, infrastructure security, incident response, identity and access management, monitoring and logging.

Areas Covered:

  • Use a variety of AWS services to select the appropriate level of security based on your deployments and the sensitivity of your data
  • Select the most appropriate data protection techniques including encryption mechanisms
  • Implement logging and monitoring solutions to detect and analyze security vulnerabilities and weaknesses within your infrastructure
  • AWS services include: AWS Identity and Access Management, AWS CloudTrail, AWS Config, Amazon Inspector, AWS Trusted Advisor, Amazon GuardDuty, Amazon CloudWatch, Amazon Key Management Service

Start preparing with Cloud Academy’s Security – Specialty Certification Preparation for AWS Learning Path

Recertification and Staying Up to Date

The number of new AWS features and services increases every year. AWS announced almost 30 new products and services at its annual conference, re:Invent in November 2017. In Q4 alone, AWS added 497 new features and services for a total of 1,430 launches in 2017.
To demonstrate continued expertise and knowledge of best practices for the most up to date AWS services, certification holders are required to recertify every two years.
You may recertify by either passing the professional-level exam for the same certification or by passing the recertification exam for your existing certification. Recertification exams run for 80 minutes and cost $75.
Remember that a certification is broadly representative of your knowledge at a specific point in time. The real AWS mavens don’t wait until their certification expires — they build good habits to stay current and are obsessed with learning. Here are some tips for keeping your skills current.

Written by

Andrew is an AWS certified professional who is passionate about helping others learn how to use and gain benefit from AWS technologies. Andrew has worked for AWS and for AWS technology partners Ooyala and Adobe. His favorite Amazon leadership principle is "Customer Obsession" as everything AWS starts with the customer. Passions around work are cycling and surfing, and having a laugh about the lessons learnt trying to launch two daughters and a few start ups.

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