The 12 AWS Certifications: Which is Right 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 cloud computing.

As the market leader and most mature provider in the cloud computing space, analysts such as Gartner consider AWS a thought leader and point of reference for all of its competitors. In 2020, AWS continues to lead in public cloud adoption, and it currently offers 12 certifications that cover both foundational and specialty cloud computing topics.

Why choose the right 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.

Why is AWS certification important?

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.

Candidate certifications

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.

Employer certifications

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.

How long does it take to become AWS certified?

With a full-time job and other commitments, investing 80 hours of study usually takes two months. If you are entirely new to AWS, we recommend approximately 120 hours or three months to prepare. Start with the fundamentals, and then move to the Solutions Architect – Associate Learning Path.

Which cloud certification is best?

AWS currently offers 12 certifications: a foundational certification, three associate-level certifications, two professional-level certifications, and six specialty certifications. You can find a full overview of all Learning Paths to prepare for the certifications on the Cloud Academy’s AWS Certifications page.

How do I become AWS certified?

While there are not set-in-stone steps to studying for the AWS certification, these steps are the most straight-forward.

  1. Enroll in an AWS training class, such as any of the ones mentioned in this article. They will certainly increase your knowledge of cloud computing and AWS.
  2. Review any Study or Exam Guides available.
  3. Read multiple AWS whitepapers. These hold some invaluable information, which may answer many of your questions.
  4. Practice, practice, practice. Practice exams will help ease any worries or stress you may be having about the certification exam.
  5. Schedule the exam once you are ready. It typically takes anywhere from 80-120 hours of practice/studying to be prepared for the exam based on experience and the certification you are pursuing.

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.

  • Prerequisites: 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 USD

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

Prepare for the Foundational Certification, with Cloud Academy’s Cloud Practitioner Certification Preparation for AWS Learning Path.

AWS Certifications

Associate-Level Certifications

AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate (SAA-C02)

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.

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

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 and 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

Prepare for the AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate with Cloud Academy’s Solutions Architect – Associate Certification Preparation for AWS Learning Path.

AWS Certified Developer – Associate

The AWS Certified Developer – the 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 USD

Areas Covered:

  • Understanding 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

Prepare for this certification with Cloud Academy’s Developer – Associate Certification Preparation for AWS Learning Path.

AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate

The AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – the 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 USD

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

Prepare for this certification 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 USD

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

Prepare for this certification 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 the 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 USD

Areas Covered:

  • The basics of modern CD 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 USD

Prepare for this certification with Cloud Academy’s DevOps Engineer – Professional Certification Preparation for AWS Learning Path.

Specialty Certifications

AWS Certified Data Analytics – Specialty

The AWS Certified Data Analytics – 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

Prepare for this exam with Cloud Academy’s AWS Certified Data Analytics – Specialty (DAS-C01) 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

Prepare for this certification 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

Prepare for this certification with Cloud Academy’s Security – Specialty Certification Preparation for AWS Learning Path

AWS Certified Alexa Skill Builder – Specialty

The AWS Certified Alexa Skill Builder – Specialty certification validates your technical expertise in creating, testing, and deploying Amazon Alexa skills. This exam is for anyone who performs a role as an Alexa skill builder. Candidates should have at least six months of hands-on experience building Alexa skills using the Alexa Skills Kit and should be proficient in a programming language.

Areas Covered:

  • Learning about the value of voice
  • User experience design
  • Following AWS and Alexa best practices for security
  • Creating, testing, and validating for the skill
  • Working with the Alexa Developer Console

Prepare for this certification by learning more about the AWS Alexa Skill Builder – Specialty certification.

AWS Certified Machine Learning – Specialty

The AWS Certified Machine Learning – Specialty certification validates your ability to create, implement, and maintain machine learning solutions for a range of business problems. This exam is for anyone who performs a development or data science role. Candidates should have one to two years of experience using ML and/or deep learning on the AWS Cloud.

Areas Covered:

  • Choosing and defending the best ML approach for a given business problem
  • Identifying the relevant AWS solutions to create and deploy your ML solution
  • Designing and implementing cost-optimized, scalable, reliable, and secure ML solutions

Prepare for this certification with Cloud Academy’s Machine Learning – Specialty Certification Preparation for AWS Learning Path.

AWS Certified Database – Specialty

The AWS Certified Database – Specialty certification validates that you have an overall comprehension of all the AWS database services offered, as well as how to bring value to your business through optimized database integration and architecting. This exam is for anyone who works closely with databases and implements DB solutions. Candidates should at least two years of experience working with both AWS Cloud-based and on-premises relational and NoSQL databases.

Areas Covered:

  • Database Design
  • Deployment and Migration
  • Management and Operations
  • Monitoring and Troubleshooting
  • Security

Prepare for this certification with Cloud Academy’s AWS Certified Database – Specialty (DBS-C01) Certification Preparation Learning Path.

Recertification and Staying Up-to-Date

The number of new AWS features and services increases every year. 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 USD.

Remember that certifications are 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.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How long does it take to become AWS certified?

This largely depends on the candidate’s existing experience and knowledge of AWS, in addition to the certification level looking to be obtained, Practitioner, Associate, Professional or Specialty. AWS states in their exam guide for each certification a suggested prerequisite amount of experience before tackling the exam. For example, the AWS Solutions Architect – Associate (SAA-C02), suggests that you should have 1 year of hands-on experience designing available, cost-effective, fault-tolerant, and scalable distributed systems on AWS.

However, with dedication to your study and gaining hands-on practical experience using your own ‘free-tier’ account to get familiarity with the console and the services, you can pass your certifications without meeting these criteria. It is important to maintain a study schedule, and I would suggest at least 1 hour of study per day for the Practitioner and Associate levels, but aim to immerse yourself more each day for the Professional and Specialty levels.

How much does it cost to get AWS certified?

The prices of the exams are different based on the level of the certification:

  • Practitioner = $100
  • Associate = $150
  • Professional = $300
  • Specialty = $300

What are the different levels of AWS certification?

There are 4 different levels of certification with AWS

  • Practitioner: This is considered the foundation level when starting our your certification journey with AWS and is a recommended and optional step before taking the Associate level certifications.
  • Associate: These certifications require more experience than the Practitioner, and you should have some hands-on experience in provisioning resources in addition to some problem-solving skills in AWS.
  • Professional: Although you can take the professional level certifications first, its recommended to attain at least the associate level certifications first to provide a base-level knowledge of AWS that is required to take the more advanced professional level certifications. Before taking this level of certification you must have a comprehensive understanding of many different attributes of how to run, optimize, and troubleshoot solutions within AWS.
  • Specialty: The Specialty level certifications hone in on one particular domain within AWS, for example, ‘Security’ or ‘Databases’, and therefore require deep technical knowledge and experience within that particular topic. These are comparable to the Professional level certification with regards to difficulty.

Which certification is best in AWS?

Firstly, All AWS certifications important and are a great asset to have from a professional standpoint. Deciding which one to take, or which one is ‘best’ largely depends on your interests, your role, and where you would like to take your career.

For example, If you enjoy working in the networking and architectural space, then the following route would be a great fit:

  • AWS Cloud Practitioner
  • AWS Solutions Architect – Associate
  • AWS Solutions Architect – Professional
  • Networking Specialty

However, if you were a keen developer or were looking to move into application development and maybe work with Alexa in the future, then you might select a different route:

  • AWS Cloud Practitioner
  • AWS Developer – Associate
  • AWS Developer – Professional
  • Alexa Skill Builder – Specialty

So it really depends on what you are trying to achieve as an individual, and where you want to take your career.

Are AWS certifications worth it?

Any certification that demonstrates your knowledge and expertise within the I.T industry is certainly worth obtaining. In a market that is full of competition, being able to stand out above a crowd can help you get noticed and put you on your journey to achieve your professional goals.

If there are a number of candidates applying for a position, and all have the same credentials and experience, but one of them has a number of recognized AWS credentials to reinforce their knowledge, then this goes a long way in making you the chosen candidate.

It is not just about validating your knowledge however, it says a lot about you as a person. It shows commitment, dedication, the willingness to learn, the drive to stay at the forefront of innovation, and sometimes this demonstrates more to people than what the actual certification stands for.

Can I get AWS certifications online?

Yes, you can now take AWS certifications online and from the comfort of your own home. There are some points that you need to be aware of all of which can be found online.

However to summarise, here are the key elements to be aware of:

  • You must be able to communicate with an English-speaking proctor. Exams can be taken in different languages, but communication with the proctor will be in English
  • Only certifications are now available for those residing in mainland China, Japan, Slovenia, or South Korea
  • You must ensure that your computer meets the system requirements for online proctoring
  • When taking the exam, you will need to be a private and quiet place, and you must ensure that you will not be interrupted
  • Unlike in certification centers, you are NOT allowed to leave your workstation or move out of sight from your webcam during the online exam
  • Pearson VUE is the only testing center that currently offers online proctoring
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