Which AWS certification is right for you and your career? Find out in this comprehensive guide from the cloud experts.

Amazon Web Services certifications are among the hottest – if not the hottest IT certifications right now – and are poised to become even more significant in the future.

AWS has established an overwhelming lead in the public cloud market. Even with the hurried ramping-up of several tough competitors such as Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Engine, and Rackspace, AWS is far and away the preeminent pubic cloud platform today, with a dazzling array of proprietary services that continues to grow.

There are two key reasons as to why AWS certifications are hot in the job market in the current cloud-oriented job market:

  1. There’s a dire need for skilled cloud engineers, developers, and architects – and the current shortage of experts is expected to continue into the foreseeable future.
  2. AWS certifications stand out for their thoroughness, rigor, consistency, and appropriateness for critical cloud engineering positions.

AWS places equal emphasis on a sound conceptual knowledge of its entire platform, as well as on a hands-on experience with the AWS infrastructure and its many unique and complex components and services.

When a prospective employer sees your AWS certification, they know you are qualified. With the ubiquity of AWS and its domination of the public cloud market, that’s truly a big deal when it comes to getting hired. 

Why bother with an AWS certification? Here’s why it matters.

Simply put, an AWS certification shows you have the skills and the knowledge to design, deploy, or manage applications on Amazon Web Services. If you’re AWS-certified, it tells potential employers that you’ve what it takes to build and manage AWS solutions for them.

While getting certified is a sure door opener for you when seeking a new job, there’s another great reason for wanting to get AWS-certified. When you go through the training and learning involved in passing the rigorous exams, you gain an extraordinary amount of knowledge. If you’re already working with AWS, the test preparation process helps you strengthen your knowledge by clarifying key concepts. If you’re new to AWS, of course, you’ll learn what AWS is all about, and learn how to work competently with it.

The Five AWS Certification Types Currently Available

AWS offers five certifications at the present time. You can take one or more of these certification exams, depending on your technical background and aptitude, and the particular track you want to follow. Here’s the list of certifications:

So, there are three basic ground level Associate exams, and two advanced level certifications categorized as Professional certifications. The certification exams at the associate level don’t require a prior certification. The Professional-level exams require you to have passed an Associate-level certification exam. While even an Associate certification will mark you as a capable and experienced AWS professional, the Professional level exams mark you as an expert in the area, and employers highly valuable job candidates who have attained it.

Now that you know the various certifications and their levels, let’s take a look at the eligibility requirements for taking the exams.

Candidate Eligibility for AWS Certification Exams

Each of the five AWS certification exams may have different eligibility requirements, including prior AWS certifications at a lower level. Associate exams don’t require any prior AWS certifications.

The three Professional exams expect you have two or more years of hands-on experience. Does Amazon actually verify and ensure that you have the recommended level of experience with AWS? No, Amazon doesn’t insist on any proof that you’ve actual experience. However, the exams reflect the depth and range of knowledge that’s typically gained by working hands-on with AWS services

What You Should Expect to See on the Exam

In order to fare well on the AWS certification exams, it’s critical that first understand their structure. This process includes learning the content domains, question formats, and importantly, the breakdown of the questions across the content domains.

  • Question format: The cert exams follow the standard multiple-choice format and last for about an hour and a half, with a passing score of 65%. So, in case you were worried about being perfect to pass the exam, relax! You can get just two-thirds of the questions correct and get certified!
  • Content domain: One thing you ought to really understand about all the AWS exams is that they’re quite comprehensive. For example, if you take the SysOps Administrator Certification exam, you’ll find that the test really does a great job of covering just about all the expected areas if systems and operations, such as deployments, migrations of applications, and the emigration of on-premise applications to AWS.
  • Question area breakdown: AWS gives you a breakdown of the exam in terms of different areas of knowledge

A Quick Tour of the Five AWS Certification Exams

Let’s take a quick spin around the 5 certifications exams (more exams are in development). Hopefully, you’ll find one or more areas that match your interest and training, and that’ll be the area in which you want to get AWS certified. For example, someone with a background in systems administration and networking is a natural fit for getting certified as a SysOps Administrator. By the way, several professionals certify in multiple areas, in order to broaden their horizons as well as to put themselves in a position to qualify for a position in multiple areas.

AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate

The AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate exam is designed for those with some experience in designing distributed applications. The exam expects you to not only be experienced in designing the applications, but also know how to do it on the AWS platform.

In order to do well on this exam, you must:

  • Know network technologies, especially how they work in AWS
  • Know how AWS-based applications work, and how client interfaces, connect to the AWS platform
  • Understand how to build secure and reliable applications on the AWS platform
  • Be able to deploy hybrid systems – those that have some on-premise 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.

AWS Certified Developer – Associate

The AWS Certified Developer – Associate exam is all about developing and maintaining AWS-based applications. You really must know how to write actual code that uses AWS provided software to access AWS applications from within your custom business applications. Here’s what this certification exam looks for:

  • Understanding of the basic AWS architecture, and the core AWS services that make AWS standout among all the cloud vendors
  • Hands-on experience designing, developing, deploying, and maintaining applications
  • Working knowledge of applications that utilize key AWS services such as AWS databases, notifications, and workflow services, as well as its storage, and change management services.

AWS Certified Sysops Administrator – Associate

The AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate exam is the only certification fully geared towards system administrators. Therefore, passing this exam requires you to have technical expertise and conceptual knowledge of the operational aspects of the AWS platform. If you’re currently one, or have previously worked as a Linux or Windows administrator, you have a leg up on the competition, so to speak.

Deployment and operations are the essence of this exam. Thus, you’ll be expected to have a thorough understanding of the following:

  • 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 systems, managing and securing them are the key requirements of a system administrator’s job, so you’ll need to understand how to do all those tasks in an AWS environment. While traditional system administration skills do carry over to AWS operations, there are many unique concepts and proprietary AWS products that you need to work with to succeed as an AWS systems administrator. AWS based systems are usually mission critical to an organization, so it’s good if you’ve some type of hands-on experience, even if it be in a tangential fashion (say by working intensively in lab environments) as an AWS systems administrator,  before jumping in to take your SysOps certification test.

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. This certification test expects you to know:

  • The basics of modern CD methodologies
  • Implement CD systems
  • Setup monitoring and logging systems on AWS
  • Know how to implement highly available and scalable systems on the AWS platform
  • Know how to design and manage tools that enable the automation of production operations

You must have either the AWS Certified Developer or the AWS Certified SysOps Administrator certification in hand before you can attempt the DevOps Engineer certification exam. Amazon expects you to have a couple of years of experience in provisioning and managing AWS-based applications, as well as a firm understanding of modern application development such as the agile development methodology.

AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional

The Certified Solutions Architect Professional certification requires a high degree of technical skill and experience designing AWS-based applications. You must know which of AWS’s array of services are best suited to the needs of your applications. You must also be able to migrate complex application systems over to AWS. Finally, the certification expects you to know how to implement cost control strategies.

The Solutions Architect – Professional is the pinnacle of all the AWS certifications. You must first take the Associate level exam before you can sit for this certification exam.

A professional AWS architect is somebody who can evaluate an organization’s requirements and make architectural recommendations for implementing and deploying the organization’s’ applications on AWS. He or she should be aware of the best practices for architecting the designing of applications on the AWS platform.

How to Prep for AWS Certification Exams

While there are a few people can just jump in and pass the AWS certification exams, most of us would do well by preparing for them ahead of time. To pass the exams on your first try, you must have some type of plan to navigate the test successfully. Cloud Academy can help you get the preparation you need to pass on the first try. 

Should you prep by yourself or get help?

As you go through the exam requirements, you’ll find out that taking an AWS exam is not as simple as cramming material from a book, or even from AWS’s own documentation. In order to be successful, you should know what to do in different scenarios. This means you should have some hands-on practice with many AWS technologies.

If you’re working with AWS already in some capacity, it certainly helps. However, most folks don’t have the opportunity to work hands-on with AWS technology. Not to worry, however! You can learn all the concepts and how to implement them, by working in a lab environment provided by an organization that specializes in AWS certifications.

The labs are really not that much  different from real life AWS environments – so you get to learn the concepts in a realistic environment, working with the same commands and the same forms (screens for entering commands) as real life AWS professional do. You can get a free AWS account and try to learn everything yourself, but that path is going to be quite arduous, since you’ve to overcome all the tricky parts by yourself, with no one to hold your hands, and lead you out of the minefields you’re bound to encounter during “self-learning.”

Why Practice Exams are Crucial for Your Success

Learning the contents of the exam is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition to doing well on the exams. In order to do well, you must practice as many exams as possible. The practice exams will help only if their content and structure mimics the actual exam you’ll be taking. It’s a good idea, therefore to look for an established, successful organization that’s an expert in AWS exams, so you can work on a large number of realistic practice exams. Cloud Academy offers expert-designed self-test quizzes to help you get ready for the questions you’ll find on the actual exams

Good practice exams do two important things for you: they make sure you learn the contents over which you’re expected to show a mastery.

What Amazon Offers

Amazon offers an exam workshop as well as an available AWS Certification Exam Guide for each of the five certification exams. The guides outline the AWS and general IT concepts you’re expected to be conversant with for reach of the exams. Going through the guides will give you a very good idea about what each test covers and which areas you need to focus on during your test preparation. AWS whitepapers are a good source of information when you’re preparing for the certification exam.


AWS certifications never go out of style! AWS is an extremely dynamic platform, and it constantly comes up with new services, new features, and updated best practices. In order to keep you current and thereby enhance the value of our shared earned AWS certification, AWS offers a process called recertification that allows you to demonstrate your continued expertise and awareness of the new features and services.

For AWS training that helps you pass on the first try (and save a bunch of money), check out Cloud Academy today. We offer different membership tiers to give you the ability to pick and choose the prep tools you need. Let’s get started!