Which AWS Certification Should I Take?
Which AWS Certification Should I Take?

In this brief course, our Director of AWS Content, Stuart Scott, walks you through the various points to consider when deciding which AWS certification to take. If you are thinking about taking an AWS certification and want to get some hints and tips from an expert, this is the course for you!


I’ve come out for a walk to get a bit of fresh air and time away from the desk… but before I left I received a couple of messages from people on LinkedIn and Twitter, asking me for advice on which AWS certifications they should go for…. And I get asked this question quite a lot, so I thought I would record a quick video with my answer in the hope it helps others.

I usually break my answer down in a few sections, I start by explaining that there is no hard and fast rule as to which certification you should do first, it varies depending on a few different things, these being:

  • Your level of experience with AWS and Cloud Computing
  • Your job role and professional goals
  • What topics interest you

At the time of this recording, AWS has 1 practitioner level cert, 3 associate level certs, 2 professional and 5 specialty certifications, and they generally follow difficulty in that order, with the practitioner being the introductory level certification, and then the difficulty increases at the associate level, and then finally the pro and specialty levels being the most advanced.  So the first thing you should ask yourself is ‘what is my level of experience with AWS’ as this will help guide you to which cert to take.  

If you are brand new to AWS, with minimal experience and exposure to it, but you are on your way to learning the fundamentals of the different services available and some of the core and key features, then the Practitioner is probably the right certification to go with.  It’s the least technical of all the AWS certs, and It will provide you with an overview of AWS, and will ensure you have a good understanding of what the main services and components are, and what they are used for.  It’s a great way to become familiar with terminology and fundamental concepts, enabling you to take part in those early conversations when people are discussing potential AWS solutions within your workplace.  So if you are new to AWS, the Practitioner will pave a way for you to develop your knowledge and skills before tackling the next stage of certifications.

If you’ve been using AWS for a while, perhaps 6-12 months and have had a fair amount of hands on experience with the different services from a deployment and operational standpoint then perhaps you would be better suited to one of the associate level certifications.

So there are 3 associate level certs, the Solutions Architect, the SysOps administrator and the Developer.  Just deciding between the 3 of these can sometimes cause people a headache, so let’s try and break it down to help guide you which one is right for you.  

If it’s your first Associate level certification, usually I recommend people steer towards the Solutions Architect, for me I feel that it provides the best way to establish a deeper level of comprehension of the AWS landscape, its core services and importantly how they interact with each other.  It allows you to gain a solid understanding of the fundamentals of the AWS architecture, Storage, Compute, Databases, Networking and Content Delivery and Security, which allows you to build a resilient, cost efficient, optimized and secure solution.  With this base all round foundation of knowledge, then learning topics and methodologies encountered from other AWS certifications seem to click in to place much better.  I think this helps to explain why the AWS Solutions Architect is the most widely sought after AWS cert.

Now of course, that’s just my recommendation, you might want to tackle the SysOps instead if your role or interest is more suited to deployment, management, and operations on AWS, or the Developer Associate if you’re in a developer role where you can demonstrate proficiency in developing, deploying, and debugging cloud-based applications using AWS.  So this is where your actual job role and professional goals comes into effect in helping you choose the right certification for you.  

Many people align their AWS certifications to match their current or prospective role, which makes a lot of sense, I mean you don’t want to be rushing out to take a Developer certification if you have no experience or desire to ever be developing applications in AWS, especially if your job role or interest is within the realms of Cloud Architecture.  Selecting the certification that aligns with your role allows you to build confidence through familiarity with the topics in question.  When learning new content it will generally be easier to understand and quicker to comprehend as it would better relate to your day-to-day work.  So you need to factor in which certification will help you become more proficient in your current role in addition to helping you to meet your career aspirations and moving it forward.  

Once you have attained an associate level certification then I think you’re in good standing to tackle the more advanced certifications, these being the professional certifications and the specialty certifications.  These allow you to demonstrate a deep understanding and a far greater technical level than the associate certs, they generally require you to have had expensive hands-on experience in AWS to allow you to pass these certifications.  So I wouldn’t recommend taking one of these certs until you have some experience of taking the associate level certifications, in addition to at least 12 months hands-on experience of AWS.

There are 2 professional level certifications, the Solutions Architect Professional and the DevOps Professional.  The Solutions Architect Professional is an advancement on the Solutions Architect - Associate, but essentially much harder as it has more emphasis on how to migrate complex, multi-tier applications on AWS in addition to understanding the design and deploy requirements for enterprise-wide scalable operations.  So again, if this being a highly proficient Cloud Architect falls in line with your area of interest or job role, then this is a must!

The DevOps Professional is geared towards those within a Devops engineering role, as it focuses heavily on continuous delivery systems, logging, automation, provisioning, operating, and managing distributed application systems on the AWS platform.  So at the Professional level, the certifications are really geared towards demonstrating and validating that you have a solid grasp on the deeper technical aspects of the area in question and so showcasing your abilities, competency, expertise and proficiency in that area.

We then have the Specialty Certifications, which are very much geared towards a single and targeted area of subject matter.   Much like the professional level certifications, these are aimed at those who have a great deal of hands-on experience with AWS and I wouldn’t recommend you take a specialty until you have sat at least some of the associate level certifications as you need a sound understanding of the AWS architecture and it’s core components to help you through the topics that will be faced with.  They are geared towards individuals who already have a strong background with AWS and are proficient in many of the different areas.  The different specialty certifications available are:

  • Advanced Networking
  • Security
  • Machine Learning
  • Database
  • Data Analytics

As you can see, it’s clear as to the area of expertise that is required.  So again, these can very closely be related to your current role or perhaps help you meet a goal of moving into a role going forward, and therefore helping you to strengthen your career opportunities by obtaining the relevant specialty certification.  I see many people targeting the specialty certifications for this purpose, but also because they have an interest in that area and just want to learn more about the technology in that space.

So, with all of that in mind and going back to the original question, which AWS certification should you go for? It depends on your current level of experience with AWS, if very new, then I recommend the Practitioner.  If you have had some experience with AWS, then one of the AWS Associate level certs, and I would suggest the solutions architect between the 3 available as the best starting.  If you already have an Associate certification and you are looking to develop your knowledge further and deeper, then select from either the professional level or Specialty level certs that support your current or desired role, this will help bolster your proficiency in that area and help you to develop your career further in that field by demonstrating your abilities and understanding in that area.  So if you’re a DB administrator, go for the Database specialty, if you’re a cloud Architect, jump on the Solutions Architect - Professional, or if you work in security and governance, the Security specialty would be ideal.

So I hope this quick talk has helped you in some way decide on your next or first AWS certification choice.  As always, feel free to contact me if you have any other questions, it’s great hearing from all of you, until then, take a look at all of our AWS Certification learning paths here at Cloud Academy where we cover everything that you need to know to pass your exam, from courses, hands-on labs and assessments, we’ve got you covered! 

Good luck, and let me know how you get on!

About the Author
Learning Paths

Stuart has been working within the IT industry for two decades covering a huge range of topic areas and technologies, from data center and network infrastructure design, to cloud architecture and implementation.

To date, Stuart has created 150+ courses relating to Cloud reaching over 180,000 students, mostly within the AWS category and with a heavy focus on security and compliance.

Stuart is a member of the AWS Community Builders Program for his contributions towards AWS.

He is AWS certified and accredited in addition to being a published author covering topics across the AWS landscape.

In January 2016 Stuart was awarded ‘Expert of the Year Award 2015’ from Experts Exchange for his knowledge share within cloud services to the community.

Stuart enjoys writing about cloud technologies and you will find many of his articles within our blog pages.

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