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AWS Career and Certification Guide

AWS Certifications are a must-have for career advancement.  As companies increasingly shift workloads to the public cloud, cloud computing has moved from a nice-to-have to 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 like Gartner consider AWS a thought leader and point of reference for all of its competitors. In 2020, AWS continued to lead in public cloud adoption, and it currently offers many 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 necessary?

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.  Continued strong financial performance, a constant stream of new services, and a continuous geographic expansion 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, emphasizing hands-on experience and best practices. If you’re already working with AWS, preparing for certification can help strengthen your knowledge by clarifying key concepts. However, 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. In addition, AWS certifications validate a candidate’s familiarity and knowledge of best practices in cloud architecture, management, and security for organizations looking for recruits.

Employer certifications

In the enterprise, the core training materials used to prepare for AWS certifications are a valuable component in a company’s internal training path. As IT environments become more customized and requirements for new skills grow, many companies are building their certification programs. Many of them use 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 certifications: a foundational certification, three associate-level certifications, two professional-level certifications, and specialty certifications.

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 straightforward.
Enroll in an AWS training class, such as any of the ones mentioned here. They will certainly increase your knowledge of cloud computing and AWS.

Review any Study or Exam Guides available. Read multiple AWS whitepapers. These hold some invaluable information, which may answer many of your questions.
Practice, practice, practice. Practice exams will help ease any worries or stress you may be having about the certification exam.
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.

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
Associate-Level Certifications

AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate
The AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate exam is designed for those with some experience designing distributed applications. Candidates will need to demonstrate their ability to design, manage, and implement applications using tools and services on the AWS platform.
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 designing 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 – 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 AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate

The AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – the Associate exam is the only certification entirely 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


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


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 and a firm understanding of modern application development such as the agile development methodology is recommended.
Format: Multiple-choice, multiple answers

  • 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


AWS Certified Advanced Networking – Specialty
The AWS Certified Advanced Networking – Specialty certification is designed to validate a candidate’s skills and experience in performing complex networking tasks on AWS and hybrid IT networking architecture at scale. In addition, 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 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, 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


AWS Certified Machine Learning – Specialty
The AWS Certified Machine Learning – Specialty certification validates your ability to create, implement, and maintain machine learning solutions for various 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 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 have at least two years of experience working with AWS Cloud-based and on-premises relational and NoSQL databases.

Areas Covered:

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


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 bypassing 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.

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. In their exam guide, AWS states a suggested prerequisite amount of experience for each certification before tackling the exam. For example, the AWS Solutions Architect – Associate 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 a 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. 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.

What are the different levels of AWS certification?

There are four different levels of certification with AWS
Practitioner: This is considered the foundation level when starting 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, it’s recommended to attain at least the associate level certifications first to provide a base-level knowledge of AWS 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 running, optimizing, and troubleshooting 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 in that specific topic. These are comparable to the Professional level certification with regards to difficulty.

Which certification is best in AWS?

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

Are AWS certifications worth it?

Any certification that demonstrates your knowledge and expertise within the IT industry is certainly worth obtaining. In a market 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 several candidates are applying for a position, and all have the same credentials and experience. Still, one of them has several recognized AWS credentials to reinforce their knowledge; this goes a long way in making you the chosen candidate.
It is not just about validating your knowledge; 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. Sometimes, this demonstrates more to people than what the actual certification stands for.


AWS Certification Training Courses:

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