Everything You Need to Know About AWS Certifications: A U.S. News Guide | Education

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As more companies require skilled professionals to manage their growing cloud-based data, applications and storage, an Amazon Web Services certification can help you stand out. But with so many certifications available, you might have a hard time determining what credential would suit you best.

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Here’s what you need to know about AWS certifications and training.

With more than 175 services, AWS is a cloud platform that has been adopted by companies throughout the world. An AWS certification confirms your knowledge and expertise with the tools and technologies of this platform. Areas like cloud computing, server infrastructure and data science are in demand, so an AWS certification can help you stand out, whether you’re looking for a job or want to advance with your employer.

“Cloud services continue to grow at incredible rates as businesses all over the world digitize their business models and outsource their use of capital-intensive internet infrastructure,” says Art Zeile, CEO and president of Dice parent company DHI Group. “Ultimately, AWS has a traditional first-mover advantage in this space and continues to innovate at a rapid pace, bringing dozens of new services to market each year. It clearly has the largest market share and therefore the highest demand for skilled engineers.”

AWS certifications offer different paths based on your own needs and goals. You can work toward a broad overview, gravitate toward a more technical area or specialize in a field such as security or machine learning. The prerequisites for AWS certification courses are only recommendations – not requirements. But you typically need some hands-on experience or equivalent knowledge to pass each exam.

Amazon provides many courses to help you learn AWS topics and prepare for the actual exams. And the program is continually growing. On Dec. 10, Amazon announced new training programs for AWS, including an expansion of free classes.

Amazon offers 12 types of certifications across four levels:

Foundational Certification Level

The foundational level offers a single certification called AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner. This is a starting point for AWS professionals and serves as an introduction for nontechnical employees who want an overview of the AWS cloud.

AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner

AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner is the entry-level certification. It may serve as a first step for those seeking an associate or specialty certification. But it’s also geared toward people in nontechnical areas, such as sales, management and finance, who work with AWS.

The Cloud Practitioner certification covers AWS topics such as basic infrastructure, deployment and operation, key services, security and compliance, and billing and account management. After being certified, you should be able to obtain other certifications if you want to pursue a niche in AWS. Amazon offers a free digital course to help you prepare for this exam.

Recommended Certification Prerequisites

  • At least six months of experience with the AWS cloud in any role.
  • A basic understanding of how various IT services are used in the AWS cloud.

The exam consists of multiple-choice questions and gives you 90 minutes to complete it.

Associate Certification Level

The AWS Associate Certification focuses on solving problems and applying solutions with the AWS cloud. AWS offers three certifications:

AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate

The AWS Certified Solutions Architect credential is aimed at those working as solutions architects, a job that requires experience designing systems and applications on AWS. Among the topics that the exam covers: how to build and deploy applications using AWS, how to design systems and applications based on customer requirements, and how to use best practices to guide a project. Amazon offers a free two-hour digital course to help you prepare for this exam.

Recommended Certification Prerequisites

  • At least one year of experience working as a solutions architect on the AWS platform.
  • You also should have taken a course in Architecting on AWS or have the equivalent knowledge.

The exam consists of multiple-choice questions and gives you 130 minutes to complete it.

AWS Certified Developer – Associate

The AWS Certified Developer credential is for people who develop software with AWS. Someone with this role would understand the uses and best practices of AWS services for the basic AWS architecture. You should also have expertise developing, deploying and debugging cloud-based applications using AWS. Amazon offers a free digital course to help you prepare for this exam.

Recommended Certification Prerequisites

  • One or more years of experience designing and maintaining an AWS-based application.
  • In-depth knowledge of at least one high-level programming language.
  • You should also have taken the course in Developing on AWS or have equivalent knowledge.

The exam consists of multiple-choice questions and gives you 130 minutes to complete it.

AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate

A person with an AWS Certified SysOps Administrator credential should be able to select the right AWS services based on internal data and security requirements, use AWS to deploy and manage systems that can grow as internal needs increase and continue operating in the event of a failure, and be able to migrate on-premises systems to AWS. Amazon offers a free digital course to help you prepare for this exam.

Recommended Certification Prerequisites

  • At least one year of experience provisioning, operating and maintaining systems running on AWS.
  • You should also have taken the course on Systems Operations on AWS or have equivalent knowledge.

The exam consists of multiple-choice questions and gives you 130 minutes to complete it.

Professional Certification Level

The AWS Professional Certification offers two certifications:

AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional

A person with an AWS Certified Solutions Architect credential should be able to not only design and deploy applications on AWS but also migrate complex applications to AWS, design and deploy enterprise-wide operations on AWS that can grow as needs increase, and set up strategies to minimize cloud computing costs. Amazon offers a free digital course to help you prepare for this exam.

Recommended Certification Prerequisites

  • Two or more years of experience designing and deploying cloud architectures on AWS.
  • Experience evaluating cloud application requirements and making architectural recommendations for their implementation, deployment and provisioning.
  • Proficiency at providing guidance at using best practices for architectural design across multiple applications and projects in an enterprise.
  • An understanding of hybrid cloud infrastructures, through which companies use their own internal private clouds as well as external public clouds.
  • Familiarity with such tools as the AWS CLI, the AWS Management Console and AWS APIs.

The exam consists of multiple-choice questions and gives you 180 minutes to complete it.

AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional

Those who are AWS Certified DevOps Engineers set up and automate security controls, governance processes and compliance validation. They also define and set up monitoring and logging systems on AWS. And they create and oversee tools to automate different operations. Amazon offers a free digital course to help you prepare for this exam.

Recommended Certification Prerequisites

  • At least two years of experience provisioning, operating and managing AWS environments.
  • A strong background in AWS core services.
  • Experience with a programming or scripting language.
  • Experience with the Linux or Windows operating system and AWS command-line interface.

The exam consists of multiple-choice questions and gives you 180 minutes to complete it.

Specialty Certifications

AWS offers six specialty certifications:

AWS Certified Data Analytics – Specialty

Recommended Certification Prerequisites

  • At least five years of experience with data analytics.
  • At least two years of experience working with AWS.
  • Experience working with AWS to create, secure and maintain data analytics tools.

The exam consists of multiple-choice questions and gives you 180 minutes to complete it.

AWS Certified Advanced Networking – Specialty

Recommended Certification Prerequisites

  • A current AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner or an associate-level AWS certification.
  • Two or more years of experience in establishing large-scale networks and monitoring and enhancing network performance.

The exam consists of multiple-choice questions and gives you 170 minutes to complete it.

AWS Certified Security – Specialty

The AWS Certified Security designation is designed for professionals who secure applications, services and architectures that run on the AWS platform. Amazon offers a free digital course to help you prepare for this exam.

Recommended Certification Prerequisites

  • A minimum of five years of IT security experience in creating security controls and tools.
  • At least two years of experience securing applications and services and setting up security controls on AWS.

The exam consists of multiple-choice questions and gives you 170 minutes to complete it.

AWS Certified Alexa Skill Builder – Specialty

Amazon will be retiring this exam on March 23. The last day to take the exam will be March 22. Certifications will remain active for the standard three years from the date of issuance.

Recommended Certification Prerequisites

  • Experience creating Alexa skills with the Alexa Skills Kit.
  • Expertise in a programming language.
  • Experience publishing an Alexa skill.

The exam consists of multiple-choice questions and gives you 170 minutes to complete it.

AWS Certified Machine Learning – Specialty

Recommended Certification Prerequisites

  • Experience developing or running machine-learning environments in AWS.
  • Understanding of basic machine-learning algorithms.
  • Understanding of how to use a machine-learning pipeline to analyze data.
  • Experience in model training to create machine-learning algorithms based on useful data.

The exam consists of multiple-choice questions and gives you 180 minutes to complete it.

The cost of this exam is $300.

AWS Certified Database – Specialty

Recommended Certification Prerequisites

  • AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner or an associate-level AWS certification.
  • At least five years of experience working with database tools and technologies.
  • Experience working with in-house and cloud-based databases.

The exam consists of multiple-choice questions and gives you 180 minutes to complete it.

To help you decide which certifications to pursue, Amazon categorizes its offerings into learning paths:

AWS Role-Based Learning Paths

You might choose a learn-by-role approach if you’re seeking training and certification for a specific type of job, such as a solutions architect, developer or DevOps engineer. A solutions architect might start with the Certified Solutions Architect credential at the associate level and then earn the professional level, while getting an overview through the Cloud Practitioner certification at the foundational level. This path could center around the basic role but also expose the person to other areas of AWS.

AWS Solutions-Based Learning Paths

You could take the learn-by-solution path if you’d prefer to focus on a specific area, such as security, machine learning or operations. Someone looking to specialize in data security could start with some of Amazon’s more basic security classes and then progress to the AWS Certified Security or the AWS Certified Data Analytics specialty credentials.

AWS Partner-Based Learning Paths

Alternatively, you could follow the AWS partner path, which is less about implementing AWS cloud services and more about helping businesses understand the product. In this path, you can take one of three routes:

For the Technical Professional path, you might take the AWS Technical Professional and AWS Cloud Economics accreditations to learn the fundamentals of AWS.

Where to Start Your AWS Training

Determining where to start your AWS training depends on what you want to do and where you hope to grow in your career. Ideally, you should already have experience with AWS. From there, you can look at classes to focus on specific areas of AWS. Also be aware that many of the jobs associated with AWS already require bachelor’s degrees in computer science or a comparable subject.

If you’re not sure where to specialize, you may want to start with an introductory or foundational track that introduces you to all aspects of AWS, both technical and nontechnical. You can then branch out to a specific area after you determine which ones most interest you. This roadmap from trainer Global Knowledge suggests a few paths based on your focus areas.

When you’re ready, sign into your account to schedule an exam. After you’ve completed an exam, the results are posted in your account within 72 hours. If you pass the exam, you receive an electronic certificate and digital badge that you can display in your emails and social media accounts. If you fail, you can retake the exam in two weeks.

An AWS certification is valid for three years. You can use a 50% discount voucher from your AWS account to recertify or to take another certification exam.

How Long Does It Take to Learn AWS?

The time required to learn AWS depends on your experience. If you’ve already been working with AWS, then training for a specific certification might simply take the several weeks necessary to study the particular topics covered in the exam. But new learners and users will likely require several months or more to develop the knowledge and expertise to qualify for a certification.

Training company Udemy provides students with plans that assume a study time of 60 minutes per day, with some extra time on weekends, according to AWS certification instructor Neal Davis. That assumes a basic understanding of computing, though not necessarily cloud computing.

Here’s the length of time Udemy recommends you study for each test:

  • Foundational level (AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner): two to four weeks.
  • Associate level: six to 12 weeks. After taking the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate exam, additional study time for the remaining two associate certifications can be completed in two to four weeks each.
  • Professional level: eight to 12 weeks.
  • Specialty level: four to 12 weeks.

Are AWS Certifications Worth It?

Developing the necessary skills and knowledge to pass an AWS certification exam requires time, dedication and money. But you need to weigh that commitment against the potential increases in salary and job growth that result from this type of certification.

“In terms of cost, the price of a certification test is fairly insignificant when you consider the potential impact on your career,” says Katie Bullard, president of training firm A Cloud Guru. “Where a certification test ranges from around $100 to a few hundred dollars, IT pros who gain new skills and/or certifications can see an average raise of $12,000 to $13,000, and average salaries for people with AWS certifications are well over $100,000 annually.”

According to a 2020 report from Global Knowledge, these AWS credentials were among the top 10 certifications that IT professionals planned to pursue this year:

  • No. 1: AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate.
  • No. 3: AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional.
  • No. 5: AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner.
  • No. 10: AWS Certified Security – Specialty.

Are AWS Skills in High Demand?

AWS skills are in high demand. In five to 10 years, the cloud will be the fundamental underlying platform for all of IT, according to Bullard. Plus, the transition to remote working is accelerating the shift to the cloud. For those reasons, says Bullard, certifications in cloud skills – for AWS but also Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud – are in high demand and will stay in high demand through the next decade.

But are AWS certifications more valuable than those for other cloud-based services, such as Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud?

“We don’t necessarily recommend AWS over the others, but the current market share shows that there are more companies using AWS,” says Bullard. “Since it’s more likely that an organization will be using AWS over other providers, it’s more likely that an AWS certification will be deemed attractive or useful by a hiring manager, potentially opening doors to getting an interview or being put in the running for a promotion.”

Will These AWS Certifications Help Me Get a Job?

Job site ZipRecruiter currently has more than 70,000 AWS-related positions available, according to Julia Pollak, ZipRecruiter labor economist. The average annual salary for an AWS job is $132,000, slightly higher than the $130,000 for jobs working with other cloud-based services.

Employers are also pushing for AWS certifications in specific areas, according to Davis. At a minimum, anyone who works with AWS should be skilled in the foundational level to understand the cost models, security, benefits and various services.

Skills in architecture, development and operations are essential for people who use AWS in those types of jobs. Security in the cloud is a huge concern, so encouraging or mandating staff to earn the AWS Certified Security – Specialty credential is a way to reduce this risk.

“Lots of businesses use AWS, and so they’re all inherently most interested in technologists who have hands-on skills or carry a certification,” says Zeile, noting the top occupations requiring AWS skills include:

  • Software developer or engineer.
  • Computer systems engineer or architect.
  • Network engineer or architect.
  • Cybersecurity engineer or analyst.
  • Web developer.
  • Data engineer.
  • Network or systems administrator.
  • Database architect.
  • IT project manager.
  • Database administrator.

”Honing AWS skill sets, whether through tactical experience or through a certification course, will prove beneficial to anyone interested in entering the cloud infrastructure space,” Zeile adds.

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