AWS Certification Guide: Overview And Career Paths

Learn about these sought-after certifications and how they can boost your salary potential.

Amazon Web Services, or AWS, is a subsidiary of Amazon. AWS offers a number of services for compute, storage and networking, with the two most prominent being Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) and Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3). The company also provides database and analytics services, applications, developer tools and much more.

Just as Amazon is the go-to company for consumer goods, AWS is by far the dominant player in the on-demand cloud computing market space. Comcast, Dow Jones, Expedia, Kellogg’s and Netflix are just a few companies that rely on AWS to make their businesses hum. With the public cloud market expected to reach $236 billion by 2020, AWS is positioned to retain a significant lead over its closest competitors – namely, Google, Microsoft and IBM.

Considering that AWS practically owns the cloud space, the company’s portfolio of certifications is surprisingly simple, with three associate- and two professional-level certifications falling into three categories:

  • Architecting: These certifications recognize professionals who design and deploy distributed systems on the AWS platform. Candidates can start with the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate and move up to the Professional cert.
  • Developing: These certifications identify people who develop and maintain applications on AWS. The entry-level certification is the AWS Certified Developer – Associate, followed by the AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional.
  • Operations: To support architecture and development, the AWS platform must be managed and optimized. The associate-level Operations certification aims at system operators (SysOps). Because SysOps and DevOps are so tightly bound, this category includes the AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional as the upper-level certification.

Each certification requires candidates to pass a single exam, with multiple-choice and multiple-answer questions. Associate-level exams take up to 80 minutes to complete and cost $150; professional-level exams are 170 minutes and cost $300. And each professional-level certification takes the related associate certification as a prerequisite.

To ensure that professionals keep their skills sharp and up to date, AWS requires credential holders to recertify every two years. That means taking the recertification exam for the certification you currently hold. Recertification exams at both the associate and professional levels take up to 80 minutes to complete and cost $75.

2.AWS Architecting Certifications:

The Architecting category has two certifications: AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate and AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional. Both certifications focus on skills needed to design distributed applications and systems on the AWS platform.

The AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate must also know how to migrate on-premises applications to AWS, identify and select data, compute, database or security services that meet business requirements, and understand how to estimate costs accurately. AWS expects an Architect Associate to have at least one year of hands-on experience, be well-versed in one or more programming languages, and be highly familiar with best practices on the AWS platform.

The AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional covers many of the same topics at a more advanced level. For example, an Architect Professional needs to understand how to migrate more complex, multi-tiered applications to AWS, and deal with deployment of large, enterprise operations. AWS recommends at least two years of experience at this level, with the ability to act as a lead or advisor on architectural design aspects.

3.AWS Developing Certifications

The AWS Developing category includes the AWS Certified Developer – Associate and AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional certifications, which aim at professionals who develop applications that run on the AWS platform and maintain them.

An AWS Certified Developer – Associate must be able to select appropriate AWS services for the application at hand, use AWS software development kits (SDKs) and write code, and incorporate code-level security such as identity and access management, encryption and so on. At a minimum, AWS recommends that candidates have one year of experience developing applications for Amazon Simple Storage Service, Amazon DynamoDB and other AWS services. They must also know a programming language and understand core AWS services and best practices.

The AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional dives into provisioning and management of distributed application systems that run on AWS. This may involve continuous delivery methods, automation of security controls and compliance validation, monitoring and logging, as well as maintenance of operations tools. To pursue the DevOps Engineer cert, candidates must have the AWS Certified Developer – Associate or AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate certification. In addition, AWS recommends at least two years of relevant experience with associated technologies and programming languages, automation, scripting and Agile processes.

4.Related Jobs and Training Resources

Because AWS certifications are vendor-specific, credential holders should expect to find employment with AWS, a company that uses the AWS platform or as a consultant to those companies. And job roles align closely with the certifications, which means employers offer positions such as architect, developer system operator and engineer, as well as IT specialist and evangelist. With the AWS light expected to shine brightly for years to come, a career that focuses on AWS tools and technologies looks both highly stable and extremely promising.

Plus, the job sites we reviewed (Glassdoor, Indeed and SimplyHired), as well as the 2017 IT Skills and Salary Survey by Global Knowledge, report six-figure salaries for all AWS technical positions. For example, Global Knowledge’s survey states that the average salary of an AWS-certified IT professional is about $114,000, which places it “in the top five highest-paying certifications in the United States and Canada.”

Each certification’s web page provides links to relevant training, an exam guide, sample questions and a practice exam. Pricing for practice exams are $20 at the associate-level exams and $40 for professional-level exams. AWS also offers Exam Preparation Self-Paced Labs for each cert, which give candidates a chance to get the necessary hands-on experience needed to pick up skills and pass exams.