AWS Certification Paths

Certification Paths Explained

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AWS is all the hype. A lot of technical people are talking about it, and want to gain more experience with it.

Cloud hosting in specific has become very popular in recent years. The ability to spin up a server, with your exact configuration and specific needs, in a matter of minutes is amazing. More than that, you don’t need to worry about the physical setup at all. It will run consistently and as expected.

Naturally, AWS experience is in high demand, as many projects require cloud-based skills, such as Azure or AWS. While there are differences between Azure and AWS, the principles mostly remain the same.

A free AWS Developers Practice Exam voucher is available at the bottom of this article.

Why get certified?

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This is a question I often hear. Why should I get certified? Will it impact my salary? Or is it not that useful?

First of all, regarding salary, this is something you would have to clear up with your employer. Some companies do provide some small bonuses for reaching certifications, but this is not what you should be focusing on.

Instead, certifications give you a direction to focus your time on, and at the end of the ride, you get to prove that you are truly an expert in your field. Opportunities will come flying your way naturally.

Imagine new projects are coming up, and they are hiring developers or architects. AWS experience is optional, but nice to have. Two developers of around the same skill and personality show up, but one of them is a certified AWS professional. Who do you think will get the job? Obviously, for hiring, and getting new opportunities within new projects, certification is amazing.

It doesn’t have to stop at new opportunities. Certifications can be great for your current position. Working with your current customer, and getting certified is definitely worth celebrating too. You will become known as the AWS expertwithin your teams and will get more opportunities to work on AWS, coach people on AWS. It will sky-rocket your career.

Certification Paths

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The AWS certifications are split into multiple levels of difficulty. Here is the grand overview.

From the AWS Certifications Information Page

1. AWS Foundational Certifications

This is the easiest level of AWS certifications. Amazon recommends 6 months of cloud knowledge for these exams. There is only one certification available on this track.

AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner
This exam is the easiest, and the least technical of them all. This exam focuses on fundamental cloud knowledge and understanding.

2. AWS Associate Certifications

This is the medium level of AWS certifications. Amazon recommends at least 1 year of cloud experience for these exams.

In this track, there are 3 available certifications. Do know that there is a lot of overlap in these exams. If you took the solutions architect exam, taking the developer exam next should not be too hard.

As you will see in the descriptions below, I would highly recommend starting with the Solutions Architect track, as this will require a broad knowledge of all of the important AWS services and offerings. You will have a better view of what you could use AWS for, and when to use which service. This would be the most valuable for your customers.

AWS Certified Associate Developer
This certification is said to be the easiest of the associate series. It focuses on the most important AWS offerings for developers. The developer is supposed to know the AWS Command Line Interface commands, as these may be tested during the certification. This is the most interesting exam for developers, who want a more hands-on approach.

AWS Certified Associate Solutions Architect
This certification focuses on knowing the AWS offerings, and their inner workings. As a certified architect, you will need to be able to suggest the best solution to your customers, this is what Amazon will test you on during the exam. For example, the certification exam could have 4 valid multiple-choice answers, however, only one of them is the best and correct answer.

The certification exam does not focus on command line arguments, but instead, requires knowledge of the AWS management console.

AWS Certified Associate SysOps
This is said to be the hardest certification in the associate series. This certification focuses on monitoring and troubleshooting issues in AWS.

3. AWS Professional Certifications

This is the highest level of AWS certifications. Amazon recommends at least 2 years of comprehensive cloud experience for these exams.

It consists of 2 different certifications.

AWS Professional Solutions Architect
This certification will go into much more detail than its solutions architect counterpart. You will need to know an even broader amount of AWS services and offerings and in much detail.

AWS Professional DevOps Engineer
This certification combines both topics from Developer and SysOps, in the professional track.

4. AWS Specialty Certifications

5 Specialty AWS certifications are available when you would like to specialize in one specific area of knowledge. I would recommend taking up one of these certifications, after having at least one other AWS certification, be it the Foundational, Associate, or Professional certification.

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

Frequently Asked Questions

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Do I need to have a foundation certificate before I can take up an associate exam?

No, you can jump straight into the most advanced exam, if you are prepared for them. Depending on your level, you might want to start with a foundation or associate exam first.

What is the difference between Developer and Architect?

The developer will be more hands-on and will need to know the command line arguments. The developer will have a deep focus on the most interesting services for developers, while the architect will need to know a broad array of AWS services and offerings. The architect needs to be able to suggest the best solution in specific scenarios.

What is the difference between SysOps and Developer?

While the developer is more hands-on and focused on the crucial elements for application building, the SysOps administrator is focused on the building blocks of monitoring and troubleshooting applications in AWS.

What is the difference between SysOps and Architect?

While an architect has a broad knowledge of all the AWS offerings and will be able to suggest the best solutions for specific scenarios, the SysOps administrator will mostly be working on monitoring and troubleshooting applications in AWS.


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In many scenarios, there are always reasons for AWS certifications to be valuable. I would strongly recommend any technical person to take some time to learn some AWS aspects while striving to pass a certification exam.

I recommend starting your journey at the appropriate level for your experience. Don’t jump in immediately to the professional exam series. If you are not used to the questions from AWS certification exams, the professional track will be very hard to pass.

To study for the AWS certifications, I strongly recommend some famous Udemy courses and practice exams. I’m going to write a whole new article on preparing for the AWS certifications, so don’t forget to follow me to get notified once it’s available.

There is no better time to start learning for certifications than now. Keep on learning, and keep working towards your certifications exams!

Free Developer Associate Practice Exam

At the time of writing this article, a free Developers Associate practice exam is available. Simply register using the below form of AWS to receive the practice exam voucher a few days later in your e-mail.

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Further Reading

I strongly recommend going through the AWS certifications page, including their certifications path diagrams.

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Kevin Van Ryckegem

Kevin Van Ryckegem