A Complete AWS Certification Guide
| certifications | cloud - Michael Hess

A Complete AWS Certification Guide

Amazon Web Services, commonly known as AWS, provides on-demand cloud services to individuals and organizations on a subscription basis. AWS dominates the growing cloud marketplace. At the end of Q4 2018, AWS owned more of the $70 billion dollar market than its next four rivals — combined.

Due to the popularity of AWS, the demand for IT professionals who can leverage the AWS platform continues to increase. Getting AWS-certified is the best way for IT pros to gain and develop the knowledge and skills they need to successfully use AWS and its services.

AWS offers a robust certification program that consists of four levels:

  • Foundational
  • Associate
  • Professional
  • Specialty

This CBT Nuggets AWS certification guide covers the certification program, the recommended training, and the career opportunities associated with AWS.

What is AWS Certification?

AWS certification validates the knowledge and skills needed to work with AWS and its services. The AWS certification path comprises four levels: Foundational, Associate, Professional, and Specialty — the first three levels of which build upon each other. AWS Specialty certs are standalone, but are more narrow and focused in scope. As such, professionals who attempt to earn a Specialty certification will likely have earned other AWS certifications.

Please note AWS recently did away with prerequisites for its certification exams due to the amount of crossover between path levels. For example, AWS Certified Solutions Architect exists as both an Associate and Professional certification. AWS received feedback from exam takers about the frustration of having to earn the Associate before the Professional.

AWS now provides recommended knowledge for its certifications. While it’s relative to your AWS experience, we at CBT Nuggets suggest you view this as required knowledge.

AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner (CCP)

The Certified Cloud Practitioner certification is designed for entry-level IT professionals and business professionals with a basic knowledge of the AWS platform. The AWS CCP certification validates a candidate’s understanding of these topics and skills:

  • Basic architectural principles
  • Key services and their usage cases
  • Security and compliance for AWS model
  • Billing and pricing models

The Certified Cloud Practitioner is the ideal starting point toward earning AWS Associate certification and an excellent resource for non-technical project stakeholders.

Required exam: Earning the Certified Cloud Practitioner certification requires passing one exam — the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner exam.

Prerequisites: None.

Recommended qualifications: AWS recommends that candidates have at least six (6) months experience using AWS in any capacity, whether it be IT, non-technical, or executive-level. AWS also recommends that candidates have a basic understanding of IT.

AWS Associate Certifications

Next on the Amazon AWS certification path is Associate certification. This level includes three certifications:

  • AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate
  • AWS Certified Developer – Associate
  • AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate

AWS Associate certifications are not required to earn AWS Professional certifications, but the knowledge and skills earned by an Associate certification can increase your odds of attaining Professional certification.

For Associate certifications, AWS recommends one (1) year experience solving problems and implementing solutions using the AWS Cloud.

AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate Certification

The AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate certification is designed for IT professionals who are in solutions architect roles. The exam, successfully passed, proves the ability to architect and deploy applications on AWS technologies. The AWS Solutions Architect – Associate certification validates a candidate’s understanding of these topics and skills:

  • Define solutions using architectural design principles based on customer requirements
  • Provide implementation guidance based on AWS best practices during project life cycles

Required exam: Earning the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate certification requires passing one exam — the AWS Solutions Architect – Associate exam.

Prerequisites: None.

Recommended qualifications: AWS recommends at least one (1) year experience designing cost-efficient, fault-tolerant, and scalable distributed systems on AWS.

AWS Certified Developer – Associate Certification

The AWS Certified Developer – Associate certification is designed for IT professionals who are in development roles — and have one or more years of hands-on experience developing and maintaining AWS-based applications. The AWS Developer – Associate certification validates a candidate’s understanding of these topics and skills:

  • Understanding of core AWS services, uses, and basic architecture best practices
  • Proficiency in developing, deploying, and debugging cloud-based applications using AWS

Required exam: Earning the AWS Certified Developer – Associate certification requires passing one exam — the AWS Developer – Associate exam.

Prerequisites: None.

Recommended qualifications: AWS recommends at least one (1) year of in-depth experience in developing and maintaining AWS applications.

AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate Certification

The AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate certification is designed for IT professionals with one to two years of experience as an administrator in a systems operations role. The AWS SysOps Administrator – Associate certification validates a candidate’s understanding of these topics and skills:

  • Deploy, manage, and operate scalable, highly available, and fault-tolerant systems on AWS
  • Implement and control the flow of data to and from AWS
  • Determine appropriate AWS services based on compute, data, or security requirements
  • Use AWS operational best practices
  • Estimate AWS usage costs and identify operational cost control mechanisms
  • Migrate on-premises workloads to AWS

Required exam: Earning the AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate certification requires passing one exam — the AWS SysOps Administrator – Associate exam.

Prerequisites: None.

Recommended qualifications: AWS recommends at least one (1) year of hands-on experience using AWS, especially in managing and operating systems on AWS.

AWS Professional Certifications

Professional is the highest level of AWS certification and it includes two certifications: AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional and AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional.

As previously mentioned, AWS no longer has exam prerequisites. It’s not required to have AWS Associate certification to earn an AWS Professional certification. However, AWS recommends at least two (2) years of in-depth experience designing, operating, and troubleshooting solutions using AWS cloud.

AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional Certification

The AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional certification is designed for IT professionals who work in solution architect roles. To pass this exam, advanced technical skills and experience designing distributed applications and systems in AWS are required. The AWS Solutions Architect – Professional certification validates a candidate’s understanding of these topics and skills:

  • Design and deploy dynamically scalable, highly available, and fault-tolerant applications on AWS
  • Determine appropriate AWS services to design and deploy applications
  • Migrate complex multi-tier applications on AWS
  • Design and deploy enterprise-wide scalable operations on AWS
  • Implement cost-control strategies

Required exam: Earning the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional certification requires passing one exam — the AWS Solutions Architect – Professional exam.

Prerequisites: None.

Recommended qualifications: AWS recommends two (2) or more years hands-on experience designing and deploying cloud architecture(s) on AWS.

AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional Certification

The AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional certification is designed for IT professionals who work in DevOps engineer roles. Candidates needed to possess technical expertise in provisioning, operating, and managing distributed application systems using AWS. The AWS DevOps Engineer – Professional certification validates a candidate’s understanding of these topics and skills:

  • Implement and manage continuous delivery systems on AWS
  • Implement and automate security controls, governance processes, and compliance validation
  • Define and deploy monitoring, metrics, and logging systems on AWS
  • Implement highly available, scalable, and self-healing systems on AWS
  • Design, manage, and maintain tools to automate operational processes

Required exam: Earning the AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional certification requires passing one exam — the AWS DevOps Engineer – Professional exam.

Prerequisites: None.

Recommended qualifications: AWS recommends two (2) or more years experience provisioning, operating, and managing AWS environments.

AWS Specialty Certifications

AWS Specialty certifications enable cloud professionals to validate their skills in specific technical areas. AWS offers three Specialty certifications:

  • AWS Certified Advanced Networking
  • AWS Certified Security
  • AWS Certified Data Analytics
  • AWS Certified Machine Learning
  • AWS Certified Alexa Skill Builder
  • AWS Certified Database

AWS recommends two (2) to five (5) years of deep technological experience in the specialty areas as they relate to the AWS cloud and its services.

AWS Certified Advanced Networking – Specialty Certification

The AWS Certified Advanced Networking – Specialty certification is designed for IT professionals who perform complex networking tasks — and tests their ability to design and implement scalable AWS and hybrid IT network architectures. The AWS Advanced Networking – Specialty certification validates a candidate’s understanding of these topics and skills:

  • Designing, developing, and deploying cloud-based solutions using AWS.
  • Implementing core AWS services.
  • Designing and maintaining network architecture for AWS services.
  • Leveraging tools to automate AWS networking tasks.

Required exam: Earning the AWS Certified Advanced Networking – Specialty certification requires passing one exam — the AWS Advanced Networking – Specialty exam.

Prerequisites: None. However, AWS recommends candidates for AWS Certified Big Data – Specialty certification have either AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner or any current Associate-level certification.

Recommended qualifications: AWS recommends a minimum of five (5) years IT security experience designing and implementing security solutions, at least two (2) years hands-on experience securing AWS workloads. AWS also recommends that candidates have a deep understanding of security controls for AWS workloads.

AWS Certified Security – Specialty Certification

The AWS Certified Security – Specialty certification is designed to enable experienced cloud security professionals to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in securing the AWS platform. The Security – Specialty certification validates a candidate’s understanding of these topics and skills:

  • Specialized data classifications and AWS data protection mechanisms
  • Data encryption methods and AWS mechanisms to implement them
  • Secure internet protocols and AWS mechanisms to implement them
  • Using AWS security services and features of services to provide a secure production environment
  • Competency gained from two or more years of production deployment experience using AWS security services and features
  • An understanding of security operations and risk

Required exam: Earning the AWS Certified Security – Specialty certification requires passing one exam — the AWS Security – Specialty exam.

Prerequisites: None.

Recommended qualifications: AWS recommends a minimum of five (5) years IT security experience designing and implementing security solutions, and at least two (2) years hands-on experience securing AWS workloads. They also recommend you have a deep understanding of security controls for AWS workloads.

AWS Certified Data Analytics – Specialty Certification

The AWS Certified Data Analytics – Specialty certification is designed for professionals who perform in-depth unstructured data analysis. The AWS Data Analytics – Specialty certification validates a candidate’s understanding of these topics and skills:

  • Implement core AWS big data services according to basic architecture best practices
  • Design and maintain big data
  • Leverage tools to automate data analysis

Required exam: Earning the AWS Certified Big Data – Specialty certification requires passing one exam — the AWS Big Data – Specialty exam.

Prerequisites: None.

Recommended qualifications: AWS recommends candidates for AWS Certified Data Analytics – Specialty certification have either AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner or any current Associate-level certification. Candidates should also possess the following:

  • At least five (5) years hands-on experience in a data analytics field.
  • Background in defining and architecting AWS data analytics services.
  • Experience in designing scalable and cost-effective architectures to process data.

AWS Certified Machine Learning

The AWS Certified Machine Learning – Specialty certification is designed for data scientists who design, deploy and maintain machine learning solutions. The Machine Learning  – Specialty certification validates a candidate’s understanding of these topics and skills:

  • Select and justify the appropriate ML approach for a given business problem
  • Identify appropriate AWS services to implement ML solutions
  • Design and implement scalable, cost-optimized, reliable, and secure ML solutions

Required exam: Earning the AWS Certified Machine Learning – Specialty certification requires passing one exam — the AWS Machine Learning – Specialty exam.

Prerequisites: None.

Recommended qualifications: AWS recommends at least two (2) years hands-on experience developing machine learning workloads with best practices.

AWS Certified Alexa Skill Builder

The AWS Certified Alexa Skill Builder – Specialty certification is designed for developers who build, test, and publish Alexa Skills. The Alexa Skill Builder – Specialty certification validates a candidate’s understanding of these topics and skills:

  • Explain the value of voice
  • Design the user experience
  • Design the architecture to build the skill
  • Follow AWS and Alexa security best practices for the skill
  • Develop, test, validate, and troubleshoot the skill
  • Manage the skill-publishing process and work with the Alexa Developer Console
  • Manage skill operations and life cycles

Required exam: Earning the AWS Certified Alexa Skill Builder – Specialty certification requires passing one exam — the AWS Alexa Skill Builder – Specialty exam.

Prerequisites: None.

Recommended qualifications: AWS recommends at least 6 months hands-on experience developing skills with the Alexa Skills kit, and that a candidate has published an Alexa skill.

AWS Certified Database

The AWS Certified Database – Specialty certification is designed for cloud professionals who design, recommend, and maintain AWS database services. The Database – Specialty certification validates a candidate’s understanding of these topics and skills:

  • Understand and differentiate the key features of AWS database services
  • Analyze needs and requirements to recommend and design appropriate database solutions using AWS services

Required exam: Earning the AWS Certified Database – Specialty certification requires passing one exam — the AWS Database – Specialty exam.

Prerequisites: None.

Recommended qualifications: AWS recommends at least two (2) years with general AWS experience and at least five (5) years of experience with database technologies.

How Much Does It Cost to Get AWS Certified?

AWS certification costs vary by level. The AWS Foundational Certification – Certified Cloud Practitioner costs $100 (USD). AWS Associate certifications cost $150 (USD). Meanwhile, AWS Professional and Specialty certifications cost $300 (USD).

While AWS provides a lot of free exam preparation material, especially for its Associate certifications, you’ll likely want to use other supplemental study resources. Video training, like CBT Nuggets, or study guides will add to your AWS certification journey costs. So, budget accordingly.

AWS Recertification and Renewal

Technology is always changing. That’s why it’s crucial for IT professionals to keep their knowledge and skills up to date. If you can’t leverage the latest in-demand technologies, products, or services for organizations, you might find yourself left behind.

Recertification is an excellent way to ensure your skill set is current — and AWS offers several ways to recertify. Here’s how you can recertify for each AWS certification level.

Foundational-Level

  • Retake the current AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner exam, or
  • Earn any AWS Associate or Professional certification

Associate-Level

  • Take the Associate-level exam for the certification you already have, or
  • Pass either the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional exam for the Architect path or AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional exam for the Developer or Operations path

Professional-Level

  • Take the current Professional-level exam for the certification you already have

Specialty-Level

  • Take the current Specialty exam for the certification you already have

AWS recertification is a simple and straightforward process. An added bonus is that AWS typically offers 50% discount vouchers that apply toward recertification exams. Check the Benefits section of your AWS Certification account for vouchers. AWS makes it easy to recertify, so cert-holders should take advantage — and keep their skills current.

AWS Certification Salary and Career Information

Professionals with AWS certification are typically among the highest paid in the IT industry according to Payscale.com. It reports a salary range between $97,588 (USD) and $114,345 (USD) for AWS certification holders. Not surprisingly, salaries increase by certification level, meaning that AWS Professional certification holders command higher salaries than AWS Associate certification holders.

Keep in mind there are a number of factors that determine salaries: Professional experience, geography and company size. It’s also important to consider the cost of living in regard to national salary averages and range. Lastly, larger organizations typically pay more, but the tradeoff is that their hiring processes are usually more complicated and take longer.

Roles associated with AWS certification holders include cloud architect, SysOps administrator, cloud developer, cloud sales & purchase manager, cloud DevOps engineer, cloud key account manager, cloud software engineer, AWS networking specialist, AWS systems integrator, and AWS Big Data specialist.

AWS Certification Training

CBT Nuggets offers a variety of AWS trainings that map to specific AWS certification exams and skills that learners need to know to leverage the AWS cloud platform. As of August 6, 2019, here’s the CBT Nuggets training playlists associated with AWS:

Our team of industry-expert trainers constantly creates new training, so our AWS library is constantly growing and being updated. All of our AWS training contains built-in quizzes to help reinforce what you’re learning as you go.

A CBT Nuggets subscription includes access to Virtual Labs, designed by our industry-expert trainers, to help learners gain hands-on experience in sandbox environments.

Our subscriptions also provide access to Kaplan® IT Training Practice Exams, which provide a baseline for learners to test their knowledge. These practice exams help learners evaluate their strengths and weaknesses, so they can pinpoint areas to focus on when studying. Kaplan® IT Training Practice Exams are an excellent way to determine AWS certification readiness.

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