Choose the right Amazon Web Services (AWS) certification
Posted on
October 18, 2016
Get the right Amazon Web Services certification!

In 2006, Amazon entered the cloud service provider business. They began with a product named S3, a simple, scalable solution for storing files. Businesses and individuals could host, share and deliver static content to the web or to their own employees with ease.

They followed with the release of EC2, a computer platform in the Cloud. Basically, server instances that are "elastic" — Amazon's preferred term for reliable, scalable and secure. The ability to "spin-up" any number of servers in a fraction of the time as a normal build and only pay for the compute cycles you used revolutionized the cloud provider industry.

During the next decade Amazon continued to build an infrastructure for the evolution of the Amazon E-Commerce Platform with offerings that ran the breadth of the IT industry: DNS, IOT, RDS, Data Warehouse as well as a plethora of content delivery (CDN) and web offerings. These offerings are available world-wide and Amazon Web Services, now its own company, is poised to become larger than Amazon itself.

Amazon has suggested various certifications that are best for individuals who will work with their cloud offerings. The place to begin one's certification journey is Amazon's certification page, a literal array of useful certifications and study materials. The certifications available are:

AWS Certified Solutions Architect — There are actually two certifications, Associate and Professional. The CWS demonstrates an individual's proficiency in designing distributed applications and systems on the AWS platform.

AWS Certified Developer: Associate — This validates an individual's technical expertise in developing and maintaining applications on the AWS platform.

AWS Certified SysOps Administrator: Associate — This demonstrates competency in the deployment, management and operations of the AWS Platform.

AWS Certified DevOps Engineer: Professional — The grandfather of AWS certifications, not only shows an individual's superior knowledge of AWS, but a deep grasp of all facets of the AWS platform and the skills and abilities to utilize such knowledge.

Right Role, Right Cert

Getting certified and demonstrating your knowledge means more than putting it on your resume or getting in the door for your next interview. Successfully completing an AWS certification exam does a great job of showcasing competency.

Before starting down the AWS track you need to ask yourself, what certification is right for my role and   career objectives, and which should I pursue first? The consensus of study sites, social blogs and commentaries will tell you that the AWS Certified Developer: Associate will be the easiest certification  to complete, even if you're not a full time code developer.

Next up, would be the Solutions Architect series and then the SysOps Administrator. However, in my experience, and after multiple weeks of research and study, the Certified Solutions Architect: Associate appeared much easier ... it also sounded cooler.

Regardless of which certification you choose to begin with, make sure that it will be a good fit with your present skills and allow you to build upon them as you learn the entire gamut of the AWS world. If your organizational role is a developer, then start on that track; if a systems administrator, choose that one. This approach should be taken whether you have that role in your company, want that role in your company or want that role in a different company.

If you are running or want to run an entire operation that consults or hosts the AWS platform, the best choice for demonstrating top-tier proficiency is the AWS Certified DevOps Engineer — Professional.


Studying for an AWS exam is pretty straight forward. There are a number of useful books, seminars and study clubs on the market. You can find an enormous amount of information on LinkedIn and Google but the best approach to studying is to just "do it".

Amazon Web Services offers a free, one-year trial just for signing up. It consists of free-tier products which includes every available Amazon offering. Once you create an AWS account you will be able to use a number of the products and services for free within certain usage limits. If you don't have AWS in your job this hands-on study technique is the best route for successful exam prep.

As always, I'm a big fan of signing up for the exam once you've committed to getting certified. This will pressure you into studying and cut out any procrastination. Funding for the exams will run you $150 U.S. each for the bottom tier and $300 each for the two top tier certifications — a small price to pay for some of the most advanced and coveted certifications of 2016.

Amazon testing services are in more than 800 locations across the globe. In the United States, there are authorized testing centers in 34 states and the District of Columbia. To locate a center near you, click here. Examinations are taken on-line and standard rules apply: no cheating, no study materials, and so forth.

AWS exams are not easy by any measure. Scenario questions are than main focus, with a few single answer questions thrown in for variety. The most difficult are the multi-select questions where you have to choose the best 4 out of 6 and so forth.

When you sign up for the exam, you will have the option to purchase a practice test for $20. I highly recommend you do so. One caveat, they don't show you the answers to the practice exam, only your score, so take screen shots of the questions and look them up for further review and clarification. Like all exams, the more you study and practice have hands-on, the deeper will be your understanding. The deeper your understanding, the greater your chance of success.

Get the right Amazon Web Services certification!

As always, take the exam early in the morning after a good night's sleep and a great breakfast. (Remember, bacon makes everything better!) Then breathe deep, relax ... and pass.


The future of AWS is bright: Product offerings jump 10-to-20 percent every year and they are constantly evaluating certification tracks. I don't doubt that we will see even more certifications available in the coming months.

AWS certifications are really hot right now and any engineer or administrator that boasts one is going to find plenty of career opportunity. In order to achieve a passing grade, you only need to carefully consider what you are going after, define and carry out a strong study plan and picture in your mind what it will be like holding that certification. Best of luck.

About the Author
Nathan Kimpel

Nathan Kimpel is a seasoned information technology and operations executive with a diverse background in all areas of company functionality, and a keen focus on all aspects of IT operations and security. Over his 20 years in the industry, he has held every job in IT and currently serves as a Project Manager in the St. Louis (Missouri) area, overseeing 50-plus projects. He has years of success driving multi-million dollar improvements in technology, products and teams. His wide range of skills includes finance, as well as ERP and CRM systems. Certifications include PMP, CISSP, CEH, ITIL and Microsoft.

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