A growing number of IT professionals with their heads in the cloud now view AWS certification as the golden ticket to career success. Yet there's more to gaining and using certification than studying hard. Given the fact there are now nine different types of AWS certification, selecting the right certification path can be crucial in terms of both employability and long-term career success.
Certification provides a key signal that a job applicant is serious about his or her career. "AWS experts are in high demand and getting certified helps you to stand out against the competition by demonstrating your commitment to the profession and giving potential employers a clear benchmark of your AWS mastery and overall skill set," observed Sam Samarasekera, business manager and a certified AWS Cloud Practitioner, at Jefferson Frank, an AWS recruiting agency. "It’s a great investment in your future as a tech professional and can help you negotiate a higher salary or rate later on."
Holding a certification also shows a level of commitment to a specific platform and technology, noted William Chin, chief cloud architect, for hybrid cloud technology provider Computer Design & Integration. From a career standpoint, however, it’s only a checkmark, he added. "It's practical experience that counts, and it is what prospective employers are looking for… especially in this age of cloud computing."
Among all the various types of AWS certifications, such as Certified Cloud Practitioner or Certified Solutions Architect (associate or professional), the time commitment a candidate must make is generally similar. "Each path averages three to six months of training and hands-on learning," said Kevin Mayo, cloud foundations instructor at IT training firm Cybrary. "You have to really dig into software development to determine not only if are you interested in it but are excited and passionate about the technology."
Certification candidates should consider starting with a Cloud Practitioner certification and then proceed to targeted certifications that are closely aligned their personal plans and expertise, suggested Eric Terrell, managing director of Six Nines, an AWS consulting firm. For individuals who choose not to focus on a technical career path, or who haven't yet acquired any real-world experience with AWS, the Cloud Practitioner certification provides a way to gain knowledge about the various benefits of AWS functions, the cloud's value proposition and common paths to a successful cloud journey, he observed. Individuals planning to work in a DevOps environment may wish to seek the Developer and Site Operations certifications, Terrell advised. "Architects will benefit from broad competency across the various certification options," he explained.
Obtaining one or more AWS specialty certifications can also provide a career boost. "If you are focused in networking, security, big data, or machine learning, the specialty certifications are helpful to demonstrate combined knowledge of AWS and those domains," Terrell said. "Domain-specific skills are consistently in high demand," he added.
When it comes to preparing for the exams, the key thought to keep in mind is practice, practice, practice. "Roll up your sleeves, make a free account on the AWS free tier, and actually use the platform in conjunction with all your exam resources and sample questions," Samarasekera suggested.
Samarasekera observed that many aspiring AWS experts underestimate the value of practicing with sample tests and questions. "These often-neglected resources help you get familiar with the exam structure and question format, identify any gaps in your knowledge ahead of time and eliminate any pre-exam jitters you might be experiencing," he explained. "They’re definitely worth your time and attention."
View AWS as your hobby as well as a work tool. "Simply play around with AWS," Chin advised. Experiment and understand how the services work and how they can be integrated with each other. "Having that working knowledge will add tremendous understanding of how you would put together cloud solutions," he noted.
"Learning is fun and sharing what you learn with your friends and peers is what the IT culture is all about," Mayo added.
The biggest mistake AWS certification seekers make is hoping that a credential by itself will provide the basis for a lifelong lucrative and fulfilling career. "Having a certification means you know the technology, but being passionate about it and enjoying that field is the only way you can master the technology and reach professional status," Mayo said. Like what you do first. "When you love what you do, mastery of the craft is the byproduct."
Another common blunder is earning certification without immediately following up with a closely related job or some other form of regular hands-on practice. "The interim between training and hands-on experience ought to be kept as brief as possible," advised Caroline Siqueira, director of learning development and compliance, at managed AWS provider Mission. Siqueira noted that it's also a mistake not to periodically refresh current AWS certifications. "You don't want to become out-of-date with new skills or lack current best practices," she said.