AWS Certification 101: How to Pick the Right One

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AWS Certification 101: How to Pick the Right One

Businesses are shifting their operations to cloud computing. One of the reasons driving this change is an increase in the use of web-enabled devices in today’s environment, such as tablets and mobiles. Arguably, this is the best time for anyone who has been interested in cloud computing to get his/her AWS certification. That is because it significantly increases your skill set and creates a brand name with employers. Other associated benefits include getting a better paycheck since the certification is proof of having an in-demand skill. However, before you get too drawn to the benefits, it is important to get the basics right, especially if you are not well versed with AWS certification. 

How can one pick the right AWS certification? The only way to pick the right certification is to have a good base knowledge of the different exams offered before one is certified. Presently, there are 11 certifications classified into foundational, professional and specialty specifications. 

AWS certifications are designed such that you begin from the basics and with time, proceed to more advance levels. The benefit of being aware of all the certifications is that you become better placed at selecting the right one that suits your needs and matches your level of knowledge and experience.

The 11 AWS Certifications Are:

  1. AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner
  2. AWS Certified Developer
  3. AWS Certified SysOps Administrator
  4. AWS Certified Solutions Architect
  5. AWS Certified DevOps Engineer
  6. AWS Certified Solutions Architect
  7. AWS Certified Big Data
  8. AWS Certified Advanced Networking
  9. AWS Certified Security
  10. AWS Certified Alexa Skill Builder
  11. AWS Certified Machine Learning

A Step-by-Step Guide on how to Become Certified

Part of identifying the right certification that suits your need is understanding the process of becoming AWS certified. While there is no specific formula for this, there is a simple guide which several people have used in the past, and they achieved their objectives. 

The first step is to enroll in an AWS training class. While some people argue that you can do just perfectly fine with online study guides and video tutorials, sticking to the basics, which in this case, is enrolling in a class has proven to be effective for most people. That is because it gives you the foundational knowledge you require on cloud computing and you can learn more about AWS. However, I guess you have already noted that getting such classes is difficult. It is for these reasons that some opt to enroll in online classes- and there are some good ones.

Revise relevant exam guides while studying as many AWS whitepapers as you can. These two contain extra information, which can help you in answering some of the questions you may have regarding AWS. 

Revise, revise, revise. Revise the exam papers. Getting acquainted with the exam setting style is essential since you become averse with the setting style. It is also a good way to manage anxiety.

Once you are confident enough, you can book an exam. Based on experience and past reviews by individuals who have taken the exam, it takes roughly 120 hours of preparation for one to be ready. However, that is not a set-in-stone standard time. Good for you if you feel that you can be ready in a much shorter time. Nonetheless, if I was in your shoes, I would take my time to ensure that I learn as much as humanly possible.

With this knowledge on how to become certified, it wouldn’t be the worst idea to now take a closer look at each of the 11 AWS exams. Through this, you can conduct a self-evaluation, determine your current position, and make the right move in selecting the most suitable certification. 

AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner

The Certified Cloud Practitioner is the newest Certification. It targets entry-level individuals, and assess their basic understanding of AWS cloud, independent of other technical roles which are assessed by the other certifications. Since it is designed for the foundational level, it is an optional step towards getting the subsequent certifications. 

Skills and Abilities Validated by the Certification

  • Definition of AWS Cloud and understanding of the basic global infrastructure
  • Definition and understanding of the Cloud architectural principles
  • Description of AWS Cloud value proposition, key services on the platform, basic security and compliance aspects, billing account management, and pricing models.
  • Identification of sources of technical assistance and other documentation relevant to AWS, such as whitepapers or support tickets. 

It is important to note that a general pre-requisite to successfully undertake this exam is having at least six months of general AWS cloud experience role, be it technological, sales or even managerial. The format of the exam is usually multiple-choice with a time frame of one hour and thirty minutes. 

AWS Certified Solutions Architect

The AWS Certified Solutions Architect is designed for individuals who have some hands-on experience in designing distributed applications. Before you are certified, you have to demonstrate skills and the ability to use different tools on the AWS platform to design, manage, and implement several different applications. Worth noting is the fact that the certification criteria for AWS Certified Solutions Architect were updated in 2018, and consequently, there were modifications in the examination setting to include best practices together with new AWS services. 

Areas Covered by the Certification

  • The working mechanisms of different network technology per AWS principles
  • Ways in which the client’s interface links to different platforms and a general understanding of how the AWS platforms work
  • Building reliable and secure applications
  • Working on hybrid systems with integrated AWS components
  • Designing functional and scalable systems using knowledge from AWS infrastructure and components. 

For those pursuing this certification, you should know that the exam setting style consists of multiple choice, multiple answer style. Apart from that, the time allocated for the exam is 130 minutes, and you will require $150 to sit the exam. 

AWS Certified Developer

AWS Certified Developer- Associate examination majors in developing and maintaining AWS based applications. For you to get certification under this category, you have to prove your proficiency in writing codes that can be accessed using AWS software. If you have been reading through from the first certification, you must have realized that there is a gradual advancement in the prerequisite requirements. For instance, you cannot be certified as and AWS Developer if you cannot write executable codes. That means that it may be difficult for someone who has never had previous hands on experience in developmental role (developing and maintaining AWS based applications).

Some of the core abilities the certification is designed to validate include: 

  • An in-depth understanding of AWS architecture, services, uses and some of the best practices to observe when working with AWS such as excluding access keys in the codes 
  • Proficiency in creating, executing cloud-based applications using AWS, and also identifying and debugging the created applications 

For you to be able to handle these two competences, it would be beneficial if you have a solid knowledge base and experience in the following: 

  • An in-depth understanding of any high-level programming language such as PHP, Perl, Delphi, Visual Basic, Ruby, C#, Java, etc. 
  • Ability to identify some of the key features of AWS services
  • knowledge of application life cycle management
  • Ability to interact and use AWS services
  • Ability to write and maintain codes on AWS systems. 
  • Ability to create functional codes for applications that work without servers

AWS Certified SysOps Administrator

The SysOps Associate certification is the only one that can give you certified administrator rights when operating AWS systems. The exam is of a higher level since it tests an understanding of conceptual knowledge in addition to technical know-how. Therefore, you must be well versed in both of these aspects for you to pass the exam. If you are planning to be SysOps certified, then having experience working as an administrator for either Windows or Linux is an added advantage whose value is often underestimated. 

Worth noting is the fact that the exam duration for this exam is comparatively lesser than all the certifications mentioned above. The time allocated is 80 minutes. However, the setting style is still multiple-choice, multiple-answer format. To sit for the paper, you are required to pay a fee of $150 (US dollars).

Abilities Validated by the Certification

  • Management and operation of fault-tolerant systems on AWS. The systems should be scalable
  • Manage the flow of data into and out of AWS
  • Analyzing data and security requirements before selecting the appropriate AWS systems
  • Price estimation of AWS usage and ability to establish fairly accurate cost estimates and operational costs

Recommended knowledge and experience

  • An understanding of the working mechanisms of AWS tenents (cloud architecting)
  • Practical experience in handling API and AWS CLI tools. 
  • Working experience in security control implementation and other compliance requirements
  • Understanding of relevant AWS networking technologies.
  • Monitoring and auditing AWS systems
  • An understanding of networking concepts such as firewalls, DNS, and IP
  • Knowledge of ways of translating different architectural requirements

Remember, while preparing for this test, the best tool in your arsenal is a hands-on experience that is offered by relevant AWS training courses. You should also review the key competencies assessed on the examinations for better preparation of the same. 

AWS Certified Solutions Architect

AWS Certified Solutions Architect is a professional level certification. Those who are certified at this level can analyze system requirements of an organization and make workable recommendations for improving or implementing the proposed recommendations. Therefore, this level requires an excellent understanding of designing and executing applications made using AWS systems. 


To perfectly fit the description in this certification, you should:

  • Be a certified AWS Solutions Architect- Associate
  • Have two years of relevant practical experience in deploying cloud architecture on AWS, coupled with the ability to make recommendations and offer workable solutions in multi-application architecture. 

The following are some of the abilities that you need to posses in order to be certified as an AWS Solutions Architect: 

  • Expertise in architecting and deploying effective applications on AWS platforms
  • Ability to analyze a customer’s problem using principles derived from AWS architectural guidelines
  • Can recommend workable solutions by providing descriptive guidelines to ensure the best practices are observed all through the project implementation life cycle. 

Knowledge and Experience

Those who have the following knowledge and experience find it easy to be certified under this category: 

  • Hands-on experience in handling networks, computation, database services, and AWS storage. 
  • Practical knowledge of AWS management and deployment services
  • Experience in the identification of technical requirements for both simple and complex AWS applications.
  • Knowledge of best practices to be observed throughout the lifecycle (from conception to decommissioning phase) of the application created using AWS principles. 
  • A grasp of the global infrastructure
  • An understanding of the interrelationship between AWS and networking technology.

Presently, if you are interested in sitting the exam, you will have to part with $300. The exam is of multiple choice, multiple answer format and the time allocated is 170 minutes. 

Note: A new exam format is expected to be rolled out by March 2020. Therefore, if you intend to take this exam in the foreseeable future, you should be careful to ensure that you are preparing using relevant study materials. 

AWS Certified DevOps Engineer

AWS DevOps Engineer certification mainly tests on managerial aspects in the AWS platform. Some of the key areas assessed include the management and operation of an application. Therefore, this is an exam for those who feel that they are up to the task of the automation process and continuous delivery- the key concepts that form the basis of DevOps. 


You should have gained status as an AWS Certified Developer, either as an Associate or AWS Certified SysOps Administrator. Furthermore, proper understanding in management and provisioning of AWS based applications together with methodologies adopted in modern development criteria is an added advantage. 

Skills and Abilities Tested by the Certification

  • The ability to manage methodologies and continuous delivery systems on AWS systems.
  • Implementation and evaluation of compliance validity, governance processes, and security controls on AWS systems.
  • Identification and deployment of key metrics, monitoring, and logging systems on the platforms.
  • Proficiency in designing, creating, and maintaining the key control tools used in automaton processes. 

If you intend to take this certification, you will be better placed if you have the following knowledge and experience:

  • Vast experience in writing codes using at least one high level programing language
  • You should be able to build highly automated infrastructures
  • Experience in administration of operating systems in platforms
  • Lastly, you should have an in-depth understanding of different methodologies preferred in development and operation processes. 

The exam takes 3 hours and is administered at the cost of $300. Like the tests administered for the certifications mentioned above, it has a multiple choice, multiple answer format. 

AWS Certified Big Data

AWS Certified Big data is a certification given to those who have demonstrated competence in data analytics coupled with vast experience in designing applications aimed at big data solutions. The main aim of the exam is to test one’s ability and experience level in making meaning out of data sets while using AWS services. 

 Before I proceed with the prerequisites and any other knowledge base required for this certification, it is important to point out that there is a new version of the exam expected to be rolled out in April 2020. Furthermore, the name of the certification will change to AWS Certified Data Analytics- Specialty. For this reason, those who are interested in undertaking this exam should be very cautious in their preparations. Otherwise, you may be shocked upon realizing that you were preparing for a ‘wrong exam’ for lack of a better word. By that, I mean, you might end up preparing for some things that you may never be tested on; that does not mean that the questions in the exams will invalidate the knowledge you will gain in the process. So, if you feel like you still want to prepare and sit for the exam before the new version of the Certification is rolled out. Good luck!

Skills and Abilities Validated by the Certification

  • Ability to observe best practices in the implementation of Big Data Services while using AWS services. 
  • Design and management of Big Data sets
  • Skills in operating different leverage tools to boost the automation process of data analysis. 

Recommended Knowledge and Experience

While the following requirements may not be mandatory for those who intend to sit the exam leading to this certification, they certainly increase the probability of success. 

  • All interested candidates should be holders of any of the Associate-level certification. It could be an AWS Certified Solutions Architect, AWS Certified SysOps Administrator, or AWS Certified Developer. 
  • Apart from that, one should have a solid background in architecting AWS Big Data services and offer satisfactory explanations and logic as to why they fit the data life cycle from collection to storage, processing, and finally ingestion. 
  • At least 5 years of working experience in the field of data analytics using AWS services
  • Skills and expertise in designing cost effective architecture capable of processing bulk data and is scalable. 

For this exam, no preparation beats hands-on experience. 

AWS Certified Advanced Networking

AWS Certified Advanced Networking is done to asses and validates a candidate’s level of experience and skills in dealing with hybrid IT networking architecture at a considerably large scale and conducting complex networking tasks using AWS systems. That means that successful candidates or those who have a significant likelihood of being certified are those who have a good knowledge of networking solutions and architecting on AWS.

Skills and Abilities Assessed before being Certified in Advanced Networking

  • Developing, designing and executing AWS cloud based-solutions. 
  • Implementation of AWS services with strict adherence to architectural best practices.
  • Skills in designing and maintaining different network architectures for all AWS services
  • Ability to work with leverage tools used in automation of AWS networking tasks. 

Recommended Knowledge and Experience for this Certification

Candidates who are holders of the current Associate level Certification, AWS Certified Cloud Practitioners, or AWS Certified SysOps Administrator are better placed when they take the exam that leads certification in Advanced Networking. 

You also need to have advanced practical knowledge of different AWS technologies and networking concepts as an addition to the following: 

  • At least 5 years of relevant work experience in developing different architecture and implementation of networking solutions.
  • Knowledge in advanced networking interconnection and relevant in architecting such as MPLS/VPLS and IP VPN. 
  • Experience in working with different technologies using the OSI models, together with how they influence implementation decisions
  • Ability to develop automation tools and scripts
  • An in depth understanding of CIDR and subnetting and transition challenges.

Some of the key areas assessed while testing for the exam include: 

  • Designing, developing and executing cloud solutions using AWS systems
  • Implementation of core AWS systems while taking into consideration best practices
  • Automation of AWS tasks
  • Compliance with security standard requirements in design and implementation
  • Optimization and troubleshooting of networks. 

AWS Certified Security- Specialty

AWS Certified Security tests on the ability of individuals or teams to master the fundamental principles of security while incorporating best practices in the performance of their professional duties. Additionally, the exam also aims to test the in depth of knowledge in key specialty services that are only found on AWS systems. Some of the areas tested include encryption and data protection, infrastructure security, access management, controlling, monitoring and logging, incident response, among others. 

Other Areas that are Tested by the Certification

  • An in depth understanding of AWS data protection mechanism and specialized data classification
  • Ability to encrypt data using different techniques while incorporating different implementation and control mechanisms
  • An understanding of secure internet protocols and implementation techniques using AWS systems
  • Practical knowledge of security system, features, and services necessary to create a secure platform while working with AWS 
  • At least 2 years continuous and relevant experience in deployment of AWS services 
  • Ability to make cost-security tradeoff decisions in deployment of a set of security requirements
  • Experience in security operations and knowledge of the potential risks 

Recommended Knowledge and Experience

  • A minimum of two years of practical experience in handling AWS workloads
  • Knowledge in managing security controls for workloads on AWS
  • At least 5 years’ experience in IT security with the design and implementation of security solutions. 

AWS Certified Alexa Skill Builder

The Certification is awarded to those who demonstrate technical competence and expertise in creating, testing, and deploying Amazon Alexa skills. To increase your chances of getting certified in this category, you must have at least six months in any position of developing Alexa skill builder.

Other Skills and Abilities Tested Before Certification

  • Proper understanding of the value of voice
  • Ability to design high-quality user experience
  • Skills in designing an architecture to build the skill
  • Incorporating the best practices for both Alexa security and AWS systems.
  • Ability to test, troubleshoot and recommend the skill
  • Ability to work with Alexa Developer Console and management of the skill-publishing process
  • Management of skill operation though all stages in its life cycle. 

Knowledge and Experience

  • Proficiency in a high-level programming language
  • Knowledge of publishing Alexa skills
  • A minimum of 6 months of practical experience in building Alexa skills and subsequent incorporation of the services from the AWS cloud

AWS Certified Machine Learning

AWS Certification is awarded to those who have demonstrated competency in the creation, implementation, and maintenance of machine learning solutions in practical situations such as problems in business. The exam is taken with those who intend to become data scientists. 

Abilities the Certification Validates

  • Identification of the correct AWS service in the implementation of ML solutions
  • Designing scalable ML solutions while considering factors such as cost and reliability

If you are equipped with the following knowledge and skills, then you will be better placed in taking the exam leading to the certification:

  • At least a year of practical experience in developing and running ML workloads on AWS cloud
  • Ability to explain the logic behind ML algorithms
  • Experience in optimizing different hyperparameters
  • Skills in architecting, deployment and operating by observing best service practices 

The exam has a multiple-choice, multiple-answer format, and the time allocated is 170 minutes. Also, it is worth noting that the exam is $300, and you can do the paper using English, Simplified Chinese, Japanese or Korean language.

Related Questions

At what intervals should I expect new updates to be rolled out for certifications?

Each year, there are new AWS features rolled out in each annual event. For instance, you must have noted that two out of the thirteen certifications are expecting new updates in the exam structure before mid-2020. Knowing these trends is important since you will get to know the relevant areas you need to prepare for as you work towards getting your certification. 

Is it true that one has to be recertified biennially? 


Most people are unaware that AWS has a continuous professional practice policy. By that, all the certificate holders are required to be recertified every two years. That provides an excellent opportunity for you to be updated with the new features and best practices for different AWS services. 

Remember, certification is just a representation of your knowledge base at a particular time. Therefore, you should make it a personal initiative to continue learning, which will help you be up to date in a particular set of skills and knowledge. 

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