All of the big tech companies provide certification courses for those who forge a career alongside the produces of those businesses. For example, both Cisco and Oracle have extensive certification programs and getting that certificate can really boost your career.

AWS certification will help you turn your experience into career advancement. When anyone seeks experienced staff for an AWS role, they really have no idea whether the candidates really do have the experience written on their resumes. True talent only becomes evident once a worker starts on the job. By the time someone gets hired, it’s too late to backtrack. The company might have hired a convincing liar and missed out on that shy AWS expert with poor interview skills.

The existence of the AWS certification program erases all doubt over a job candidate’s capabilities. It is a great aid to hirers and it helps those with real skills cut through the interview process and get straight to the top of the list.

Training options

As with Cisco and Oracle courses, teaching AWS certification is ‘big business’. Training companies run seminars and workshops to help technicians pass the AWS certification test. Those courses can cost a lot and there might not be any available near you. Joining a class would mean taking time off work, traveling, paying for a hotel and other expenses, and, of course, shelling out for the course.

For an example of the costs that you face when attending a class, Amazon Web Services charges $700 for its 1-day course on SageMaker, which it only runs in Seattle.

Fortunately, while Amazon and training companies charge for classroom courses, you can study the courses for all AWS certification exams for free online at the AWS website.

Studying online has many advantages. You can learn at your own pace and you can fit the training around your daily schedule, so you won’t have to use up your precious vacation days.

AWS states that its courses are intended for those who have already had practical experience in using the services that they take the AWS certification in. You would struggle to get through the courses and pass the exam if you don’t already have a job that gets you in regular contact with the technology.

It might seem that this is an entry bar that keeps the pool of candidates small for any AWS technician post. Keeping the field of expertise a closed shop inflates wages through a supply shortage. However, don’t knock it. Take the course and get yourself a pay rise.

The benefit of the experience requirement is that courses that lead up to the AWS certification test don’t have to teach everything about the service from basic principles. Another advantage of being a regular AWS user while you study for the exam is that you can try out the new information that you learn on the course. You also have the option of actually working through practical examples of any new technique. This is a great learning aid because sometimes it is difficult to understand guidance on new methods until you have actually tried it.

AWS Certification exams

AWS certification is conducted in a three-tiered hierarchy:

  • Foundational
  • Associate
  • Professional

There is also a Specialty learning block that floats outside of the main tiered training structure.

Foundational AWS Certification exams

There is only one exam at the Foundational level. That is the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner exam. In order to take this exam, you should have been working regularly with AWS tools for at least six months. There is an online study guide to help you prepare for the test and you can even sit for the exam online from your home.

The exam is in the form of multiple-choice questions and you have 90 minutes to complete it. There isn’t much chance of cheating when you are filling out the exam because you can only sit it at home with a webcam, through which an AWS tester will be watching you the whole time. You have to pay $100 to sit for the exam. The exam can also be taken at a Testing Center. One option to help you prepare is to sit a practice exam, which costs $20.

Associate AWS Certification exams

There are three AWS Certification exams at the Associate level:

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

You probably wouldn’t take all three exams because each serves a specific career path. In order to take any of these exams you should have at least a year’s experience of working with the relevant AWS technology. You don’t need to already have the Cloud Practitioner certificate.

Each of these exams last for 130 minutes and you can’t complete them online – you have to go to a Testing Center. All three are in a multiple-choice format and each exam costs $150 to sit. You can take a practice exam for $20 in each case.

Professional AWS Certification exams

The Professional layer of the AWS Certification program includes two options:

  • AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional
  • AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional

You need at least two years of practical experience on AWS in your field of work before you can sit the Professional level AWS exams. You must already be an AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate to take the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional exam. You have to be either an AWS Certified Developer – Associate or an AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate to be allowed to sit the AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional exam.

In each case, you are allowed a maximum of 170 minutes to complete the test, both of which are in the multiple-choice format and can only be sat at a Testing Center. Each exam costs $300 and a practice exam for each costs $40.

Specialty AWS Certification exams

Specialty AWS certification enhances the prestige of technicians working with AWS because it demonstrates the individual’s high degree of competence with the certified service. You don’t need to have any other AWS certification in order to take one of the specialty exams. However, you are expected to have expert knowledge in the field of the exam. It could be a good idea for an AWS certified Associate technician to take a Specialty course as well as the Associate exam in order to get better insights into how AWS works and improve career prospects.

There are currently five Specialty exams available:

  • AWS Certified Machine Learning – Specialty
  • AWS Certified Alexa Skill Builder – Specialty
  • AWS Certified Security – Specialty
  • AWS Certified Advanced Networking – Specialty
  • AWS Certified Big Data – Specialty

The format and conditions of these exams are the same as those at her Professional tier. Each exam must be taken at a Testing Center band you have 170 minutes to complete each multiple choice-format test. The price for each is $170 and each has an associated practice exam, which costs $40 to sit.

Weighing Up Your Options

The employment market for AWS technicians is not as rigid as that for Network Engineers and Database Administrators. You can still bet a job in the field without AWS certification. However, if the influence of Cisco and Oracle certification is anything to go by, that situation could change rapidly. It is now unthinkable that any company running and Oracle database would hire a DBA that isn’t Oracle certified and Network Engineers without Cisco certifications don’t have many career options.

It is seriously worth considering building on your experience and getting AWS certification. The costs of the whole process will probably put you off. However, the study guides from the AWS website are free to access. If you are an independent freelancer, you can deduct the cost of courses and exams from your taxes. If you are employed, speak to the HR department about getting them to pay for the courses and exams and even your expenses if you have to travel to take a classroom course.

Employers are very positive about technicians taking certification courses because they strengthen the business’s professionalism and assist in gaining industry data security standards compliance certification.

Some people just don’t like taking courses, and that’s fine if you are such a person. However, you should also be reconciled to the possibility that colleagues currently at your level and even those junior to you could well overtake you up the corporate ladder if they take the certification courses and you don’t.

Have you taken any of the AWS certification exams? Did you try the practice test first? Was your nearest Testing Center far away? Leave a message in the Comments section below and share your experience with the community.