Earlier this year (2017), I decided that it was time for me to stop ignoring the biggest player in IT: AWS (Amazon Web Services).
Generally speaking, I am not a big fan of chasing the latest tech trend because “all the cool kids are doing it”. Yes, one needs to stay relevant in this very dynamic industry but there is also the danger of never becoming an expert if one keeps following these trends. In the case of AWS and cloud computing however, this is not a trend, but the new normal. Ignorance here will make you irrelevant, very fast.
Although I have been using certain AWS-backed services at work, the extent of my knowledge and experience with the different AWS services was fairly limited. I know that Amazon offered a rich ecosystem of storage, compute, automation and infrastructure technologies, so after doing some research, I decided that the best approach would be to purse the AWS Solutions Architect (Associate) certification.
Certifications are a controversial topic in IT. Some argue that obtaining a certification makes you more marketable, while others think that they could have a negative impact by giving the impression that you are compensating for the lack of experience. Regardless of where you stand on this issue, my personal experience with certifications in general has been a very positive one throughout my career. It has definitely opened many doors for me and it set me apart from other candidates.
So why should you pursue AWS certifications?
1. AWS is Quickly Becoming the Gold Standard of the Cloud
AWS is leading the pack in almost every aspect. According to Gartner, Amazon’s cloud is 10 times bigger than its next 14 competitors, combined! This is bad news for the folks at Azure and Google Cloud Platform but it is great news for you.
Whether you’re a web developer, a database admin, a system admin, an IoT developer, a Big Data analyst, an AI developer (and the list goes on and on), your life will be made much easier if you take advantage of Amazon’s platform. Their offerings touch almost every aspect of technology, and discussing them would be outside the scope of this article. They are constantly adding more offerings and innovating in a way that is leaving the competition in the dust.
Gartner’s famous Magic Quadrant report has this handy graph, that shows AWS leading in every aspect of innovation and execution:
2. AWS Certifications Are Feasible and Within Reach
Unlike other vendors, Amazon offers a realistic certification path that does not require highly specialized (and expensive) training to start. I am not saying that it is very easy to get certified, but you won’t have to quit your job and pay for expensive training to get your first AWS certification.
As of early 2017, AWS offers 3 tiers:
- Associate tier:
- Certified Solutions Architect Associate
- Certified Developer Associate
- Certified SysOps Administrator Associate
2. Professional tier:
- Certified Solutions Architect Professional
- DevOps Professional
3. Specialty tier:
- Advanced Networking
- Big Data
The most common approach is to start with the Certified Solutions Architect Associate. It is a great way to get familiar with the AWS ecosystem and core services. You are required to have an associate certificate before you can sit for the professional or specialty exams. Furthermore, AWS requires that you have your Solutions Architect associate certificate before you can take the Solutions Architect professional test, or that you have your Developer or SysOps Associate certificate before you can sit for the DevOps Professional test.
As far as training, the best resource by far is A Cloud Guru. I passed all three associate certificates by relying mainly on their excellent courses. Ryan Kroonenburg and the rest of the A Cloud Guru team provide excellent training for AWS, Docker, and other cloud technologies and their courses are very affordable and unmatched in quality and content: https://acloud.guru
Self-learners rejoice! With a bit of effort and discipline, you can become very proficient. Amazon also offers a free tier account so you can use most of their services for a year for free. The hands-on experience is crucial in your learning journey.
3. AWS Skills Are in High Demand and Pay Top Money
According to Forbes, these are the top paying certifications for 2016:
Need I say more?
With that being said, please remember that simply getting the AWS Solutions Architect certification DOES NOT automatically mean that you will be making the annual salary indicated in the table above. Many other factors are at play here, including your other skills, experience, geographic location, etc. The point is, proving to potential (or existing) employers that you are competent in using Amazon’s cloud offerings will have a great positive impact on your career.
About a week ago, I passed my AWS SysOps Administrator exam after passing both the Solutions Architect and the Developer exams. I am currently exploring opportunities, so this will be the true test of whether this effort will pay off. Regardless of what the end result is, I feel that I have truly gained a unique set of skills that will definitely be very handy in my own side projects as well as future career opportunities.