AWS Certifications – Where to Start
In the last year, I’ve been putting a heavy focus on Amazon Web Services, specifically on obtaining as many of the certifications as feasible. Throughout this fairly vocal process, I am frequently asked the same questions from folks looking to get started on AWS certs: What order should I take the tests and what study materials should one use? I’ve done several posts on my exam preparation and experience (here, here, and here) but wanted to do a quick write up that encompasses the entire ‘suite’ of tests.
Which exam should I start with?
My recommendation for anyone starting with AWS certification is to start with the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate exam. In my opinion, this exam does the best job on quickly ramping a candidate on the AWS platform with the most popular and utilized services used today. The preparation for this exam, for a beginner, is the start of that ‘eye-opening’ moment when you realize how easy it is to provision and consume resources on AWS. Additionally, this exam usually begins the thought process of how these concepts and capabilities can be used within their organization to improve provisioning and operations. In my opinion, this exam usually takes a bit more time to prepare for than the other Associate exams in that there are a lot of key concepts to lock down. The knowledge obtained also provides a solid base in which all other exam materials are based upon, as with most everything else, you must build a foundation before you can start on more complicated details.
Once you pass the Solutions Architect – Associate test, you can pick either the AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate exam or the AWS Certified Developer – Associate exam based upon your comfortability with these topics. As an operations/infrastructure guy, I quickly moved on to the SysOps Admin test, and then the Developer exam. Each of these exams requires the knowledge obtained within the Solutions Architect – Associate exam along with additional details for each track (hence the reason I suggest SA-Associate first).
Once you pass the Associate-level exams, typically you’ll want to move on to the Professional exams. I recently obtained the Solutions Architect – Professional designation while at AWS re:Invent, putting in around 1-2 months of on/off study time in for the material. Naturally, the exam builds upon the solid base from the Associate-level exam but adds more advanced services not tested on previously, such as CloudFormation, Elastic Beanstalk, OpsWorks, and plenty more. I spent considerably more time on this exam due to the vast amount of services covered.
Which exams helped me learn the most?
Of the four AWS certification exams I’ve taken and passed, I feel studying for the two tests in the Solutions Architect track ramped my skill set the most, far and beyond what the other two Associate-level certifications did. If your objective is to learn about the AWS platform, whether it’s for general knowledge or to operationalize it for business/pleasure, I’d recommend starting with these two exams.
What study materials should I use?
With all technical exams, experience on the platform is always first and foremost. No words can help you grasp the concept of a service like hands-on experience will do. Therefore, I’d recommend using a Free-Tier eligible account to get stick time with the different technologies.
Outside of hands-on training, here is a list of resources I used across the four exams I’ve taken and passed. Exam preparation material comes in many different formats, and it’s up to you to pick and choose what works best for you. Personally, I’ve used online videos, while taking notes, and using that as my primary study material. For the SA-Pro exam, I also used a lot of online content such as User Guides and Developer Documentation on individual services I felt I needed more information.
- perfect for the Associate-level exams and supplemental for Professional-level
- Linux Academy
- more in-depth lessons on individual topics – my primary resource for my Professional exams
- I didn’t use this much (although I have a free subscription thanks to vExpert) but I did use it to supplement for a few services in the Professional exam
- Official Exam practice questions
- Excellent overview of what the questions will look like on the exam. Use it, determine where you’re weak, and focus on those areas
- Sample Questions
- Find these on the official exam pages – similar to the official exam questions, use it to find areas where you’re weak
- These helped me more on the Associate level exams than Professional but still a great resource for information. Each exams lists suggested whitepapers to read
- Great information on each service – general information and limitations on each service
Note that this blog post does not currently take into consideration the newly released AWS certifications that are currently in BETA right now (slated to go GA in March ’17). I’ve not taken any of the beta exams as of yet, but a few of my colleagues did, along with the acloud.guru folks. They have a great write up on their blog regarding these exams.
Thanks for reading and I wish you the best of luck on any future exams. I’m currently studying for the AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional Exam and will update this post accordingly.