AWS Certification Path

I have completed my 7th AWS certification! While certifications are no substitute for experience, these certifications have changed my career. I’ve been able to gain experience through obtaining AWS certifications and continued to grow as a professional. I’m also very lucky to have an employer encourage personal growth and allow me to pursue and achieve my goals. Passing these AWS certifications has provided me with credibility and validation of the skills I’ve gained through learning AWS services and applying them to cloud solutions.

My advice to anyone starting the AWS certification journey; set goals, stay focused, and achieve.

Here is a diagram of the Certification Roadmap:

I took a different certification path but in my opinion, here is a list of AWS certifications from least to most difficult:

  1. AWS Certified Developer – Associate
  2. AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate
  3. AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate
  4. AWS Certified Security - Specialty
  5. AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional
  6. AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional
  7. AWS Certified Advanced Networking - Specialty

Exam Prep

  • Exam Blueprint - Read through it and understand the requirements. It also provides direct links to useful whitepapers. For example, here’s the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate Exam Guide
  • A Cloud Guru - For the best exam specific content, A Cloud Guru is simple the best. I usually start each exam preparation by going through the entire course on A Cloud Guru. I also recommend the Discussion boards as you can learn from other people’s exam experience.
  • Linux Academy - I’ve found that Linux Academy provides the best “in-depth” content. I think they do a great job of not only teaching you what you need to know to pass the exam, but also diving deeper into concepts that ultimately will make you a better Cloud Architect or whatever you may be interested in.
  • Jayendra’s Blog - This blog contains great notes and breaks down each topic on the exam. People contribute to this blog in the comments of each page and Jayendra does an excellent job of updating the content.
  • re:Invent sessions on YouTube - AWS graciously posts re:Invent sessions every year which are extremely valuable. There are each about an hour long and some people have created playlists for specific certifications. For example, this YouTube Playlist helped me on the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional exam.
  • Read AWS whitepapers and forums - This can be difficult because the AWS whitepapers aren’t the most exciting literature but I promise, it’s worth it and you’ll be a better Cloud Architect because you’ve read these.

AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Associate

I remember this exam covering a lot of different AWS services. It was my first AWS exam and I was a bit overwhelmed with the AWS lingo. I can’t recommend A Cloud Guru enough for this certification. I think the instructor, Ryan Kroonenburg, does an excellent job with explaining foundational concepts that I still use today. I will never forget the fault tolerant Wordpress section because that lesson really opened my eyes at the capabilities that AWS can provide. I thought it was the coolest thing to have a site running in the Australia region.

After passing this certification, I was hooked! I didn’t play Pokemon but I felt the need to “Catch ‘Em All”!

Key Areas:

  • EC2
  • VPC
  • IAM

AWS Certified SysOps Administrator - Associate

With my SysAdmin backgroud, I thought this certification was my next logical choice. I made it a goal to complete before the 2017 re:Invent conference. I had over a year under my belt since my last certification and it made a huge difference. I was familiar with the AWS platform by this time and working with AWS services daily.

Key Areas:

  • Elastic Load Balancer
  • CloudWatch
  • IAM

AWS Certified Developer - Associate

I took the exam before AWS updated it in 2018. Prior to sitting the exam, I assumed it would be focused on the developer services which wasn’t the case. By this time, I was extremely confident in my AWS skills and it showed on this particular exam. There wasn’t any depth to the questions and with my knowledge of the services, it was extremely simple to pinpoint the answer (probably the reason they updated the exam).

Key areas:

  • DynamoDB
  • S3
  • SQS
  • IAM

AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Professional

My Solutions Architect - Associate was going to expire. Instead of retaking SA-A, I used the 50% off voucher that AWS provides and went for the Solutions Architect - Professional. This exam was a challenge but my preparation prevailed. I was very proud to earn this certification, level up into the “Professional” ranks, and recertify my Solutions Architect - Associate certification. The accumulation of all three associate level certification definitely helped since this exam covers such a wide variety of AWS services. Not only were the questions long and difficult, my testing terminal froze halfway through my exam. Luckily, they testing folks were able to refresh it and I didn’t have to start over but the added stress didn’t help. The exam is truly a race against time and requires you to stay focused.

Key areas:

  • Hybrid Architectures (on-premises and cloud)
    • Direct Connect
    • VPN
  • IAM

AWS Certified DevOps Engineer - Professional

I thought the Solution Architect - Professional was hard but the DevOps Engineer - Professional takes the cake. Perhaps it had to do with my lack of experience with OpsWorks and Elastic Beanstalk but it was very challenging. There is a reason these two exams are “Professional” level because they certainly are not a walk in the park. My testing terminal froze again during this exam but I’m starting to think that is good luck. This exam was 80 questions and 170 minutes long. I used every single second. I had to dig deep and use process of elimination to zone in on the correct answer. I was very happy to pass this exam and recertify the SysOps - Associate and Developer - Associate in the process.

Key areas:

  • CloudFormation
  • OpsWorks
  • Elastic Beanstalk
  • Auto Scaling
  • Deployment options

AWS Certified Advanced Networking - Specialty

The AWS Certified Advanced Networking - Specialty exam has been the most difficult AWS certification I have completed so far. It was challenging on each and every question. I remember shaking my head in disbelief because the questions were so complicated. Luckily, I had reviewed the Linux Academy course that had just come out a few days before I sat the exam and there were some useful nuggets that I remembered during the exam. Time was not an issue as the questions weren’t as in-depth as the Professional certifications, but they were just extremely difficult. I would get to the point where I just had to pick an answer and move on. Process of elimination helped me here and with my networking experience and background, I was able to key in on a few answers pretty quickly. I’m happy to have passed and I really felt like I deserved this one because it took every ounce of experience to pass.

Key areas:

  • Hybrid technologies
  • DirectConnect (way more in-depth than the SA - Pro exam)
  • VPN
  • DNS with Route 53

AWS Certified Security - Specialty

The AWS Certified Security - Specialty exam was more difficult than I anticipated but I prevailed. I think the key focus area was on encrytion. During the exam, I remember wishing that I spent more time on KMS (key management service). There were quite a few questions that went pretty deep on key policies, IAM policies, and grants. Obviously, being able to identify when IAM policy are over or under permissioned to perform a particular task was critical. For example, picking out when the IAM policy has an * and knowing how it applies to the services that it is either allowing or blocking. I was surprised to see Amazon Macie on the exam, which is a security service that uses machine learning to automatically discover, classify, and protect sensitive data in AWS. Lastly, I would say it’s important to understand AWS CloudWatch for logs and metrics. Also, CloudWatch Events vs CloudTrail for more real time alerts.

Key areas:

  • Encryption, Encryption, Encryption!

What’s Next?

That’s all for AWS Certifications for me! At least until it’s time to recertify all my certs next year… yikes! Maybe eventually I’ll look at Big Data (which I believe will switch to Data Analytics or something) or the Machine Learning certification. I find both very interesting but I don’t work with those services enough to feel comfortable going for the certification.

Share this post: