What is AWS Certification and Is It Worth the Cost?

December 16, 2021 / Katarina Rudela

Reading Time: 10 minutes


In today's connected world, many businesses are turning to Amazon Web Services, or AWS, for a large part of their digital infrastructure. As with many platforms, assets, and programs that become popular, certification shortly follows, providing a way to document your expertise working in specific areas of IT. However, unlike many other certification programs, which provide a very expensive feather in your cap for either yourself as a job seeker or to your company as a whole, there are some very concrete benefits that should make AWS certification one of the first certifications you pursue.

Unlike other certification programs, much of the AWS certification process involves checking your knowledge of several common areas of IT expertise, while adding some specific areas that are particular to Amazon Web Services. This makes it a fairly fast and easy certification for many IT professionals to check off quickly, without costing a lot to achieve. AWS certification is becoming more common, but what does that certification mean, and how will it impact your bottom line if you pursue this type of certification? Here's a deep dive into the topic to help you get started.

AWS Certification: What Is It and Is It Worth It?

Here's a quick overview of the different AWS certification types that are available:

AWS Certificationsfigure 1: AWS certification types

What is AWS certification?

In its simplest form, an AWS certification provides you with a document that you can use to validate your understanding of how Amazon Web Services products work. People who want to hire you for a position can check its authenticity on the Amazon website. This proves you can do what you say you can do while shortening the overall interview and onboarding time for new hires. This document basically speaks for Amazon Web Services, stating that they've confirmed that you know their technology and can use it effectively during software development projects and in similar situations.

It's not necessarily a sign of how quickly or how well you work, just that you have proven yourself capable of doing the work and that you comprehend and can perform the needed tasks so that you can obtain the certification. It also may not mean that you're an overall AWS expert, only that you've been certified in a specific area. There are numerous levels of AWS certification, which shows the depth of knowledge and experience you have working with Amazing Web Services, from the very basic to complex. There are also a range of specialization certifications available, which can show that you're good at particular areas of their services, making you a subject-matter expert.

The AWS certifications are broken down into four specific areas.

  • Foundational certification gives you a Cloud Practitioner certification and requires six months of basic AWS cloud experience and industry knowledge.
  • An Associate certification can give you up to three specific certifications, Solutions Architect, SysOps Administrator, or Developer, all of which require a year of experience in addressing issues and creating solutions in the AWS cloud.
  • The Professional level certification includes DevOps Engineer and Solutions Architect certifications and requires two years of comprehensive design, operations, and troubleshooting experience in AWS Cloud.
  • There are also their specialty certifications, which require different levels of experience as found in their exam guide, including Advanced Networking, Data Analytics, Database, Machine Learning, and Security.

These certifications also include tiles you can include on your social media and similar documents.

How do you get an AWS certification?

Getting an AWS certification is fairly straightforward and is covered in great detail on Amazon Web Service's official certification website. You'll also be able to find some great exam guides, options that are available for taking your certification test and a range of other tools and resources to help you succeed in your AWS certification attempt. That being said, you'll still need to commit some amount of time to study and review concepts you may not be solid in yet, so that you can quickly and easily get through the process and apply it in the field.

For the most part, you're going to decide which type and level of certification you will need to pursue. You'll then register for an Amazon account, prepare for the exam, pay to register for the exam and take the exam either in person or online. Once you pass, you'll receive your AWS certificate, which makes it much easier to provide your documentation to a prospective employer.

  • If you're completely new to AWS, the foundational certification can take up to 120 hours, which takes most people about three months. With some existing experience, you can look at closer to 80 hours, or about two months.
  • For higher levels of certifications, it can take significantly more preparation time and experience so that you know how to quickly and effectively address issues that are brought up during the test.

How much is AWS certification?

Whether you're considering going after this certification on your own or as part of your company's training options, AWS certification is relatively low in cost, generally in the range of $100 to $300. Compared to other organization's certification costs, which can often run into the thousands of dollars, it's a pretty good deal. Given the pervasiveness of Amazon Web Services in cloud computing, with around 65% of all businesses using it in some fashion, it provides a great return on your investment.

If you're just getting started in IT professionally, and have a lot of personal experience, but not as much professional experience that you can document, AWS certification allows you to get a foot in the door of new companies by proving that you have a certification even as you continue working on your education or pursuing other certifications in the future. This makes the fee fairly inexpensive compared to the many benefits you'll receive in the process.

How do DevOps specialists benefit from AWS certifications?

The amount of growth in cloud computing is unprecedented, as we can see in this graph from Novelvista:

Growth in Cloud ComputingFigure 2: Growth in Cloud Computing


So what are the benefits that DevOps specialists see particularly from their AWS certification? To start, in most situations, you won't personally pay for it. Due to the low cost, many companies are happy to include this expense in their training budget, because it gives the business some great benefits as well, which we'll discuss shortly.

For the most part, you won't have to invest as much time into the preparation process, because the AWS test covers a lot of what you know as a DevOps specialist, while allowing you to put your knowledge into theory and practical sides, giving you any structure you may be missing. But unless you've had extensive experience, you'll learn something new in the process, whether it's becoming familiar with AWS aspects you're not familiar with or similar details. This allows you to be ready to get to work once your certification is completed.

Another benefit is that AWS certification proves that you know the cloud and that you can apply that knowledge on the job. Given the strong move towards cloud-based apps and software, this is a strong leg up when you're interviewing for a new position. In many situations, a verified AWS certification means that any cloud questions you're asked will be just to verify your knowledge briefly, which allows you to focus the interview on your strengths rather than your technical knowledge.

Having an AWS certification will also raise your personal value in these interviews, making you both more likely to get the job due to the pervasive use of AWS in today's businesses. This pervasiveness in the industry makes you more valuable to the company. Finally, having AWS certifications on your LinkedIn profile or resume showcases a higher level of expertise as well as expands your professional network capabilities.

Does AWS certification benefit your company?

So why would your company be happy to pay for your AWS certification as part of their training budget? Because that certification also benefits your company, in several very significant ways. To start, it allows them to command a higher hourly rate, because the cost of an AWS Certified DevOps Engineer will obviously be higher than hiring another IT professional that doesn't have that level of certification. Your experience and knowledge can be leveraged to help you get the job done more efficiently, saving them time, because you'll know how to fix the problem the first time. Here's why AWS certification can benefit your business:

AWSFigure 3. AWS Certification Benefits

Having several members of your team that are officially AWS certified also swings a lot of marketing clout and credibility. It can give your company an edge against the competition, because your clients will consider their AWS use when they're considering which company to contract with. In some situations, lack of AWS certification can be a deal breaker, especially in today's competitive cloud environment, and getting the certification is relatively simple.

But why would customers be more likely to go with companies featuring AWS certification? It's estimated that 68% of SMEs and 64% of enterprise-level businesses are using AWS services in one fashion or another to keep their businesses operating efficiently. Because of this level of industry participation in Amazon's services, companies that have certified professionals will often be preferred so that they can be sure that their company's digital assets work efficiently and effectively.

Finally, the final reason why companies benefit from having their employees AWS certified is because it provides a strong return on investment. Though there is an initial outlay for the certification, the low cost of certification is quickly made up in the additional revenue that can come from an AWS-certified team, delivering one of the highest ROIs in the industry.

How hard is it to get an AWS certification?

The biggest variable in how hard it is to get an AWS certification is your existing knowledge. If you're got any basic cloud IT background, especially if you have AWS experience, it's pretty easy to pass the entry-level certification test with a couple of months of part-time study. This study will involve a certain amount of both reviewing concepts you're already familiar with while introducing and reinforcing some new concepts unique to the AWS program.

But what if you don't already have some professional IT experience? You'll need to take a bit more time to get the additional DevOps knowledge down, a process that can take closer to an additional month. During this time, you'll want to make sure you're getting the concepts down solidly before you attempt the exam. Even in this situation, you can get an AWS certification pretty easily.

If you're considering pursuing higher-level AWS certificates, be aware that the difficulty will get higher as you go. At these levels, you're going to need to know how to prove both your practical experience as well as your theoretical knowledge of the subject. Generally speaking, you'll want to have:

  • At least one year of AWS cloud experience for Associate certifications.
  • At least two years of AWS cloud experience for Professional certifications.

For some of the higher-level exams, you're going to have questions that may be based on case studies, some of which can be very difficult. If you've never worked on a problem “on production”, they can be very hard to solve. This can present a real challenge for IT professionals who have not dealt with these types of situations in the field, so make sure that you work through some theoretical situations on the fly to develop your response time to these kinds of questions. Provided that you've already received a lower-level AWS certification, you'll be able to use discounts on higher levels of certifications as well as have access to practice exams, making it easier to prepare for the exam.

Is it worth getting an AWS certification?

Though you don't have to have a special piece of paper to prove your chops as an outstanding DevOps Engineer, AWS certification is a great way to cut down the time required to prove your knowledge, because it just takes a few minutes for a prospective employer to check on the AWS website. It gives your customers the knowledge that they're getting a DevOps engineer that is a step above the rest. It allows companies to increase the pace of onboarding new hires and getting them into their role for the company, because they already know what level of knowledge and expertise they have. Many companies prefer to work with certified DevOps specialists, because they know what they're getting without all the technical jargon in the middle of the process.

For these reasons, why wouldn't you get an AWS certificate? It provides a range of benefits from better pay to better opportunities for the employee. Your company gains a fast return on investment while being able to market your certified status to clients, improving the odds that they'll win good contracts due to the pervasiveness of AWS usage in the market. Though being AWS certified won't fix all of your career problems, it certainly won't hurt to go through the process. AWS certifications deliver a strong win-win situation for your company, clients and employees, providing a strong ROI.

AWS certification is a great factor to consider when taking on a new cloud-based IT project, given the prevalence of Amazon's services in approximately 2/3 of the business world. AWS certified professionals have the knowledge and experience to work within your system quickly and effectively, with 91 % of businesses seeing improvement following certification.

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