4 min read

What AWS Certification Should You Get?

I see a lot of questions being asked around the sticks about which AWS certification to get. It seems like even those who work with AWS regularly aren't sure about the various different certifications and which one they should get, let alone people who are just getting started with AWS.

This isn't a surprise to me; While the AWS Certification Guide is definitely extensive, it's not exactly -
ahem - easy reading.

In this post I wanted to give a high-level overview of the different AWS technical certifications that might make it quicker and easier for you to decide which certification is right for you.

Is it Worth it?

Like any certification, the value comes from how you use it. Some obvious reasons for a certification are:

  • Get a new job. Getting a certification can show your potential new employer that you're a self-starter, and committed to learning.
  • Help you get a raise at your current job. Adding a certification shows dedication to improving yourself, and can make you more employable - put some fear in your employer that you might go somewhere else if they don't "appreciate" you more!
  • Master your craft. If you work with AWS already then getting certified will give you more confidence in your day job, and open you up to a new peer group.

Associate Certifications

The associate-level exams are the starting point to AWS certification, and the easiest to pass. They also serve as prerequisites for the professional-level certifications.

Solutions Architect - Associate

This is a good place to start if you're just getting in to AWS, since the SA Associate is the broadest of the certifications. It will make you familiar with the key AWS services, and give you a good working vocabulary.

This certification is a pre-requisite for the Solutions Architect - Professional certification.

Developer - Associate

Sometimes referred to as the "DynamoDb Certification" because it palaces a big emphasis on DyanmoDb. If you don't plan to use DynamoDb (e.g. because you're using AWS just as an IaaS) then this is probably not for you.

This certification is a pre-requisite for the DevOps - Professional certification (as is the SysOps - Associate).

SysOps Administrator - Associate

This is the first certification I got. It's generally considered the hardest of the associate-level certifications, because it has a strong focus on VPCs and networking constructs. Having hands-on experience with AWS is extremely useful to have before taking it.

This certification is a pre-requisite for the DevOps - Professional certification (as is the Developer - Associate).

Professional Certifications

While you can potentially pass some of the Associate-level exams with a bit of studying, the Professional-level certifications will take some serious effort. Failing the pro exams is not uncommon.

Solutions Architect - Professional

The associate level SA certification covers the AWS platform broadly, the professional level certification goes deep in to all the key services. While it's possible to achieve this certification from "the books" (i.e. online courses, whitepapers, etc), having hands-on experience is highly recommended.

DevOps - Professional

No surprises here; This certification requires a heavy focus on the DevOps services AWS provides.
You will need to know about specific AWS services: DynamoDb, OpsWorks, ElasticBeanstalk, DynamoDb, VPC, and the management tools (CloudWatch *, etc) with a focus on deploying software in to AWS.

Speciality Certifications

These certifications were released as "beta" exams at re:Invent 2016. You could only take them if you already held an associate-level certification. While I didn't take them myself - I was too busy enjoying myself at re:Invent to cram exams like some people.

The exams results were meant to be made available March 2017, but as of April they're still not ready. Not only that, but references to these certifications has been removed from the certification website!


I heard that this was the hardest of the specialty exams, and it's not surprising. Networking is a big part of any implementation on AWS, so there's a lot of potential material to draw from. [Adrian from ACG](


The initial version sounded like this was not a very focused exam; Apparently there were questions that focused solely on 3rd party solutions, which seems strange for an AWS (i.e. vendor-specific) certification exam.

Big Data

This is probably the speciality exam that generated the most interest. It remains to be seen if the certification can cut through the hype that (still) surrounds "big data". While there's no doubt AWS is the perfect place to do your big data work, I still haven't seen consensus on what it is (versus security, etc).

Pass Marks

Keep in mind that the actual pass mark for the exams is not set in stone. Exams are graded on a bell curve, so the required mark can and does change.


While I'm a fan of the AWS certifications and have found them very useful in my own experience, they're not perfect.

The biggest issue I have with them is that they haven't been updated recently, and it's really starting to show. This would be bad enough on any platform, but is even more noticeable on AWS - things move so fast that you really can't ignore it. This is important because there are some questions that expect answers that are now flat-out wrong - If you get those questions on the test you have to know to give the answer that is expected, not the right answer!

My Turn

While I don't yet have all the certifications, I will have them by the end of the year. Now that my my book on AWS administration is done, I have finished my Serverless chatbot video course, and
presented at the AWS Sydney Summit.