With more and more data-center workloads being shifted to the cloud, it’s important for enterprise IT staff to learn cloud skills not only to stay relevant within their organizations but also to prepare for career advancement and better salaries.
One way to accomplish this is to learn the ins and outs of working in specific cloud providers’ environments. This is a brief description of how to get grounded in AWS.
According to training firm Global Knowledge, the pay associated with two of the dozens of AWS certifications ranks among the top 15 IT certifications—AWS Certified Solutions Architect—Associate (US$149,446) and AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner (US$131,465).
With that as a lure, IT pros can get acquainted with why certifications are valuable and what it takes to get them.
Learn to do old tasks new ways
At the basic level, you need to learn how to link the cloud to the physical on-premises networks and how to configure networking in the cloud. That means dealing with routers, switches, IP addresses and DNS—things with which you have years of experience. If your organization includes a firewall, you’ll need to know how to configure it in AWS. If you use VMWare, Hyper-V or other virtualization platforms, you’ll need to learn how to instantiate virtual servers in the cloud. The same host operating systems you are already familiar with run in the cloud, but launching instances with software automation and backups may be slightly different than what you are used to.
In addition, enterprise IT pros must understand the AWS vernacular which is riddled with acronyms, among them AZ, VPC, NACL, VGW, CGW, S3 EC2. You’ll also need to understand terms like region, security group, Route 53 and Lambda. At the very least you should know what these things are and understand how they are similar to the on-premises IT functions that you are already familiar with.
AWS has a dozen certifications to choose from, but there’s a logical way to approach them. Note that the exams are refreshingly straightforward. They are multiple-choice (choose one, or many), and answering them is likely to fill up the time allotted. So it’s a good idea to note the number of questions and the total time in order not to fall behind.
What certs to go for first?
AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner - This cert covers frequently-used AWS services, terminology and acronyms, and the exam tests your understanding of cloud economics and architecture principles. You don’t need any hands-on experience with AWS to pass this certification; book-learning and watching video classes should be fine.
The next three are associate-level certifications: Solutions Architect, SysOps Administrator, and Developer. The exams for these can be difficult, and having hands-on experience with common AWS services like VPCs, EC2, S3 is essential. Having book knowledge and watching video classes for the more exotic AWS services should be sufficient preparation. There is some overlap in the topics covered in these three exams, and if you study for one, then you have about 30% of the knowledge required for the other two. Often, with dedicated studying, people are able to pass all three in a few months.
The questions on associate-level exams ask about the characteristics of specific services. You are tested on applying your technical knowledge, not your ability to memorize every detail of each service. Rather, you need to know when a particular service would be best for solving the requirements of given scenarios. These exams focus on the standard AWS services that most customers use. They don’t test knowledge of services that have launched recently.
AWS professional certs
AWS also offers professional and technology-specialty certifications, but it is often recommended you first get all three associate certs and consolidate your knowledge before going to the pro level. The professional-level exams are some of the most difficult IT exams you will ever take. Having significant hands-on experience with AWS is essential and having experience and in-depth knowledge of a wide variety of AWS services is required to pass.
The questions on the exams at this level are, like those on the associate exams, scenario-based and call for applying AWS services to solve business problems. The questions often have a lot of text to read and the answers, too, can be lengthy, so your ability to read fast and quickly choose the best solution pays dividends. The professional and specialty exams are extremely difficult so if you pass you should feel proud and will earn the respect of your peers and employers.
How to prep
AWS has its own certification preparation classes, but there are classes you can take through learning partners like Global Knowledge. These virtual multi-day classes are instructor-led and can contain hands-on labs, but they can cost from several hundred dollars to US$3000 or more.
There are lower-cost options, which can be important if your employer won’t pay. A Cloud Guru has been a popular online virtual-learning AWS certification preparation site for many years, and it recently merged with Linux Academy.
- An AWS glossary
- Study books: AWS Certified Solutions Architect Official Study Guide: Associate Exam, AWS Certified SysOps Administrator Official Study Guide: Associate Exam, AWS Certified Advanced Networking Official Study Guide: Specialty Exam, Sybex/Wiley and DigitalCloud AWS-exam study guides.