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AWS Certifications Path
Mark Faiers

AWS Certifications Path for 2021

An AWS Certification is a great accolade to add to your CV in 2021.

77% of enterprises are using the public cloud in some capacity according to our recent report, and AWS leads the pack in terms of services offered and platform maturity.

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By getting certified, you’re not only able to validate your skills but you’ll also give yourself a competitive edge when it comes to progressing in your career. Plus, you’ll be armed with the skills and experience to take on some exciting AWS projects at leading brands.

At Contino, we know a thing or two about AWS Certifications. We currently have over 200 certifications across the organisation and we’re always adding to this total.

In this guide, we take a look at the AWS certifications path: which certifications are right for you, what experience you’ll need, recommended courses and study guides, costs, and more.

What Is AWS Certification?

AWS Certification allows individuals to validate their technical knowledge and expertise of the AWS Cloud.

Certification includes a set of independent exams that can be taken either at a venue run by an AWS Certification Partner, or even from your own home!

Certification exams cover a wide range of experience levels, starting from absolute beginner all the way through to expert level exams that will challenge even those who have been working with AWS for many years.

The exams also target a range of job roles, from developer, through to security engineer, machine learning engineer and more.

After passing a Certification exam you are awarded a badge that can be shared on your LinkedIn profile, CV, or anywhere you choose.

How Long Does AWS Certification Take?

How long it takes to get certified really depends on both your current mastery of the AWS Cloud, and which Certification you are targeting.

It is recommended that even people working with AWS on a daily basis take the time to review the appropriate learning materials, or take an online course to fill in any gaps in their knowledge (AWS has grown to such an extent that no one can possibly master the entire platform!)

Personally I feel that between 3-5 weeks is a good amount of time to prepare for certification, but strongly advise becoming confident with the learning material and take a practice exam before booking the real thing.

Why Get AWS Certified?

  • AWS Certifications rank consistently among the highest paid IT certifications worldwide
  • AWS is a strong leader in the cloud services market
  • IT professionals who gained a new certification received, on average, a $13,000 salary increase
  • 52% of professionals agreed that certification improved the quality of their work
  • 61% of decision-makers believe that the dollar value economic benefit of a certified team member exceeds $10,000 per year

(sources: 2020 IT Skills and Salary Report from Global Knowledge, Gartner Says Worldwide IaaS Public Cloud Services Market Grew 37.3% in 2019,

If you’re looking for cloud services certification, then AWS, with the lion’s share of the cloud market, is one of the best places to look. By gaining AWS certification, you open yourself up to more job opportunities, better salary, and greater weight within your role.

It’s also beneficial for employers to have their employees gain certification, equating to real dollar value-add for the team and better credentials to showcase when canvassing for new clients.

Finally, AWS certifications are a validation of a specific skill set and give you, as well as your employer, the confidence to utilise AWS and all of the benefits it brings.

Career Prospects After AWS Certification

AWS certification is designed to give you an edge in your career. If you’re up against a similar candidate who doesn’t have certification–for a new job, a promotion, or a pay rise–then you are likely to be the winner in the competition.

What an AWS certification generally can’t do is get you a job in the given field if you don’t have relevant work experience to back it up. If this is the case, work on personal projects that can demonstrate your practical experience to help you land that first role.

AWS certs give you an advantage–but they aren’t a magic bullet. It’s your experience, background, and personality that will help you go furthest in your career–although certification can certainly give you a salary boost that you wouldn’t have otherwise!

How to Choose the Right AWS Certification

Wondering where to start when gaining your AWS credentials?

There are plenty of certifications available to pursue, however the right fit is dependent on what your objectives are. Here are some questions to ask yourself before you pick:

  • What experience do you have with AWS and in the field?
  • What area are you currently working in?
  • Where do your interests lie?
  • Where do you want your career to go?
  • What is your employer focusing on now and in the future?

There are four levels of AWS certification.  The most basic being ‘Foundational’, followed by ‘Associate’, and then ‘Professional’ and ‘Speciality’.

Professional and Speciality exams are roughly comparable in difficulty but Speciality exams focus more deeply in a specific area, whereas Professional exams tend to be broader in scope.

If you are relatively new to AWS, then choosing the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner is a good choice for a first certification and it also takes significantly less time and financial investment than higher level certs.

Either work your way along the Foundational - Associate - Professional - Specialty path, or jump in at any point. The choice is yours.

AWS Certification Prerequisites

As a rule of thumb, you can complete Foundational exams with minimal practical experience, Associate exams with 1+ years experience, Professional exams with 2 years experience, and Specialty exams generally with 5 years experience (although some require less).

The vast majority of exams do not have any hard prerequisites, merely suggestions.

AWS Certifications Path


AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner

Best for: Administrators and those looking for an AWS intro

Exams: CLF-C01 (AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner)

AWS Certification Cost: $100USD (Practice Exam: $20)

Prerequisite courses: None

Recommended practical experience: 6+ months of AWS cloud working experience

Study guides:

The AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner Certification is perfect for people just starting out on their AWS journey, who want to start from the very basics and build up from there.

The course covers AWS cloud infrastructure, principles of architecture, key services, security and compliance, financial management, plus deploying and operating within the AWS cloud.


AWS Certified SysOps Administrator - Associate

Best for: Administrators

Exams: SOA-C01 (AWS Certified SysOps Administrator - Associate)

AWS Certification Cost: $150USD (Practice Exam: $20)

Prerequisite courses: None

Recommended practical experience: 1+ years of AWS experience in deployment, management and operations

Study guides:

The SysOps Administrator Associate certification is designed specifically for AWS professionals who are overseeing the administration and operation of these cloud services within the platform.  It assumes some prior knowledge of system administration.

In attaining this certification, applicants are required to demonstrate their ability to deploy, manage, and operate optimised systems on AWS. It also requires knowledge of dataflows in and out of the cloud, correct selection of AWS services, operational best practices, cost estimation, and on-premise AWS migration.

AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate

Best for: Cloud Architects

Exams: SAA-C02 (AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Associate)

AWS Certification Cost: $150USD (Practice Exam: $20)

Prerequisite courses: None

Recommended practical experience: 1+ years of AWS experience in creating “available, cost-efficient, fault-tolerant, and scalable distributed systems”

Study guides: Adrian Cantrill’s AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Associate (SAA-C02) course

An AWS Certified Solutions Architect is someone who is capable of architecting on AWS: creating optimised AWS infrastructure for organisations. If you are looking to demonstrate that you are able to design, and not just manage, AWS infrastructure, then gaining this certification is a worthwhile endeavour.

This exam requires you to be able to show proficiency in designing architectures and applications conformant to the standards set out in the AWS Well-Architected white papers.

AWS Certified Developer - Associate

Best for: Developers

Exams: DVA-C01 (AWS Certified Developer - Associate)

AWS Certification Cost: $150USD (Practice Exam: $20)

Prerequisite courses: None

Recommended practical experience: 1+ years of experience in creating and maintaining AWS applications

Recommended study guide: Ultimate AWS Certified Developer Associate 2020 on Udemy

Software developers who are looking to demonstrate their expertise in developing closed-based applications with Amazon Web Services should look to the AWS Certified Developer Associate course.

In gaining your Developer Associate certification you’ll need to demonstrate understanding of the services AWS provides for hosting applications, what options are available for deploying applications to these services, and how cloud applications can be debugged.


AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Professional

Best for: Cloud Architects

Exams: SAP-C01 (AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Professional)

AWS Certification Cost: $300USD (Practice Exam: $40)

Prerequisite courses: AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate (recommended)

Recommended practical experience: 2+ years of comprehensive experience in designing and operating AWS applications

Recommended study guide: AWS Certified Solutions Architect Professional on Udemy

If you are looking to demonstrate both depth and breadth of knowledge across the design, deployment, and management of AWS cloud services, then the Professional Solutions Architect certification is for you.

The Professional level certifications require that, as well as having knowledge of the available services in AWS, you are able to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of a number of different solutions to a problem and determine which best meets the requirements.

The Solutions Architect Professional certification covers a very broad range of AWS services and so will prepare you well for designing almost anything on the AWS platform.

This certification is seen by many as the ‘Gold Standard’ for those working with AWS and is probably the most coveted by engineers.

AWS Certified DevOps Engineer - Professional

Best for: DevOps Engineers

Exams: DOP-C01 (AWS Certified DevOps Engineer - Professional)

AWS Certification Cost: $300USD (Practice Exam: $40)

Prerequisite courses: AWS Certified Developer - Associate or AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate (recommended)

Recommended practical experience: 2+ years of experience in DevOps practice in AWS environments

Recommended study guide: AWS Certified DevOps Engineer Professional 2020 - Hands On on Udemy

DevOps is a role for developers and/or systems engineers who have experience in orchestrating and increasing velocity in the development cycle. Becoming a Professional AWS Certified DevOps Engineer can help cement your status as highly valuable in your field.

To demonstrate your abilities and pass this exam you’ll need to have a deep understanding of continuous integration and deployment tools in AWS, as well as how to monitor and debug applications and automate solutions when things go wrong.


AWS Certified Advanced Networking - Specialty

Best for: Network Engineers

Exams: ANS-C00 (AWS Certified Advanced Networking - Specialty)

AWS Certification Cost: $300USD

Prerequisite courses: AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner and/or any AWS Associate (recommended)

Recommended practical experience: 5 years hands on experience with network configuration and management

Recommended study guide: AWS Certified Advanced Networking Specialty training at AWS Learning Library

The Advanced Networking AWS Speciality certification is ideal for people who have a focus on network engineering and would like to demonstrate their prowess in configuring virtual networks and their associated apps within AWS. It’s also a strategic certification to grab for those in network security.

Here, you’ll need to be able to design and deploy AWS solutions (including core services) according to best practices, design and manage network infrastructure, and use tools to automate networking across the AWS implementation.

AWS Certified Security - Specialty

Best for: Security Professionals

Exams: SCS-C01 (AWS Certified Security - Specialty)

AWS Certification Cost: $300USD (Practice Exam: $40)

Prerequisite courses: None

Recommended practical experience: 2 years hands on experience with AWS security, 5 years experience in security solutions

Recommended study guide: Tutorials Dojo Study Guide eBook – AWS Certified Security Specialty

Security professionals looking to add AWS certification to their list of achievements can invest in the AWS Certified Security - Specialty course. This certification requires a great depth of prior knowledge and experience in systems security.

The exam covers AWS data classifications and protections, encryption, secure internet protocols, security services and features, SecOps and risk, plus decision-making when cost, security, and deployment are all weighted factors.

AWS Certified Machine Learning – Specialty

Best for: Machine Learning Developers

Exams: MLS-C01 (AWS Certified Machine Learning- Specialty)

AWS Certification Cost: $300USD (Practice Exam: $40)

Prerequisite courses: None

Recommended practical experience: 1+ years experience in developing Machine Learning solutions on AWS

Recommended study guide: AWS Certified Machine Learning Specialty 2020 - Hands On on Udemy

As AI and Machine Learning (ML) grow as a field, these roles are some of the most in-demand across industries, applicable to help grow and inform any organisation. Adding an AWS Machine Learning – Specialty certification will help drive work-related opportunities even further.

Within this exam you’ll demonstrate that you’re able to select an appropriate ML approach for a given business problem, use the correct AWS ML solutions for a problem, design and implement scalable, cost-effective, and reliable ML solutions.

AWS Certified Data Analytics - Specialty

Best for: Big Data Engineers & Data Analytics Professionals

Exams: DAS-C01 (AWS Certified Data Analytics - Specialty)

AWS Certification Cost: $300USD (Practice Exam: $40)

Prerequisite courses: None

Recommended practical experience: 2 years experience in developing data analytics solutions on AWS, 5 years in data analytics

Recommended study guide: AWS Certified Data Analytics Specialty - Hands On on Udemy

Previously known as the Big Data Specialty, the AWS Certified Data Analytics - Specialty is designed specifically for career data engineers working with big data workloads in AWS. While there may be some overlap from the ML Specialty, this is far more focused data of all shapes and types.

The exam will require you to show that you’re able to understand all the AWS data analytics services and how each of them interoperate, plus where these services fit into the collection, storage, processing, and visualization of data workloads overall.

AWS Certified Database - Specialty

Best for: Database Engineers

Exams: DBS-C01 (AWS Certified Database - Specialty)

AWS Certification Cost: $300USD (Practice Exam: $40)

Prerequisite courses: None

Recommended practical experience: 2 years experience in developing database solutions on AWS, 5 years in databasing

Recommended study guide: AWS Certified Database Specialty training at AWS Learning Library

Database engineers who are looking for their own AWS certification can look no further than the AWS Database - Specialty certification. This course digs deep into both relational and non-relational database technologies and associated mechanisms within the AWS ecosystem.

In the exam, you can expect to be able to demonstrate your understanding of the features and use cases of each of the AWS database services, plus be able to recommend and design the best database service architecture after being given business-level organisation problems.

Best Way to Prepare for AWS Certification Exams

There are plenty of different ways to do training for AWS exams, however the best one for you personally will always be subjective. Are you a book learner? Prefer lecture videos? In-person learning modules?

Personally I learn best by getting hands-on experience with the various AWS services covered in certification exams.  If you are not careful, however, you could end up racking up a big bill.

My number one tip, therefore, is to create a Linux Academy account (currently $39/month) and use their Cloud Sandboxes feature (also available for Azure and GCP), which allows you to use AWS services without worrying about the bill!

I also like to sit a practice exam before embarking on a course of study in order to identify the areas I need to focus on.

These are just tips however and won’t necessarily work for everyone. It is important to pick the way you like to learn, and what gets you results.

Here are some other recommended learning materials that have been vetted by those who’ve previously sat the AWS exams:

Best of luck!

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