Which AWS Certification Should You Take First? The Definitive Answer.

When it comes to looking for jobs or just improving your career in the cloud industry, you only need 2-3 seconds (roughly 😉) on the internet before it’ll be recommended to you to get certified. I’m guessing that happened to you, because you’re now in the market for an AWS certification—did I guess right?

Well, now comes that first question: where do you start? And if that is your question, you’re in the right place, because today we’ll be talking through the AWS certification that’s right for a beginner.

Which AWS Certification is best for a beginner? The best certificate for a beginner is the AWS cloud practitioner, the foundational AWS certificate, followed by an associate certificate, e.g. the solutions architect associate.

Understanding The AWS Certificate Structure

To understand which certificate is best for a beginner, it helps if we understand the “landscape” of the AWS certificates. We won’t go into lots of detail today, but just enough so you understand why you’re being recommended the cloud practitioner exam and the associate exams.

Making sense of certifications

Let’s take a look at how it all fits together. You’ve got the three main categories, foundational, associate, professional, and specialty. Each category of the AWS certifications has an estimated “time” of background knowledge that you should have before embarking on the certifications. But this is a guideline, it’s not a hard rule or a pre-requisite.

Previously there were rules about which AWS exams you needed to take as pre-requisites before taking some of the higher exams, but AWS removed that restriction and now you can jump to any, at any time.

At the bottom of the “pyramid” is the cloud practitioner exam. The exam is intended to give a basic, somewhat fundamental understanding of AWS to a relative newcomer, which is why it makes sense to start there. After the cloud practitioner, I suggest you then go on and take the associate exam.

Now, since I mentioned there are no pre-requisites, you might go and look at the cloud practitioner exam, and start thinking that maybe it’s just a bit too basic or simplistic for you, and you want to jump ahead to the associate exam first. The question is: is that a good idea?

Should You skip the AWS Cloud Practitioner?

When I was pulling together this article, I did come across this great video from Andrew Brown, who’s very active in the cloud community, and has a lot of knowledge about AWS exams. He’s put together this great video which goes into some reasons why you should indeed take the Cloud Practitioner exam first, from both a financial standpoint and a learning standpoint.

Andrew’s short answer on whether or not you should skip the cloud practitioner is: no, you shouldn’t skip it. Let me go ahead and summarise some of Andrew’s main points about why you don’t want to skip the cloud practitioner.

Point 1: Taking the cloud practitioner first will ensure that you’re “easing yourself into the journey” of AWS certifications, and you’ll hopefully avoid falling at the more expensive associate level exams.

Point 2: The cloud practitioner course covers some content about certain AWS services not mentioned in the associate exam, so it serves as a good knowledge foundation.

Point 3: The cloud practitioner course is cheaper ($100) than the associate exams ($150), and you get a 50% discount when you pass your exam for your next certificate, which will give you $75 off your associate exam anyway.

Even if after hearing these points, you still want to skip the actual examination you don’t want to skip the content. After all, taking the exams is all about learning, not just acing tests! Andrew even has a full video on YouTube that covers the Cloud Practitioner curriculum, so there’s no excuse not to.

Which Associate Exam To Take?

Which Associate Exam To Take

Since I did mention that you should get the certified cloud practitioner followed by an associate exam, the natural question you probably have is, “well, which of the associate exams should I take?”.

Hey 👋 It’s Lou (the author). Can I briefly pause you for a moment? Based on my 1000’s of hours of research, mentoring and coaching people in the cloud industry, I have found a couple of courses and books that have really made a difference to those I’ve helped learn cloud and break into tech in general.

Which cloud provider to start with? People always ask me: “Which cloud provider should I learn? AWS? GCP? Azure?“. I have always recommended AWS. Why? Well—in short—because AWS is “the biggest” (source). To get started, I suggest you take the  AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner and also the Jon Bonso Practice Exams  For more about why I recommend both of these, check out this article: best resources for AWS Certifications.

How do you write a resume for cloud? It’s not just certs that will land you a job. You must understand the hiring process. Throughout all my research, the one best resource I found for understanding the tech hiring process is: The Tech Resume: Inside Out. I’m featured in the book, and my recommendation is on the home page. Seriously, it’s good! And very well researched.

Looking to get hands-on? 100’s of people have landed jobs from completing the Cloud Resume Challenge. I love this community challenge so much that I did a 21 part series about it on YouTube! The author, Forrest made an incredible book, The Cloud Resume Challenge Book, that is packed with insights on learning and landing a job in cloud. I highly recommend it.

Note: The links above do give a small commission, but I spend a ton of time researching, and I wholeheartedly recommend them. Also, all earnings are re-invested in the community and contribute The Open Up The Cloud Mission.

Lou Bichard

First up, I’d strongly recommend you go check out the AWS certification prep page, this page is a hidden gem, and it’s buried in the AWS docs, so it’s not super easy to find again, be sure to bookmark it!

On that preparation page, you’ll find the exam overviews in PDF format for each of the exams. This is hands-down the best way to assess and understand what the exams are about, and the differences between them.

But, since you’re already here, let me give you a quick run-down of the broad differences between the exams to help you make a decision.

Solutions Architect — The solutions architect is the most high-level, and generic of the three associates, it covers topics like designing for high availability, high-performance, security, and cost-optimization. If you’re unsure which to take, I’d probably go for this exam, the solutions architect.

SysOps — The SysOps has some overlap with the solutions architect, also talking about high availability, but goes a bit more in-depth on topics such as data storage, and monitoring, and alerting. This exam is more suited for an operations-oriented role, someone with an existing IT background, or someone coming from the world of on-premise infrastructure.

Developer — Last up we have the developer associate. The developer associate goes into deployment, security, development, refactoring, and monitoring. It’s less high-level than the architect, and less detailed on monitoring and storage than the sysops. This cert is best for those who are already developers, or soon-to-be developers.

Now I know that a lot of you reading are using AWS certifications in order to get a job you’re probably wondering whether an AWS certificate is enough? It’s an important topic that will shape whether you actually go through with gaining a certificate or not. Let’s discuss that now…

Will An AWS Exam Get Me A Job / Promotion?

Let me answer this question in two parts, first I want to share with you some hard data that I’ve gathered on the topic of certs and job hunting, then after that, I’ll share more of my personal opinion and recommendations.

Because I get a lot of questions like this one, I started running a survey called: Open Up The Cloud, where I gathered data from industry professionals in the world of cloud to understand how they got into the industry.

How many certifications did you hold when you got your first tech job?

A question the survey covers is “how many certifications did you hold when you got your first tech job?”. The results from that question showed that the predominant amount of respondents said that they didn’t hold a certificate at the time of getting their first tech job. Now, before we jump to too many conclusions from this data, let me just speak to some of the limitations.

First, this survey data for all tech jobs. What the survey doesn’t do is break down the answer based on role. Some roles, such as in consulting will value certifications more than others. Secondly, this question only covers first tech jobs, so if you’re looking for a promotion or a horizontal industry move, that can change how this data applies to you.

I would really recommend that you check out the survey, the data should be interesting and hopefully enlightening, and help you to make some decisions on topics like whether or not you want and/or need to take a certification.

One key thing I would take away from this data is that yes, a certification can help in the job hunt, but it’s not mandatory. There are some cases, as we mentioned like consulting, where being certified is often favored, but generally speaking, the answer isn’t a straight-forward you MUST get a certificate… that said, being certified can certainly help out.

Go Get AWS Certified!

And that brings us to the end of today’s article. I hope that helps you out in your direction of which certification to take as a beginner! Just to recap, as we discussed, the Certified Cloud Practitioner is the best certificate to start with, followed by one of the associate exams.

Before you shoot off, I did want to mention that if you’re now looking to take an AWS exam, I highly recommend you check out this article I wrote: Best Resources For AWS Certifications: An Extensive & Opinionated Guide (So You Pass The First Time!) where I go into a lot of detail about the best resources for passing your AWS certifications. I can almost guarantee you’ll find some hidden gems in there!

And if you’re in the market for some courses or book recommendations, be sure to check out: My (highly!) recommended courses to learn cloud engineering where you can find all sorts of different recommendations on things like books and courses to look into.

And lastly, be sure to check out the newsletter! I send a monthly newsletter on the topic of cloud software engineering. I spend a lot of time researching the important news and digging out the best content for the month, and I recap it all in a monthly newsletter, I think you might like it! You can find out more at newsletter.thedevcoach.co.uk

Speak soon cloud engineering friend!

Lou Bichard