Welcome to this article where I will delve into the world of AWS certifications. With a wide range of certifications available, it can be challenging to determine the right starting point and the most efficient path to your desired endpoint. In this article, I will provide guidance on how to get started, discuss common certification pathways, and explore the Specialty certifications and their level of difficulty. Let's dive in and explore the AWS certification landscape.

Getting Started with AWS Certifications:

AWS offers certifications at four main difficulty levels: Practitioner, Associate, Professional, and Specialty. While AWS recommends starting with the Cloud Practitioner certification, I hold a different perspective. Instead of studying specifically for the Cloud Practitioner, I believe it is more efficient to gain knowledge that covers both the Cloud Practitioner and the Associate Architect certifications.

Efficient Study Approach:

When pursuing a certification, there are two distinct components: gaining the knowledge required by the certification and taking the exam to obtain the official result. These two aspects should be treated separately. Therefore, I recommend starting with the Solutions Architect Associate certification, which provides comprehensive knowledge applicable to both the Associate Architect and Cloud Practitioner certifications.

By opting for the Solutions Architect Associate certification as the starting point, you avoid duplicating your study efforts and save valuable time. This certification is well-recognized and equips you with skills that are highly sought after in the industry. It serves as an efficient entry point into AWS, whether you are new to Cloud or have some prior experience.

Considerations for Role-Based Certifications:

AWS certifications can be categorized into two main groupings: Role-Based certifications and Specialty certifications. Role-Based certifications are designed to validate knowledge specific to certain job roles. These certifications test a broader range of knowledge and are essential for professionals aiming to specialize in particular areas within AWS.


As we explored the world of AWS certifications, it became clear that starting with the Solutions Architect Associate certification provides an efficient and effective path towards achieving your certification goals. By focusing on a certification that covers both the Associate Architect and Cloud Practitioner levels, you save time, eliminate redundancy, and increase your chances of career advancement.

Remember, while advice from others may vary, my recommendation, based on years of experience working with AWS, maintaining certifications, and teaching students, is to begin with the Solutions Architect Associate certification. It provides a solid foundation for your AWS journey.

In the next part of this series, we will delve deeper into the common pathways through the various certifications and explore the Specialty certifications in more detail. Stay tuned for more insights and guidance to help you navigate the AWS certification landscape.

Remember, success in AWS certifications is within your reach. Keep exploring, learning, and growing to unlock new opportunities in the world of AWS.

Understanding the AWS Certification Path: Role-Based and Specialty Certifications

When it comes to AWS certifications, it's important to navigate the various levels and specializations strategically. In this article, I will provide insights into the different certifications, their knowledge requirements, and the recommended order to tackle them. By following a logical progression, you can optimize your learning experience and enhance your career prospects within the AWS ecosystem.

Role-Based Certifications: The Foundation for Most Individuals

For the majority of individuals, starting with the Role-Based certifications is the most sensible approach. These certifications are tailored to specific job roles, such as architecture, operations, or development. They provide a well-rounded understanding of the knowledge and skills required to excel in these roles.

The Role-Based certifications should be the initial focus for around 90% of individuals. They offer a balance between breadth and depth of knowledge necessary for a successful career in AWS. However, it's important to note that there are some exceptions, which I'll address shortly.

Specialty Certifications: Deeper Expertise in Specific Areas

On the other hand, the Specialty certifications offer a narrower but more profound exploration of specific subject areas. These certifications are designed to validate deep expertise in specialized roles, such as senior networking engineers or AWS data scientists.

While some individuals may already possess strong skills in a particular area covered by a Specialty certification, it is generally recommended to leave these certifications until later in your journey. The Specialty certifications require more focused study and a greater depth of knowledge beyond what is covered in the Role-Based certifications.

Visualizing the Certification Path:

To help conceptualize how the different certifications fit together, let's visualize them. On the left side, we have the Cloud Practitioner certification, which requires the least amount of knowledge and skill. While I don't specifically recommend studying for this certification, it serves as a foundation for the subsequent certifications.

Moving up, we have the Associate-level certifications, which build upon the knowledge gained in the Cloud Practitioner certification. These certifications require additional depth and coverage in comparison to the Cloud Practitioner.

At the Professional level, the pattern continues, requiring a similar foundation of knowledge from the Practitioner and Associate levels, but with a greater emphasis on depth and breadth. Professionals need to demonstrate a more comprehensive understanding of AWS products, their architectures, and integration for real-world projects.

Finally, we have the Specialty certifications, which delve even deeper into specific subject areas. These certifications require a 50/50 split between specialized subject knowledge and AWS skills, falling somewhere between the Associate and Professional levels of proficiency.

The Role of Solutions Architect Certifications:

To make the Specialty certifications more accessible, it is advisable to study for the Solutions Architect Professional certification beforehand. The Solutions Architect Professional certification serves as a foundation for all the Specialty certifications, just as the Solutions Architect Associate certification serves as a foundation for the Role-Based certifications within AWS.

The Order of Certifications:

While there's no definitive answer to the ideal order for tackling AWS certifications, starting at the Associate level is strongly recommended. The Associate level is where employers start to take notice, and it provides an enjoyable learning experience. Regardless of your current job role, beginning with the Solutions Architect Associate certification is advantageous. Architecture is a fundamental aspect of AWS, and it happens to be the easiest Associate-level certification. Starting with any other Associate certification would result in less efficient studying, as both the Developer and Operations certifications rely on architectural knowledge.

Exam Format and Cost:

The AWS certification exams typically consist of multiple-choice or multiple-answer questions. You'll have a total of 130 minutes to complete the exam, and the cost is $150 US.


Cracking the AWS Certification Path: Navigating the Professional Level

As we delve deeper into the AWS certification journey, it's time to explore the Professional level exams. These exams pose a significant challenge compared to the Associate level certifications, and it's crucial to understand their unique characteristics and strategic order.

A Choice After the Associate Level: Developer Associate and SysOps Associate

Once you have successfully completed the Solutions Architect Associate exam, you reach a crucial decision point. Traditionally, it was recommended to follow up with the Developer Associate and SysOps Associate certifications. The Developer Associate exam doesn't require actual development experience but focuses on testing your knowledge of products and features commonly used by developers. It shares similarities with the Solutions Architect Associate exam, with additional topics like DynamoDB, SQS, Elastic Beanstalk, and more.

The format of the Developer Associate exam mirrors that of the Solutions Architect, with multiple-choice and multiple-answer questions. You'll have 130 minutes to complete the exam, and the cost is $150 US. Similarly, the SysOps Associate certification shares an overlap with the Solutions Architect Associate exam. While the Architect exam emphasizes design and integration, the SysOps exam focuses on hands-on operations and troubleshooting. Although the product scope remains similar, the SysOps Associate exam requires a deeper understanding of operational aspects.

By pursuing this route, commonly referred to as "All Three" within the AWS Certification community, you'll have acquired all three Associate-level certifications.

Moving to the Professional Level: A Different Challenge

Upon completing the Associate certifications, the next step is to tackle the Professional level exams. It's crucial to be prepared for the considerable jump in difficulty that awaits you. The Professional exams are significantly harder than their Associate counterparts, and many students underestimate the difference.

Traditionally, it was recommended to complete all three Associate exams before attempting any of the Professional certifications. However, with the introduction of new study approaches, such as stream-based learning, it is now possible to take a more efficient path. Starting with the Solutions Architect Professional certification allows you to tackle the difficulty jump head-on. While the difficulty remains, this approach eliminates the need to complete the Developer and SysOps Associate certifications. Note that you can still choose to pursue these certifications if desired.

The Professional exams are lengthier, with questions ranging from four to five lines, and each answer requiring two to four lines. This means you must carefully read, comprehend, interpret, and consistently select the correct answer(s) over the course of three hours. While the exam duration is only 50 minutes longer than the Associate exams, it can feel much longer due to the heightened difficulty. The Professional exams demand a broader range of knowledge, making them challenging in their own right.

The Ideal Order: Solutions Architect Professional and DevOps Professional

When deciding the order of the Professional exams, it is essential to prioritize the Solutions Architect Professional certification. Architecture serves as the foundation for all other AWS services and domains. Even if you possess skills and experience in the DevOps field, a detailed understanding of AWS is still necessary. Completing the Solutions Architect Professional certification first equips you with the knowledge required for the subsequent exams.

Following the Solutions Architect Professional, the final step in the Professional tier is the DevOps Professional exam. There is some overlap between the two exams, allowing you to study the combined subject areas efficiently. By allocating three months for preparation and scheduling the exams weeks apart, you can optimize your study efforts.

Completing this traditional route will grant you five certifications in total: three Associates and two Professionals, earning you the esteemed title of "All Five" within the AWS Certification community.

A Final Note: Professional Exams Require Respect

Achieving AWS Certification Mastery: A Comprehensive Guide

As we near the end of this AWS certification journey, it's time to address a few remaining considerations. While the Professional level exams are the pinnacle of achievement, there are additional certifications and specialties that can further enhance your expertise.

Aiming for Completeness: The Cloud Practitioner Certification

As a completionist, you might consider looping back and acquiring the Cloud Practitioner certification if you haven't already done so. While not mandatory, obtaining this certification rounds off the Role-Based certifications and can provide a sense of accomplishment. If having just one certification leaves you feeling incomplete, then go ahead and pursue the Cloud Practitioner to satisfy your pursuit of mastery.

The Specialties: Tailoring Certifications to Your Skills

The Specialty exams offer a focused examination of specific niche topics within AWS. The difficulty of these exams varies depending on your existing skill level. Advanced Networking is often regarded as the most challenging, while Security or Alexa are considered relatively easier. The order in which you tackle the Specialties depends on your skills and preferences. For instance, if you're already a networking engineer, you may consider starting with the Advanced Networking certification. However, it's possible that you have already taken this certification based on earlier discussions. Ultimately, prioritize the Specialties based on the difficulty you perceive in each topic.

Structure and Format of the Specialty Exams

The Specialty exams differ slightly from the Professional level exams. They are shorter in duration, lasting 170 minutes instead of 180, but they maintain a similar question and answer structure. These exams require a deep understanding of the skills and knowledge specific to the chosen niche topic. Prepare yourself for a comprehensive assessment that demands thorough reading and comprehension.

Keeping Up-to-Date and Practice Tests

To ensure you have the most current information, I have included a link to the details of all current AWS Certifications alongside this article. I will continue to update this resource as changes or additions are made to the certification lineup. Within each certification's exam overview document, you'll find detailed information about the certification itself. Additionally, where applicable, I have provided sample questions to give you an idea of the complexity involved. It's worth noting that practice tests are also available for purchase, offering more examples of exam-style questions to help you prepare effectively.

Final Thoughts and Future Articles

I hope this comprehensive guide has been valuable to you on your AWS certification journey. We've covered the various certification levels, their unique characteristics, and strategic approaches for success. Remember, AWS certifications are not just a badge of honor; they represent a profound understanding of AWS services and architectures.

In the future, I look forward to delving into more topics related to AWS certifications and providing you with further insights and guidance. Stay tuned for upcoming articles that will support your ongoing professional development and pursuit of excellence.


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