AWS certifications are among the most valuable IT certifications you can get – so it’s no wonder that there’s been increasing interest in getting certified on AWS over the last few years.
This week, we sat down with Maks Khomutskyi, a Solutions Architect at Logicworks who holds all 9 AWS certifications. We asked him how he got certified, his most valuable studying tools, and what his plans for certification are next.
How did you get started with AWS certifications?
I’d been experimenting with AWS since 2015, but in 2017, I decided to fully immerse myself in learning AWS. I used the process of studying for each AWS certification to structure my learning; every new exam was an opportunity to learn a different aspect of the AWS platform. While AWS certifications are definitely good for your career, I’ve found they’re equally effective at focusing you on how to learn AWS. If you’re brand new to the platform, I suggest studying for and passing all 3 Associate level exams first.
For the professional level certifications, you really need to have experience building a variety of AWS architectures. I started doing freelance AWS projects in 2018 and with every new project I worked on, I got a chance to stretch the limits of what I knew. For example, I worked with a client who was building a data lake, so I took the AWS Big Data Specialty exam. After I worked with multiple clients with complex security requirements, I took the AWS Security Specialty exam. Everything followed naturally based on the projects I was working on.
How much experience with AWS do you need to get the AWS Solutions Architect – Associate certification?
The AWS Solutions Architect – Associate exam was the first one I passed. I was experimenting with AWS since 2015, but had been studying and working exclusively with AWS for about three months at that point. But granted, I’d been working in IT since I was in college. AWS recommends a year of experience for the Associate-level exams, which I think is fair if you’re new to IT.
What tools did you use to prepare for the AWS certification exams?
- A Cloud Guru: https://acloud.guru/
- Linux Academy: https://linuxacademy.com/
- AWS whitepapers: https://aws.amazon.com/whitepapers/
- AWS self-paced labs: https://aws.amazon.com/training/self-paced-labs/
- AWS re:Invent talks: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLhr1KZpdzukeXZMkUXh2kGlWvzXakRh-a
Unfortunately, the exams are changing so fast that courses like A Cloud Guru and Linux Academy are behind. You really need to watch the re:Invent talks and stay up to date on the latest AWS releases in order to pass the Professional level exams.
How much experience do you actually need for Professional-level AWS certifications?
Many of the questions on the AWS Solutions Architect – Professional and AWS DevOps Engineer – Professional exams weren’t about choosing the single “right” answer out of a lot of “bad” answers; it’s about choosing the best option given some very specific criteria. This requires hands-on experience with a wide variety of architectures. You need to catch the wording; for example, they’ll ask you to build the most reliable solution — so three of the answers are right, but only one of them is the most reliable and the other is the most scalable. These kinds of questions require that you understand tradeoffs.
If you had to rank AWS certifications from easiest to hardest, how would you rank them?
Of course, this depends a lot on whether you have a background specific to one of these exams. But as a veteran IT professional, I’d rank them like this:
- AWS SysOps Administrator – Associate
- AWS Solutions Architect – Associate
- AWS Developer – Associate
- AWS Speciality – Security
- AWS Solutions Architect – Professional
- AWS DevOps Engineer – Professional
- AWS Specialty – Big Data
- AWS Specialty – Advanced Networking
AWS Specialty – Big Data is a relatively new exam. Why did you think it was so challenging?
The AWS Specialty – Big Data exam was really hard for me. You need to have knowledge of not only AWS services, but also popular platforms, the difference between running on Amazon RDS and column databases, how DynamoDB works in small detail, etc. For example, what is the right way to process a lot of media data or analytics? How do you improve user experience on website? Because the exam focuses on one specific topic — versus the other exams that are more wide-ranging — it goes much deeper into the application-level than other exams, which is hard if you’re more of an infrastructure person like me. In fact, the AWS Specialty – Big Data exam so challenging that unless you’re from the Big Data world, you probably won’t pass the exam on the first try.
But despite all that, I highly recommend taking the AWS Speciality – Big Data exam. It took me a few months of studying and preparing, but now I feel like I know way more about Big Data than I did before.
Do you think that preparing for AWS certifications has actually helped you become a better AWS Solutions Architect?
Real-life experience is the most important thing you need to become a Solutions Architect for AWS. But these certifications give you a wider view of all the technology and best practices of AWS, even beyond what you usually work on. Now I know the AWS recommendation for building text search for client websites. I know the tools recommended for small, medium, and large companies.
At Logicworks, when a client asks me to design and build an AWS architecture, I can build it in 2 or 3 different ways and test the best one. Even if you don’t remember the details in all the exams, you have view of whole picture.
Now that you’re fully certified on AWS, what will you tackle next?
What’s exciting is that AWS is constantly changing these exams to keep up with new services, and is also developing new certifications. For example, I’m preparing for the Alexa Skills exam now! I’m also studying for the AWS Certified Machine Learning – Specialty exam and Machine Learning in general. I think Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence and Big Data together will be huge topics in future.
Never stop learning! That’s always the way to stay ahead in IT.
Logicworks is an AWS Premier Consulting Partner that helps companies build, manage, and optimize their AWS clouds. To learn more about Logicworks’ Solutions Architects or talk to a cloud expert, contact us.