Best AWS Certifications

AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate is the best AWS certification

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Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the most widely adopted cloud provider, accounting for 31% of the market as of February 2021. AWS certifications are also among the most highly valued in the growing field of cloud computing. Global Knowledge identified two AWS cloud certifications among the top 10 highest-paying information technology (IT) certifications in North America in 2020.

The best AWS certificates are in high demand and can help certified cloud practitioners secure raises and well-paying IT positions. They also cover a broad range of subjects while validating certificate holders' in-depth knowledge of specific aspects of cloud computing.

Best AWS Certifications of 2021

Best Overall : AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate


AWS

AWS

  • Cost: $150 
  • Duration: 130 minutes
  • Level: Intermediate
Why We Chose It

The AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate certification validates foundational skills in cloud computing. Industry demand for this certificate is high.

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Provides a solid foundation in AWS cloud computing

  • Less challenging than Solutions Architect – Professional certification

Cons
  • Lower salary than Solutions Architect – Professional

  • Less focused than other associate-level exams

Overview

The AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate certification is one of the best IT certifications available. It is also the most popular certification AWS offers. According to a survey by Global Knowledge, the Solutions Architect – Associate certification was the third-highest-paying IT certification in North America in 2020. Survey participants with this credential earned an average salary of $142,191.

Candidates for this certification should have one year of hands-on experience using the AWS platform. They should also have a solid understanding of AWS infrastructure, network technologies, security features, and best practices. 

If you pursue this certification, AWS offers a free exam guide, sample questions, and a $20 practice test to help you prepare. You can also complete a free two-hour exam readiness course offered by AWS, which covers the exam's format and offers study suggestions. As with all AWS certification exams, candidates can choose to take the exam online with a proctor or at a testing facility.

Best Value : AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate


AWS

AWS

  • Cost: $150 
  • Duration: 130 minutes
  • Level: Intermediate
Why We Chose It

Earning your AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate certification validates your understanding of AWS architecture overall. Earning this credential can be beneficial for anyone who runs applications on AWS.

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Good preparation for professional certifications

  • Useful for anyone who runs AWS applications

Cons
  • Most difficult associate exam

  • New exam format includes challenging lab items

Overview

The SysOps certification exam costs the same as other AWS associate exams. However, its value lies in its usefulness, particularly for those who plan to pursue AWS's professional certifications. The SysOps exam is widely considered the most challenging associate exam offered by AWS. While it's not a prerequisite, becoming an AWS Certified Sysops Administrator may make tackling the more challenging professional exams more manageable.

AWS changed the Sysops – Associate exam to reflect innovations on the AWS platform. The updated exam includes lab items, which ask the test taker to perform tasks in the AWS Management Console or AWS Command Line Interface. Certificate candidates can begin registering for the new version of the exam starting June 29, 2021. AWS will discontinue the current version of the exam in late July.

Candidates for AWS Certified SysOps certification should have at least one year of experience with AWS. To prepare for the exam, which you can take online or in person, check out the resources on AWS's website, including digital training and webinars, an exam readiness course, and a $20 practice test.

Best for Beginners : AWS Certified Developer – Associate


AWS

AWS

  • Cost: $150 
  • Duration: 130 minutes
  • Level: Beginner/Intermediate
Why We Chose It

If you have some hands-on experience with AWS, the AWS Certified Developer – Associate exam can be a good place to begin your AWS certification journey. Earning this certificate first may make obtaining subsequent associate certifications easier, which is why it's our top choice for beginners. 

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Useful for almost anyone using the AWS platform

  • Good first choice for those interested in earning more certifications

Cons
  • AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate certification in higher demand

Overview

True beginners may want to earn their AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner certification before pursuing associate certificates. However, the AWS Certified Developer – Associate certification can be a good place to start if you have some hands-on experience implementing cloud computing solutions with AWS. 

Earning your AWS Certified Developer – Associate certificate demonstrates your understanding of AWS services, architecture, and best practices. In 2020, the AWS developer certification was one of the top-paying certifications worldwide. Professionals with this credential earned an average salary of $103,358 globally. 

If you plan to earn multiple certifications, starting with the AWS Certified Developer – Associate exam may be a good option. There is some overlap between it and the Solutions Architect – Associate exam. By taking the two exams close together, you may cut down on your overall study time. 

AWS recommends several courses to help candidates prepare for the Certified Developer exam, including AWS Technical Essentials, Developing on AWS, and Getting Started with DevOps on AWS. It also provides free study materials and a $20 practice exam. Candidates can take the exam online or at a testing center.

Best for Advanced Students : AWS Certified Security – Speciality


AWS

AWS

  • Cost: $300 
  • Duration: 170 minutes
  • Level: Advanced
Why We Chose It

Data security is a significant concern across different cloud computing domains. There is a growing demand for cloud security experts and we think the AWS Certified Security – Specialty certification is the best option for advanced students.

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Broadest specialty AWS certification

  • Growing demand for cloud security experts

Cons
  • Not necessary for many IT roles

  • High cost

Overview

Like other AWS specialty certifications, the AWS Certified Security certificate is for advanced IT professionals. Candidates should have five years of IT experience and at least two years of experience using AWS. The exam covers how to respond to security breaches, how to design and implement security monitoring systems, how to troubleshoot a secure network infrastructure, and more. 

Security issues affect many different areas of cloud computing, which is why this specialty certification is broader in focus than the others. It's a good choice for those seeking to advance in the growing field of cloud security, which is expected to see a 115% increase in jobs by 2026. 

You can take your AWS Certified Security – Specialty exam at a testing facility or with a proctor online. To help you prepare, AWS recommends several free online and paid classroom courses. Its free, three-hour digital course, Getting Started with AWS Security, Identity, and Compliance, is a good place to begin. You can also access a free exam readiness course and purchase a $40 practice test.

Best for Cloud Certification : AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner


AWS

AWS

  • Cost: $100 
  • Duration: 90 minutes
  • Level: Beginner
Why We Chose It

If you're new to cloud computing, becoming an AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner can help you better understand the AWS platform. This certificate is a good choice for those seeking cloud certification to learn AWS fundamentals rather than develop technical expertise.

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Requires minimal technical AWS knowledge

  • Easiest and least expensive AWS exam

  • Good stepping stone toward associate certifications

Cons
  • Not as useful for those with technical AWS experience

  • Does not provide technical training

Overview 

By becoming an AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner, you can gain a basic understanding of the AWS cloud infrastructure. You will learn how to describe its architectural principles, the financial value it provides to users, and its security features. 

The Cloud Practitioner exam does not test technical skills in cloud computing. Yet, in North America, professionals with this credential are among the highest earners in the industry. In 2020, they earned an average annual salary of $128,620. 

The AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner exam is widely regarded as the easiest exam AWS offers. Certificate candidates can take the exam online with a proctor or at a testing facility. AWS recommends that test takers have at least six months of experience with AWS; however, this experience doesn't need to be technical. 

To help test takers prepare for the exam, AWS offers free webinars and test preparation materials, and a $20 practice exam. Certificate candidates can also access 19 free introductory AWS lessons hosted on qwikLABS, each of which takes less than 30 minutes to complete. On test day, students can take the exam online or in person.

Best for Architect Certification : AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional


AWS

AWS

  • Cost: $300 
  • Duration: 180 minutes
  • Level: Advanced
Why We Chose It

Once you have mastered the AWS platform, earning your AWS Solutions Architect – Professional certification can showcase the depth and breadth of your cloud-computing knowledge. It's also the most comprehensive AWS certification and the best for cloud architects.

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • In high-demand

  • High average salaries

Cons
  • One of AWS's most difficult exams

  • Expensive

Overview 

The AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional certificate is the most in-demand IT certification for 2021. Global Knowledge reports that in 2020, survey participants with this certification were the highest earners, with an average annual salary of $169,611. Candidates for the Solutions Architect – Professional certification should have at least two years of experience designing and deploying cloud architecture on AWS.

There are no prerequisites for professional certification as a solutions architect; however, earning this certificate requires deep knowledge of just about every facet of AWS. Therefore, it might be a good idea to obtain one or more associate certifications before tackling one of AWS's most challenging exams.

Candidates can take the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional exam at a testing facility or online with a proctor. AWS offers free study materials, including an exam guide, sample questions, and an exam readiness course. A $40 practice test is also available.

Best for Machine Learning Certification : AWS Certified Machine Learning – Specialty


AWS

AWS

  • Cost: $300 
  • Duration: 180 minutes
  • Level: Advanced
Why We Chose It

The AWS Certified Machine Learning – Specialty certification validates skills in building, implementing, and deploying machine learning solutions for businesses. It's the most targeted certificate for machine learning experts.

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Best for developers and data scientists

  • Machine learning skills in high demand

Cons
  • One of AWS's more difficult exams

  • Expensive

Overview

The AWS Certified Machine Learning – Specialty certification validates candidates' ability to build, train, and deploy machine learning models using AWS. To earn this certificate, you will need at least one year of experience in a data science or developer role using machine learning on the AWS platform. 

Certificate candidates can take the Machine Learning – Specialty exam at a testing facility or with a proctor online. To prepare for your exam, you can access exam guides and sample questions on the AWS website. AWS also offers a free exam readiness course and a $40 practice test.

Best for DevOps Certification : AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional


AWS

AWS

  • Cost: $300 
  • Duration: 180 minutes
  • Level: Advanced
Why We Chose It

The AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional certification is geared toward DevOps engineers experienced in managing AWS environments. It's the best choice for professionals working in development and operations.

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Explicitly designed for DevOps engineers

  • Good stepping stone for Solutions Architecture – Professional certification

Cons
  • Narrow focus

  • One of AWS's more difficult exams

Overview

Like all AWS professional certifications, earning the Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional certification requires deep knowledge of the AWS platform. It differs from the Certified Solutions Architecture – Professional certification in its comparatively narrow focus. The exam tests candidates' ability to implement and manage continuous delivery systems, automate security controls, and design tools to automate operational processes.

Those interested in earning the Solutions Architecture – Professional certification may benefit from getting their DevOps certification beforehand. Certificate candidates should have at least two years of experience managing and operating AWS environments. 

AWS provides an exam guide, sample questions, and other free study materials on its website. Certificate candidates can prepare for the exam by taking AWS's free, two-hour AWS Cloud Development Kit Primar course and its free exam readiness course. AWS also offers a $40 practice exam. On test day, candidates can choose to take their exam online or at a testing facility.

Final Verdict

The Solutions Architect – Associate certification is our choice for the best AWS cloud certification overall. It is the most popular certification offered by AWS and provides a solid foundation in AWS cloud computing. IT professionals with this certificate are also among the highest earners in the industry.

Compare the Best AWS Certifications

Certification Locations Format Cost Duration
AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate
Best Overall
Over 5,000 PSI and Pearson VUE testing facilities Proctored online or at a testing facility $150 130 minutes
AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate
Best Value
5,000+ testing facilities worldwide  Online or in-person  $150 130 minutes 
AWS Certified Developer—Associate
Best for Beginners 
5,000+ testing facilities worldwide  Online or in-person  $150  130 minutes 
AWS Certified Security – Specialty
Best for Advanced Students
5,000+ testing facilities worldwide  Online or in-person  $300 170 minutes
AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner
Best for Cloud Certification
5,000+ testing facilities worldwide  Online or in-person  $100 90 minutes
AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional
Best for Architect Certification
5,000+ testing facilities worldwide  Online or in-person  $300 180 minutes
AWS Certified Machine Learning – Specialty
Best for Machine Learning Certification
5,000+ testing facilities worldwide  Online or in-person  $300  180 minutes 
AWS Certified DevOps – Professional
Best for DevOps Certification
5,000+ testing facilities worldwide  Online or in-person  $300  180 minutes 

How to Choose the Best AWS Certification 

The best way to choose an AWS certification is to see which one supports your career goals the most. Consider the difficulty of each exam since it may be possible to advance your career just as well with a certification exam that's easier to pass than one that's more difficult.  

If you're just getting started in AWS, begin by researching which AWS certifications are currently the most sought after and cross-reference the salaries of professionals with those credentials.

Types of AWS Certifications 

AWS offers 11 certifications which fall into four tiers: foundational, associate, professional, and specialty. The only foundational certification AWS bestows is Certified Cloud Practitioner. AWS recommends this certification for professionals with six months of technical or non-technical experience using AWS. 

AWS offers three associate-level certifications: AWS Certified Solutions Architect, AWS Certified Developer, and AWS Certified SysOps Administrator. Candidates for associate certification should have at least one year of hands-on experience using the AWS platform. 

Advanced students can pursue two professional certifications and five specialty certifications. Candidates for these certifications should have at least two years of AWS cloud computing experience. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is an AWS Certification? 

AWS certification validates IT professionals' cloud-computing knowledge and IT skills. AWS offers certifications tailored to IT professionals working in various capacities and with different levels of expertise.

Is an AWS Certificate Worth It?

According to Global Knowledge, in 2020, IT professionals who earned new certifications received an average raise of $13,000. Many also reported improved job performance and expanded job opportunities. On its own, an AWS certificate may not be enough to get you hired; however, IT employers value certifications, and learning AWS skills may have many benefits for your career.

How Much Does an AWS Certification Cost? 

AWS certification exams cost $100-$300, depending on the level of certification. Students can also purchase AWS practice exams to help them prepare. These cost $20-$40.

What Types of Jobs Can You Get With an AWS Certificate? 

Cloud computing is one of the fastest-growing sectors of IT. Earning an AWS certification may help you advance your career as a solutions architect, developer, DevOps engineer, or SysOps administrator. Earning a specialty certification could help you qualify for roles in advanced network engineering, data science, and other specialized fields. 

Methodology

We reviewed AWS's current certification offerings. In ranking certifications, we considered industry demand for the certificate, certificate holders' average salaries, the difficulty of obtaining certification, and the usefulness of certification for various IT professions.

Article Sources

  1. Canalys. “Cloud Infrastructure Market Q4 2020.” Accessed May 6, 2021. 

  2. Global Knowledge. "2020 IT Skills and Salary Report." Accessed May 6, 2021. 

  3. Cloud Guru. "Which Amazon Web Services Certification Is Right for Me?" Accessed May 6, 2021. 

  4. AtlasVPN. "App Development Security Is the Most Wanted Cybersecurity Skill in 2021." Accessed May 6, 2021. 

  5. CIO. "Top 15 IT certifications in demand for 2021." Accessed May 6, 2021.