Should I take AWS certifications?
AWS certifications cost money and time to prepare and people seek different benefits. But are they worth doing? At the time of writing I hold all AWS Foundational, Associate, and Professional certifications. My answer is yes. But not for the reasons most people may think. I will explain my experience and why.
AWS prefers Practice over Theory
Let’s debunk a myth. As someone may think and as I previously wrote in this article, obtaining certification is the most efficient way to obtain the state-of-the-art “knowledge” of any field. But knowledge is not a skill. Knowledge slowly (but not automatically) becomes experience and, through dedicated and intelligent practice, skill. When you are hiring someone, you want the skill, not the knowledge. The certification is only there to validate you have the skill in actual practice. AWS made a good effort at elaborating trick questions that the junior developer who studied some online course to pass the exam can’t likely get right.
During my AWS Solutions Architect Professional exam, I got mad at a question about AWS GuardDuty. I knew, from my real hands-on experience, because I had implemented security on a group of 500 AWS accounts under the same AWS Organizations management account, that the answer I would pick was different from the obvious one. But I doubted I were overthinking about it. I chose to go with my experience for the entire exam, ready to file a complaint to AWS for the “poor wording”. To my “surprise”, I passed the exam with great score and the final report showed all areas of the breakdown as positive. This means I was correct and AWS was actually testing my actual experience, not theory.
AWS also added labs to the SysOps Admin exam – another great experience that makes it more real and less theoretical.
Can you pass the Certification with no practice?
I knew a person who had scarce hands-on experience but would buy and study dozens of courses and test banks. This theoretical approach is completely wrong. He got certain baseline concepts wrong and had to reverse-engineer the questions, reasoning backwards.
Still, this person ultimately passed some certifications and still achieved true progress. Because of how AWS words the questions, theoretical students have to undergo immense effort and still become better Cloud users. I would estimate (and this is a gut feeling) a 100% theoretical student has to do 30x the effort of a hands-on professional. So the certification will still mean something.
Also, AWS applies fees. At the time of writing:
- The Cloud Practitioner exam is 100 USD
- Associate-level exams are 150 USD
- Professional-level and Specialty exams are 300 USD
Nobody gets feedback on the questions and they are proctored – it’s forbidden to take notes and very hard to memorize questions. I used all the time available to complete the exam, there was no overtime to do anything else. This means even if a student could retake the failed exam after 2 weeks, they’d gain almost no benefit and still pay the fee.
Any concrete benefit from the certification?
I took the certification exams for no particular reason and was skeptical about any benefit. But recently, during a security potential issue (that I can’t reveal details about), I found that I was very prescriptive in dealing with it, the cases, and the solutions. I had known most of these concepts for a long time, but I realized that the mental order I forced myself to achieve when I studied for the certifications had improved how I could use this information. It is incredible. I found out on my own skin that they truly work.
I found that after taking the AWS certifications my professional quality increased. AWS made it hard for theoretical takers especially on the Professional level, so the certification will always mean something in any case.