Preparing to pass AWS certifications could improve your skills significantly

I decided a few weeks ago to give the AWS certifications a try, after years of hands-on experience. And what I learned in the process makes me wish many more engineers start thinking of doing it too.

I thought certifications were a goal — and they might be — but the journey is also really worth being considered.

When the journey appears to be more important than the destination

I decided to pass the certifications as a personal goal. A way to measure what I learned and what was yet to be learned. I saw the preparation of the certifications as a way to assess where I was and what I had yet to learn.

AWS platform is so broad, with so many services, I had some very good working knowledge in some areas, and only vague notions in others. And to make things more difficult, areas I mastered like ECS or Lambda strangely don’t appear at all in the Solution Architect exam nor in the Associate Developer exam (they will be added at some point in the future for sure, but lambdas aren’t new anymore in 2017). I had to learn about some other services I hardly knew like SWF or SQS which are covered by the exam.

AWS documentation isn’t a small thing

Overall, after these years of hands-on experience, I didn’t expect to have so many new things to learn to pass the certification. But getting ready for the exam forced me to learn both about the services I never had to use before, and to add more depth to some other use-cases of services I already knew.

But this was the best value I could get from all this process, it forced me to learn a lot of services my last and current project hadn’t exposed me to. And I also had to add some depth in my knowledge of other services.

Why many engineers would benefit from training for the certification

In these few weeks, catching up and getting ready, I really learned so much more than I expected. No matter the final result of the exams, this new pieces of knowledge were already worth for me!

I expected to learn a few things while preparing for the exam. I learned an awful lot!
— Myself, looking at my notes

And I realized that many engineers out there are probably like me: they are able to face their daily challenges, they keep learning new things, and they know well the services they use. But learning more in depth these services, and having the opportunity to learn more about all the other services could really boost their skills and broaden their vision.

In the end, even if the certifications are not a job requirement, preparing (and passing!) the certifications is a very strong incentive to complete the skillset of an engineer and any team could benefit from that!

The more you know about the potential solutions you can choose from, the better the choices you’ll make.

But are certifications really worth?

People say it increases the career opportunities. Maybe, it might. I don’t know. But there are other immediate benefits.

I prefer to keep driving license analogy in mind:

Someone with some experience could be able to drive a car without license.
And someone with a license could be a bad driver without any experience.
But you can expect someone with both the experience and a license to be a good enough driver.

A certification doesn’t give you any guarantee that the person will be able to make the best decisions. Experience is only a proxy of the expertise a person has. That’s why I realized a combination of both is still not a guarantee, but it reduces the risk of bad decisions significantly.

A few last words & thank you

AWS documentation is huge, and knowing what to focus on to pass the exams wasn’t obvious. Ryan Kroonenburg and the team at A Cloud Guru proved to be an awesome resource, and the training they provide is very insightful and well paced. It was definitely a great asset to get my head around, help me discover my weaknesses and focus in these areas. The courses provide a nice balance of depth and high-level view, and it’s so cheap it should be a no-brainer if you consider preparing for the exam! They made my studies much easier to plan.

And now, what’s next?

My goal for 2017 is to try to get all 3 associates exams (solution architect, developer and sysops admin), then to focus on the security specialty exam. With the Solution Architect and the Developer exams passed, I can now start focusing on the next ones. Since the security specialty is very new, please feel free to send me any feedback if you tried it already.

Software engineering, data-analysis, and devops.