Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the backbone of many companies’ cloud infrastructure. If you’re interested in a variety of tech-related professions, you’ll need at least some familiarity with how AWS works, given its popularity.
Fortunately, there are quite a number of pathways to training and certification that can help immensely, whether your chosen area of focus is security, DevOps, machine learning, sysadmin, or something else entirely. By the time you’re in a position to interview for a job that heavily leverages AWS, you’ll need to know your stuff; many companies will depend on you to keep their cloud running with virtually no downtime (and scaling as appropriate).
Dice Insights spoke with Kirk Werner, Udacity’s vice president of content, to figure out the best place to start your AWS training, the related benefits, and why you should be prepared for an educational experience that will last a lifetime.
Where do I start AWS training?
Werner pointed out that cloud computing, like data science and programming, is going to prove vital to know in the future, especially if you want any job that involves working with tech infrastructure. “That means you have to understand how cloud platforms work, and how they supercharge the process of growth for every industry,” he said. “You should start at the very beginning and take an introduction to cloud computing course.”
Such a course will help beginners with cloud-related terms and definitions, as well as get them thinking holistically about the most popular cloud services. Whether AWS, Google Cloud, or Microsoft Azure, the biggest cloud vendors’ offerings all have different features, costs, and interoperability issues that technologists must address.
For example, both AWS and Azure are interoperable with a full range of tools, operating systems, shells (such as bash and Powershell), and database services. Fortunately, at this point the capabilities of these platforms are pretty similar, even if the names and procedures behind those platforms vary; if you can understand the fundamentals of how databases, containers, and disk storage work, for example, you can probably learn the most vital aspects of AWS and Azure pretty quickly.
It’s also key to learn other tech fundamentals along the way, such as programming languages that developers use to build software for the cloud. “You should probably learn a language like Python, but it’s that language, expressed in cloud computing, where you get the value,” Werner said. “The fundamentals are incredibly important. Explore how it is different from other platforms, understand how the AWS console works, learn how to establish a database in that space.”
How long does AWS training last?
AWS is huge. “It’s not something you can learn in two hours, it’s experiential,” Werner explained. “We think there’s value in the repetition of learning and the engagement of learning. If you put in 5-10 hours a week for 3-4 months, you’d have a wonderful understanding and applicable skills to become a developer.”
For example, a developer who’s proficient in AWS will learn everything from how to use the platform to monitor app metrics (via CloudWatch) to minimizing resource use (via “serverless” programming using AWS Lambda) to choosing the right AWS database. If you want to embrace cutting-edge skills, you could also devote time to studying how AWS intersects with machine learning. But all of that depends on knowing the fundamentals of computer science.
“Without any background in computer science, you also have to understand computer languages like Java or Python, or databases,” Werner said. “It’s more than just AWS you need, you need other programming skills, understanding databases, and how all those things work together.”
Can I teach myself?
Werner said while it’s possible to go through programs on your own time, but the value of community is important; you’re going to want to ask questions.
“That’s the nature of learning. This is not something you can learn in an hour or two,” he said. “Being able to learn in an environment where you can build a trusted space is important. You’re going to want someone to be able to look at what you have built and evaluate it, so you have that positive reinforcement that you are actually learning the work.”
A community will help you discover new directions and make you think of new ways to approach challenges. “Having that mentor experience is a better learning experience than reading a book by yourself and then trying stuff,” he added. “Can you do it on your own? Sure, some people are that self-directed. But a lot of us need a little bit of direction.”
If you’re already working as a technologist, figure out if there’s someone in your company who specializes in AWS, and see if they’d be willing to mentor you (or at least talk you through the occasional question). At the very least, they might be able to provide you with pointers in terms of online resources as you further your AWS education.
Another intensely helpful resource are the AWS discussion forums, many of which feature threads that are updated frequently. On the larger threads, you may need to really dig to find what you need, but there are experts giving valuable advice (sometimes on some really esoteric aspects of the platform).
Reddit also features an AWS subreddit (r/AWS) with roughly 137,000 followers.
What are the exams one can take for AWS certification?
Amazon provides a number of exams that are specific to the AWS platform, which start with multiple levels, from basic to more detailed. Here’s how the company’s certification categories break down:
Foundational: Certifications at this level represent “six months of fundamental AWS Cloud and industry knowledge,” in Amazon’s words. Many AWS jobs will request that you have at least some certifications on this level.
Associate: “One year of experience solving problems and implementing solutions using the AWS Cloud,” according to Amazon; in other words, these certifications are one level up from Foundational. There are three subcategories of Associate: Architect, Operations, and Developer.
Professional: “Two years of comprehensive experience designing, operating, and troubleshooting solutions using the AWS Cloud,” says Amazon. Professional certifications feature two categories: Architect and DevOps.
Specialty: These AWS certifications cover specific areas such as Alexa, machine learning, and data analytics.
“It’s important to start at the bottom and make sure you’re certified in this level before moving onto the next level,” Werner said. “You can try the higher-level certifications, but it’s valuable to understand the steps that it takes to get there, and honor that part of the process. Often times you might have a blind spot, so following each step allows you an understanding of how all those steps fit together.”
If you’re unsure of where to start with regard to AWS certifications, remember that Amazon offers quite a bit of documentation around its exams. Start there, and remember that exams come with a price. The AWS pricing for Cloud Practitioner exam costs $100, and you can also get practice exams for $20 each.
Solutions Architect, SysOps Administrator, and Developer certifications all cost $150 for the final exam, and $20 for practice quizzes. Amazon’s Professional Solutions Architect and DevOps Engineer certifications cost $300 for the exam, and $40 for practice tests. Each of the AWS specialties cost $300, and $40 for practice exams.
Why should I learn AWS skill sets?
The world is going to run on cloud applications, Werner said, because it allows for the growth patterns companies today are striving for.
“It’s almost essential to understand what cloud computing can do,” he said. “There is an opportunity for anyone learning cloud services in AWS to find a role in a company in anything they’d like to work in. It’s being used in every type of industry across the planet—it’s very in demand, from security analysis to data analytics, and it’s going to be financially important for new job market seeks to understand these services.”
Here are just some of the jobs that sometimes ask for AWS-related skills, along with how often AWS pops up as a requested skill in job postings (as a percentage):
What qualifications do you need to get a job?
“Look over the job descriptions I see posted for jobs I like and I take them apart, identify what the gaps in your skills are, and figure out how to fill those gaps with skills, in a way that will be respected by the industry,” Werner said.
He noted that it’s important to demonstrate that you’ve done the work. Listing your previous projects and experiences on your application materials (and updating your online profiles) will persuade hiring managers and recruiters that you know what you’re doing.
“Being able to show that evolution to a hiring manager shows how dedicated you are to the career by showing them that path,” he said.
Once you’re done with training and you’re certified, what’s next? Be fully prepared for your next AWS role by knowing the answers to the top AWS developer interview questions.