AWS For Admins For Dummies
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A certification in AWS (Amazon Web Services) doesn't make you an expert. However, it does provide a quantified description of your minimum level of expertise — a textbook look of what you know, but not an assessment of real-world knowledge. In other words, you get a certification to prove that you have a given level of provable expertise and most employers will probably assume that you possess expertise in addition to what the certification tests.

The pursuit of a certification can also help you better understand areas in which your current education is weak. Going through the learning and testing process can help you become a better administrator.

Getting a certification is generally useful only when you want to apply for a new job or advance in your current job. After all, you likely know your own skills well enough to determine your level of proficiency to some degree without a certification. Filling out your education and then demonstrating what you know to others for specific personal gains are the reason to get a certification. Some people miss the point and discover later that they've spent a lot of money and time getting something they really didn't need in the first place.

Gaining an overview of the certifications

AWS currently provides a number of certifications. You can expect Amazon to add more as AWS continues to expand. The following list provides a quick overview of the levels of certifications:
  • AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate: Tests the ability of a developer to perform basic AWS design and development tasks. Before you can even contemplate taking this exam, you need to know how to program and have experience designing applications on AWS. A number of sources also recommend this certification for administration because many of the administration tasks build on the knowledge you get here.
  • AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional: Tests the ability of a developer to perform the next level of development tasks on AWS, such as migrating complex, multitier applications to AWS. The exam still focuses on development tasks but depends on the developer's having already passed the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate exam and mastering new skills. (The resources specify a minimum of two years of hands-on AWS programming.)
  • AWS Certified Developer – Associate: Determines whether the developer can perform specific levels of application development using AWS. For example, you need to know which of the services to use to add specific features to an application. Rather than have you actually use AWS to host the application, this exam focuses more on using AWS in conjunction with existing applications.
  • AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate: Determines whether an administrator has the skills required to deploy and manage applications on an AWS setup. In addition, the administrator must show proficiency in operating various AWS services and in determining which service to use to meet a specific need.
  • AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional: Evaluates the ability of the test taker to perform DevOps (that is, create an interface between developers and other IT professionals). This means having some level of skill in both administration and development. In addition, the candidate must have knowledge of processes that enable smooth design, development, deployment, management, and operation of applications.

If you find that potential employers really do want you to obtain certifications to prove your skill level, you may find that obtaining just an AWS-specific certification may not be enough to get that six-figure income. Cloud administrators typically need to demonstrate proficiency with more than one service. Fortunately, you can often find online aids to help you decide which certifications are most popular at a given time. For example, this article provides a listing of the most popular certifications at the current time, one of which is the AWS Certified SysOps Administrator.

Locating certification resources

You can find all sorts of interesting aids online for getting your certification. However, the best place to start is directly on the Amazon website. Unfortunately, the information you find isn't the best organized at times. Start by ensuring that you meet the requirements in the Candidate Overview section. Until you meet those requirements, it isn't particularly useful to move forward (unless you want to end up with a paper certification — one that doesn't actually mean anything).

After you have fulfilled the minimum requirements, download the Exam Guide. The guide tells you that you need to be proficient in a number of areas in order to pass, which shouldn't surprise you. AWS wants to ensure that you actually know the material. Fortunately, you can also find online sources to help you make sense of the Exam Guide. For example, there is an excellent video on the requirements for the AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate exam. Watching the video and going through the Exam Guide can help you get a better idea of what you need to do.

At some point, you want to download the example questions. However, given that AWS provides only one set of example questions and that those precise questions are unlikely to appear on the exam, memorizing them won't do you any good. What you need to do is study and when you feel you're ready, try the example questions, which can help you determine your weak areas. Unfortunately, there are only a few example questions — not enough to give you a good feel for the exam.

Every certification also comes with a Take a Practice Exam option. Be sure to save this feature for last. Again, you don't get many questions, the questions don't change, and they're not likely to appear on the exam in the precise form you see them. The purpose of the practice exam is to help you sense whether you're ready.

Most people need information presented in more than one way and more than one time to remember it. By going through this book and participating in the various examples, you build skills and gain knowledge that you can couple with other sources to build your AWS knowledge. The essential thing is not to try to rush the process, because you're almost guaranteed not to pass if you do.

As you go through the exam book, make sure to also look at the Getting Started and FAQs for each of the services covered. These two sources of information contain a great deal of information that Amazon is likely to use for exam questions. You don't have to memorize the material, but being familiar with it gives you a definite advantage.

Everyone has different ways of learning material, and you may find that reading the exam materials simply doesn't work for you. Hands-on training can help, but sometimes you need a little more than that. If you're still confused, you may want to use Computer Based Training (CBT) courses, such as the ones from CBT Nuggets and Linux Academy.

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John Paul Mueller is a prolific technical writer and editor with 101 books and 600 articles to his credit. His topics range from networking and home security to database management and heads-down programming, and his editing skills have helped more than 63 authors refine their manuscripts. Visit his blog at

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