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AWS Certified Data Engineer – Associate: What you need to know about AWS’ new certification

By Danny Aspinall

AWS Certified Data Engineer – Associate: What you need to know about AWS’ new certification

Haven’t you heard? There’s a new certification in town!  

AWS recently announced the launch of a brand-new Associate-level certification; meet the AWS Certified Data Engineer – Associate (DEA-C01) 

As the fourth badge in the Associate-level collection, this AWS Data Engineer certification joins the Solutions Architect, Developer, and SysOps Administrator Associate credentials as a super-effective way for professionals to validate their knowledge and skills, gain credibility, and further sharpen their expertise.  

This makes obtaining the AWS Data Engineer – Associate certification worth it for AWS talent looking to boost their curb appeal on the job market, unlock more career opportunities, and propel their progression within their role.  

Sounds good, right? But before you dive in headfirst, there are a few things you need to know about the plans for this certification—particularly since it’s still in beta stage until the new year.  

But fear not; you don’t need to go anywhere to find the answers you need. This AWS Certified Data Engineer – Associate guide is packed with all the background, updates, and info you need to know when deciding whether to register your interest in the beta exam. So strap in!  

In this guide, we’ll cover:   

The latest career insights from the AWS ecosystem.

The Jefferson Frank Careers and Hiring Guide: AWS Edition provides a market-leading insight into trends across the Amazon Web Services community.

What is the AWS Certified Data Engineer – Associate certification?  

The AWS Data Engineer – Associate certification will be awarded to those candidates who successfully pass the DEA-C01 exam. It tests talent’s knowledge and capability in core data-related AWS services, and validates skills in utilizing best practices to implement data pipelines, monitor and troubleshoot issues, and optimize cost and performance. 

According to AWS documentation, there will be a distinct focus on tasks like: 

  • Ingesting and transforming data 
  • Orchestrating data pipelines while applying programming concepts 
  • Operationalizing, maintaining, and monitoring data pipelines 
  • Identifying optimal data store, designing data models, and cataloging data schemas 
  • Managing data lifecycles 
  • Analyzing data and ensuring data quality 
  • Implementing appropriate authentication, authorization, data encryption, privacy, and governance 

Who should obtain the AWS Certified Data Engineer – Associate certification?  

Fundamentally, this certification is intended for—well, um—AWS Data Engineers…the clue’s in the name.  

AWS actually surveyed data engineering professionals across the community at the start of 2023, keen to hear the feedback of AWS Data Engineers with 2 years of experience or more—and with data engineering and global big data services projected to have grown at an impressive 17.60% CAGR by the end of the year, it’s little wonder.  

That being said, this beta exam is suitable for anyone in the AWS community interested in using AWS technology to transform data for analysis and actionable insights, although it’s recommended that you have the equivalent of 2-3 years of experience in data engineering and at least 1–2 years of hands-on experience with AWS services. 

According to AWS, the target candidate for this certification should also have a confident understanding of the effects of volume, variety, and velocity on data ingestion, transformation, modeling, security, governance, privacy, schema design, and optimal data store design. 

Is the AWS Certified Data Engineer – Associate certification beta worth it?  

Earning any AWS Associate-level certification isn’t easy—it takes plenty of time, effort, and dedication to achieve.  

We understand that this can be a little overwhelming for AWS professionals who already have a whole lot on their plates, with the Jefferson Frank Careers and Hiring Guide: AWS Edition finding that as many as 43% of candidates have started studying for certification but stopped before achieving it.   

With the top reasonings for this including a lack of motivation, not enough time or availability to study, and the fear of failure, is the AWS Data Engineer – Associate certification really worth all the stress—especially when it’s still in beta? 

To answer that, we first need to understand what a beta exam is, before weighing up the pros and cons to decide whether to take the beta exam, wait for the standard exam, or even bother with the certification at all! 

What is a beta exam? 

Sometimes, AWS Certification uses beta trials to test out exam questions, topics, and structures before pushing them officially live. It enables AWS to collect and assess performance data to better understand what does and doesn’t work.  

Beta is usually used for instances of exam outline updates or brand-new exams, like the AWS Certified Advanced Networking – Specialty and AWS Certified: SAP on AWS – Specialty exams last year.  

What are the benefits of sitting a beta exam? 

There are three main benefits to sitting the beta version of AWS Certified Data Engineer – Associate exam ahead of its official launch: 

  • Cheaper cost: beta versions of AWS certifications are available to sit at a 50% discount compared to the standard exams. This means, as an Associate-level badge, the DEA-C01 will cost just $75 when in beta, as opposed to the usual $150 
  • Build exam experience: since AWS uses beta exams to trial different exam items, the DEA-C01 exam features 85 multiple-choice questions, rather than the usual 65 found in Associate-level certifications. But don’t let that put you off just yet. Although extra questions may sound like a whole lot of hassle, this is actually a great opportunity to expose yourself to a wider range of topics and ideas in an exam setting, before the itinerary is refined for the standard certification  
  • Pull ahead of your competition: providing that the beta is successful, candidates who pass the exam will be the very first to hold this shiny new certification. This offers a huge opportunity for professionals to distinguish themselves from their peers by holding this certification before others in their field, bolstering their career prospects and marketability as a result. And after all, who doesn’t like bragging rights?! 

Is a beta certification worth the effort?  

Albeit minor, there are a couple of downsides to working towards a certification still in beta, so it’s important to be aware of these too.  

Firstly, while you’d typically find out how you’ve fared in a certification exam pretty quickly, you won’t find out your DEA-C01 results until 90 days after the beta closes on January 12, 2024. This means that those sitting the exam in November would face a five-month wait until they received their results in April—so how’s your patience?   

And secondly, despite the enhanced experience it offers, the longer exam can be inherently tougher to sit. Rather than the usual 130 minutes you’re given to sit Associate-level exams, the AWS Certified Data Engineer – Associate beta exam is 170 minutes to account for the additional 20 questions. A near three-hour exam is taxing to even the most dedicated of AWS enthusiasts, with exam fatigue likely to set in somewhere along the way. So it’s important to consider how this could influence your preparation and the impact it could have on your overall score.  

But like all certifications, these challenges are certainly worth the reward. Once you receive your AWS Certified Data Engineer – Associate certification 90 days after the close of beta, you’ll benefit from: 

  • A competitive edge in the job market: in the Jefferson Frank Careers and Hiring Guide: AWS Edition, 80% of AWS professionals surveyed (and 86% of Data Engineers in particular) believe that certifications help you stand out in a competitive job market. Don’t underestimate just how much of an advantage this can be when seeking your next career or contract opportunity, especially considering that just a third (33%) of AWS Data Engineers we surveyed are certified  
  • More career opportunities: our Careers and Hiring Guide found that over three-fifths (61%) of certified respondents believe that they’ve benefited from better career progression opportunities since being certified, meaning AWS certifications are a tried and tested way to open more doors whether you’re a permanent employee or a contractor  
  • Higher earning potential: greater market appeal + more career opportunities = the prospect of a greater salary! In fact, our Careers and Hiring Guide found that a significant 73% of respondents reported a salary boost after earning a certification, receiving an average increase of 27%. And it’s easy to see why; these same respondents reported an increased efficiency in their job (49%) and improved industry knowledge (57%) post-certification, highlighting the value of certifications to both employer and employee  

 How to earn the AWS Certified Data Engineer – Associate certification 

Convinced that the AWS Certified Data Engineer – Associate certification is for you? Welcome aboard! Here’s how to get the ball rolling.  

How to register for the beta exam 

Beta registration for the DEA-C01 exam opens on October 31, 2023. But in the meantime, you can sign up here to stay updated on when registration for the beta exam opens, additional exam prep resources become available, and when exam delivery starts, to ensure you don’t miss out on this great opportunity.  

Beta exam dates: November 27, 2023 – January 12, 2024 

DEA-C01 exam essentials 

The AWS Certified Data Engineer – Associate exam will be available to sit either at an in-person Pearson VUE testing center or as an online proctored exam, and the beta version will be offered in English only.  

The cost of the exam is $75 while it’s in beta stage, rising to $150 when the standard DEA-C01 is launched. Over two-fifths (44%) of certified AWS professionals in our Careers and Hiring Guide said they had certification costs fully funded by their employer, and an additional 27% received partial funding. So, if you’re currently employed in a permanent position, you might want to ask your employer whether they’d be willing to contribute to the expense! 

You’ll have 170 minutes to complete the 85-question exam. There are no hands-on labs in this exam. Instead, all questions will be either:    

  • Multiple choice: you’ll be offered four response options to these questions, but only one of them is correct. The three incorrect options, known as ‘distractors’, are usually plausible responses relevant to the content area.   
  • Multiple response: you’ll be offered a choice of five or more answers to these questions, and at least two of them are correct. Of course, the rest of the responses are those pesky distractors, so take your time to read the questions and answers carefully to avoid being caught out!  

Registration for the post-beta, standard version of the exam opens in March 2024 and the exam will be available to take starting April 2024. 

AWS Certified Data Engineer – Associate certification study guide   

To identify your knowledge gaps and optimize your use of study times and methods, it pays to know the areas you most need to focus on.  

This can also help you judge whether you’re the right type of candidate for this certification, if you’re still not sure about taking it. For example, it’s recommended that you have a general IT knowledge that includes: 

  • Setup and maintenance of extract, transform, and load (ETL) pipelines from ingestion to destination 
  • Application of high-level but language-agnostic programming concepts as required by the pipeline 
  • How to use Git commands for source control 
  • How to use data lakes to store data 
  • General concepts for networking, storage, and compute 

This general IT knowledge should ideally complement a confident understanding of AWS, including: 

  • AWS services for encryption, governance, protection, and logging of all data that is part of data pipelines 
  • Comparing AWS services to understand the cost, performance, and functional differences between services 
  • How to structure SQL queries and how to run SQL queries on AWS services 
  • How to analyze data, verify data quality, and ensure data consistency by using AWS services 

You should expect lots of concepts and technologies to appear on the exam. AWS services and features considered in-scope for the DEA-C01 exam include (but aren’t limited to): 

  • Analytics – eg. Amazon Athena, AWS Glue, Amazon QuickSight 
  • Application integration – eg. Amazon AppFlow, Amazon SNS, AWS Step Functions  
  • Cloud financial management – eg. AWS Budgets, AWS Cost Explorer  
  • Compute – eg. AWS Batch, Amazon EC2, AWS Lambda  
  • Containers – eg. Amazon ECR, Amazon ECS, Amazon EKS  
  • Database – eg. Amazon DynamoDB, Amazon Neptune, Amazon Redshift  
  • Developer tools – eg. AWS Cloud9, AWS CodeBuild, AWS CodePipeline  
  • Frontend web and mobile – eg. Amazon API Gateway  
  • Machine learning – eg. Amazon SageMaker  
  • Management and governance – eg. AWS CloudTrail, AWS Config, AWS Systems Manager  
  • Migration and transfer – eg. AWS DMS, AWS Application Migration Service, AWS DataSync  
  • Networking and content delivery – eg. Amazon CloudFront, AWS PrivateLink, Amazon VPC 
  • Security, identity, and compliance – eg. AWS IAM, AWS Macie, AWS Shield  
  • Storage – eg. AWS Backup, Amazon EBS, Amazon S3  

It’s also handy to be aware of what you’re not expected to know, to ensure you don’t waste valuable time and effort learning concepts and skills that won’t be covered in the exam. Tasks that are considered out of scope for the DEA-C01 exam include: 

  • Performing artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) tasks 
  • Demonstrating knowledge of programming language-specific syntax 
  • Drawing business conclusions based on data 

So, where is your learning and studying time best spent? 

The AWS Certified Data Engineer – Associate is split across four domains, each testing a different area of your knowledge and skills, and each having a different weighting to your overall score. 

  • Domain 1: Data Ingestion and Transformation (34%) – performing data ingestion; transforming and processing data; orchestrating data pipelines; applying programming concepts  
  • Domain 2: Data Store Management (26%)choosing a data store; understanding data cataloging systems; managing the lifecycle of data; designing data models and schema evolution  
  • Domain 3: Data Operations and Support (22%)automating data processing by using AWS services; analyzing data using AWS services; maintaining and monitoring data pipelines; ensuring data quality  
  • Domain 4: Data Security and Governance (18%)applying authentication mechanisms; applying authorization mechanisms; ensuring data encryption and masking; preparing logs for audit; understanding data privacy and governance  

AWS Certified Data Engineer – Associate certification training 

Since the exam isn’t out yet, it’ll probably be no surprise to learn there isn’t a whole lot of training material out there for the AWS Certified Data Engineer – Associate exam just yet.  

No need to worry though; there are sure to be plenty of training courses and learning paths from your favorite cloud educators available by the time the standard certification launches in April 2024.  

That’s not to say you’re on your own until then. AWS recommend the following resources to kick off your revision for the beta exam:  

  • AWS Certified Data Engineer – Associate (DEA-C01) Exam Guidethe official DEA-C01 exam guide from AWS is packed full of all the exam details and specifications you need to sit the exam with confidence. Make this your go-to for optimizing what and how you study  
  • Exam Prep Official Practice Question Setfeaturing 20 exam-style practice questions designed by AWS themselves, the official practice question set is the ideal way of identifying knowledge gaps and building your confidence ahead of the exam. Better yet, this set also features detailed feedback and recommended resources to help you prepare for your exam even more effectively  
  • A Day in the Life of a Data Engineerthis two-hour course will guides you through a typical day for a Data Engineer, enabling you to learn in a more relatable and practical way. Available as part of the AWS Skills Builder Individual subscription ($29 per month), you’ll learn how to create an AWS Glue crawler, create and run a job in AWS Glue Studio, explore permissions required to run AWS Glue crawlers and AWS Glue Studio jobs, and query the AWS Glue Data Catalog using Amazon Athena. You can take this intermediate-level course in a range of languages and at a time and place that suits you! 
  • Building Batch Data Analytics Solutions on AWSthis course is part of the Building Modern Data Analytics Solutions on AWS; a collection of four, one-day, intermediate-level classroom training courses. Attendees can learn how to build batch data analytics solutions using Amazon EMR to optimize cost and performance, offering a whole host of invaluable best practice and insight to current and budding Data Platform Engineers sitting the DEA-C01 exam 

 With the beta now open, AWS Data Engineers should dive right in and sign up for the AWS Certified Data Engineer – Associate certification today. Sure, it might not be an easy ride, but being among the first to hold this badge is a sure-fire way to propel your career forward, whatever your goal.  

Looking for your next Data Engineer role? 

Whether you’re on the hunt for a contractor or permanent position, find your next Data Engineer opportunity by searching our extensive database of vacancies today.   

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