AWS certification in 2024: is it worth it?

In the wider world of education and employment, certifications don’t always correspond to competence—but is that the case when you’re talking about AWS certifications?

When it comes to hiring tech talent, there seems to be a never-ending debate about the value of certifications and whether or not they’re an accurate representation of technical skill.

By all accounts, AWS exams and their resulting certifications are the real deal. According to Global Knowledge, the AWS Certified Developer (Associate) certification commands an average salary of $165,333, while the Jefferson Frank Careers and Hiring Guide: AWS Edition found that 73% of AWS professionals received a salary increase (averaging 27% after certification)—and you don’t get those numbers with a purely decorative title thrown onto your resume.

With 59% of AWS professionals surveyed in our Careers and Hiring Guide holding a certification, and a further 17% currently working towards their first, we’re exploring everything you need to know to decide once and for all – are AWS certifications worth it?

AWS Certifications

AWS Certifications are the way to go if you’re looking to really cement your status as an expert in the ecosystem and see a real boost in your earning potential.

Associate-level exams cost $150, while Professional-level exams are $300 a pop. Don’t let this put you off from the get-go, however – 44% of respondents in our Careers and Hiring Guide had their certifications paid for in full by their employer, with a further 27% receiving partial funding.

Which AWS certification should I get?

There are currently 12 different certification exams you can add to your arsenal depending on your experience level and career path:

Certification Intended for
AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner Individuals with the skills required to show an overall understanding of the AWS Cloud. Recommended for those looking to achieve Specialty or Associate certification.
AWS Certified Developer—Associate Individuals in a development role with 1+ years’ practical experience developing and maintaining an AWS-based app.
AWS Certified SysOps Administrator—Associate Individuals working in a systems admin/operations role with 1-2 years’ experience deploying, managing, and operating in AWS.
AWS Certified Solutions Architect—Associate Individuals working in a solutions architect role with 1+ years’ experience creating cost-effective, fault-tolerant systems on AWS that have high availability and are highly scalable.
AWS Certified DevOps Engineer—Professional Individuals in a DevOps engineer role possessing 2+ years’ practical experience provisioning, operating, and managing AWS environments.
AWS Certified Solutions Architect—Professional Individuals in a role with 1+ years’ practical experience in AWS system management and operations.
AWS Certified Database – Speciality Individuals in a database-focused role with 5+ years’ experience with common database technologies and 2+ years of hands-on experience and expertise working with on-premises and AWS Cloud-based relational and NoSQL databases.
AWS Certified Advanced Networking—Specialty Individuals carrying out complex networking tasks.
AWS Certified Security—Specialty Individuals in a security role with a minimum of two years’ practical experience securing AWS workloads.
AWS Data Analytics – Speciality Individuals working in data and analytical roles with 5+ years’ experience with common data analytics technologies, and 2+ years of hands-on experience and expertise working with AWS analytics solutions.
AWS Certified Machine Learning—Specialty Individuals working in a Development or Data Science role; certifies your ability to design, implement, deploy, and maintain machine learning solutions.
AWS Certified: SAP on AWS —Specialty Individuals with five or more years of experience with SAP and one or more years of experience working with SAP on AWS.

To determine how popular these are with AWS talent, we asked our Careers and Hiring Guide respondents which certifications they currently hold. The top ten were:

  1. AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate (54%)
  2. AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner – Foundation (37%)
  3. AWS Certified Developer – Associate (25%)
  4. AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate (22%)
  5. AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional (18%)
  6. AWS Certified Security – Specialty (15%)
  7. AWS Certified Database – Specialty (12%)
  8. AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional (9%)
  9. AWS Certified Advanced Networking – Specialty (9%)
  10. AWS Certified Machine Learning – Specialty (9%)

In our 2022 Careers and Hiring Guide, we found that 60% of certified respondents gained their certifications during the pandemic, using their time in lockdown or on furlough to upskill and advance their professional development. But that’s not the only advantage. These globally recognized, industry-leading cloud certifications validate AWS skills and provide prospective employers with something priceless: peace of mind.

“Certifications give hiring managers a sense of conformation when they ask candidates about AWS experience,” noted one respondent, while another agreed, “employers trust that certification reflects your knowledge of AWS.”

On top of that, AWS-certified professionals are actually more productive and prove to be faster troubleshooters than their uncertified counterparts, making for a smoother ride when it comes to day-to-day workflows.

Oh, one more thing. There’s a considerable leap from Associate to Professional-level certifications. Candidates with professional certs are hugely in-demand and quite rare to find in a job market as competitive as tech.

You can also take a role-based approach to your AWS learning journey. These exams are tailored to prepare you for a specific career in the cloud, and you can choose from four distinct routes:

  • Cloud practitioner: learn cloud fundamentals and best practices
  • Architect: learn to design highly available systems
  • Developer: learn to develop applications for the cloud
  • Operations: learn to automate apps, networks, and systems

Additional paths are available for machine learning, storage, media services, specialty exams, and APN Partners.

Why should I get an AWS certification?

When asking AWS professionals what they had gained since undertaking a certification, they listed a range of benefits, including:

  • Better career progression opportunities (61%)
  • Improved and increased industry knowledge (57%)
  • Increased efficiency at my job (49%)
  • A way to verify my skills with AWS (43%)
  • More trust from my employer (41%)
  • The ability to perform complex tasks more confidentially (35%)
  • Transferable industry skills (24%)

Here are three more benefits of AWS certifications that prove getting AWS certified is worth the investment, both in terms of your time and money.

Increase your earning potential

AWS certification doesn’t just look good on your resume—it can significantly boost the kind of salary or rate you command.

Our Careers and Hiring Guide showed that 73% of AWS professionals reported a salary increase averaging 27% after passing their certification.

The training you get on the way to becoming certified is invaluable; you’re learning new skills, understanding the platform inside out, and discovering best practices. This makes you more efficient and a greater asset to your team which, in turn, will likely be reflected in your salary.

Different certifications are likely to lead to different rates of pay increase, with our Careers and Hiring Guide finding that the Solutions Architect – Professional certification is most likely to increase a professional’s earning potential:

  • AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional (46%)
  • AWS Certified Security – Specialty (38%)
  • AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional (34%)
  • AWS Certified Advanced Networking – Specialty (29%)
  • AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate (28%)
  • AWS Certified Data Analytics – Specialty (23%)
  • AWS Certified Database – Specialty (21%)
  • AWS Certified Machine Learning – Specialty (21%)
  • AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate (19%)
  • AWS Certified Developer – Associate (16%)

Showcase your dedication to the technology

Earning an AWS certification is a way of showcasing your commitment to the industry and the standard practices that form its foundations.

By no means does AWS certification alone trump experience; if you’re an employer deciding on a new hire, the two need to be considered carefully and in equal measure when you’re making that all-important offer.

From this perspective, looking at a candidate’s certifications is a fast, effective way for hiring managers to gauge your technical knowledge and core competencies. It’s a signpost showing them that you’ve mastered a certain level of AWS knowledge – a benefit 40% of respondents felt they had gained.

“Experience often speaks louder than certifications,” says Shaun Hummel, author on CiscoNet Solutions, CCNA and AWS Certification Training. “There are things you can only learn on the job. The purpose of a certification is to give you a competitive advantage over similar applicants for both getting a job interview and an offer. Any certification strengthens your resume and verifies you have a minimum level of knowledge.”

Simply put, certification is like getting your AWS driving license. Just because you’ve passed your test with flying colours doesn’t necessarily mean you’re ready to drive a 16-wheeler or take a Lamborghini out for a spin.

“The job interviews are designed to filter out candidates that say they have experience and really do not,” says Hummel. “For example, to what depth can you discuss a project you worked on that is similar to what they are hiring for. That counts for a lot when you have done something similar, for example, and know the issues, problems, [and] fixes for a deployment.

“In fact, having less experience is not a problem if your experience is directly aligned with the job requirements. If you have the minimum amount of experience that makes you a viable candidate, having certifications is a plus.”

Hiring practices will vary from one organization to another, but all other things being equal, having one certification more than your competition could be the difference between bagging your dream job and receiving a rejection letter.

Boost your “curb appeal”

Our Careers and Hiring Guide found that 80% of respondents believe certifications help professionals stand out in a competitive job market, with 89% of those with certifications believing that they make you more marketable.

Partners are required to have certified staff to maintain their status, so bringing certified candidates on board is more of a priority to them than it would be to an AWS customer organization. Partners are more motivated to collect and surpass the number of certifications required to achieve and maintain partner status, reaping all the rewards that come with it.

According to Jim Burnham, Director of Business Development and Strategic Alliances at Six Nines, a Premier AWS Consulting Partner, certification can be integral to an employer’s partner and competency status within the wider AWS community: “one aspect of certification that candidates may not be aware of is their employer’s need to maintain partner and competency status with AWS.”

“AWS Premier and Advanced partners have to maintain on staff certain numbers and levels of certified individuals. Business, Technical, and Cloud Practitioner certifications are relatively common and help a bit. On the other hand, Professional and Speciality certifications are much more difficult to obtain. We track very closely the number of our staff with Pro and Specialty certifications. If we didn’t, then we’d risk losing our AWS qualifications. Therefore, we value highly Pro and Speciality certifications and offer incentives to our staff to acquire and maintain the more demanding and difficult certifications.”

But does certification make or break a job offer? The short answer when it comes to partner status is yes. “All other things being equal, we would have a preference for a candidate with a certification,” says Jim. “If the candidate had an AWS Professional or Speciality certification, we would have a very strong preference for that candidate.

Certifications are not a silver bullet, and most employers recognize that,” says Chris Coleman, President at Woz U, “but they offer the employer a clear understanding of what they can expect from a candidate and how to tailor their on-the-job professional development.

“When comparing certifications to experience, it can be difficult to provide a fair assessment.  Certainly, there are self-taught engineers capable of performing the required duties, and there are also certified developers equally capable.  The certifications, however, express the candidate’s intent to the hiring manager.

“If you don’t possess a certification, it doesn’t make you unqualified.  Similarly, if you do possess a certification, it doesn’t inherently make you the best candidate. What the certification does, however, is express to the hiring manager that your studies and interests are aligned with their desired skills.”

When it comes to younger organizations, hiring professionals with certifications seems to be less of a priority, according to Ben Keating, designer and developer at The American Spreadsheet Company. “For smaller business and startups, having AWS-certified talent on board becomes more of a selling point, as you can likely jump in just as deep outside of certification training as you can within,” says Ben. “Potentially more so if you focus on meetups and online communities, including IRC channels or other social platforms.”

Types of AWS certification training

Moving from an on-premise operation to a more cloud-focused approach means that the tech community needs more people. Going from on-premise to the cloud changes the way industries work and we need people there to make that change happen.

There are three main ways to build your knowledge base on all things AWS, namely:

Digital training

These online, on-demand courses empower anyone interested in AWS to learn about the latest services when and where it suits them.

There are plenty of options when it comes to scrubbing up your AWS knowledge in your own time, at your own pace.

AWS itself publishes heaps of training and education materials on its website, and there are a range of third-party training providers who offer courses designed to help you land your certification, like Simpliv, EdX, and ACloudGuru. You’ll find plenty of free online guides and resources to help you pass too, like this one for the Solution Architect exam.

Classroom training

If you’re looking for something a little more formal, this might be the better fit. Get either in-person or virtual training from instructors who teach your team in a hands-on learning environment.

Whether you’re fresh out of college, a self-taught sensation, or a seasoned expert, getting AWS certifications is worth it. You’ll increase your chances of nailing down that dream job, command higher salaries, and get that industry-recognized stamp of approval marking you out as an expert in your field.

Looking for more invaluable career insights on all things AWS?

The Jefferson Frank Careers and Hiring Guide is the ultimate resource for anyone looking to build a rewarding career in AWS.