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Carving an AWS certification path

Recently, 53 Dynatracers convened in a Zoom room for 5 action-packed hours to take on our first AWS GameDay challenge, an event we participated in to help our developers accelerate their AWS certification path. Hosted and moderated by Amazon, AWS GameDay is a hands-on, collaborative, gamified learning exercise for applying AWS services and cloud skills to real-world scenarios. As an AWS Advanced Technology Partner, this was a great opportunity for Dynatrace developers to sharpen their AWS skills and pursue or up-level their Amazon certifications.

Major cloud providers such as AWS offer certification programs to help technology professionals develop and mature their cloud skills. By carving the right AWS certification path, developers can even use their certification and training to advance their careers long term. Not only will they get much more out of the tools they use daily, but they’ll also be able to deliver superior functionality, efficiency, and performance to your customers.

If you are thinking about pursuing Amazon certification for yourself or your organization, I’ll explain why the AWS certification path is valuable, what the top AWS certifications are today, and how to identify the Amazon certification that’s best for your developers.

What is the value of AWS training and certification?

You and your peers – if you team up – can benefit on multiple levels from AWS training and certification. It gives you a unique opportunity to learn directly from AWS experts, advance your skills and knowledge, and build your future in the AWS cloud. It also ensures your team shares common fluency in cloud best practices, which improves collaboration and helps your company achieve a higher standard of performance.

According to an industry report on IT skills and salary, 52% of IT professionals who have achieved an AWS certification report their expertise is more sought after within their own organization. In addition, 45% of them have gone on to implement efficiencies in their roles, and 43% reported they were able to do their job more quickly after getting certified.

Down the road, the Amazon certification path may also help to open doors to new job opportunities. Organizations need talented professionals with cloud skills to help them transform their businesses, so certification in AWS can help advance your career. And AWS experts create and regularly update the certification content used to prepare IT professionals for AWS exams, which helps you keep your cloud skills fresh.

AWS GameDay pixelated unicorn

In our own AWS GameDay, Dynatracers split into teams of three or four people. Each team had free rein to choose their own paths as they solved technical challenges and competed with the other teams. Awards were given for first, second, and third places, and honorable mentions.

Our Amazon facilitators reported, “The Dynatrace team was ‘on fire’ diving deep into AWS services and solving problems as they arose.” GameDay was such a hit that Dynatrace is planning more GameDays in the future, likely twice a year.

What kinds of AWS certifications are available today?

As of June 2021, Amazon currently offers 11 certifications. The list of AWS certifications below shows there are two main AWS certification types: Core and Specialty, six classified as Core AWS Certifications, and five designated as Specialty AWS Certifications.

Core AWS certifications

  • AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner: This foundational AWS certification is ideal for any non-technical employees who need to have a general working knowledge of the AWS platform.
  • AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate: This certification is a good pick for anyone who has some experience with AWS and needs to build and deploy applications on the platform.
  • AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional: This certification is intended for very experienced AWS users who need to build and deploy applications on the AWS platform, at scale, and with a high standard of performance.
  • AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate: Do you already deploy, manage, and operate AWS system resources and want to learn how to perform those duties even more effectively? Then this one’s for you.
  • AWS Certified Developer – Associate: You’ll benefit from this certification if you already develop and maintain AWS-native applications and want to learn AWS Cloud development best practices.
  • AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional: Very experienced developers who want to become even more expert at developing and managing distributed applications in the AWS cloud may want to get this certification.

Specialty AWS certifications

  • AWS Certified Security – Specialty: Experienced security professionals who are already knowledgeable about AWS security tools will benefit from getting this certification.
  • AWS Certified Database – Specialty: Database specialists with deep knowledge of relational and non-relational databases and some AWS experience might want to check out this certification.
  • AWS Certified Machine Learning – Specialty: Data scientists or software developers who already have some exposure to machine learning in AWS may find this certification worthwhile.
  • AWS Certified Advanced Networking – Specialty: Very experienced networking professionals who are also proficient in AWS can benefit from getting this certification. However, AWS recommends getting the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner certificate or an equivalent Associate-level cert beforehand.
  • AWS Certified Data Analytics – Specialty: Highly knowledgeable data analytics pros who have already worked with AWS for some time should consider getting this certification.

The top AWS certification options

So, what are the best AWS certifications? That depends on your goals. AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate is in high demand these days, and it’s one of the most popular Amazon certifications you can get. AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner is a popular choice for people who are in non-technical roles but need to understand how AWS works.

George Teodorescu, a sales engineer at Dynatrace, has three AWS certifications under his belt: AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate, AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional, and AWS Certified Developer – Associate. He was motivated to get certified when Dynatrace Services introduced a Skill Level Adjustment Program in which the company covered the cost of the certification exam. Teodorescu says he learned a lot personally and that he now has a much better understanding of cloud technologies.

Joseph Nguyen, a consultant for Dynatrace, picked up the Solution Architect – Associate and Security Specialty certifications, and he’s found them useful for both smaller personal projects and client work. “Going through the certs gets us familiar with AWS security services and features of services to provide a secure production environment,” he says.

What is the best AWS certification path?

As you’re determining which Amazon certification is best for you, it might also be useful to consider your overall AWS certification path. Depending on your area of expertise, you may want to pursue advanced AWS certification in a particular category. With that in mind, here are the main areas of AWS specialization and the cases in which they’re most worthwhile.


If you’re a software developer and want to move into a senior-level engineer role or break into an entry-level architect position, then pursuing your AWS Architect certifications is a wise choice. It will help you learn the ins and outs of building and managing a well-architected AWS framework at scale, successfully perform AWS cloud migrations, and secure your AWS environment. Combined with the right hands-on expertise, this cert will improve your chances of getting considered for one of those jobs.

Cloud practitioner

This certification is perfect for anyone who needs to learn cloud fundamentals and best practices. It can give you the knowledge you need to excel in a non-technical role or even provide a foundational step to a higher-level AWS certification.

Data analytics

If you’re already an experienced data science professional but want to take your AWS data analytics proficiency to the next level, this specialty cert will help you learn to design, build, and maintain analytics solutions even more efficiently in the Amazon cloud. You will learn how to use AWS services ranging from collection (for example, Amazon Kinesis and AWS IoT Core) to storage (for example, S3 + Glacier and DynamoDB) to processing (for example, AWS Lambda and Amazon ML) and beyond.

Machine learning

Developers and data scientists who want to dive deeper into machine learning and acquire highly sought-after IT skills will benefit from following the same curriculum used to train Amazon’s developers and data scientists.

How should I prepare for AWS certification?

There are many ways to prepare for your AWS certification exam. Here are a few that worked for the Dynatrace team:

  • Follow A Cloud Guru’s Certified Security – Specialty course and practicing exams for one hour every other day over the course of a month.
  • Take the official AWS practice exams that are a part of the formal AWS training.
  • Read any Amazon whitepapers that are relevant to the cert you seek.
  • Take a trial test at Linux Academy if it’s applicable to the cert you have in mind.

Keep your AWS certifications fresh

Holding an event like the Dynatrace AWS GameDay helps motivate teams and helps organizations deliver a higher standard of performance. You can keep your teams’ skills fresh and make it fun at the same time by hosting your own AWS GameDay.

AWS skills make your company more marketable, too. Consider exploring the AWS Competency Program, which highlights your AWS technical expertise to AWS customers. This can differentiate your business from the competition and make you more attractive to potential clients.

Next steps and resources for getting started

If you want to pursue Amazon certification, visit Amazon’s AWS Certification portal. It provides a wealth of resources that will help you carve an AWS certification path that’s right for you, including detailed resources on each of the certifications and flexible options for scheduling an exam. As some Dynatracers did, you may also find it helpful to consult additional training resources, such as A Cloud Guru and AWS Whitepapers and Guides, that relate to the certification you have in mind. If your company is pursuing AWS certification for a team, AWS Certification Exam Vouchers make the process easier. Good luck!