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Is the AWS Solutions Architect Certification worth it? A review

Emmanuel N Kyeyune
SRE / DevOps / Solutions Architect
Updated on ・5 min read

TLDR: Yes it is! But not for the reasons you may think.

Intro

AWS has very many services. And every year when re:Invent rolls around, they add even more. Most people don't even dare venture into any other services beyond EC2, S3, Lambda and RDS. These are the primary services you'd use to setup a simple web server, for example. If you're a little more involved you may use Route53 to manage domains, VPC to manage your resource networks and subnets and Cloudfront as a CDN. Most people would find little use for SQS, Kinesis, DynamoDB, Step Functions etc

Additionally, many DevOps engineers like to keep the deployed cloud infrastructure as high level as possible to prevent over-reliance on managed AWS services and avoid vendor lock-in (the concern of which is usually overblown). However even if you are unnecessarily afraid of vendor lock-in, content with managing cloud infrastructure yourself or you really have legitimate reasons to avoid using AWS managed services, getting (or at least studying for) an AWS Solutions Architect certificate is still worth it.

This is because the AWS Solutions Architect exam (both Associate and Professional), doesn't just challenge you on your knowledge of AWS services, it challenges how you think about cloud infrastructure altogether in order to... yes you guessed it -- architect solutions.

A Solutions Architect with bad solutions?

Nothing is worse than a mechanic with a box full of tools who doesn't really know how to fix things. The AWS Solutions Architect Associate exam (the one I did) is truly a test of understanding the world of managed cloud services and how one can deliver practical and reliable solutions. You WILL need to know and understand not only many AWS services but also how they work together to produce the best possible results according to various scenarios.

Because of this, this is not an exam you can study for on a weekend and pass on Monday. Even though some people may be able to memorize common solutions, the questions can and will be quite challenging and even seasoned AWS pros need to study for it.

I had used AWS for about 3 years before doing the AWS Solutions Architect Associate exam in July 2020. I had deployed instances, serverless functions, message brokers and queues, databases etc But I only started to realize the many gaps in my knowledge once I started reading for the exam. I realized certain things I would do were either not best practice, impractical, not secure or just plain ridiculous. And a lot of it had nothing to do specifically with AWS services, but more to do with doing DevOps and cloud infrastrcture design in a correct way. I ended up reading many of the famous AWS whitepapers like Well Architected Framework and AWS Security Checklist and gained a wealth of knowledge I wouldn't have obtained otherwise because I thought I knew what I was doing and I would never have taken the time to dive deeper into AWS.

A new understanding

Within one week of starting my revision, I knew several things:

  • I wasn't ready to do the exam anytime soon
  • I had deployed poor or insecure architecture
  • I was eager to apply my new found knowledge and understanding almost immediately

Around this time I started to see the real value in what I was training myself for. See, my original intention was to get the certification just to look good on my resume and I really thought I'd only need about two weeks to prepare for the test (after all, I had used AWS for quite a while). I ended up using about 5 weeks in total for preparation (usually more than 7 hours a day). I also took two video courses to supplement my knowledge (one from ACloud Guru and one from Stephane Maarek)

This is not to frighten/discourage you. Most people who attempt the test with good preparation WILL pass. But the point of this post is to shed light on the value studying for this kind of exam will bring in your DevOps/Cloud journey beyond the certification itself. A lot of the knowledge I gained from SAA-C02 can easily be applied to other cloud providers such as Azure and GCP. Their services may have different names and may be slightly different in their capabilities and functionality but the core principles of deploying robust, highly scalable, highly available, fault tolerant, disaster tolerant and manageable cloud infrastructure still apply.

It's been about 8 months since I did my test and while it has helped my profile gain more notice in the DevOps hiring space, the greater gift is the expanded knowledge that I'm utilizing in my daily DevOps life of writing good Infrastructure as Code and managing existing cloud infrastructure. It makes me much more confident in whatever I'm doing inside AWS.

Conclusion: Bite the bullet

So if you are a:

  • DevOps Engineer
  • Software Engineer
  • Full-stack Developer
  • Web Developer
  • CTO
  • Principal Tech Lead
  • Curious noob who wants to be any of the above
  • or even an AWS employee who has to interact with AWS services a lot

then the certification is definitely worth studying for and obtaining.

But don't do it for the wrong reasons i.e. its a hot commodity that everyone talks about constantly, so you must have it. The certification itself is a nice to have and does look good on your profile/resume/CV and will open more doors for you, but the deeper understanding of how AWS and similar cloud providers works is much more valuable. You will forego years of trial and error experience by learning so many essentials in one fell swoop.

If you would like more information about how to start this journey towards certification or any other general questions, send me a message here, on Twitter or on LinkedIn .


Hi I'm Emmanuel! I write about Software and DevOps.

I will be writing a series on AWS CDK, Terraform and other great deployment tools and what many lessons I've learned from them.

If you liked this article and want to see more, add me on LinkedIn or follow me on Twitter

Discussion (3)

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anthony-grear

This is a great perspective. I just started studying software development- about 6 months. I've made a few apps. I'm a high school teacher so I wrote a simple program to automate parent student communication. It worked okay- it just wasn't practical. I could only use it from my personal computer at home, and I couldn't share it to my coworkers. So eventually AWS starting looking like the solution to my problems. Also, I don't have much real knowledge of the tech industry. Now that I've started preparation for the exam, I've had so many 'a-ha' moments. I'm starting to see the big picture and how companies and organizations get things done. Don't get me wrong, once I earn my first certificate it's going on my CV and profile, but the skills and knowledge obtained while studying for it will definitely get put to good use.

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Emmanuel N Kyeyune Author

That's awesome to hear! Best of luck on the journey! So long as you stick with it and keep the passion you'll make a ton of progress. AWS is an amazing service and I'm sure it will more than meet your development needs.
I was using AWS for quite a bit before taking the cert and even then it helped me tie together a lot of concepts. Studying for it is a great entry/guide to the world of provisioning cloud infrastructure.