The AWS certification path: A comprehensive guide

Jeff Peters
May 6, 2024 by
Jeff Peters

An AWS certification shows employers you have a working knowledge of AWS services and architecture and how to use them to help an organization meet its cloud computing goals. Earning an AWS certification can give you a competitive edge in your IT and cybersecurity career. This is particularly important in 2024 since: 

  • Cloud computing is the biggest cybersecurity gap when it comes to hard skills, according to the ISACA State of Cybersecurity Report.  
  • Worldwide end-user spending on public cloud services is forecast to grow 20.4% to total $678.8 billion in 2024,” according to Gartner®. 
  • AWS is the revenue leader in the cloud infrastructure market 

Read on to get an overview of AWS certifications and which ones may be helpful for your career. 

Should you pay the ransom?

Should you pay the ransom?

Download The Ransomware Paper for real-world ransomware examples, mistakes and lessons learned.

Update on AWS certifications 

You may wonder how to get AWS certification or "Which AWS certification should I get?" The available AWS certifications have evolved in response to market demand and AWS's services. For example, AWS announced it was retiring three certifications in April 2024: 

  • AWS Certified Data Analytics – Specialty 
  • AWS Certified Database – Specialty 
  • AWS Certified: SAP on AWS – Specialty 

On AWS's website, the company explains that it makes adjustments to better serve customers by reducing the number of specialty certifications and enhancing what it offers at the foundational, associate, professional and specialty levels. 

AWS certification paths overview 

There are four types of certifications as you move along the AWS certification paths, with each one requiring more knowledge and experience: 

  • Foundational (one certification) 
  • Associate (four certifications) 
  • Professional (two certifications) 
  • Specialty (three certifications) 

An overview of all 10 certifications is below. 

Foundational AWS certification 

The foundational AWS certification, AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner, is designed to provide evidence of a baseline knowledge of the AWS cloud. It serves as a launchpad for people switching to a cloud career path — even if they don't have any experience in IT.  

The certification can also be useful for anyone who wants to better understand how the AWS cloud works, whether they are an experienced cloud professional who wants to start learning AWS or may not have plans to work within AWS but want to better understand it. 

It covers the following domains: 

  • Domain 1: Cloud Concepts (24%) 
  • Domain 2: Security and Compliance (30%) 
  • Domain 3: Cloud Technology and Services (34%) 
  • Domain 4: Billing, Pricing, and Support (12%) 

Associate-level AWS certifications 

The associate-level certifications are based on specific job roles and tasks for AWS cloud users. There are four different certifications available. 

AWS Certified Solutions Architect — Associate 

The AWS Certified Solutions Architect certification validates your skills in designing AWS solutions that are cost- and performance-optimized based on the AWS Well-Architected Framework.  

Before taking this exam, Amazon recommends you have at least a year of hands-on experience designing cloud solutions that use AWS services. Having this certification can give you a foothold in a company that's looking to modernize its architecture or bolster a digital transformation that involves cloud services 

It covers the following domains: 

  • Domain 1: Design Secure Architectures (30%) 
  • Domain 2: Design Resilient Architectures (26%) 
  • Domain 3: Design High-Performing Architectures (24%) 
  • Domain 4: Design Cost-Optimized Architectures (20%) 

For more on this certification, check out our webinar, AWS Certified Solutions Architect: What it is and how to get certified. 

AWS Certified Developer — Associate 

The AWS Certified Developer certification validates your skills in building, implementing and troubleshooting cloud apps with AWS.  

Prior to sitting for this exam, Amazon recommends at least one year of hands-on experience in developing and maintaining applications by using AWS services. This certification is especially beneficial for developers who want to build apps in the cloud. While traditional, on-premise development skills are valuable, companies that want to deploy apps in AWS may move resumes with this cert to the top of the pile. 

It covers the following domains: 

  • Domain 1: Development with AWS Services (32%) 
  • Domain 2: Security (26%) 
  • Domain 3: Deployment (24%) 
  • Domain 4: Troubleshooting and Optimization (18%) 

AWS Certified SysOps Administrator — Associate 

The SysOps Administrator certification shows you have expertise in deploying, managing and operatingworkloads on AWS.  

Before taking this exam, Amazon recommends one year of experience with deployment, management, networking and security on AWS. This makes certification holders valuable assets for organizations that need to implement cloud initiatives and need someone to help administer those cloud systems. 

It covers the following domains: 

  • Domain 1: Monitoring, Logging, and Remediation (20%) 
  • Domain 2: Reliability and Business Continuity (16%) 
  • Domain 3: Deployment, Provisioning, and Automation (18%) 
  • Domain 4: Security and Compliance (16%) 
  • Domain 5: Networking and Content Delivery (18%) 
  • Domain 6: Cost and Performance Optimization (12%)  

For more on this certification, check out our webinar, AWS Certified Cloud Operations Administrator: What it is and how to get certified. 

AWS Certified Data Engineer — Associate 

AWS Certified Data Engineer certification validates a variety of data skills ranging from ingesting and transforming data to designing data models to orchestrating data pipelines. 

Before taking the exam, Amazon recommends two to three years of experience with data engineering to understand how data moves, the impact of the amount of data, data transformation principles, how to design data management systems and governance principles. In addition, you should have between one and two years of experience working with AWS. 

From a career perspective, this certification is a good fit for those who want to leverage AWS to help organizations transform and process data for analysis and/or to optimize operations. 

It covers the following domains: 

  • Domain 1: Data Ingestion and Transformation (34%) 
  • Domain 2: Data Store Management (26%) 
  • Domain 3: Data Operations and Support (22%) 
  • Domain 4: Data Security and Governance (18%)  

Earn your CCSP, guaranteed!

Earn your CCSP, guaranteed!

Save your spot for an upcoming CCSP Boot Camp and earn one of the most in-demand cloud security certifications — guaranteed!

Professional-level AWS certifications 

Professional-level AWS certifications are for those seeking advanced qualifications to build, optimize and secure apps in an AWS environment. Professional certifications also require knowledge of automation in AWS, qualifying you to design automation that streamlines an organization's operations.  

There are two professional-level certifications available. 

AWS Certified Solutions Architect — Professional 

The professional-level AWS Solutions Architect certification validates your experience in advising organizations on how to set up architectures to support different kinds of applications, as well as building hybrid architectures using tools like AWS Direct Connect and virtual private networks (VPNs). 

Before sitting for the exam, Amazon recommends two or more years of experience building and deploying in the AWS cloud architecture. It’s a great option if you’re interested in building your cloud architecture skills. 

It covers the following domains: 

  • Domain 1: Design Solutions for Organizational Complexity (26%) 
  • Domain 2: Design for New Solutions (29%) 
  • Domain 3: Continuous Improvement for Existing Solutions (25) 
  • Domain 4: Accelerate Workload Migration and Modernization (20%) 

AWS Certified DevOps Engineer — Professional 

The AWS Certified DevOps Engineer certification demonstrates your knowledge of how to provision, operate and manage distributed app systems in the AWS environment. 

Amazon recommends at least two years of experience in managing AWS. It can also help to be well-versed in DevOps principles to the degree that you know how to manage continuous delivery systems and frequent iterations of apps in an AWS environment. You should also be skilled in designing and managing automated security and governance systems. 

The fact that you understand how to work with DevOps methodologies can inspire confidence in employers looking to optimize the efficiency of their AWS app design, deployment and management. As a result, you may stand above similar candidates who may have project management experience but lack this certification. 

It covers the following domains: 

  • Domain 1: SDLC Automation (22%) 
  • Domain 2: Configuration Management and IaC (17%) 
  • Domain 3: Resilient Cloud Solutions (15%) 
  • Domain 4: Monitoring and Logging (15%) 
  • Domain 5: Incident and Event Response (14%) 
  • Domain 6: Security and Compliance (17%) 

For more on this certification, check out our webinar, AWS Certified DevOps Engineer: What it is and how to get certified. 

Specialty-level AWS certifications 

Specialty-level certifications are designed for those who want to hone in on a specific discipline or element of AWS as they demonstrate advanced proficiency. There are three specialty-level certifications. 

AWS Certified Advanced Networking — Specialty 

The AWS Certified Advanced Networking certification if you already have deep experience with networking in an AWS environment and advance your skills or progress to a more advanced position. 

Before taking the exam, Amazon recommends at least five years of experience in designing and implementing network solutions. You should also have experience working with AWS and its security and storage tools, as well as an understanding of advanced networking architectures, such as multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) and virtual private LAN service (VPLS). 

Qualified candidates also have a background in developing automation using scripts and other tools, as well as optimizing network routing architectures for global companies. 

It covers the following domains: 

  • Domain 1: Network Design (30%) 
  • Domain 2: Network Implementation (26%) 
  • Domain 3: Network Management and Operation (20%) Domain 4: Network Security, Compliance, and Governance (24%) 

AWS Certified Security — Specialty 

The AWS Certified Security is ideal if you want to validate your expertise in designing, deploying and maintaining security solutions in AWS.  

Before sitting for the exam, Amazon recommends three to five years of experience in designing and implementing security solutions and at least two years of hands-on experience in securing AWS workloads. 

It covers the following domains: 

  • Domain 1: Threat Detection and Incident Response (14%) 
  • Domain 2: Security Logging and Monitoring (18%) 
  • Domain 3: Infrastructure Security (20%) 
  • Domain 4: Identity and Access Management (16%) 
  • Domain 5: Data Protection (18%) 
  • Domain 6: Management and Security Governance (14%) 

For more on this certification, check out our webinar, AWS Certified Security - Specialty: What it is and how to get certified. 

AWS Certified Machine Learning — Specialty 

The AWS Certified Machine Learning — Specialty certification is ideal for those involved in data science or developing data analysis systems, especially using machine learning (ML) or deep learning in AWS. 

Before taking the exam, Amazon recommends at least two years of experience designing and deploying ML solutions in AWS. You also need to be able to explain the basics of what ML algorithms do, and how deep learning and ML frameworks help with building solutions.  

This certification may be especially valuable for people looking to help organizations use ML for data analysis, build customer- or employee-facing solutions or optimize their operations. 

It covers the following domains: 

  • Domain 1: Data Engineering (20%) 
  • Domain 2: Exploratory Data Analysis (24%) 
  • Domain 3: Modeling (36%) 
  • Domain 4: Machine Learning Implementation and Operations (20%) 

AWS exam preparation and resources 

When preparing for any of the AWS certification exams, you want to focus on getting stronger in the areas where you're weak as opposed to simply trying to improve your current strengths. Even though you don't have to get all the questions correct, having a solid foundation across all domains gives you the best chance for success. 

You can prepare using a variety of methods, including: 

  • Getting training from AWS partners, like Infosec 
  • Preparing via live boot camps, which give you an outlet for learning and exercising exam-specific skills 
  • Using self-paced online courses by weaving a personal schedule into your weekly routine 
  • Taking practice exams, then studying for areas where you underperformed 
  • Using study groups to learn with others and work with them to reinforce your knowledge 

You can also combine several of the above according to your learning style. For example, you could take a practice exam, note the areas where you didn't do as well as you'd hoped and then use self-paced learning and a study group to bone up on these areas. 

The AWS certification exams all have similar formats. They consist of two types of questions: multiple choice and multiple response. With a multiple-choice question, you must choose the best choice from the ones presented. A multiple-response question involves choosing more than one answer to satisfy a question's requirements. 

Some questions aren't scored and used only for research purposes, but those aren't identified on the exam. 

To best manage your time, it's recommended to answer the questions you're confident with first and note the ones you aren't sure of. Then, go back and answer those that gave you trouble. In this way, you avoid spending too much time on questions you aren't sure of. Also, since all questions carry the same weight, using this method makes it more likely for you to lock in a solid score in less time. 

Earn your CySA+, guaranteed!

Earn your CySA+, guaranteed!

Get hands-on experience and live expert, instruction. Enroll now to claim your Exam Pass Guarantee!

Intersection of AWS certifications and cybersecurity 

AWS certifications can be a significant part of your success as a cybersecurity professional because they give you a foundational understanding of the increasingly popular AWS environment — the same one you'll likely be protecting sooner or later. In addition, the AWS Certified Security — Specialty certification is dedicated to cybersecurity, giving you AWS-specific knowledge about how to defend networks. 

AWS certifications showcase your understanding of how data moves through AWS, how people and devices access the AWS cloud and, as a result, potential vulnerabilities. Armed with this knowledge, you can be an asset to any organization that currently uses AWS or may use it in the future. 

The cloud, in general, is exploding as a business resource, with more and more processes going to the cloud thanks to its scalability and cost benefits. Given this trend, you may need to be a cloud security engineer to stay relevant in the evolving business landscape. 

Jeff Peters
Jeff Peters

Jeff Peters is a communications professional with more than a decade of experience creating cybersecurity-related content. As the Director of Content and Brand Marketing at Infosec, he oversees the Infosec Resources website, the Cyber Work Podcast and Cyber Work Hacks series, and a variety of other content aimed at answering security awareness and technical cybersecurity training questions. His focus is on developing materials to help cybersecurity practitioners and leaders improve their skills, level up their careers and build stronger teams.