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Get your career on the fast track to an AWS education

IT professionals receive a boost in career prospects by achieving AWS certification. But before tackling the big test, they should hit the books.

Sure, it's a major player in the global cloud computing market, and it seems like practically everyone uses it...

for something. But not everyone is up to speed in the world of Amazon Web Services.

Fortunately, a rich network of training has developed around Amazon Web Services (AWS), braced by a certification program from the company itself. So, where do you start if you want to learn and build up stronger AWS credentials for your IT career?

AWS can be a good place to start for public cloud training. For those who are completely new to cloud computing and AWS, Amazon offers free introductory videos and self-paced labs. For business users, the company offers AWS Business Essentials. The instructor-led program targets IT and business decision makers and focuses mostly on cloud economics and strategies. Technical users also get an introductory track, AWS Technical Essentials, which focuses on the differences among AWS products and services, and how to apply common solutions to different business requirements.

AWS also offers a wide range of training courses, including self-service and instructor-led courses, to meet the needs of everyone from business decision-makers to techies, according to Maureen Lonergan, director of training and certification at AWS.

"For business decision makers, we help them understand how the cloud can increase their business agility, efficiency and time to market," Lonergan said. "And for technical staff, we help them understand how to architect, develop and automate IT using AWS."

AWS has another delivery path called AWS Educate, which packages educational offerings more strategically; offering free membership to institutions, educators and students, following AWS’s approval of their application.

And, separate from AWS cloud training, Amazon currently offers five certifications specifically designed for solutions architects, developers, SysOps administrators and DevOps engineers. But your AWS education path toward getting certified can vary.

AWS education and training are not a "one-size-fits-all" endeavor, said Jeff Winesett, a software engineer and educator at SeeSaw Labs, a software design and build company based in Austin, Texas that offers cloud services and consulting. Therefore, there is a plethora of third-party options. People often differ in their preferred approach to learning new things and "having a variety of approaches … maximizes both the number of people [who] will engage in that training as well as maximizing the potential for that training to be effective," he said.

While native AWS cloud training gets users started with its services, Winesett, who offers an AWS class through, pointed out it's not AWS' core business. This leaves room for companies whose core business is training, and that "can provide that variety in pedagogy that is needed to really increase engagement," he explained.

"As AWS not only continues to iterate and improve upon [its] existing services, but also continues to add to [its] service offering ... training is crucial to understanding what is available and how the available services may or may not apply to one's business use cases," Winesett said.

While AWS has allowed users to get started fairly easily and quickly, taking advantage of the power that AWS provides and maximizing its value takes training, he adds.

Jason McKay, senior vice president and chief technology officer of Logicworks, an AWS partner and managed service provider based in New York City, takes a similar tack but advises prospective AWS students not to depend too much on classes alone.

"To be successful [in] AWS, there is no substitute for hands-on experience with the command-line interface and AWS console," McKay said. "No matter how great a training course claims to be, getting in there and working in AWS is an absolute must."

And, once you are ready to prove your skills, the spectrum of AWS certifications awaits. "Their value is actually quite high," McKay said. "All of the tests are in depth ... the professional-level test is absolutely comprehensive, to put it mildly. If your company is working toward an AWS partnership, there are also minimum certification thresholds to attain certain levels of partnerships."

As Lonergan noted, employers can also use certification to help identify qualified IT talent or to help pick the best individual to spearhead cloud initiatives in their organizations.

"Our certification holders tell us that it adds to their credibility because it validates to their organization and peers that they have proven AWS expertise," Lonergan said.

Next Steps

AWS Educate arms future admins with cloud skills

AWS certification process calls for experience in the trenches

Are you on the right cloud computing career path?

This was last published in August 2015

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Where will you go for AWS training and certification?
You really can’t go wrong with free training. Even if you know you’ll be receiving other training in the future, it’s a good idea to go ahead and take advantage of the free training Amazon provides so that you have a better understanding that you can build when taking paid training. The main thing is to get out there and start learning. You can’t stay relevant in IT without taking responsibility for your own career.