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The Best Way to Gain an AWS Gold Jacket (12x certifications)

A roadmap for achieving and maintaining the 12 certificates that AWS currently offers. It’s a long and demanding road, but that doesn’t have to discourage you.


I currently have 5 of the 12 certifications, and this strategy is the one I am following to obtain the rest in a medium-term plan. I have been fortunate that the companies I have met with value and promote this effort, which means they have supported me in preparation, training and costs. Again my thanks to all employers who believe in training and continuous improvement of their employees.

I am aware that obtaining all certifications is an effort in many directions. I will try to streamline the process and translate it into numbers and tricks that will ease the way for others.

To make it easier to read, I will divide it into four vertical groups that tend to answer the most common questions I receive about certifications. Usually, these questions are specific to one certification, the one my interlocutor is preparing for, but they apply to all of them.

Money

TL;DR; Above 2,000 USD in an average case between tests and training fees.

The costs fall into three main subgroups: Cost of each exam, Training and resources, and Costs of an account as a test lab.

Exam Fees:

The certifications are tier into four levels: Foundational, Associate, Professional & Specialty. Costs appear in the table below:

A table with AWS Certification costs, names and codes

AWS Certification table with cost, names and codes

The sum of all exam fees gives us almost 3000 USD, without considering other costs such as training materials and laboratories that we may consume. Fortunately, through the benefits of becoming certified, we get a 50% discount voucher for renewal every time we pass a certification. You can use a coupon for renewing the same or a new exam, which allows us to reduce the total bill for certificates from 2950 USD to 1525 USD (assuming the first exam is the cloud practitioner costing 100 USD in both cases). You can also get vouchers for 100% of the practitioner during AWS events and promotions such as challenges that also deliver these -50% vouchers. With this, we would also assume that we will pass all the exams at the first opportunity, which does not have to be realistic.

Training and resources

There are many, many online course platforms about AWS, I’ve tried several, and I’ll stick with the following (clean links, no referral):

And as general platforms:

AWS has recently increased the AWS Skill Builder catalogue and included a subscription plan that entitles you to three official preparatory courses. This new service is an avenue that I have yet to explore and to which I would like to dedicate its blog post.

Assuming one course per certification, in this estimation, the cheapest option would be to look for Udemy courses for each of the certifications, 10–15 USD per course, costing 150–200 USD. The alternative option would be to purchase an annual subscription to one of the specialised platforms, which provides lectures, practice tests and hands-on labs from 300 USD per year as an added value.

Finally, we can conclude that we will require approximately 2000–2500 USD in the first three years, between the total certifications and the necessary training. This disbursement does not have to be made directly but progressively during the first three years. After that, the recurrence would be 2–3 annual examinations for an approximate budget of 450–900 USD/year.

Costs of an account as a test lab

Perhaps it would be convenient to consider some more money for the tests and the laboratories we will perform on our account. Laboratories are usually performed with the minimum possible expression of the service. Even this is sometimes contemplated by the free layer of the service.

However, some services require a cluster of several machines to run, so it is advisable to study the hourly costs of the services before starting the lab and remove the entire infrastructure at the end. On the other hand, it is also highly advisable to establish a monthly budget that notifies us of the expenses.

Time

TL;DR; Between 1 and 3 months, depending on dedication and knowledge.

The time is perhaps the most complicated of all questions; how long did it take you to prepare for this or that exam? Due to professional reasons, I have been working with AWS for several years in several of their areas, so I have been able to test many of their services, which logically helps.

I will start by saying that I have prepared for most certifications without exclusive dedication. That means a 30h course would typically take me about a month to finish. I take advantage of my free time to study, so I usually need to spread the lectures in time. The organisation of time is something that gives for a lot of conversation.

When answering this question, I usually reply that way, depending on the dedication you give it, between one and three months. The lower the number of services and the level of difficulty of the certification, the shorter it is.

It is dangerous to give time figures because they act as an anchor, biasing the conversation, which is not my intention at all. My reference, based on experience, is those associate exams are usually more uncomplicated and have less particular subject matter. In contrast, specialty or professional exams cover many more aspects, so I need to put myself or study and try a more significant number of services.

Finally, we must be planned all these objectives over time to be SMART (specific, measurable, assignable, realistic and time-related) and consider criteria such as future renewal.

The following is a timetable that starts with obtaining the 12 certifications in three years, at a rate of 4 per year, i.e. one every quarter. Logically, this can be compressed or extended. The reason for choosing a three-year interval is that this is the current period of validity of the certifications so that once we reach a reproducible situation with which we feel comfortable, we can renew the certifications, separating them as much as possible in time to obtain room for manoeuvre.

It also assumes that the relationship between the path (Solutions Architect and DevOps) will continue, and the professional certifications will imply the renewal of the associate and foundational ones.

A table showing the obtaining of certifications on a quarterly basis and subsequent renewal at three-year intervals.

Timeline for obtaining and renewing certifications

Experience

TL;DR; There is no substitute for experience; create your account and try it.

The benchmark that AWS provides depends on the level of certification; it generally assumes that practitioner certification requires six months of experience, associate certifications require one year, and professional certifications require two years. For speciality exams, it does not indicate a specific number of years but a technical experience.

A much-criticised aspect of certifications is whether they reflect experience. I believe you have to choose a balance between the benefits of one or the other exam modality. Like many cloud providers, Amazon has opted for a test-like exam format where the difficulty lies in the length and fluency needed to solve it against the clock.

The best way to gain fluency for this is through practice; maybe in our day-to-day work, we have the opportunity to work with cloud services, so gaining experience will be an organic way. If this is not the case, the alternative is to create our AWS account and perform as many labs as possible through practical workshops, sessions, webinars, meetups, or any technical meeting.

There are also many free events, such as game days and immersion days, to attend. It is fascinating to participate in AWS events in person and online. They are handy for keeping up to date. Also, at events of this type, we usually get certificates of attendance and credits to give our AWS accounts a small budget to test for free.

In the previous section, I mentioned the value of AWS-specific learning portals, as they provide lab environments included in the price with targeted experiments. Hands-on labs can be one of the best ways to gain experience, along with official pieces of training from AWS and its accredited training partners. The instructor-led training I have had the opportunity to attend has been in this direction: 30% theoretical and 70% practical, although this is not a strict rule.

Resources

TL;DR; Courses + Hands-on Labs + Practice Test = Successful test

I would group the resources into three main groups, which I have already mentioned above, but I believe they deserve special attention.

  • Training courses: all those courses that explain through content what the services consist of and real-life use cases. I like to see that the authors keep them up to date with the latest news and new services.
  • Hands-on labs: Consist of practical workshops to test a service or set of them with a closed objective and functionality. They are often under-appreciated but are valuable.
  • Mock exams: Sets of questions with some resemblance to final exams. Undoubtedly useful, but as I always say, they should be the last resort in order of use, and in no case is the only one to prepare for a certification.

So if all goes well, after several months, at least 12 exams with a duration of about 32 hours, you will be able to wear this exclusive and eye-catching gold AWS-certified jacket!

A gold jacket with an embroidery that reads AWS Certified

AWS Gold Jacket from https://twitter.com/0xdabbad00/status/1425889789304131584

Thank you very much for reading this far!

I hope some of these tips will be useful for you. If you want to share experiences, impressions or advice, feel free to leave me a comment.

If you have been looking for more content on certifications, here are two other articles I have published on the same subject.




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