How to Get an AWS Certification and Earn a Top-Paying Salary

Susan Asher | Friday, March 17, 2023

How to Get an AWS Certification and Earn a Top-Paying Salary

Amazon Web Services (AWS) has long been the leader in public cloud services. According to estimates from Synergy Research Group, Amazon’s market share in the worldwide cloud infrastructure market amounted to 34% in the third quarter of 2022, still exceeding the combined market share of its two largest competitors, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud.

AWS Certification validates your expertise in the cloud and highlights in-demand skills for organizations to build strong teams for using AWS cloud services. 

 IT professionals in cloud technology can enhance their career and earning potential by demonstrating to their employers or prospective employers that they possess the knowledge required to be successful and productive with AWS technology. One solid way to do this is by achieving an AWS certification. Not only does it look good on a resume, but it’s also a strong tool for commanding a top salary in cloud technology. 

Certifications attest to your abilities in a given subject and give you the right to start using a designation after your name, such as AWS Certified Advanced Networking and AWS Solutions Architect.

AWS currently offers 12 certifications at four different levels: Foundational, Associate, Professional, and Specialty.

Foundational certification attests that the holder has demonstrated an overall understanding of the AWS Cloud. No prior experience is needed to take a course and become an AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner.

Associate certifications showcase your knowledge and skills on AWS and build your credibility as an AWS Cloud professional. Prior cloud and/or strong on-premises IT experience is recommended. There are three Associate certifications: Solutions Architect, Developer, and SysOps Administrator.

Professional certifications validate you have advanced skills and the knowledge needed to design secure, optimized, and modernized applications and to automate processes on AWS. AWS recommends that people who try to obtain a professional-level certification have two years of prior AWS Cloud experience. There are two Professional certifications: Solutions Architect and DevOps Engineer.

Specialty certifications confirm that you are a trusted advisor in these strategic areas. The exam guides for each specialty inform you of the prior experience you should have before attempting to pass this certification. There are six AWS Specialty certifications:  Advanced Networking, Data Analytics, Database, Machine Learning, Security, and SAP on AWS.

Foundational Certification: AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner

AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner

The AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner examination is intended for individuals who have the knowledge and skills necessary to effectively demonstrate an overall understanding of the AWS Cloud, independent of specific technical roles addressed by other AWS Certifications. Becoming an AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner is a recommended, optional step toward achieving an Associate-level or Specialty certification.

Topics tested:

  • Define what the AWS Cloud is and the basic global infrastructure
  • Describe basic AWS Cloud architectural principles
  • Describe the AWS Cloud value proposition
  • Describe key services on the AWS platform and their common use cases (for example, compute and analytics)
  • Describe basic security and compliance aspects of the AWS platform and the shared security model
  • Define the billing, account management, and pricing models
  • Identify sources of documentation or technical assistance (for example, white papers or support tickets)
  • Describe basic/core characteristics of deploying and operating in the AWS Cloud

Recommended prerequisite courses: None are required, but if you aren’t familiar with all those things listed above, take the AWS Cloud Practitioner Essentials course, which will give you a basic understanding of IT services and their uses in the AWS Cloud platform.

Associate-Level Certifications: Solutions Architect, Developer, and SysOps Administrator

AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Associate

The AWS Certified Solutions Architect examination is intended for individuals who perform a solutions architect role. This exam validates an examinee's ability to effectively demonstrate knowledge of how to architect and deploy secure and robust applications on AWS technologies. It validates an examinee's ability to define a solution using architectural design principles based on customer requirements and to provide implementation guidance based on best practices to the organization throughout the life cycle of the project.

Recommended knowledge and experience:

  • One year of hands-on experience designing available, cost-efficient, fault-tolerant, and scalable distributed systems on AWS
  • Hands-on experience using compute, networking, storage, and database AWS services
  • Hands-on experience with AWS deployment and management services
  • Ability to identify and define technical requirements for an AWS-based application
  • Ability to identify which AWS services meet a given technical requirement
  • Knowledge of recommended best practices for building secure and reliable applications on the AWS platform
  • An understanding of the basic architectural principles of building on the AWS Cloud
  • An understanding of the AWS global infrastructure
  • An understanding of network technologies as they relate to AWS
  • An understanding of security features and tools that AWS provides and how they relate to traditional services

Topics tested:

  • Define a solution using architectural design principles based on customer requirements.
  • Provide implementation guidance based on best practices to the organization throughout the life cycle of the project.

 Recommended prerequisite courses:

AWS Certified Developer – Associate

The AWS Certified Developer – Associate exam validates technical expertise in developing and maintaining applications on the AWS platform. It is intended for individuals who perform a development role and have one or more years of hands-on experience developing and maintaining an AWS-based application.

Recommended knowledge and experience:

  • One or more years of hands-on experience designing and maintaining an AWS-based application
  • In-depth knowledge of at least one high-level programming language
  • Understanding of core AWS services, uses, and basic architecture best practices
  • Proficiency in designing, developing, and deploying cloud-based solutions using AWS
  • Experience with developing and maintaining applications written for Amazon Simple Storage Service, Amazon DynamoDB, Amazon Simple Queue Service, Amazon Simple Notification Service, Amazon Simple Workflow Service, AWS Elastic Beanstalk, and AWS CloudFormation

Topics tested:

  • Picking the right AWS services for the application
  • Leveraging AWS SDKs to interact with AWS services from your application
  • Writing code that optimizes the performance of AWS services used by your application
  • Code-level application security (IAM roles, credentials, encryption, etc.)

Recommended prerequisite courses:

AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate

The AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate exam validates technical expertise in deployment, management, and operations on the AWS platform. It is intended for systems administrators in a systems operations role with at least one year of experience.

Recommended knowledge and experience:

  • One or more years of hands-on experience operating AWS-based applications
  • Experience provisioning, operating, and maintaining systems running on AWS
  • Ability to identify and gather requirements to define a solution to be built and operated on AWS
  • Capabilities to provide AWS operations and deployment guidance and best practices throughout the lifecycle of a project

Topics tested:

  • Deploying, managing, and operating scalable, highly available, and fault-tolerant systems on AWS
  • Migrating an existing on-premises application to AWS
  • Implementing and controlling the flow of data to and from AWS
  • Selecting the appropriate AWS service based on compute, data, or security requirements
  • Identifying appropriate use of AWS operational best practices
  • Estimating AWS usage costs and identifying operational cost control mechanisms

Recommended prerequisite courses:

Professional-Level Certifications: Solutions Architect and DevOps Engineer

AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional 

The AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional exam validates advanced technical skills and experience in designing distributed applications and systems on the AWS platform. The exam is intended for individuals who perform a solutions architect role with two or more years of hands-on experience managing and operating systems on AWS.

Recommended knowledge and experience:

  • AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate
  • Two or more years of hands-on experience designing and deploying cloud architecture on AWS
  • Abilities to evaluate cloud application requirements and make architectural recommendations for implementation, deployment, and provisioning applications on AWS
  • Capabilities to provide best practices guidance on the architectural design across multiple applications, projects, or the enterprise.

Topics tested:

  • Designing and deploying dynamically scalable, highly available, fault-tolerant, and reliable applications on AWS
  • Selecting appropriate AWS services to design and deploy an application based on given requirements
  • Migrating complex, multi-tier applications on AWS
  • Designing and deploying enterprise-wide scalable operations on AWS
  • Implementing cost control strategies

Recommended prerequisite courses:

AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional

The AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional exam validates technical expertise in provisioning, operating, and managing distributed application systems on the AWS platform. It is intended for individuals who perform a DevOps engineer role with two or more years of experience provisioning, operating, and managing AWS environments.

Recommended knowledge and experience:

  • AWS Certified Developer - Associate or AWS Certified SysOps Administrator - Associate
  • Two or more years of experience provisioning, operating, and managing AWS environments
  • Experience developing code in at least one high-level programming language
  • Experience in automation and testing via scripting/programming
  • Understanding of agile and other development processes and methodologies

Topics tested:

  • Implement and manage continuous delivery systems and methodologies on AWS
  • Understand, implement, and automate security controls, governance processes, and compliance validation
  • Define and deploy monitoring, metrics, and logging systems on AWS
  • Implement systems that are highly available, scalable, and self-healing on the AWS platform
  • Design, manage, and maintain tools to automate operational processes

Recommended prerequisite courses:

AWS Specialty-Level Certifications: Advanced Networking, Data Analytics, Database, Machine Learning, Security, SAP on AWS

AWS Certified Advanced Networking – Specialty

The AWS Certified Advanced Networking Specialty examination validates advanced technical skills and experience in designing implementing and maintaining AWS and hybrid IT network architectures at scale. It is intended for individuals who implement core AWS services according to basic architecture best practices.

Recommended knowledge and experience:

  • AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner or a current AWS Certified Solution Architect - Associate or AWS Certified Developer - Associate or AWS Certified SysOps Administrator - Associate
  • Minimum 5 years of hands-on experience architecting and implementing network solutions
  • Advanced knowledge of AWS networking concepts and technologies

Topics tested:

  • Design, develop, and deploy cloud-based solutions using AWS.
  • Implement core AWS services according to basic architectural best practices.
  • Design and maintain network architecture for all AWS services.
  • Leverage tools to automate AWS networking tasks.

Recommended prerequisite courses:

AWS Certified Data Analytics – Specialty

The AWS Certified Data Analytics - Specialty exam validates technical skills and experience in designing and implementing AWS services to derive value from data. It is for individuals who want to highlight their ability to design, build, secure, and maintain analytics solutions on AWS that are efficient, cost-effective, and secure to deliver insight from data.

Recommended knowledge and experience:

  • Minimum 5 years of hands-on experience in a data analytics field
  • At least 2 years of hands-on experience working with AWS
  • Experience and expertise working with AWS services to design, build, secure, and maintain analytics solutions
  • Ability to define AWS data analytics services and understand how they integrate with each other
  • Ability to explain how AWS data analytics services fit in the data lifecycle of collection, storage, processing, and visualization
Topics tested:
  • Define AWS data analytics services and understand how they integrate with each other
  • Explain how AWS data analytics services fit in the data life cycle of collection, storage, processing, and visualization 

Recommended prerequisite courses:

AWS Certified Database – Specialty

The AWS Certified Database - Specialty exam validates technical skills and experience in recommending, designing, and maintaining the optimal AWS database solution to improve performance, reduce costs, and enable innovation. The examination is for individuals who want to highlight their ability to design, recommend, and maintain the optimal AWS database solution for a use case.

Recommended knowledge and experience:

  • Minimum 5 years of experience with database technologies
  • At least 2 years of hands-on experience working with AWS
  • Experience and expertise working with on-premises and AWS-Cloud-based relational and nonrelational databases

Topics tested:

  • Understand and differentiate the key features of AWS database services
  • Analyze needs and requirements to recommend and design appropriate database solutions using AWS services

Recommended prerequisite courses:

AWS Certified Machine Learning – Specialty

The AWS Certified Machine Learning - Specialty exam validates the ability to build, train, tune, and deploy machine learning models using the AWS Cloud. The examination is for individuals who perform a development or data science role.

Recommended knowledge and experience:

  • 1-2 years of experience developing, architecting, or running ML/deep learning workloads on the AWS Cloud
  • The ability to express the intuition behind basic ML algorithms
  • Experience performing basic hyperparameter optimization
  • Experience with ML and deep learning frameworks
  • The ability to follow model-training best practices
  • The ability to follow deployment and operational best practices

Topics tested:

  • Select and justify the appropriate ML approach for a given business problem.
  • Identify appropriate AWS services to implement ML solutions.
  • Design and implement scalable, cost-optimized, reliable, and secure ML solutions.

Recommended prerequisite courses:

AWS Certified Security – Specialty

The AWS Certified Security Specialty allows experienced cloud security professionals to demonstrate and validate their knowledge of how to secure the AWS platform. It is intended for individuals who perform a security role with at least two years of hands-on experience securing AWS workloads.

Recommended knowledge and experience:

  • At least two years of hands-on experience securing AWS workloads
  • Security controls for workloads on AWS
  • A minimum of five years of IT security experience designing and implementing security solutions

Topics tested:

  • An understanding of specialized data classifications and AWS data protection mechanisms
  • An understanding of data encryption methods and AWS mechanisms to implement them
  • An understanding of secure Internet protocols and AWS mechanisms to implement them
  • A working knowledge of AWS security services and features of services to provide a secure production environment.
  • Competency gained from two or more years of production deployment experience using AWS security services and features
  • Ability to make tradeoff decisions about cost, security, and deployment complexity given a set of application requirements
  • An understanding of security operations and risk

Recommended prerequisite courses:

SAP on AWS – Specialty

This certification validates expertise in designing, implementing, migrating, and operating SAP workloads on AWS. 

Who should take this exam?

AWS Certified: SAP on AWS - Specialty is intended for individuals in roles that require experience with both SAP and AWS. It’s a niche certification and no specific courses to prepare for it.

Before you take this exam, we recommend you have:

  • Five or more years of SAP experience
  • One or more years of experience working with SAP on AWS
  • Ability to design an SAP solution that runs in the AWS Cloud in adherence with best practices laid out in the AWS Well-Architected Framework, and SAP certification and support requirements

To earn this certification, you’ll need to take and pass the AWS Certified: SAP on AWS - Specialty exam (PAS-C01). The exam features a combination of two question formats: multiple choice and multiple response. Additional information, such as the exam content outline and passing score, is in the exam guide.

Topics tested:

  • Design of SAP workloads on AWS
  • Implementation of SAP workloads on AWS
  • Migration of SAP workloads to AWS
  • Operation and maintenance of SAP workloads on AWS

AWS Salaries

In the relatively short time since the AWS certification program launched in 2013, salaries for professionals with AWS certifications have grown to rank among the highest for IT certification holders. Here is a sampling of the average annual U.S. salaries for AWS positions in 2023, according to ZipRecruiter, unless stated otherwise.

AWS Cloud Engineer
$131,711

AWS Security Engineer
$163,400

AWS Solution Architect Professional
$162,320

AWS Cloud Infrastructure Architect
$158,526

AWS Architect
$156,745

AWS Developer
$132,055

AWS Data Engineer
$142,235

AWS Sysops Administrator
$112,717*


AWS Web Developer
$99,657

AWS Machine Learning
$127,790


Learn more about how you can advance your career and earn top salaries by achieving an AWS certification.

Browse AWS Certifications
Learn How to Future-Proof Your IT Career

Learn How to Future-Proof Your IT Career

You need a clear action plan for long-term success, and you’ll find it in our free whitepaper, “Future-Proof Your IT Career: How to Stay Relevant in a Field of Constant Change.” Download your copy now — it’s the first step in building credentials that will last.