A Deep Dive Into AWS Certifications and the Solutions Architect Exam
The public cloud market is growing at a staggering rate, as companies of all sizes move their technical architecture away from costly on-site configurations. At the top of this industry is Amazon’s public cloud service, AWS, with $35.4 billion in revenue last year and 38.9% total market share. Its closest competitor, Microsoft’s Azure, saw $19 billion in revenue and 21.1% market share. It’s understandable then that AWS skills are in high demand among companies wanting to scale their backend infrastructure and provide the best possible customer experience.
As AWS features change quickly, companies are encouraging employees to prepare for and earn technical certifications in AWS services to keep current with the complexities of cloud computing. Certifications are an optimal way to train and validate employees’ skills in these tools. They can also be a crucial hiring qualification when recruiting candidates for a specific technical need.
Since there are 12 available AWS certifications for technical employees to earn, it can be difficult to understand which is right for your company’s needs. We recently spoke with Udemy instructor and AWS expert, Chandra Lingam, about his perspectives on keeping cloud computing knowledge current and the AWS certification that will give your team a strong foundation in the cloud platform.
Q: What is a particularly valuable AWS certification?
A: I consider the Solutions Architect Associate as the foundational certification for people in the technical track. I like this certification, as it gives learners a breadth of understanding of AWS services and how to integrate them into a complete solution for your company.
Q: What does a Solutions Architect do?
A: An architect is responsible for translating a company’s business requirements into a solution blueprint. They need to ensure the solution is secure, avoids a single point of failure, and handles changes to traffic flows while being cost-effective.
An architect also has to review existing solutions and identify areas for improvement. They don’t simply propose a solution and hand it off to colleagues for implementation. They’re closely involved with most implementation steps of a cloud system and provide guidance to the development team.
Consider this example of how the skills of a Solutions Architect might be seen in practical application. Someone recently reached out to me to help lower their company’s AWS hosting cost. The company’s product provided information to manage medical health conditions, and the AWS monthly charges were very high. We analyzed the itemized bill, VPC Flow Log, ELB logs, and type of requests processed by the application.
The issue turned out to be an application-level attack by bots to bring down the system. We protected the application by deploying the AWS web application firewall and immediately noticed an improvement in performance and reduced usage of server resources. The customer reached out for assistance on billing and performance issues, but the root cause was a security issue we were able to identify, thanks to the knowledge I have from the Solutions Architect Associate certification.
Q: What sort of learner should take your AWS Solutions Architect Associate course?
A: In my AWS Certified Solutions Architect course, we walk through several real-world technical scenarios and how to apply cloud architectural principles to them. People will learn how to avoid a single point of failure, properly secure and protect their workload, and design for high availability, among other use cases. I see three types of learners for this course:
- Learners without prior cloud experience who want to transition to a career in cloud computing.
- Learners who might have some cloud experience and need a structured introduction to AWS
- Experienced public cloud users who want to stay up-to-date with the latest changes in AWS.
The exam will test learners on 200 to 300 possible scenarios, which is why technical team leaders see certification prep as an important part of their employees’ continued learning. By preparing for these scenarios, learners become versatile AWS Solutions Architects.
Q: How do you approach teaching topics like AWS that change so rapidly?
A: I prioritize features and capabilities that I feel organizations would value. So, that is my subjective assessment, but I also get feedback from learners requesting specific topics. AWS certification exam questions tend to lag behind any changes in the product by a few months. I use this time to test the new features, understand how companies might use them, and then develop the educational materials to update my courses.
As an example of how I might incorporate AWS platform changes into my courses, let’s look at S3, a popular cloud storage service in AWS. A recent change in this product focuses on how object security is managed in S3 when multiple accounts share a bucket — which is a common scenario in an enterprise. S3 now allows the bucket owner to automatically become the owner of all objects stored in the bucket. This enhancement of S3 security vastly simplifies cross-account permissions. This improvement is great for big data analytics and when querying millions of objects, as you are guaranteed to access the most up-to-date data.
I also keep an eye on pricing model changes, which are critical for using a cloud provider efficiently. AWS offers Savings Plans that allow companies to purchase fractional compute capacity at a deep discount for long-term use. This fractional purchase model allows an organization to adjust to changing technology needs quickly.
Both of the updates I describe here provide great value to a company, so those are lessons I’d be sure to include in a new course or in the regular updates I make to existing courses.
Q: What are the major trends you’re seeing in AWS this year?
A: As I’ve noted, cloud computing changes quickly, whether a company is using AWS or other popular public cloud vendors like Microsoft’s Azure or Google Cloud. In the world of AWS, two trends are standing out for me:
- Cloud security emphasis: One simple cloud environment can have thousands of resources and millions of events associated with it. Protecting each cloud instance from constantly evolving security threats is a huge challenge that I’m seeing more learners express interest in. AI-powered tools like Amazon GuardDuty can learn your environment’s normal usage and automatically flag malicious activities. And to protect against more sophisticated application layer attacks, we also need to use the AWS Web Application Firewall.
- Renaming of existing products: A frequent challenge for myself and my learners is that AWS often repackages or renames existing services into new ones. For example, AWS Single Sign-On is now renamed AWS IAM Identity Center. This introduces an additional layer of complexity and confusion as cloud computing professionals try to keep these product name changes straight. While I keep naming up-to-date in my courses, I’d like to see all cloud providers stick to industry standard terms when naming products within their platforms.
Empowering your workforce with AWS cloud knowledge
Technical and non-technical roles alike are learning AWS. Technical roles because it is the leader in cloud computing and essential for many roles within the field. The business impact of the platform is so widespread that other types of roles, like financial specialists and project managers, are also learning the foundation of AWS in greater numbers than ever before.
Learn more AWS best practices from Chandra in his course AWS Certified Solutions Architect SAA C03.
Empower your team. Lead the industry.
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