So, I've just completed my AWS Machine Learning Specialty certification. This now brings my total active certifications to 12, the "full suite" of achievable certification. In doing so I'm now eligible for the elusive "golden jacket" awarded by AWS to holders of all certifications.
I've had a few people ask my about my certification journey and as often as the how did I do it, is they why did I do it.
This post will not look at how, but address they why, and is it worth it. It is subjective to me as a person, my current role, and my current employer. As such some of the justification might not match you or your situation. I acknowledge that and hopefully you will see why it was right for me at this point in time.
Please note that the order of reasons is not a ranking. It is just the reasons on my journey in the order that they became relevant for whether to go after more certifications.
Why number 1
To help stand out in the talent market
Considering I have been working with AWS since about 2011 with significant hands on experience from about 2015 , my first certification was not achieved till 2018. Why did it take me 3-7 years? Well I didn't need it before then. I was in a large enterprise that recognized my skills and did not see value in a certification that expires. However, in 2018 I was looking for work and the certification was something that validated my skills.
So off I went and got the Solution Architect Associate, and started working towards my Solution Architect Professional. The idea being that along with saying I had done work on AWS and I could talk about AWS, I also had a certificate that said I met a certain level of knowledge.
It must have worked because it helped get me several interviews and my job at Accenture.
So, if you are looking to stand out and prove you can walk the talk, certifications can help. However, it is in combination with experience. It allowed me to pass a "skills required" list and get to an interview to demonstrate my skills.
Why number 2
To help stand out in your company
So if you are in a job and not looking for a new job do certifications not matter?
Well, as with anything in technology, "It Depends".
At my first job using AWS it didn't matter. While they would send me on training for multiple technologies (CCSK, AWS, ServiceNow, etc.) the certifications, in their eyes, didn't add any additional value. As such they would not pay for them and I saw no benefit in paying for them myself when I saw myself being there for longer that the validity of the certification.
So, if your company doesn't see the value, by which I mean it wont improve your career opportunities, then it might not be worth your effort pursuing them. However, if they are not offering the upskilling and training I'd ask is it a good company to be with and maybe go back to why number 1 and get the cert to help you leave and go to somewhere that recognizes talent and development.
However, if you're in a company where certification help differentiate you, and/or they are willing to pay for them, then you might want to pursue them. For my team/role in Accenture, certifications are a differentiator and something that are discussed in performance reviews. Now, I'm lucky enough to have them provide vouchers, in addition to getting vouchers through the AWS Community Builders program. So for me there is no financial burden, although there is a time commitment over and above my day job. However, I think you'd need to weigh up the cost vs benefit. If you can gain a certification that help you get promotion is it worth it? Well if the exam is Professional or Specialty at $300 and you get a pay rise of even $500 a year I would say that a 400% ROI is a great return.
Why number 3:
To help your company stand out in the market
In a competitive market for companies, especially consulting/out-sourcing, certificates can help your organization stand out in the market.
The Accenture AWS Business Group prides itself on the breadth and depth of knowledge its team has. While this knowledge can be implied though case studies, thought leadership and references, a simple way to show it is by the number of certified individuals and the numbers of certifications held.
Similar to the partner accreditation the certified individuals can help customers decide who the right partner to engage with is. So while it might not improve your career outlook, similar to reason 2, if you company is willing to fund hte certifications why not go for it. After all they will do you no harm, and while not actively support career progression they will not count against it, especially if it is an external metric that is monitored.
This is also the reason that after completing the Solution Architect Associate, and Solution Architect Professional I went back and got the Cloud Practitioner certification. Not because I thought I needed it but it help with our total certification count.
Why number 4:
I had the knowledge
For some of the certifications I already had the knowledge that put me in good stead for the exams. While AWS focused, both the Advance Networking and Security exam outlines showed that good general knowledge in the areas was as importance on the AWS knowledge. My view having had experience in both security and networking was I knew the generic/industry why and how and some experience in implanting on AWS that it would be a relatively easy exam to pass. Again, with my employer paying for the exam, it was an relatively easy decision to make and I passed both with scores in the 800s.
This is also the reason I gained the Developer Associate, SysOps Associate, and DevOps Professional in quick succession. After a few years at Accenture and some projects with more hands on engineering, especially DevOps work, I thought I had the knowledge. I took a practice exam for the associate exams and got good scores so just went for it. After gaining scores in the 900s for both associate certifications it gave me the confidence that I knew what I was doing so went for the professional the following month.
When the SAP on AWS certification was announced in 2021 I thought it looked interesting. I had some experience in SAP and supported an SAP migration from on premise DB2 to a cloud x86 environment. After looking at the exam outline it seemed that it was mainly infrastructure focused. I thought with the overlap between the exam and the Solution Architect Professional, Advance Networking and Security specialties, I would not need to learn too much. So after spending some time looking at the specifics of SAP on AWS such as overlay networks, SAP tooling etc., I took the beta exam, and after a long 4 month wait for the results, successfully passed.
So, if you feel you have the knowledge then go for it. This is especially true for the specialty exams where 50% is topic specific understanding and not AWS. If you think you have the right level of understanding and experience based on your career then just go for it. I know people who have converted from say Cisco certifications to AWS Advance Networking with easy because they know so much of the core networking components that they just need to learn how to do it on AWS.
Why number 5:
As a method of learning
While certifications are not everything to everyone, I like the structured approach to learning. By having a goal and criteria to work against I can ensure my effort is spent on the right things. As I do more work as both an architect and engineer I realize there are new things I need to learn and have a deeper understanding of.
A big one for me was with database and the reason I went for the Database specialty. While designing solutions knowing the best database and best deployment method was something that cropped up more and more, especially with so many new options available from AWS.
S0 my goal was to go and learn about all the AWS database options, the features, and when and how each one should be used. While I did take a look at lots of different guides and documents I feel the structure of the domains help me focus my effort. For database the 5 domains are DB Design, Deployment/Migration, Management, Monitoring/Troubleshooting, and Security. Using this approach I worked through the different offerings and made sure I know enough in each of these areas.
As a result I ensured not only did I feel confident in gaining the certification but I felt confident in my knowledge and abilities when discussing databases. Again, through learning and certification I validated my knowledge and experience. I possess more than just the certification but the certification shows my minimum standard.
Why number 6:
"Gotta Catch 'Em All"
At some point you get to the "the point of no return". For me this was where the question changed from "why would I get them all" to "why wouldn't I get them all". I suffer a little from imposter syndrome and under-recognize my skills and expertise. While many people advocated on my behalf and extolled my skills and expertise it took me a long time to accept it. But when I got to 10 certificates its hard to deny I knew what I was talking about and could probably get them all.
So at that point I made the personal objective of achieving the final two certification within a year. During that year my 3 professional certifications would also needed renewing so just a little challenge.
Now, maybe because the order of certifications but the final two ended up being a little easier that I thought. Maybe some of this is also the fact that you learn lots of "generic" items across all the certifications that are applicable to all of them.
But when I looked at the overlap between Database and Data Analytics certification it is quite high in my opinion. So if you've got the knowledge on all the databases, how and when to use them etc. you probably have an easy step up to analytics because the difference is really, how to get data in, how to move it, and how to analyze and display it.
Similarly, in my view the overlap between Data Analytics and Machine Learning are quite high. A good third of the certification was around data management, manipulation, and topics that were also in the analytics exam. Another third was around standard AWS topics such as security, operations, and DevOps. So again only a relatively small increment of knowledge to gain. And with a passing score of 720 in theory I could get half the algorithm and model wrong and pass.
So the why might be to get them all, but in response to the why wouldn't I, it became clear that it would be easier to get the 11th and 12th than it was say the 3rd and 4th. So why not do it.
So, will I continue to maintain my certification level?
This is something I am considering and will depend on the certification and my situation when it comes up for renewal.
At present my plan is to let at least the SAP on AWS, and Machine Learning certification expire and possibly the Database and Data Analytics certifications. The reason is due to the direction I am going. My role as a Technical Architect needs to understand these areas but they are not core to my role. Having completed them has given me the knowledge I need and I can demonstrate it by saying I achieved the certification.
For me the two professional certifications are critical so I will ensure these don't lapse. They will also renew the practitioner and associate certifications so that will help keep my numbers up. I will then ensure I maintain the Advance Networking and Security specialties. I see these two areas as fundamental to the cloud. Security I think is the specialty everyone should get as it is critical to success in the cloud. For networking, the type of clients I work with are typically large scale organization and as such networking, especially complex and on-premise networking is a key area.
And don't forget, I don't just have certifications. I keep my knowledge up to date, and gain a few badges, with lots of other training offerings. If you take a look at my credly page you will see as well as certifications I have partner and technology badges. For me the biggest value is in the journey and knowledge I've gained along the way. The certification and badges are just a by product of that.
I hope this blog has been useful for explaining my journey and why you might want to go after all, or any, AWS Certification. If you decide you want to go for them good luck and I look forward to seeing your journey on becoming a golden jacket holder.