AWS has something for everyone in its massive cloud computing ecosystem, but it can be a little overwhelming. AWS comprises 175 services ranging from networking and storage to advanced AI and IoT tools. And that’s just at the high level. Once you get into the AWS services, there’s an even deeper level of choice.

Take EC2 instances as an example. AWS has 46 instance types and each one has up to 9 different sizes. There are general-purpose instances that cost fractions of a penny to run per hour. Then there are high-speed GPU instances that cost tens of dollars per hour. To know which AWS services and products to use is just as important a skill as to how to use them. That’s the role of the AWS Solutions Architect. 

In this article, we’ll discuss what skills the AWS Solutions Architect cert validate, the difficulty of the exam, and who should take the exam. Ultimately, we’ll determine whether or not the AWS Solutions Architect is worth it for you.

What is an AWS Solutions Architect?

An AWS solutions architect essentially serves as an in-house concierge and connoisseur of AWS services. Solutions architects are the go-to resources for which EC2 instance and how many to spin up. They are the ones who can set up networking, security, storage, and routing. They are the jack-of-all-trades. Interestingly though you won’t often see that particular job title out in the wild. These skills are usually rolled up into titles like systems admin, systems engineer, architect, or even CTO. 

Regardless of the title, the skill of a solutions architect to pick the proper AWS services is incredibly valuable, and the best way to validate that skill is with the AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Associate certification. 

Cloud professionals interested in the AWS Solutions Architect certification only need to pass one exam, SAA-C02. The exam is a 130-minute, multiple-choice exam, and only costs $150. The exam may be multiple choice, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. The AWS Solutions Architect - Associate certification requires both deep AWS product knowledge as well as how all the services interact. That’s very much reflected in the exam objectives:

  • Design resilient architectures
  • Design high-performing architectures
  • Design secure applications and architectures
  • Design cost-optimized architectures

The AWS Solutions Architect - Associate exam may not be a practical exam, but the certification does validate the considerable hands-on experience a solution architect should have. The depth and breadth of knowledge required for this exam make it relatively difficult. 

How Difficult is the AWS Solutions Architect?

The AWS Solutions Architect - Associate is technically an entry-level certification. However, it’s designed to validate the skills you’ll learn in your first year as an architect, which isn’t an entry-level job. The exam (and the role) require considerable AWS product knowledge as well as architecture. Basically, there’s a lot to learn when it comes to the AWS Solutions Architect exam, so it’s a tough exam.

The task of a solutions architect is to find a balance between the competing forces of technology and business needs. When designing architectures, solutions architects need to balance security, performance, resilience, and cost as well as customer requirements. 

As an example, remember that there are 314 instance types and sizes from which to choose (as of October 2020). Solutions architects need to know which instance to use and when. Now expand that knowledge base to the entire panoply of AWS services. It’s a lot. Now consider the type of question you may see on the AWS Solutions Architect - Associate exam. 

AWS certification exams aren’t necessarily known for curveball exam questions, but pay careful attention to the details. That’s what makes this particular test more difficult than others. Designing secure, resilient, high-performance, cost-effective architectures isn’t easy — and the exam reflects the balancing act. Don’t let this Associate-level certification fool you. It’s a tough exam, but it’s doable. 

To fully prepare for the Solutions Architect exam, use the AWS study materials, get plenty of hands-on experience, and use quality online cloud training like the QuickStart Cloud Computing Bootcamp.

Enroll in our Cloud Computing Bootcamp program today.

Who Should Take the AWS Solutions Architect?

AWS recommends that anyone attempting the AWS Solutions Architect exam have at least a year of experience in an architect role. However, you don’t have to be an AWS architect to attempt the exam. In fact, the Solutions Architect certification can be a great stepping stone into an architect role — with the right experience. For both career progression and passing the Solutions Architect exam, the importance of hands-on experience can not be understated. 

While systems admins, network engineers, or developers may benefit from studying for the Solutions Architect certification, AWS designed this exam specifically for cloud admins and cloud architects. The AWS Solutions Architect certification can be both used to validate skills and also learn new ones. 

AWS Solutions Architect for Cloud Admins

For cloud admins who have their sights set on an architect role, the AWS Solutions Architect - Associate certification is an excellent jumping-off point. 

Cloud admins, particularly SysOps admins, are particularly well suited to earn the AWS Solutions Architect certification. There are a few reasons for that, but primarily SysOps admins already have experience with AWS services. 

The Solutions Architect exam takes that base knowledge about administering AWS services a step further into system design. While in the trenches, cloud admins have likely managed a number of different configurations and combinations of services. That experience is essential to progress into architecting AWS systems yourself. 

If you’re already deep in the weeds of administering AWS services, then you’re well-positioned to pass for the AWS Solutions Architect exam. For cloud admins, the Solutions Architect exam is absolutely worth it. 

AWS Solutions Architect for Cloud Architects

For anyone doing the work of a cloud architect, earning the AWS Solutions Architect exam may not be worth it. 

AWS offers both an Associate- and Professional-level Solutions Architect certification. As mentioned, AWS designed the Associate-level certification for cloud professionals with one year of experience. If you have two or more years of experience in an architect role, then you may want to go straight for the AWS Solutions Architect - Professional exam. 

AWS certifications have experience and knowledge recommendations rather than hard-and-fast prerequisites, so you can take whichever certification you think you can pass. Certifications validate the experience you’ve already gained on the job, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t study. 

If you’re already in an architect role, then you’ll likely breeze through either Solutions Architect exam. However, the exam isn’t totally technical. You should also fully understand the full lifecycle of AWS-driven products, too. AWS wants Solutions Architects to be able to identify and select AWS services based on customer requirements. If you haven’t spent a lot of time specifically working within the AWS product lifecycle, then you can probably spend less time studying for the architecture portions of the exam and focus on the process questions.

AWS Solutions Architect Salary

Unsurprisingly, you don’t actually see the job title “AWS Solutions Architect” on the job boards too often (unless you’re looking at Amazon jobs). Instead, you’ll often see job titles such as cloud architect, systems architect, or cloud solutions architect. These generic architect positions are often expert-level roles that require at least a few years of architect experience — as well as an architect certification. 

The level of expertise is certainly reflected in the salary. The average salary for a cloud architect in Seattle is $114,736. Meanwhile, cloud architect positions in Cleveland, Ohio, only pay $96,486 per year. The national average for a cloud architect is around $105,000 per year. 

It’s important to note that you can earn the AWS Solutions Architect - Associate certification and still be under-qualified for most cloud architect positions. Remember that Associate-level AWS certifications are still considered entry-level. To fully realize your earning potential and land a job as a cloud architect, you’ll need at least five or six years of experience in addition to the certification. 

Is the AWS Solutions Architect Worth It?

If you’re working at a company that uses AWS, the AWS Solutions Architect - Associate certification is absolutely worth it. However, it depends on what you want to do with it. 

For someone with a few years of AWS experience, then the Solutions Architect certification can help validate the skills you need to move into a higher-level engineer or entry-level architect role. 

Again, the Solutions Architect certification alone won’t get you an architect job, but it’ll position you well enough to make the jump once you have the experience. To earn that title, you’ll need to spend a few years working with stakeholders to develop secure, scalable, resilient AWS architectures. Once you’re there, you can look back and see the cert was definitely worth it.