Is the AWS Solutions Architect Associate Certificate Worth it?


Is the AWS Solutions Architect Associate Certificate Worth it?

AWS is characterized by 175 individual services, ranging from networking and storage to advanced AI and IoT tools. And that’s just at the high level. Once technicians, statisticians, engineers, specialists and solutions architects grow in their respective AWS fields, they'll typically find an even deeper degree of choice.

Take EC2 instances as an example. AWS has 46 instance types, each with 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 how to use them. That’s the role of the AWS Solutions Architect.

In this article, we’ll examine how the AWS Solutions Architect - Associate Certification can validate your skills. We'll also discuss the difficulty of the exam, and which students and professionals might be ready to take it. Ultimately, we’ll help you determine whether or not the AWS Solutions Architect Assciate Certification 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 to deploy, 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 in virtually any AWS environment. 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 administrator, systems engineer, architect or even CTO. 

Regardless of the job title, the skill of a solutions architect are incredibly valuable, and the best way to validate those skills is through the AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Associate Certification. 

Cloud professionals interested in the AWS Solutions Architect Associate Certification only need to pass one exam — SAA-C02. The exam is a 130-minute, multiple-choice exam, and 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: you'll need to understand each AWS offering how all 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 Certification validates the considerable hands-on experience a solution architect should have.

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How difficult is the AWS Solutions Architect Associate Certification?

The AWS Solutions Architect - Associate Certification is technically an entry-level accreditation. 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 cloud architecture. There’s a lot to learn when it comes to the AWS Solutions Architect exam.

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

AWS certification exams aren’t necessarily known for curveball exam questions, but you'll want to pay careful attention to the details. That’s what can make this particular exam more difficult than some others. Designing secure, resilient, high-performance, cost-effective architectures isn’t easy — and the exam reflects the balancing act.

To fully prepare for the Solutions Architect Associate exam, the AWS study materials will be a big help. You'll also want to get plenty of hands-on experience, and depend on quality online cloud training like our Cloud Computing Bootcamp.

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Who should take the AWS Solutions Architect Associate Exam?

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 Associate 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 the Solutions Architect Associate certification, AWS designed this exam specifically for cloud administrators and cloud architects. The AWS Solutions Architect Associate certification can be both used to validate skills and develop new strategies for optimized cloud architecture construction.

AWS solutions for cloud administrators

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

Cloud admins, particularly SysOps admins, are particularly well suited to earn the AWS Solutions Architect Associate Certification, largely because they already have experience navigating AWS services. 

The Solutions Architect Associate exam takes your base knowledge in administering AWS services a step further, through 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 administering AWS services, you’re well-positioned to pass the AWS Solutions Architect Associate exam. For cloud admins, the Solutions Architect Associate exam is absolutely worth the investment.

AWS solutions for cloud architects

For anyone doing the work of a cloud architect, earning the AWS Solutions Architect exam may not provide as much benefit.

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 pursue 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 know you can pass. Certifications validate the experience you’ve already gained on the job, but that still means you should take the time to study.

If you already fulfill an architect role, you’ll likely breeze through either Solutions Architect exam. However, the exam isn’t totally technical. You should also fully understand the lifecycle of AWS-driven products. AWS wants their Solutions Architects 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, you can probably spend less time studying for the architecture portions of the exam and instead focus on process details.

What is the salary of an AWS solutions architect?

Unsurprisingly, you don’t actually see the job title “AWS Solutions Architect” on job boards too often — unless you’re looking at Amazon career paths. Instead, you’ll often see job titles like 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 national average for a cloud architect is $155,000 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 Associate Certification 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, the Solutions Architect Associate 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 guarantee you an architect job. Instead, it will position you well 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.

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