How to Start a Career in AWS (a Complete Guide)

The last few years have seen organizations of all sizes—from enthusiastic start-ups to Fortune 500 giants—move to the cloud, shifting their workloads and budgets towards public cloud services.

A 2019 study by International Data Corporate (IDC) forecasted that global public cloud spend would rise to a staggering $418 billion by 2024, and these are just the pre-pandemic numbers.

As a result of that pronounced shift, having a fantastic cloud team in your corner has quickly moved from being a commodity to an absolute necessity for companies looking to not only stay relevant in the age of the cloud, but truly compete in an increasingly cloud-native world.

We’ve seen a significant increase in demand for professionals with the skills and experience necessary to plan, build, deploy, and manage cloud-based apps and processes, and that demand is set to skyrocket as more and more of our lives move online in the new normal.

Why AWS?

With over one million active users to its name, Amazon Web Services (AWS) is arguably the biggest cloud vendor out there today, dominating the landscape both in terms of market share and thought leadership, according to a recent report by Gartner.

As the fastest-growing cloud vendor in the market, AWS boasts some huge names among its customer base, including Adobe, Airbnb, Disney, NASA, Reddit, Ubisoft, Netflix, and Twitter to name just a few.

If you’re thinking about starting a cloud tech career, the AWS ecosystem is attractive for many reasons.

While salary isn’t everything, it’s certainly worth talking about, especially when AWS is part of the conversation. The earning potential for AWS roles is what you’d expect for some of the most in-demand tech skills today. According to a 2018 survey by Global Knowledge, certified AWS professionals in the US and Canada reported an average annual salary of $113,932.

That number has only continued to rise in step with demand for AWS professionals over the last couple of years. The recent, global shift to remote working will only serve to accelerate that demand.

So what does all that mean for someone curious about a career in AWS?

In a nutshell: no matter how you come to the world of AWS, whether you’re cross-training into it or entering the job market for the first time, you’re joining one of the most exciting, lucrative, and ever-evolving ecosystems in technology. You can rest easy knowing that the demand for AWS skills is going to continue growing at a quickened pace in the coming months and years.

But where to start? Here are a few ways to help you launch your AWS career.

Getting started with AWS

Let’s start from zero. If, for example, you see yourself becoming a superstar Developer, spend some time getting to know the programming languages used by AWS, namely Python, Java and Javascript, Ruby, C, C++, PHP, and Node.js. You can also check out the comprehensive documentation available directly from AWS, from user guides and API references to SDKs, toolkits, and release notes.

Build a foundation for all that AWS training to come by getting familiar with the technology first. The free tier of AWS is available to users for 12 months; just create an account on there and take a look around, get a feel for the platform, products, and services on offer, and maybe even try a few things out as you make your way through different study materials and certifications later down the line.

Becoming AWS certified

While it certainly is possible to become a self-taught AWS whizz, getting certified is a really great way to show the world exactly what you can do. It’s not just about demonstrating your capabilities with the tech; in such a fast-moving industry, it’s equally important to show your commitment to continually learning about AWS and that you have the discipline necessary to successfully study for and sit exams.

AWS certifications are recognized the world over, and give hiring managers and recruiters alike a snapshot view of your core skills and competencies. To date, there are 12 certs available for you to choose from, depending on your chosen career path and experience level:

  • AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner
  • AWS Certified Developer—Associate
  • AWS Certified SysOps Administrator—Associate
  • AWS Certified Solutions Architect—Associate
  • AWS Certified DevOps Engineer—Professional
  • AWS Certified Solutions Architect—Professional
  • AWS Certified Big Data—Specialty
  • AWS Certified Advanced Networking—Specialty
  • AWS Certified Security—Specialty
  • AWS Certified Alexa Skill Builder—Specialty
  • AWS Certified Machine Learning—Specialty
  • AWS Certified Database—Specialty

However, there is a price-tag attached to getting certified with Associate-level and Professional-level exams coming in at $150 and $300 each. The majority of employers do invest in their existing tech talent and either pay for certifications in full or help subsidize the cost, so if you’re looking to upskill or cross-train into AWS within your organization, it’s worth asking about what’s available in terms of learning and development support.

Budding AWS pros can also opt for a role-based approach to their certification journey, with exams mapped out to get you on the fast-track to a specific career, and extra pathways available for specialty exams, like machine learning, media services, storage, and APN Partners.

These role-based routes cover the following roles:

  • Cloud practitioner: covering cloud fundamentals and best practices
  • Architect: learn to design highly available systems
  • Developer: learn to develop applications for the cloud
  • Operations: learn to automate apps, networks, and systems

But how long does it take to earn an AWS certification?

Well, while this does depend quite heavily on your individual learning style and how much time you have to dedicate to it, those new to AWS will need around 120 hours to prepare for the fundamentals. Those who already have some experience with AWS will need approximately 80 hours.

Factor in a full-time job and general ‘life’ commitments, and you’re looking at about three and two months, respectively.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that there’s a significant jump from Associate- to Professional-level certifications. The hard work does pay off, however, as candidates holding Professional certifications are massively in-demand and pretty scarce from a hiring perspective in tech, you can expect that to be reflected in the salary package you’re offered.

Instructor-led training

One increasingly popular alternative to online self-study alone is instructor-led training. This does cost more than you’d pay if you went solo, but with that comes a highly qualified, AWS-certified guide to take questions and help you really get to grips with the areas you struggle with most.

This kind of support is awesome, not just because you’ve got a more engaging learning setup or that it saves you time in the long run, but because you’re working with someone who can offer practical insights on what to you may be purely theoretical. On top of that, the classroom setting, be it virtual or in-person, allows you to network and have an extended support system to back you up and share ideas.

Reasonably priced, flexible, and loaded with the expertise you need to get that certification the first time around, Pluralsight and A Cloud Guru are two fantastic options in this category. Beyond that, Revolent’s AWS Solutions Architect program offers an excellent cross-training route, especially if you’re looking to get paid, hands-on experience as part of your training.

The two-year program provides those with at least one year of IT experience the opportunity to receive 6-8 weeks of intense, fully-funded training led by AWS-certified instructors, and work placements with respected clients once certified. After the two years, your opportunities become extremely lucrative. You can stay with Revolent as a more senior consultant, you can transition to their client as a permanent employee or you might decide to pursue other ambitions.

Either way you’ll have all the experience you need to continue carving out a successful career in AWS.

Free resources

AWS Learning Library

What better place to start than at the source itself?

Get access to an unrivaled collection of self-study resources direct from AWS by hitting the AWS Learning Library, a goldmine of knowledge bursting with all the training and education materials you need. The library includes more than 370 courses which you can filter according to the theme, role, language, and skill level you’re at.

Each mini-course shows, at a glance, whether or not video content is available, what level the material is intended for, and how long it should take you to cover that topic. These courses can be anything from a bite-sized few minutes to several hours long depending on the topic and difficulty level you’re exploring and are delivered either through e-learning content or video.

You can access these materials wherever you are in the world, whenever you like—provided you’ve got an internet connection, of course!

You can either build your own course or choose one of AWS’s ready-made learning paths that combine a series of shorter courses to give you a more comprehensive understanding of a particular topic or role. You can also choose a solution-based learning path if you’re looking to drill down into specialized services including databases, machine learning, storage, and advanced networking.

These courses do recommend some paid courses, but that’s optional, especially if you’re just starting out. There’s more than enough available for free to get you well on the way to building your AWS career!

Udemy courses

Udemy is famous for its massive range of courses, with options to suit any budget.

Case in point: its free AWS courses! Personally, I’d recommend the following three courses if you’re just getting started:

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Nabila Salem

Website: Revolent

Nabila Salem is the President of Revolent, one of the world’s leading cloud talent creators. Her focus lies in improving and maintaining the company’s three core pillars of culture, strategy and change. She has extensive leadership experience in professional services, tech recruitment, and marketing based in the UK and USA.

She has always played an active role in encouraging, supporting, and promoting diversity in the workplace–so much so that she was recognized in Management Today’s 35 Women Under 35 List in 2019.