How To Earn a Top-Paying AWS Certification & Salary

How To Earn a Top-Paying AWS Certification & Salary

Amazon Web Services (AWS) has the largest market share of cloud computing services, and getting AWS certifications can help you start a great career in information technology.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) certifications have become a leading credential, partly because the need for cloud professionals is so great today and these certifications provide an excellent way of validating one’s proficiency in a specific domain.

Just behind cybersecurity, cloud computing experiences the widest skills gaps across all disciplines, meaning not enough professionals have the skills to successfully do the job. According to the IT Skills and Salary Report, IT decision-makers say cloud computing is the second hardest area to hire for (cybersecurity is no. 1).

To make matters worse, the demand for cloud services continues to rise, leaving many organizations between a rock and a hard place when it comes to sourcing and keeping skilled talent.

For these reasons, AWS certifications are also associated with some of the highest salaries in the industry. A primary example, the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate ranks highly on our 15 Top-Paying Certifications List. In 2021, professionals with this certification reported making an average of $159,033, ranking it in the top three.

In compiling this list, we found that hundreds of IT Skills and Salary survey respondents in the US and Canada hold AWS certifications. So, we dug into the data to learn about the people who hold these certifications, how much they make (on average), and what makes them successful.

The data shows that on average these professionals make $141,540 — ranking as one of the highest-paying certification categories in North America.

But what goes into a salary like that? What skills or knowledge do you need to reach these levels of expertise? We break it down.

Snapshot: Top-Paying AWS Certifications


2021 Average Salary

AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional


AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional


AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Associate


AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate


AWS Certified Developer – Associate



You Must Stay Dedicated to Earning AWS Certifications

When it comes to earning any certification, you can count on it taking time and resources (perhaps several cups of coffee), to acquire the knowledge or skill that will help you pass the exam.

Not only is it important to study the material, but it also helps to reinforce these concepts with everyday tasks, hands-on labs, or even with a colleague. By constantly challenging yourself and training on new practices and principles, you separate yourself from the rest.

As it relates to cloud roles, this means fully embracing and committing to the cloud, ensuring you have redundancy in mind, and planning for all scenarios to keep data secure and available (and costs down).

The Value of AWS Certifications Continue to Rise

As interest in AWS continues to increase, the need to validate AWS skills through certification will continue to grow and shine a light on the IT professionals who achieve these top-paying certifications. From 2019 to 2021, the reported average salary of those with the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate level increased by 17%. For others on this list, the percentage is higher.

Learning the skills and practicing the concepts helps pave the way to success. AWS offers resources such as hands-on practice labs and quests prior to sitting for the certification exam.


Depending on what career you want to pursue, it will depend on which certifications are right for your goals. Let’s look at the twelve current AWS certifications, what they cover, and what you need to do to earn them.

Foundational Level Certification

The beginning of AWS certifications, this serves as a highly recommended step before moving towards Associate level certificates.

AWS Cloud Practitioner

The AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner is designed to validate one’s understanding of the Amazon Web Services Cloud. It is recommended not only for technicians, but also those who work in a non-technical role, who need to communicate about AWS to clients, like those in finance, management, or business positions.

  • Prerequisites: It is recommended you have six months of general AWS cloud experience and industry before taking this exam.
  • Format: Multiple choice questions Deployment and operating principles.
  • Exam Length: 90 minutes.

Areas covered in this certification include:

  • Basic AWS architectural principles.
  • Business use cases and AWS value proposition.
  • Key AWS services and common use cases.
  • AWS security and compliance, including shared responsibility model for security.
  • Deployment and operating principles.
  • AWS billing, support, and pricing.

Associate Level Certifications

It is recommended that you have about a year of hands-on experience using AWS Cloud before taking the Associate level certification exams.

AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate

This certification verifies that you know how to design, build, manage, and deploy systems in the AWS cloud. This exam is suited for candidates with experience in designing distributed applications. You should be familiar with AWS security and compliance guidelines before taking this exam.

  • Prerequisite: One year of experience or equivalent study.
  • Format: Multiple-choice, multiple-answer.
  • Exam Time: 130 minutes (SAA-C02).

Some of the areas that will be covered in the certification exam:

  • Network technologies in AWS Cloud, including configuration and management.
  • Designing and deploying AWS-based applications, how client interfaces connect to AWS.
  • Building secure applications on AWS.
  • Deploying systems with on-premises data and AWS components (hybrid).
  • Disaster recovery and data security.
  • AWS infrastructure and concepts.

AWS Certified Developer – Associate

The AWS Certified Developer – Associate exam is for individuals in a development role with one or more years of hands-on experience developing and maintaining an AWS-based application. If you have already earned the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate certificate, it is recommended that you study for this certificate, as many of the same topics are covered in each.

This certification starts covering services like Dynamo DB, Elastic Beanstalk, SQS, and SNS, as well using them with APIs and SDKs.

  • Prerequisite: One year of experience
  • Format: Multiple-choice, multiple-answer
  • Exam Time: 130 minutes

Some of the proficiencies you must demonstrate in this certification exam are:

  • Using core AWS services, uses, and basic AWS architecture best practices.
  • Developing, deploying, and debugging cloud-based applications using AWS.
  • In-depth knowledge of at least one high-level programming language.
  • Ability to use the AWS service APIs, AWS CLI, and SDKs to write applications.
  • Ability to identify key features of AWS services.
  • Understanding of the AWS shared responsibility model.
  • Understanding of application lifecycle management.
  • Ability to use a CI/CD pipeline to deploy applications on AWS.
  • Ability to use or interact with AWS services.
  • Ability to apply a basic understanding of cloud-native applications to write code.
  • Ability to write code using AWS security best practices (e.g., not using secret and access keys in the code, instead using IAM roles).
  • Ability to author, maintain, and debug code modules on AWS.
  • Writing code for serverless applications.
  • Understanding the use of containers in the development process.

AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate

The AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate examination is designed for system administrators. You will need one year of hands-on technical experience and conceptual knowledge of AWS Cloud operations. Having real world experience with deployment, management, and AWS operations will help immensely when taking this certification exam.

  • Prerequisite: One year of technical experience with AWS.
  • Format: Multiple-choice, multiple-answer.
  • Exam Time: 130 minutes.

Some of the skills that will be verified by this certificate are:

  • Deployment, management, and operation of scalable, highly available, and fault-tolerant systems on AWS.
  • Implementation and control of data flow to and from AWS.
  • Selecting the appropriate AWS service based on compute, data, or security requirements.
  • Familiarity with appropriate use of AWS operational best practices.
  • Estimating AWS usage costs and identify operational cost control mechanisms.
  • Migrate on-premises workloads to AWS.

It is recommended that you have these proficiencies before taking this exam:

  • Understanding of the AWS tenets – architecting for the cloud.
  • Hands-on experience with the AWS CLI and SDKs/API tools.
  • Understanding of network technologies as they relate to AWS.
  • Understanding of security concepts with hands-on experience in implementing. security controls and compliance requirements.
  • Understanding of virtualization technology.
  • Monitoring and auditing systems experience.
  • Knowledge of networking concepts (e.g., DNS, TCP/IP, and firewalls).
  • Ability to translate architectural requirements.

Professional Level Certifications

Amazon recommends to years of full-time designing, operating, and troubleshooting solutions using the AWS Cloud. You should take the Associate level exams before moving on to the Professional exams.

AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional

The Certified Solutions Architect – Professional certification requires a high degree of technical skill and experience designing AWS-based applications.

A professional AWS architect can examine an organization’s business and technological requirements and make recommendations for their cloud architecture. The Cloud Solutions Architect can then design, deploy, and maintain cloud applications for an organization.

It is recommended that a candidate have two or more years of hands-on experience managing and operating AWS systems.

  • Prerequisites: Already earned AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate certification. Recommended: two years of real-world experience designing and deploying AWS cloud architecture, including multi-application architectural design.
  • Format: Multiple-choice, multiple-answer.
  • Exam Time: 180 minutes.

Here are some of the aptitudes this exam will verify:

  • Best practices for designing and architecting AWS applications.
  • Diagnosing and selecting the best AWS services for the requirements of an organization.
  • Migration of complex, multi-tier application systems to AWS.
  • Knowledge of cost optimization and cost-control strategies.
  • Ability to design and deploy dynamically scalable, highly available, fault-tolerant, and reliable applications on AWS.

AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional

The AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional exam is designed for individuals performing DevOps engineering duties, with at least two years of experience provisioning, operating, and managing AWS environments. This certification places emphasis on continuous delivery (CD) and automation of processes, which are two primary concepts of DevOps.

  • Prerequisites: One year of experience
  • Format: Multiple-choice, multiple-answer
  • Exam Time: 180 minutes

Here are some of the skillsets this certification will verify:

  • Understanding of the basics of modern continuous delivery methodologies.
  • Implementing and managing continuous delivery systems on AWS.
  • Set up, monitoring, and logging systems on AWS.
  • How to implement highly-available and scalable systems on AWS.
  • How to design and manage tools that automate operational processes.
  • Implement and automate security controls, governance processes, and compliance validation.

Specialty Level Certifications

Each of the Specialty AWS certifications focus on one area and require a deeper understanding and experience with that area of focus. The Specialty certifications have a similar difficulty level as the Professional certifications, but their focus is less broad and more specific, in areas like big data, networking, databases, machine learning or other focuses of AWS Cloud.

AWS Certified Data Analytics – Specialty

The AWS Certified Data Analytics – Specialty certification is for IT professionals with a background in data analytics, who has experience using AWS to design and architect big data solutions. The certificate will verify the candidate can extract value from data sets using AWS services. This exam validates your ability to build, secure, and maintain data analytic solutions on AWS that are efficient, cost-effective, and secure.

  • Prerequisites: At least 5 years of experience with data analytics technologies, at least 2 years of hands-on experience working with AWS services to design, build, secure, and maintain analytics solutions.
  • Format: Multiple-choice, multiple-answer.
  • Exam Time: 170 minutes.

This certification will validate you have these skills and knowledge sets:

  • Ability to define AWS data analytics services and understand how they integrate with each other.
  • Explain how AWS data analytics services fit in the data life cycle of collection, storage, processing, and visualization.

AWS Certified Advanced Networking – Specialty

The AWS Certified Advanced Networking – Specialty certification is designed for individuals performing complex networking tasks. The certificate validates a candidate’s skills in enterprise networking on AWS and hybrid IT networking architecture at scale. Candidates should have a background in architecting and implementing network solutions and advanced knowledge of networking on AWS.

  • Prerequisites: Holding AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner cert, and one of the Associate certs: AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate, AWS Certified Developer – Associate, or AWS Certified SysOp Administrator – Associate. At least five years hands-on experience architecting and implementing network solutions.
  • Format: Multiple-choice, multiple-answer.
  • Exam Time: 170 minutes.

It is also recommended that you have advanced experience with these skills:

  • Advanced knowledge of AWS networking concepts and technologies.
  • Advanced networking architectures and interconnectivity options (e.g., IP VPN, MPLS/VPLS).
  • Networking technologies within the OSI model, and how they affect implementation decisions.
  • Development of automation scripts and tools.
  • CIDR and sub-netting (IPv4 and IPv6).
  • IPv6 transition challenges.
  • Generic solutions for network security features, including WAF, IDS, IPS, DDoS. protection, and Economic Denial of Service/Sustainability (EDoS).

Some skills validated by this exam are:

  • Designing, developing, and deploying cloud-based solutions using AWS.
  • Implementation of core AWS services using basic architecture best practices.
  • Design and maintenance of network architecture for all AWS services.
  • Leveraging tools to automate AWS networking tasks.

AWS Certified Security – Specialty

The AWS Certified Security – Specialty certification is for individuals performing a security role with at least two years hands-on experience securing AWS workloads. The certification covers fundamentals of security, best practices for security in an organization, and how security is implemented in AWS instances and environments. You will be tested on your knowledge of data safety and encryption, infrastructure security, incident response, access and user management, monitoring, and security logging.

  • Prerequisites: Two years of hands-on experience securing AWS workloads; at least five years of IT security experience designing and implementing security solutions.
  • Format: Multiple-choice, multiple-answer.
  • Exam Time: 170 minutes.

These abilities and skills will be validated when you pass this certification:

  • An understanding of specialized data classifications and AWS data protection mechanisms, data encryption methods and implementation.
  • Practical understanding of secure Internet protocols and implementation of AWS security mechanisms.
  • Working knowledge of AWS security services and features that help create a secure production environment.
  • General security competency gained from two or more years of production deployment experience using AWS security services and features.
  • Decision-making skills regarding cost, security, complexity of deployment and maintenance, for a given set of application requirements.
  • Knowledge of security operations and risk assessment.

AWS Certified Database – Specialty

The AWS Certified Database – Specialty certification shows that you can design, recommend, and maintain the optimal AWS database solution for a use case. It also validates your understanding of all the AWS database solutions offered, database architecture, integration, and optimization. If you work with databases, and have at least two years of experience with AWS Cloud databases, relational databases, and NoSQL databases, then this is a certificate for you.

  • Prerequisites: 5+ years of experience with databases; At least 2 years of hands-on experience working on AWS. Experience and expertise working with on-premises and AWS-Cloud-based relational and nonrelational databases.
  • Format: Multiple-choice, multiple-answer.
  • Exam Time: 180 minutes.

Here are some of the competencies this certification will validate:

  • Ability to understand and differentiate the key features of AWS database services.
  • Analyze needs and requirements to recommend and design appropriate database solutions using AWS services.

AWS Certified Alexa Skill Builder – Specialty

The AWS Certified Alexa Skill Builder – Specialty certification validates technical experience in designing, testing, and deploying Amazon Alexa skills. Anyone who works as an Alexa Skill Builder can take this exam.

  • Prerequisites: at least six months of hands-on experience building Alexa skills using the Alexa Skills Kit and should be proficient in a programming language.

Some of the topics you will be validated on include:

  • The value of voice search.
  • User experience design.
  • Proactively implementing AWS and Alexa best practices for security.
  • Creating, testing, and validating for the skill.
  • Working with the Alexa Developer Console.

AWS Certified Machine Learning – Specialty

The AWS Certified Machine Learning – Specialty certification validates a candidate’s ability to design, implement, deploy, and maintain machine learning (ML) algorithms and solutions for a business case use. The exam is for candidates who perform data science or algorithm development. You should have at least two years of machine learning or deep learning experience in AWS Cloud before taking this certification exam.

  • Prerequisites: 1-2 years of experience developing, architecting, or running ML/deep learning workloads on the AWS Cloud.
  • Format: Multiple-choice, multiple-answer.
  • Exam Time: 180 minutes.

These are also things that you should have possess before taking this certification exam:

  • Ability to express the intuition behind basic ML algorithms.
  • Experience performing basic hyperparameter optimization.
  • Experience with ML and deep learning frameworks.
  • Ability to follow model-training best practices.
  • The ability to follow deployment and operational best practices.

Here are some of the abilities and competencies this exam will validate:

  • Candidate can choose and justify the best ML approach for a given business problem.
  • Identifying the relevant AWS solutions to create and deploy your ML solution.
  • Designing and implementing cost-optimized, scalable, reliable, and secure ML solutions.
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