This content is part of the Essential Guide: Pave a lasting AWS career path

AWS certifications, hands-on labs help build better clouds

IT teams that want to improve cloud know-how can turn to AWS' certifications program as well as a variety of resources. But it doesn't have to be all about AWS; take a vendor-neutral focus.

There are a lot of moving parts that go into building AWS applications. And that means there is a range of skills required to get the job done. Developers, solutions architects, systems operations and quality assurance professionals can maximize job opportunities and salaries by learning the skills modern enterprises need most.

But with the deluge of information available, where should IT pros turn? Skills can be obtained from working through tutorials, online labs and hands-on courses. But it is also important to spend some time actually building AWS applications within an existing job or by contributing to open source projects that use AWS.

Official AWS certifications can provide background for pursuing the benefits of the AWS cloud. These AWS certifications target solutions architects, developers, systems operations engineers and DevOps engineers. All of these certifications require at least one year of hands-on experience for the associate levels and two years for professional levels.

A good place to start is the free introductory labs to all of the major AWS products. These include modules on compute, storage and content delivery, databases, networking, security and identity, analytics, deployment and management, and enterprise IT applications. More advanced labs are available through qwikLABS Inc., which walks users through a real-world use case of a particular technology. The qwikLABS platform charges a modest fee for its service.

Official AWS certifications can provide background for pursuing the benefits of the AWS cloud. These AWS certifications target solutions architects, developers, systems operations engineers and DevOps engineers

The self-paced labs make it easy to master AWS skills and experiment with new products and concepts in real-world environments. There are more than 80 different lab topics, including understanding Elastic Block Store, using MapReduce, creating EC2 instances, building a Virtual Private Cloud and working with RedShift.

Even IT pros with AWS experience should work through the overviews to identify and overcome any gaps in knowledge. One-day, hands-on training is available for $250 to $600 through a variety of AWS training partners, including AWS Training and Certification, Global Knowledge and ExitCertified.

In addition to training for AWS certifications, AWS promotes a number of different tracks related to business aspects of cloud applications through the AWS Business Essentials program. This involves understanding the total cost of ownership, security, compliance and cloud migration efforts. This track can be useful to developers and solutions architects to improve communication throughout the enterprise. The AWS Technical Essentials program provides a quick overview of the major AWS components, so developers and solutions architects can identify the best services for a given use case.

Vendor-neutral training

Pursuing jobs at larger enterprises may require a broader set of cloud skills that go beyond an AWS focus. This type of knowledge may be more attractive to an enterprise that has cloud-based applications that require integration with enterprise apps or span multiple cloud services. Some of the leading independent cloud training programs include Cloud Academy, CBT Nuggets, CompTIA and Cloud School. In addition, all of the major cloud vendors offer training programs relevant to their particular offering including Google, Microsoft, IBM, VMware and RedHat.

Other training programs can help round out skills for specific aspects related to cloud application development and deployment. The Cloud Security Alliance offers training in cloud security knowledge, PCI DSS, and governance, risk management and compliance. HP Security offers the main security program.

Solutions architects may need a better understanding of business skills relating to the cloud. Project and portfolio management training is available through the Project Management Institute, Management Concepts and the Project Management Leadership Group. Some of the leading Agile methodology training programs are available from the Agile Certification Institute, International Consortium for Agile, TwentyEighty Strategy Execution, APMG-International and the Project Management Institute.

Another way to build AWS skills is to work on open source projects to improve problem solving in specific domains. This can build up new skills beyond those used at your current position. Some starting points for new open source projects include GitHub Trending Repositories, CodeTriage and OpenHatch. Contributing to open source projects also helps connect with other developers and publicize IT skills more concretely than resumes.

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