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Get the AWS skills you need this year

It's not surprising that IT pros with AWS skills and certifications earn more in their jobs. But what specific skills lead to the biggest paychecks?

AWS is reshaping IT practices across a broad spectrum of markets. And that change has also driven new career t...


AWS has become a major employer of IT professionals. A large AWS partner and vendor ecosystem also employs other cloud professionals. And there are the thousands of IT staff who must possess AWS skills -- as well as core technology requirements -- to do their jobs. All of this has driven job demand and compensation.

"IT folks seeking to enter the workforce or advance their careers in the new world of AWS everything need to think disruptively about their role and where they can add value," said Greg Arnette, founder and CTO at Sonian, a cloud-based data archiving company based in Waltham, Mass.

Nearly every IT skill of the past, whether it's running Microsoft Exchange, provisioning servers or performing daily backups, is becoming obsolete as cloud options grow in popularity, Arnette explained. IT pros often need new training or retraining to successfully embrace the cloud.

"For some people, this is threatening, especially surrounding the area of automation," Arnette said.

Automation, which relies on a system to do the work a person would have done, is essential for AWS cloud success. What does the individual do after getting trained on automation tools and strategies? That question often scares legacy IT people.

Security, management remain important AWS skills

There are many areas where IT professionals can still be successful in a cloud-based world, but they'll require new certifications and new skills to make the transition. For example, security is an important and in-demand AWS skill area because understanding AWS configurations for secure operations is complicated and demanding.

"Another area is cloud cost accounting," Arnette said. "An AWS cloud can be less expensive than on-premises, but new IT skills are needed [for that] to be successful."

Make yourself an AWS skills standout

Today, the scarce, in-demand skills fall primarily into two categories, said Rich Finlay, AWS business development manager at Softchoice, an IT solutions and managed services provider based in Toronto.

First, some new AWS tools require real-world experience to use them effectively. It's not just a matter of getting trained or certified.

"For internet of things, there is value in real-world experience, and that experience is hard to find," Finlay said.

The second category is AWS skills in managing workloads at scale.

If I had to pick one way channel and IT professionals can gain updated AWS skills, I'd suggest they set up a sandbox account in AWS and play with the services.
Rich FinlayAWS business development manager, Softchoice

"This requires a focus on automation, and an understanding of tools from the partner ecosystem," Finlay noted.

"If I had to pick one way channel and IT professionals can gain updated AWS skills, I'd suggest they set up a sandbox account in AWS and play with the services," he said, noting that tinkering with a service outside of work on your own time can give you a good feel for how the service works.

Those two broad areas remain hot, but individuals with only foundational skills in AWS are no longer as in demand.

"Even compared to one year ago, there are many more people with knowledge of how to configure AWS infrastructure," Finlay said. In other words, it's no longer a mark of distinction just to know about security groups, the AWS Identity and Access Management service or how to configure Simple Storage Service buckets.

Well-rounded IT pros help from customer vantage point

In addition to mastering technical or business skills required to work with AWS, IT pros need to understand business problems and objectives to address them from the customer perspective.

"Learning by example is something we recommend to anyone trying to move into the AWS space," said Aater Suleman, CEO of Flux7, an AWS consulting company based in Austin, Texas. "Creating a pet project and executing on it in AWS can teach more than any demo or blog can."

But there should be an eventual goal for the exercise.

"We usually march new hires toward an AWS Associate-level certification, and then lead [them] to a Professional-level certification," Suleman said. "I recommend the same path to anyone looking to make an [AWS] career work."

According to a Global Knowledge report, the AWS Certified Solutions Architect -- Associate certification is one of the most in-demand certifications in the IT industry. The certification, which debuted in 2013, is for individuals with experience designing distributed applications and systems on the AWS platform. IT pros with that certification have an average salary of $125,871, according to the report. And each of the top five AWS certifications yields an average salary for recipients of more than $100,000.

Certifications are important -- not mandatory, Suleman added. But, he said, "they are an easy differentiator to tell potential employers that you are serious about AWS and have a certain level of skills."

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