I need to start by explaining the value of certifications. No, it is not because they will guarantee you a job.
But certifications are still very valuable tools and I believe their primary value is to guide your learning process, and in particular, to fix your blind spots, those unknown that will otherwise demolish the value that you could otherwise offer. They can also help you work toward the skills essential to some of the top-paying jobs in tech.
The first big similarity between our three cloud providers is in how they have designed their certification systems. To identify a real-world value by first validating that you actually do know what you’re doing and then, provide a way for you to show that achievement.
- Amazon says that you can validate technical skills and cloud expertise to grow your career and business.
- Microsoft encourages you to show you are keeping pace with today’s technical roles and requirements.
- Google’s wording is very similar too, validate your expertise and showcase your ability to transform businesses with Google Cloud technology.
The gist is the same for all of these certifications.
Learn a broad set of skills in a defined scope. Usually, a scope matches some IT career role.
Demonstrate your understanding and ability by answering a series of questions and possibly performing some sample tasks. If you score enough points to pass the predefined threshold, then you will earn the certification and the cloud provider will vouch for your ability.
How are certifications organized?
Let’s take a look at how these programs are organized. Each cloud provider has a non-technical, entry-level certification that is all about understanding the broad aspects of the cloud paradigm in general and also how to take advantage of that cloud’s key services to solve business problems.
Microsoft has the AZ-900: Microsoft Azure Fundamentals.
Amazon has the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner.
Google has the Cloud Digital Leader.
Each cloud provider also has at least one associate-level certification. These dig quite a bit into real usage of the cloud services and are fairly technical.
There’s also an expert-level of certifications in each cloud where things get particularly deep.
Azure calls these certs “Expert.”
Google calls their “Professional” certifications.
Amazon has named a couple of theirs “Professional,” but most of the AWS ones are christened as “Specialty” certs.
All of these are serious businesses, requiring a lot of technical expertise and representing significant capability. Candidates who earn any of these certs should feel proud of their accomplishments. Of course, I do mean the expert-level ones, but I absolutely do also mean the associate and foundational ones, too.
Each one is a valuable part of a person’s own individual learning journey and even if someone were to amass every one of these certs that exist, well, they’d still have to keep their learning journey going because the technology itself never stops improving.
Which certifications should I get?
Listing out every single certification that every cloud provider offers would take us down to a much smaller level of detail than we should for this post. But don’t worry. We’ve got you covered with deep dives into each cloud providers’ certifications:
Which cloud should I learn?
If you’re looking to begin your cloud career but you aren’t sure which cloud to focus on, then just pick one at random. Really! You almost can’t go wrong! Because starting to make progress — any progress — is both necessary and valuable. Even if you decide to switch clouds later, you’ll be much further ahead, and you’ll definitely still benefit from whatever you did already learn on the first cloud. So just do it!
How do I get cloud certified?
Now that we have a general sense of these certification systems, let’s take a look at the logistics. To start with, getting any of these certifications involves passing an exam.
Amazon and Google have exactly one exam per certification.
But Microsoft sometimes requires more than one exam to achieve a particular cert. And since Microsoft’s certification system is a jumbled mess of nonsensical numbers and versions, you really do need to watch our guide video decoding them or check out the related blog post if you’re interested in Azure certs.
What types of questions are on cloud certification exams?
Let’s consider each of those exams. A lot of them are made up of multiple-choice questions where you have to choose the correct response or maybe set of multiple responses to answer the question. If you answer correctly, you get the point for that question. And if you get anything wrong, you get no points for it. This is the same, whether it’s a 50/50, true/false question, or whether you need to choose say, four correct options out of eight possibilities.
But don’t get too stressed though, because most of the questions will only expect you to choose just one correct response from four or five options. And in fact, AWS and GCP exams are almost entirely that.
That said . . . Microsoft does mix it up more with some questions about identifying parts of a diagram or placing things onto something graphical — stuff like that.
How many questions are on cloud certification exams?
I’m sure many of you are wondering how many questions you’ll see on the exam, but that actually varies a lot. Not only from exam to exam, but sometimes even for the same exam over time.
So, as you’re getting ready to take a particular exam, check both the official details from the vendor and unofficial reports from other exam takers of how many questions they saw.
Can I cheat on a cloud certification exam?
And since I just mentioned reading people’s exam reports, now is a good time to warn you away from looking for or reading any exam dumps where people have violated their non-disclosure agreements and shared private information about the exam, like the questions they saw — the actual ones.
Vendors have very interesting ways of figuring out who has been cheating like this, so just stay away from any non-reputable exam-prep sites. Especially if they offer something like a “money-back guarantee” on your getting certified, because those are virtually always a cheating scam. Those are bad news, and even reading them can get you barred from the vendor certification program or from doing business with them entirely.
What are cloud certification exam labs?
One more thing we should cover is labs. Some exams include a part of the exam where it’s all about performing a real hands-on task, instead of just answering questions about the material.
Microsoft was the first to include labs in some exams.
Amazon has also started incorporating them.
Google’s exams do not yet as of the time of publication include any labs.
How long do I have to complete a certification exam?
Now, if the exam does include a lab, they’ll usually give you a bit longer to complete it.
When you sit for a Microsoft Azure Fundamentals exam, you get just 45 minutes because it’s a short exam with no labs, while other Microsoft exams give you either 100 minutes or 120 minutes, depending on whether they include labs.
Amazon gives 90 minutes for their Foundational exam, just over 2 hours for their Associate exams without labs and 3 hours for any expert-level exam or associate one that does have a lab.
Google also lets you have 90 minutes for their entry-level exam, and then two hours for all the rest.
How much does it cost to take a certification exam?
The amount that you’ll pay for the privilege of attempting one of these exams also depends on the level of the exam. Note that prices for some other jurisdictions are set in local currencies, but they’re roughly the same after conversion, and that these prices were true as of the time of publication.
AWS Foundational exams are $100 US, Associate ones are $150 and all the rest are $300.
Google charges $99 at the entry level, $125 at the Associate, and 200 for the Professionals.
For Azure exams, Microsoft also charges $99 for the Fundamentals and then, $165 all of the rest.
What happens if I don’t pass a certification exam?
What happens when you give it your best shot but you still weren’t quite able to pass the exam? While you are able to retake the exam, unfortunately, it will mean paying for another attempt. Also, you’ll have to wait a while — a cool down if you will.
AWS has the simplest retake policy: You can retake the exam after two weeks.
Microsoft is quite similar with two-week delays between attempts — except that they’ll let you retry the first time after just one day. Then, they’ll limit you to a maximum of five exam attempts in any 12-month period.
Google Cloud’s retake policy is the toughest, making you wait 14 days after a first fail, 60 days after a second fail, and making you wait an entire 365 days after a third failed attempt. (After that, I’m not sure, maybe they’ll make you wait a decade or something?)
What languages are certification exams in?
All three vendors offer all of their exams in English. Google also offers about half of theirs in Japanese and one of them in Spanish. But Microsoft and Amazon have much broader language support adding Korean, Chinese, Indonesian, German, French, Italian, and Portuguese. And Microsoft even adds two more: Russian and Arabic.
But in all cases, you should definitely double-check that a language is available for the specific exam you want to take. Because even in some cases, a language that was previously offered might not be offered any longer. For example, if that exam had recently been updated and the cert team hadn’t yet had the chance to retranslate it.
How long are cloud certifications good for?
Let’s say that you just managed to score yourself one of these certifications. Congratulations!
But how long is that certification valid for?
If it’s a Google cert, it will last for two years; an AWS one will last for three. When it’s time to renew one of those certifications, you just take the normal test again, though you can usually get a half-price discount on the cost of the exam.
Microsoft does things a bit differently though, thanks to some big certification renewal changes rolled out recently. To start with, their AZ-900: Azure Fundamental certification doesn’t ever expire. Once you achieve this, you get to keep it forever. Other Azure certifications expire after only one year, but renewing them is something that you can do fairly easily online and not only are these renewal assessments free, but they are also simpler and shorter than normal exams, covering only technology updates and just using a simple web UI instead of a heavyweight exam software thing.
And if you fail any of the recertification exams for any of the clouds, don’t worry: you can still keep the certification until it normally expires and you can retry the recertification.