Back in March, I took the beta AWS Certified Sysops Administrator – Associate exam because my Certified Cloud Practitioner lounge pass was expiring.

After that, it got weird. I didn’t hear from Amazon for a while. When I checked the AWS certification portal, I could find no reference to the certification itself. While I get that AWS teams frequently try to forget the fact that I exist, this isn’t typical. I waited a bit longer, and after three months, my patience was rewarded. I found out last week that I passed.

The exam itself was challenging. I wound up with 81% correct, with a passing score threshold of 72% for the certification. This wasn’t a walk in the park for me, which made for a refreshing challenge.

Is AWS certification worth it?

Guest author Alex Chan recently explored whether AWS certification is worth it and came to the conclusion that it depends upon who you are and what your goals are in chasing the cert.

I used to take a very dim view of the exams. Certifications hold no value for me personally past the lounge access. No consulting client has ever asked if I was certified, nor has any employer trying to hire me. But most candidates aren’t me, and trying to pretend that they are can cause serious damage.

My modern position on AWS certifications is that if you find yourself needing to distinguish yourself in the job market, get them. If you need to meet AWS partner requirements, get them. If you need to pivot your career into cloud and don’t know where to start, get them. And if you want to get some swag in the certified lounge at re:Invent, get them.

Otherwise, they may not be worth the time investment, the money they cost, or the frustration of dealing with AWS’ certification partners.

I got back re:Invent lounge access! What else does AWS certification get me?

AWS does offer some perks to having a certification, which I can see if I log into their portal.

First, I get to keep these credentials no matter where work takes me. The account structure at very sensibly requires an Amazon retail account to log in. Your IAM credentials through your current employer will come and go as you change jobs, but your underpants-purchasing account is eternal! Would that AWS forums, Cloud9 accounts, and other various AWS identity stores understood the difference between “you as an employee of Company A” and “you as a fully formed person.” They’re not the same!

I can also snag AWS-certified swag in their online store. I can buy polo shirts, T-shirts, a $30 hoodie, a notebook and pen, or an ill-conceived water bottle that will almost certainly be taken down and become a collectors’ item in light of Amazon’s famous “pee bottle” tweet.

For the people chasing more certifications, AWS helpfully throws in a free token for a practice exam and a discount on my next exam.

There’s access to two programs to stay connected: a LinkedIn community, which I disregarded as irrelevant as soon as I saw the word “LinkedIn,” and an SME program. A bit of digging in to what a “SME program” is reveals that it’s not a “SMEE again, goan f— yourself!” gag as I originally thought, but instead a group of subject-matter experts who help design the next generation of AWS certifications. Given that I’m not one to volunteer for large companies, nor should I intentionally put myself in situations that’ll lead to fistfights over whether Route 53 is a database, I opted to decline to continue down that path.

Lastly, I can get a digital badge to showcase across the internet, including in my email signature, on Twitter, and presumably inside of Amazon’s internal Phone Tool. Personally, I’d rather fly the dread flag of Billie the Platypus to strike fear into the hearts of my enemies and wandering product managers.

My use cases are almost certainly not yours — again, I’m in it for the lounge pass — and they shouldn’t be taken as a condemnation of doing or purchasing any of these things.

About that 3-month wait for AWS certification results

I will point out that I took the test on March 8, 2021, and my certification is scheduled to remain active until March 8, 2024. However, I wasn’t told that I had passed until June 24 — over three months later. That’s three months of time during which I was certified but didn’t know it.

If AWS chose to extend a three- or four-month grace period in 2024 as a thank you for helping prove out their beta exam, it wouldn’t be remiss. Certification exams mean candidates spend money with AWS, so they should be recipients of the famed Customer Obsession.

AWS Certified Sysops Administrator exam: Sure, why not

All in all, the certification was an interesting experience. I enjoyed the lab portion, and it was far from trivial with respect to questions it asked. If you’ve got to take a certification for one reason or another, you could pick far worse ones than the Certified Sysops Administrator – Associate exam to attempt.