Four Top Certifications for Aspiring Cloud Computing Techs
Cloud-trained professionals are in high demand, and for good reason. Between IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS, understanding the "how" of cloud computing requires broad knowledge across a number of fields. When you add that most cloud platforms and infrastructures are built by different companies for different reasons, using different technologies and different amounts of depth, and targeted to different demographics, then you have a real nebulous mess on your hands. One-trick ponies need not apply.
It should surprise nobody, then, that entry-level certifications for cloud professionals are a bit on the rare side. Typically, cloud certifications have problematic elements for IT newcomers. Either they're high-level certs with two or three prerequisite certs, they require expensive training courses, or their topics are too specialized for someone who's just getting started. Today, we're trying out four of the most beginner-friendly certifications for somebody interested in the cloud.
All of the following certs are entry-level certifications that one can obtain without prerequisites, and that even a complete beginner can earn by applying a little elbow-grease. Whether you're an absolute beginner or an IT professional with experience in a related field who is just eyeballing the Cloud for the first time, one of the certs on this list will be able to give you a starting point and point of reference for the journey ahead.
1) VMware's VCA6-DCV
WHO IT'S FOR: Absolute beginners with an interest in VMware's vSphere virtualization platform
Designed primary for non-techs who nonetheless want to learn and implement the vSphere platform, this certification is primarily VMware-specific. It does, however, branch into multiple aspects of cloud computing and infrastructure.
VMware is a specialized behemoth in the cloud industry, which makes them an especially good place to start for those looking to work more on the back-end, nitty-gritty of the cloud but don't actually have experience in a cloud-related field. Once you've earned this cert, then you can move forward to the professional-level certification (VCP6-DCV) for even more punch.
To prepare, VMware provides a free online course that typically takes about three hours to complete. Once you're comfortable with the material there, then you can register for the exam itself on VMware's site for $120. The course is 75 minutes, 50, single and multiple choice questions, non-proctored.
For a more general credential along the same lines, you'll also want to look over CompTIA's Cloud Essentials certification, which is even more beginner-friendly.
2) CompTIA Cloud+
WHO IT'S FOR: IT Pros who have a general interest in cloud computing and experience in a related field.
This is the big brother of the Cloud Essentials cert. While Cloud Essentials is designed mostly with the layman in mind, however, Cloud+ is for techs who already have a foot in a related field such as networking, storage, or data storage administration. This is a very broad cert that anybody can shoot for as a line on a r�sum� that you can leverage to get more cloud experience.
You will have to study, but there's bound to be something on this certification that you'll recognize already, especially if you've already taken Network+, Security+, or A+. While they recommend the cert for people who already have two or three years in a related field, this cert is not considered overly difficult. If you're just getting started in IT, then you'll need to work harder and study more, but you should still be able to cross the finish line.
Those who have already earned the certification typically recommend using the CompTIA Cloud+ Certification Study Guide (Exam CV0-001) from McGraw-Hill (about $30). After a read-through, one can usually get a good idea of their readiness by taking the practice exams. The exam itself costs $285 and is taken in a PearsonVUE testing center. Its format is 100 multiple-choice questions with a 90 minute time limit. The certification is good for three years.
3) AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate
WHO IT'S FOR: Techs already working with the AWS platforms who want to broaden their knowledge and increase their marketability with AWS.
This is by far the most specific certification of the four, but considering the widespread adoption of the various AWS cloud services offerings, it's also highly marketable — and still not too far along the path. This certification can really only be passed if you have a spectacular memory or first-hand experience with the platform. So unless you happen to be a savant, you'll want to find yourself an opportunity to get familiar with AWS's EC2 service.
This exam is also about the breadth of your knowledge rather than the depth, so your best strategy for study will be to learn everything you can about the whole platform rather then drilling down on any specific point. You can also download a free exam guide from AWS, and for about $20 you can purchase a practice exam that's highly recommended by AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate alumni. Because of the popularity of the cert, you can also find plenty of resources and discussion online.
When you're ready to take the certification, register on the AWS website ($150) to find a testing center, and plan to spend about 80 minutes on the exam. The certification is good for two years and can be renewed by taking a recertification exam ($75) or by earning the professional-level Certified Solutions Architect exam.
4) Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) Cloud
WHO IT'S FOR: Ambitious tech professionals and beginners who want to get out of the cert what they put into it.
Fair warning: Cisco does not mess around when it comes to certifications. If you're going to tackle the CCNA, then you had better know your stuff, and be prepared to spend a fair amount of money on training materials. Many CCNA alumni have commented on how difficult the CCNA was, even after moving on to professional-level certifications.
That said, this is easily one of the more marketable certifications on this list. Cisco sets the industry standard for networking equipment and software, and chances are that no matter where you go, you're going to be working with Cisco equipment. This certification is less well-known than the popular CCNA Routing and Switching credential, so if you're going for ultimate marketability you may want to look there instead. A CCNA still holds plenty of weight, however, even without the R&S suffix.
Studying is going to be hard, but you also have a lot of resources at your disposal. The Cisco community tends to be very active, involved, and helpful, so never be afraid to reach out for help. Additionally, Cisco Press has published books and online courses to help you on your way. You can also find simulators to give you a hand that, while a bit pricey, can give you invaluable hands-on experience that may otherwise be untenable.
When you're ready, you can register with PearsonVUE to take the exam. Expect to pay about $300 for both of the required exams (yes, there are two). The exams each have a 90-minute time limit and are 55 to 65 questions apiece.