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Philip Afable

Cloud Certifications: AWS Solutions Architect Associate

Philip Afable

  • Oct 22, 2020
  • 11 Min read
  • Oct 22, 2020
  • 11 Min read
Cloud Fundamentals
Cloud Fundamentals


The cloud has taken over as the preferred hosting location for enterprise. Amazon Web Services (AWS) dominates this space as the first company that offered cloud-based services at a large scale. Organizations are migrating to AWS because it allows them to become more agile in their product offerings while having a relatively low upfront cost.

The migration from traditional data centers to AWS has increased the need for engineers who understand and specialize in AWS. A great way to show potential employers your knowledge of AWS is to obtain a certification. AWS offers three levels of certifications: foundational, associate, and professional. The AWS Solutions Architect Associate certification falls in the middle and validates the certification holder's knowledge in designing solutions in AWS. Below you will learn more about what it takes to obtain the AWS Solutions Architect Associate certification.

Who is the certification for?

The AWS Solutions Architect Associate is for those who are eager to prove and validate their skills in AWS. It's targeted at sysadmins and systems and DevOps engineers looking to design cloud-hosted solutions and leverage the capabilities of the AWS cloud.


This associate-level certification from AWS will validate an individual's knowledge of various AWS services including, but not limited to, EC2, S3, and RDS. It will guide an engineer's understanding of the AWS environment while adhering to the AWS Well-Architected Framework when creating resources in the AWS cloud. It provides an introductory glimpse into designing solutions within AWS.

Applicable Exams

As of this writing, there are two AWS exams that will satisfy the AWS Solutions Architect Associate certification: SAA-C01 and SAA-C02. SAA-C01 is the legacy exam version and is slated to be retired on July 1, 2020. SAA-C02 was introduced on March 23, 2020 and is the replacement for SAA-C01. At a glance they are similar to each other in terms of content with the exception of domain five: Define Operationally Excellent Architectures. In SAA-02, domain five has been eliminated and incorporated into the other four sections. (See Skills Measured section for more on domains.)

If you you can complete your AWS Solutions Architect Associate studies before July 1, the SAA-C01 will still be a valid option for you to complete. If not, then SAA-C02 would be a better option to pursue. If you accomplish the AWS Solutions Architect Associate certification by writing the SAA-C01 exam, your certification will still be valid for three years.


There is no prerequisite exam or certification to take the Solutions Architect Associate certification exam. If you want to skip the Cloud Practitioner certification and head straight into the Solutions Architect Associate you are more than welcome to do so.

AWS recommends that candidates have a minimum of one year of hands-on experience working with AWS. However, the lack of experience could be supplemented with on-demand lectures and self-experimentation of AWS services. The key to passing is doing hands-on labs within AWS.

A strong foundation in Linux would be highly beneficial because it's the popular operating system within AWS; AWS even has its own Linux distribution.

Knowing the basics of networking, especially how subnets work, will go a long way. A strong comfort in basic networking is key, because setting up VPC involves knowledge of routes, subnets, and rules. Think of AWS as an abstracted data center--you don't need worry about the underlying hardware, however resources still need to interact with each other, and networking provides that in AWS.

A knowledge of virtualization is important because the same concepts used in on-premises solutions (VMWare, Citrix, Xen) will also apply in AWS. Virtualization is at the core of AWS; understanding how virtual machines or instances are used will enable users to maintain their EC2-based ecosystem.

Skills Measured

The exam will question your knowledge in a wide range of AWS services such as VPC, EC2, RDS, S3, and more. You will be measured on how well you can utilize offerings and deploy them within AWS. There are four or five domains that topics will be grouped under, depending on the exam. These domains will follow the Well-Architected Framework closely.

In SAA-C01 you will be tested on five domains:

  1. Designing Resilient Architectures
  2. Define Performant Architectures
  3. Specify Secure Applications and Architectures
  4. Design Cost-Optimized Architectures
  5. Define Operationally Excellent Architectures

In SAA-C02 you will be tested on four domains:

  1. Design Resilient Architectures
  2. Design High-Performing Architectures
  3. Design Secure Applications and Architectures
  4. Design Cost-Optimized Architectures

As mentioned previously, domain five in SAA-C01 is lacking in SAA-C02. SAA-C02 has been streamlined to better address operational excellence in other domains.

Pluralsight Courses

Excited to get started on the path to mastering the AWS Solution Architect Associate certification? Pluralsight can help you with these courses:

  • If you're not sure where to start with AWS, I highly recommend the AWS Fundamentals for System Administrators course by Elias Khnaser. This course is designed to ease you into AWS. It will give you a history of AWS and how its services function at a high level.
  • If you're itching to get started on the Solutions Architect Associate certification right away, Elias has another course designed for you: AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate. This course will have you working and designing solutions in AWS while preparing you to take the exam. It will guide you using examples within a lab environment to solidify your knowledge of AWS.

Pluralsight Labs

Pluralsight has created labs to help you practice the skills you need to obtain this certification.

Other Resources

The AWS Whitepapers are a phenomenal resource. They provide insights on how to run your apps in the cloud in a resilient and cost-effective manner. These can provide a basis on how test creators craft their exams. One such whitepaper to take note of is the AWS Well-Architected Framework. This whitepaper provides best practices to keep in mind when designing a solution in AWS. This is an important whitepaper because it enshrines the core pillars to be successful within AWS. As briefly stated before in the Skills Measured section, the domains are structured to address these five pillars:

1. Operational Excellence
2. Security
3. Reliability
4. Performance Efficiency
5. Cost Optimization

If the solution you are designing takes these pillars into account, it is guaranteed to be successful in terms of reliability, performance, and cost within the AWS cloud.

Compensation and Employment Outlook

Compensation can vary based on experience, however it is not unheard of for those who hold the AWS Solutions Architect Associate certification to make a salary of $70,000 to $100,000 a year.

AWS certifications are very much in demand. Most organizations are now seeing the advantages that the cloud offers and view AWS as the leader in the public cloud arena. Holding a certification in AWS will validate your knowledge and help you gain employment. Professionals who hold an AWS certification can expect to find employment quickly with highly competitive compensation.

Position in Broader Certification Path

The AWS Solutions Architect Associate is one of three associate-level certifications within AWS. It sits in the middle of the Solutions Architect certification path.

The skills learned will give you a strong base for the AWS Solutions Architect Professional certification, if you choose to pursue it in the future. Not only that, but it will also allow you to create solutions that can take advantage of AWS's high performance, elasticity, and resilience.

Even though the emphasis of this certification is designing solutions, the knowledge gained can also be used to build upon and achieve other certifications such as the Developer Associate and SysOps Associate certifications.


The AWS Solutions Architect Associate certification is a middle-of-the-road certification and prepares test takers to design solutions using services in AWS. It is a highly sought after certification offered by AWS that will test your understanding of designing systems that incorporate performance, reliability, efficiency, and cost effectiveness. There are two exams (SAA-C01 and SAA-C02) that will allow you to obtain this certification. By July 1, only SAA-C02 will be the valid exam for the Solutions Architect Associate certification.

With a combination of a hands-on lab and Pluralsight course, you too can become a certified AWS Solutions Architect Associate. AWS has made it easier by removing prerequisite requirements for taking the Solutions Architect Associate. You can bypass the foundational certification and take either the SAA-CO1 or SAA-C02 right away.