While a valuable investment, the value of AWS training is still not always well understood. With a library of free digital training and a variety of certifications validating baseline as well as more specific expertise, there are many reasons to look at investing the Amazon’s training program.
Today, we are talking to Maureen Lonergan who works hard to bring value to the training programs for AWS and doesn’t take your time and investment in their cloud services for granted.
About Maureen Lonergan
Some of the highlights of the show include:
- Where to get started learning about the cloud
- The variety of AWS certifications offered
- Why certifications are valuable for job prospects
- The work that goes into designing the AWS training courses
- Some partners where you can access training
This is Screaming in the Cloud.
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And so modernizing IT skill sets is super important to us. Our general enterprises are trying to move their traditional storage administrators or database administrators and need programs to do that. So most recently, we've developed, we launched a digital platform that has 350 courses that are free and available to anybody who wants to take them but we specifically focused on how do you build the foundational level skill sets for someone in tech or a business leader.
And we launched the cloud practitioner class last year which is actually our fastest growing course out in our portfolio. We also aligned that with a certification for cloud practitioner. Anybody, a student or an individual within an organization, could go to the platform and take the course and work in the platform and take the certification exam.
From an academic perspective, we're doing the same thing. We launched the academy program a couple of years ago. We're working with hundreds of universities across the globe. And we have both foundational level training with cloud practitioner. And we also have a cloud curriculum that we're delivering alongside with certifications so that when students come out of the university, they actually have defined validated skills.
And certifications is one of the things that we asked them to look for. Here's a series of work experiences or education that we think will help you on your cloud migrations. But certifications is the one thing that they can look to that we know that we've spent a lot of time building, validating and certifying. So I think, again, it's a personal thing but I think it's important if you're looking for a job in cloud.
Now when I log on to the training page and look at how to get started, one of the challenges I see is almost an echo of that previous problem. It's not that there aren't any training options now. It's that there are so many. There are a bunch of native offerings that AWS provides. You have a number of partnership agreements with a number of training schools, and there are multiple different paths to get there.
And the documentation is, of course, still there but now if printed out, it would be three times a size of any encyclopedia, which for the younger listeners out there used to be a series of books that was a facsimile of Wikipedia but smaller. Where does someone start? It can be an overwhelming experience when you just now learned that Amazon is more than a store where you can buy things. It also does this weird thing in the world of computers. How do you start?
I think after you've taken that training, we've purposely designed because of the evolution of our services and the rapid updates to them. We have designed 10 to 15-minute modules across all of our services from foundational level all the way up to 300 or 400 level.
I think we have this leadership principle at Amazon, learn and be curious. And we live and breathe it every day and we're constantly thinking like how do people need to find training, what is this training that they need. If there's a new service launch on Lambda, let's make sure that we get that training out there as soon as we can after the announcement and make it available on the most consumable way.
But going through that process was interesting in that it assumed of relative baseline level of about six months of experience, I think it was asking for, of AWS concepts. I am very much not the target market given that I have roughly 20 times that. So I'm not here to say that, "Oh, that cert was easy." It's not easy for everyone, and it was relatively straightforward just based upon my experience level.
But what was fascinating to me about that was the way that it focused on how the pieces fit together, what each service did, what it was envisioned to be able to do. It was perfectly aimed at business leaders. In other words, folks who are never going to make API call themselves. They're never going to build anything from scratch but they need to be able to take what their engineering groups tell them about AWS and contextualize that in the context of what these services do.
I think that was a terrific direction to go in, and of all the services you offer, it's probably the one that I'm the most excited about in a professional sense. One of the things that I find strange about that though is cloud practitioner is more or less presented in sort of its own thing. It's not generally listed on the path to getting further certification either associate, professional or specialty levels.
It sort of is in its own little island, until recently there was a requirement of associate certs before you could challenge professional and specialty certs. But even then, cloud practitioner was not included. Is it just me or is the cloud practitioner certification aimed at a different audience than the rest of the certifications?
We spent a lot of time with our customers. We defined the personas and built the exam. And this has actually been a really good certification for technical individuals that are trying to modernize their skill sets too. There's a lot of fear out there in the industry about moving to cloud, how are my skills going to be relevant. I've been a database administrator you know what, 30 years, how do I know get comfortable? And I think that this has been a great ... It's actually been one of our fastest growing certifications ever.
We're also leveraging it in the academic market. We see more and more people starting to do certifications at the university level and we want to make sure that we're building the workforce for the future and we believe that that's a great onboarding mechanism to other technical paths.
Most recently, we just launched at CES, the Alexa beta certifications so we're super excited. A little different than what we've done before. So we're constantly evaluating what we think is needed for our customers.
Again, I think it's a little bit of a competitive thing but I think, as you grow your career and you may start out with one certification and want to grow up the stack and then specialize, so that's why we designed it that way.
And you see that in some cases in previous generations with different certifications as companies continue to expand their certification practices. At some point, it almost becomes counterproductive to spend all of your time chasing various certs because you look at what these people do, there's no specialization there. They are taking a giant pile of certifications that they can pass even if they're all in one arena, and it doesn't seem to wind up leading to anything and building any narrative.
I don't think that that's currently the case with AWS, but I can see a not too distant future where it becomes that.
And people clued into this relatively quickly and then a bunch of boot camps and brain dump sites sprung up overnight and started teaching to the test with the natural result that that certification went from something that was widely revered to just another cert on a resume.
And this is a problem that I don't think is specific to any one vendor. It becomes a systemic problem once a certification becomes the victim of its own success. There are brain dump sites that will send people in to take a certification. As soon as they come out, they will effectively short-term memory dump everything that was on the test.
And now instead of learning the concepts, you wind up with a teaching-to-the-test style of training, if you can even call it that, where you have all the right trivia answers but no real understanding. How do you view that and how do you combat that assuming, as I can probably safely assume, that that's not the intended goal of the certification program?
I think the other thing too is that we're very specific. We want our customers or any individual taken certification to be well-trained. That's the important thing, so we build training programs. You'll see from our test prep, we don't teach the test. We teach how to prepare for the exam. And so it's something that we look at all the time and we're in constantly evolved in how we build our exams and what we test on and how we take that forward. But it is definitely something that we have a lot of rigor on as an organization.
But that doesn't build toward anything. It's more or less getting the credential for the sake of the credential rather than the sake of learning. And there's an entire argument you could have around that approach but it always seemed to me that if you're going to learn something, learn it. Don't just fake it.
Companies are looking for well-skilled individuals, so it's a personal choice but from my perspective, I agree with you. I think people really need to understand and learn the technology and that will only help them in their careers long term.
We've actually just, in the last couple of months, released the requirement that you have to go from one certification to another. And that was largely based on the industry. There's a lot more talent out in the industry and people can learn in a lot of ways. You don't have to go to training to be well-versed and take certification. There's many ways to get there.
And we wanted to make sure that we weren't putting an artificial barrier, like forcing people to take an exam that they're already skilled in. That doesn't help anyone. And so I think that big change to our program, we've actually started to see a lot more people invest in other areas and taking their certification. So, I think it was the right decision for us to do.
At this point, learning enough to be able to intelligently speak to all of the different specialties feels like, at that point, you are capable of doing three different jobs all at the same time. I can't fathom what that looks like. I have nothing but respect for people who can walk in and take all nine but I can't imagine the amount of work that has to go into being able to do that.
And we've taken all that knowledge and built free online courses that are aligned to that certification. Someone who specifically and I will tell you right now that content is very challenging and it was designed specifically to build the skills that they need in order to do that along with project work and best practices to prepare you for the exam. But like in order to get all the specialties, I think it's going to be a challenge.
How do you find that interacts with someone taking a certification where they're keeping up-to-date with what AWS is doing and now they're faced with a question that where months ago had a workaround challenge that would have made a solution impractical and now is a native feature offering?
Today, that is not a viable business. It turns out the service has matured to the point where almost anyone can get up and running with very little background information. So, I wouldn't think that it would make sense to delay a release until all of the certifications have been updated and staged. It sounds like one of those trailing functions and I don't see a way for it ever not to be.
We follow that up with a hackathon with our entire curriculum development organization for two days after that event where everybody sat and updated all of the courseware and the services. We're putting mechanisms in place to try and address the information people. Announcements are made and they want to have the training as soon as they can and we're making our best efforts but it's a rapid process. I think we'll continue to build rigor in that area both curriculum and certification.
Most recently, you've probably seen some announcements around. We're looking at partnerships with certain organizations. There are companies like edX and Coursera that have a very different audience demographic but tens of millions of users. And so we've started to partner with them. We put courses out on edX. We put courses out on Coursera and we continue to always look for the right way to reach our customers, new customers, people interested in learning in cloud.
And so it's super important part of our strategy and I would say too, the things with Coursera and with edX, that's again, it's all free training and available to anybody who wants to take it. To the extent that we can get as much information out there in the industry as possible, we're doing that as aggressively as we can.
I think, again back to the learn and be curious, get out there and explore what we have. And if you happen to be a user of edX or Coursera is great programs out there that we put out there as well. I'd encourage anybody who is curious about cloud to do that.
What is Screaming in the Cloud?
Screaming in the Cloud with Corey Quinn features conversations with domain experts in the world of Cloud Computing. Topics discussed include AWS, GCP, Azure, Oracle Cloud, and the "why" behind how businesses are coming to think about the Cloud.