Certification is not enough
Staff Pick

Certification is not enough

Discusses the reasons why certifications are not enough and experience matters, using the metaphor of pilot training

Published Apr 1, 2024

Obtaining AWS certifications is a valuable step in validating one's knowledge and skills in cloud computing. However, relying solely on certifications without practical, hands-on experience can be detrimental, especially in a field as dynamic and complex as cloud engineering. The metaphor of becoming a pilot illustrates this point effectively.
There are a number of different licenses, certificates and ratings one can obtain for flying. They include Private Pilot, Instrument Rating, Commercial Single-Engine, Commercial Multi-Engine and Airline Transport Pilot. Personally I am a Private Pilot with an instrument rating. This means I can fly into clouds and navigate solely with the in-cockpit instruments. I'll say that getting this rating was one of the hardest things I've ever done. I got that rating two years after getting my private license.
In those years I had: a bird strike, an engine failure, landing light failure at night, door blow open, and fuel cap dislodge. We used to joke that my call sign was "303EC no I'm not declaring an emergency".
Now, imagine a scenario where an individual obtains all five of those licenses within a month through a flight school that promises a fast-track program. While they may have acquired the theoretical knowledge required for the certifications, they would lack the crucial practical experience of logging hundreds or thousands of hours in the air, handling various weather conditions, and dealing with unexpected situations. Would you feel comfortable entrusting your safety to such a pilot? The answer is likely no (or perhaps Hell No).
Similarly, in the realm of cloud computing, certifications alone do not equip individuals with the practical experience necessary to design, deploy, and maintain robust, scalable, and secure cloud solutions. Hands-on experience is invaluable, as it allows professionals to encounter real-world challenges, troubleshoot issues, and develop problem-solving skills that cannot be fully replicated in a certification exam environment.
A question I like to ask during an interview is "tell me about time when you were shocked by an AWS bill at work or in your personal account". If they've never encountered this there is a fair chance that they don't have much actual experience.
The Value of Learning from Failures and Mistakes
Practical experience not only provides exposure to different technologies and services but also offers opportunities to encounter failures and make mistakes – invaluable learning experiences that cannot be gained from certifications alone.
In the pilot metaphor, a seasoned pilot with thousands of hours of experience has likely faced various situations such as having to cancel or divert flights due to adverse weather conditions, dealing with mechanical issues, or navigating through unexpected airport closures. These experiences, although challenging at the time, contribute to the pilot's ability to make informed decisions, remain calm under pressure, and prioritize safety.
Likewise, in cloud computing, practical experience exposes professionals to a wide range of potential failures and mistakes. For instance, a cloud engineer might encounter scenarios such as misconfigured security groups leading to data breaches, improperly sized resources resulting in performance bottlenecks, or unexpected spikes in costs due to inefficient resource management. While these situations can be frustrating, they provide invaluable learning opportunities that cannot be replicated in a certification exam.
Encountering failures and making mistakes allow cloud professionals to develop critical problem-solving skills, troubleshooting techniques, and a deeper understanding of the intricacies of cloud services. They learn to anticipate potential issues, implement proactive monitoring and alerting mechanisms, and develop contingency plans to mitigate risks.
Moreover, these experiences foster a mindset of continuous improvement and a commitment to adhering to best practices. Cloud professionals who have faced real-world challenges are better equipped to design and implement robust, scalable, and secure cloud solutions that can withstand various failure scenarios.
In conclusion, practical experience in cloud computing is not only about gaining exposure to different technologies and services but also about encountering failures and making mistakes. These real-world challenges provide invaluable lessons that cannot be learned from certifications alone. Just as a seasoned pilot has faced and learned from various adverse situations, a cloud professional who has experienced and overcome failures and mistakes is better equipped to design, deploy, and maintain robust and resilient cloud solutions.
Certifications can validate experience but they are not a substitute for it.