AWS Training and Certification Blog

My journey and experience as an AWS Certification SME

I was first introduced to the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Cloud when working on a project as a developer at another organization. My fascination grew as I read more about AWS and this jumpstarted my journey. Fast forward and I am now an AWS solutions architect, helping customers build solutions and grow their businesses in the cloud. In this blog post, I will explain how I became a Certification Subject Matter Expert (SME).

The AWS Certification Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) program includes AWS employee and customer volunteers who have experience using AWS products and services. These volunteers collaborate in teams to write and review AWS Certification exam content and help AWS set the bar for competency in a particular role or technical domain.

Certification SME Program

The purpose of the AWS Certification SME program is to ensure the validity of the current and future AWS Certification program. The program engages solutions architects, developers, systems operators, database administrators, and others whose work aligns with the expertise validated by the AWS Certification exams. These individuals, coming from diverse backgrounds, participate in AWS Certification exam development events, remote and in-person, that focus on the creation and review of exam content as part of the AWS Certification exam development process. At each event, SMEs receive training on relevant certification development tasks. SME activities at AWS Certification workshops may include:

  • Establishing the topics an exam will cover
  • Developing and evaluating exam questions
  • Determining the exam’s passing score

Once enrolled, SMEs work with other strong technical professionals to create items for AWS Certification exams. You can read more about the exam creation process.

The benefits of becoming a SME include networking and learning opportunities, recognition (it is an industry-recognized program), and SME gear, including swag such as sweatshirts, Amazon devices, AWS Certification vouchers, and more.

The program is available for both internal Amazon employees and for external experts. The process for becoming a Certification SME is the same for everyone. After finishing the enrollment process, you become eligible to participate in the exam development workshops.

How to become a Certification SME

The process to become a Certification SME is illustrated below.

Join the Certification SME Team: Apply, Train, Accept, and Attend

Qualifications that must be met to be considered include relevant hands-on AWS experience and strong English reading and writing skills. For Foundational- and Associate-level exams, candidates must have a minimum of one year hands-on or equivalent AWS experience. For Professional-level and Specialty exams, candidates must have a minimum of two years hands-on or equivalent experience. To support existing certifications, candidates must be credential holders in good standing for the given certification. For new AWS Certifications, candidates must hold a relevant certification at that level, plus the equivalent of two to three years of hands-on experience with the subject matter.

Pointers that helped me through the enrollment process

During the apply phase, you will get an application form that requests you to choose the certifications you have completed and the ones for which you are interested in creating content. The application also has questions around each of the certifications that you choose. For example, if you choose AWS Certified Security – Specialty in the form, you might get a question asking you to describe a situation when you worked on an incident response event. Ensure you are concise and clear in your answer showing your expertise.

During the Train phase, you are expected to complete the AWS Certification Subject Matter Expert (SME) Item Writing course. Manage your time and book a slot in your day when you intend to focus only on this course module. The course has a required follow-up quiz. I highly recommend taking notes during the course.

Attending the workshops – accepting invitations

Each certification exam has a dedicated team that works to maintain all relevant activities for the exam. Whenever there is an Item Development workshop, the certification team reaches out with an invitation to approved Certification SMEs. The workshop is a great place to meet other developers, skilled and tenured Amazonians, and industry experts. You need to attend two workshops to earn a Digital Badge as a SME for a given exam.

After accepting an invitation to attend the workshop, you’ll receive a kick-off meeting invite. This is when you’ll be introduced to the Program Manager who will remain the point of contact for all SMEs during the workshop. You’ll also be introduced to other SMEs.

The workshop experience

Over a period of three days, you’ll work in groups to come up with content for the exam. Working in groups ensures peer review of artifacts/questions before they are submitted for technical or editorial reviews. There are rigorous requirements to meet the standards of the questions for the exam. In fact, a Certification Technical Architect (CTA) reviews the item for technical accuracy. This process of getting feedback from the CTA is very educational for SMEs.

The workshop is a group effort and you have to be a team player. You should have the backbone to assert your opinion, make suggestions, and commit to the final group consensus.

Closing Thoughts

Whether you are an external expert or an internal Amazon employee, the key benefit of becoming a Certification SME is knowing you are credible—the validation of your skills in a given domain and lending your voice as an expert. This opens new opportunities for career growth and validates your knowledge. The Certification SME program helps you deliver better solutions for your customers, as these workshops put you in positions to explore different perspectives and solutions to a given problem, thereby improving your learning.

If you have the qualifications and desire to join the Certification SME team, go for it! See what it takes to come up with one approved question for a top-notch certification exam. It is not about giving knowledge, but rather about learning from the other SMEs. Building relationships is the key to thrive in any industry—AWS Cloud is no different.

Learn more about AWS Certifications.