This engineer explains how throwing himself head-first into Amazon Web Services certifications landed him a new cloud gig with a 40% higher salary — and why he recommends it for anyone trying to get leg-up in the IT industry
- Satya Kolachina quit his job in enterprise architecture and spent three years throwing himself into six AWS certifications. Now he's a cloud architecture with a 40% higher salary.
- In a rapidly changing industry, IT certifications have long been a tool for engineers to stay current in their industry, grow their skillsets, and pivot to different career fields. Some of the best-paying certifications today are in cloud computing.
- "In technology field, we have to adapt to new changes," Kolachina said.
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After more than 30 years building out IT systems at Ernst and Young, Compuware, and BP, Satya Kolachina was ready for a change. He had recently been thrust into a job that required travel during the work week, more management than coding, and less growth, so he quit his job in 2012 — "a mid-age crisis," he called it — and spent the next four years bouncing between contract positions while looking for another full-time position in enterprise IT.
"For years, I struggled very badly doing contract jobs — I didn't get a full-time job," he said. "So then I realized, okay, now time has come that I have to make another change."
Kolachina decided that he would dedicate himself to completing a slew of tech certifications. As the technology industry has crept into sectors like education, insurance, and finance, large companies and small startups alike are increasingly looking for an ever-evolving spate of tech skills. Companies started offering certifications to help developers understand their products inside and out, and prove to a potential employer that they had the right skills for a given position.
Some of the most sought-after certifications today are in cloud technology, according to technology skills company Global Knowledge Training, and that's where Kolachina decided to dive in.
"In technology field, we have to adapt to new changes," he said.
He had been introduced to cloud technology when he was a solutions architect at BP, but didn't have the in-depth knowledge needed to become a full-time cloud architect. So, in 2017, he decided to focus on building skills for Amazon's cloud platform AWS. Over the course of few years he racked up six AWS certifications in security, DevOps, and solutions architecture, and ultimately landed a cloud architect job at an insurance company.
Kolachina spent $1,800 in certification costs for what amounted to a 40% higher salary than he was making in his old gig, because the AWS skills he learned were in high demand.
"Previous technology experience is not valued unless it's in new technology," he said. "I'm maintaining my value from my past experience by applying it to this new technology."
Certifications have become crucial for software engineers at all levels: They allow developers to learn new skills and pivot industries without having to go back to school, and they also make IT more accessible to people who don't have a four-year degree. Plus, recruiters who aren't technically competent use them as a benchmark when interviewing developers.
As valuable as they are now, IT certifications were historically looked down upon by the IT world. It took two decades after Kolachina moved to the US from India until sentiment changed in 2013 when AWS launched its own set, according to Vivek Ravisankar, CEO of technical hiring platform HackerRank.
Previously, people in the IT field believed that certifications only proved that those that took them could problem-solve in specific niches and didn't necessarily have a larger understanding of software principles or the skills that would make them a successful employee. That all changed with AWS.
"The way that AWS certification happens is through real world problem solving. It's no longer just, 'Hey, here is just a bunch of multiple choice questions,'" Ravisankar said. "And now you actually see Google Cloud doing it, Microsoft Azure doing it."
Google launched the Google Cloud Certified program in 2016 and Microsoft Azure launched its Azure Fundamentals certification 2018. Now, these three platforms that weren't taught in schools nor shared as certification suites ten years ago can offer some of the highest paying jobs in the world.
"Technology keeps changing very, very rapidly," Ravisankar said. "What is more important is, are you able to learn a new technology that actually comes through, which it will inevitably?"
Kolachina is now a senior information security engineer at Wells Fargo, where he develops cloud security controls against data breaches. He still renews his AWS certifications to stay current and plans on adding the AWS Certified Networking Specialty to his list.
He has no regrets about his decision to dive into AWS certifications:
"I would tell you very confidently, cloud is the future."
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