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AWS Black Belt: In Conversation with Nelson Robin & Vlad Panainte

In this interview, Nelson shares his take on AWS Black Belt, his experiences attending the AWS Black Belt program, and how he achieved the AWS Black Belt in Data Analytics.

What is the AWS Black Belt program, and what purpose does it serve?

The AWS Partner Network (APN) Black Belt program is an initiative where partners nominate technical resources to become Black Belts through a multi-week specialization program. It enables the partner to create a differentiated position for themselves in the market. The Black Belt program offers the Advanced- and Premier-tier partners an opportunity to dive deep with specialists to focus on technical enablement and business development. It helps them build AWS skills and leverage APN programs to expand upon or enable their specialized business offerings.

Black Belt helps partners who are ready to take that next step toward building highly skilled specialized practitioners within their organizations. It enables them to begin the journey of creating a community of practice or specialized practice area in the specialty of choice. Each Black Belt specialty track offers in-depth technical training, hands-on labs & exercises, and specialized sessions on the most recent innovations and go-to-market strategies.

Partners who complete the track and demonstrate expertise can include AWS Black Belt in their marketing materials and showcase it through Black Belt blogs, LinkedIn campaigns, and more. As the program continues to grow, Black Belt partners can expect to be included in Black Belt events, potential speaking opportunities, or other recognition programs.

What are your experiences attending this program?

I appreciate the opportunity. It enabled me to make the leap from the theoretical knowledge of the Data Analytics certification to the practical knowledge needed for the Black Belt. I was also able to showcase my ability to select, architect, and implement a Data Analytics capstone project, document my efforts in a PowerPoint presentation, and create a video incorporating those elements.

Can you give us a brief about how the program was conducted?

The program started with a one-hour kick-off session by the AWS Black Belt team in October. We were provided with online materials to self-train. There were live learning sessions spanning three weeks, about six hours per week, including lectures, webinars, labs, and walkthroughs. I achieved my AWS Data Analytics Specialty certification in the first week of December.

Since Black Belt is a higher-level certification, it delivers deep learning experiences, which are evaluated with a final capstone project. We were required to select one of the four scenarios provided, and the project had to be done in that area. A grading rubric was also provided – I ended up getting a perfect score! I submitted all my deliverables on January 22, much before the original deadline of January 31 (which got extended till March 1 later). It included application source code, architecture diagram, completed rubric, task list, PowerPoint presentation, and my 82-minute video. I was notified of my Data Analytics Black Belt achievement in the first week of April, and I was excited about the Graduation scheduled for the last week of April.


Capstone Screenshot


Capstone High-level Architecture

What are the criteria (prerequisites) to get invited to the program?

The partnership status must be Advanced or Premier to get invited to the program. In my case, Peter Meulbroek sponsored me (and Vlad).

What are your key takeaways from the program?

On a personal level, I believe this provides a terrific opportunity for someone who is committed to the AWS platform and wants to demonstrate that commitment. From Ness’s perspective, it’s a fantastic way for the company to establish that it is committed to AWS and has people with the necessary skills to get the job done.

How do you think this validation will add value to your work/career?

Adding this Black Belt validation in Data Analytics to my 7 AWS certifications demonstrates my commitment to the AWS platform. It also shows that I have the necessary organizational and communication skills needed to be a valuable team member on any Ness project, all to the benefit of our clients.

What makes the AWS Black Belt validation exclusive, and how is it different from AWS certifications?

AWS certifications verify that you have theoretical knowledge in a particular domain. The Black Belt validation proves that you can make the leap from having AWS theoretical knowledge to the practical side of things. It also establishes that you have the corresponding organizational and communication skills.

What advice/recommendation would you give to those planning to undergo this program?

I suggest you gather all the theoretical knowledge needed for the AWS certification before beginning the Black Belt program. You should also be aware that once you start the program, you will need to pass the certification, select, architect, & implement a capstone project, document your efforts, and deliver a presentation on your topic.

How did your team/Ness support you in achieving the validation?

I appreciate the faith that Peter Meulbroek had in me. I also appreciate the time that Ness gave me to work on the project and presentation.


In Conversation with Vlad Panainte, Senior Architect, Ness Digital Engineering, Iași (Romania)

In this interview, Vlad shares his experiences attending the AWS Black Belt program and how he achieved the AWS Black Belt in Security.

What is the AWS Black Belt program, and what purpose does it serve?

The Black Belt program is an initiative undertaken by AWS to create, train, and develop a group of specialists in AWS in different stacks, including Machine Learning, Analytics, Database, Enterprise Migration, and Security. These specialists can then focus on the packaged solution offerings for their customers. For example, on the Security track, the main indicator of the program’s success is augmenting security-related opportunities and revenue for AWS partners with a focus on security practices, packaged solutions, and offerings.

The participants are selected from partner companies. It is mandatory to meet some requirements by the candidates (such as AWS Professional and Specialty certifications) to prove their knowledge of the stacks they are participating in.

What are your experiences attending this program?

This experience was very helpful because it allowed me to connect with new people and explore the security structure and best practices for workloads and projects in AWS—from small size to medium or enterprise. It also helped me understand how to use different AWS Security tools to deliver maximum value to clients in Cloud Security. This experience will help me deliver better Security projects for Ness’s clients in the future.

Can you give us a brief about how the program was conducted?

It was a 3-week program that commenced with a kickoff meeting by the AWS Black Belt team. Two days a week, there were instructor-led training sessions, and on the remaining days, we had self-paced labs, to be completed in 4 to 6 hours, depending on the requirements.

The participants were quizzed on the previous sessions on Kahoot at the beginning of each instructor-led class. Every correct answer won a prize, the first prize being $50 on AWS credits. With a Slack channel dedicated to the program where we could ask questions or discuss issues related to labs, we were provided with proper guidance on how to complete the labs.

One week after the last instructor-led class came the Security GameDay. We were put in teams of two to play a game and resolve some challenging scenarios related to security, where we had to build infrastructure and perform by assessing the existing workloads. Usually, a team would have at least four members—hence this was especially difficult because we had fewer people and less time (less than three hours). To complete the program, we had to participate in the instructor-led classes, finish 6 out of 8 labs, participate in GameDay, and get Security Specialty within two months from the completion of the program.

What are the criteria (prerequisites) to get invited to the program?

Any individual nominated for this must have prior knowledge or experience with the AWS Security Domain at the intermediate level or above and hold AWS Certifications (Profession and Specialty).

What are your key takeaways from the program?

This program would help:

  • Accelerate the partner’s domain specialty expertise
  • Engage with AWS to develop specialization and differentiation
  • Access an exclusive group of AWS individuals with advanced technical knowledge
  • Utilize learnings and projects from the Black Belt program for marketing
  • Increase pipeline by focusing on the chosen specialization
  • Gain special recognition through the AWS Internal Black Belt website

How do you think this validation will add value to your work/career?

One of the best parts about this certification is the exposure to real-life situations that one may not see regularly. Also, I should mention that the whole process helped me gain a deeper understanding of how security can impact the overall infrastructure design in most projects.

Speaking about my career, I am not sure at this point. However, I am optimistic that this will have a significant impact in the future, where I will get to explore various opportunities and apply what I learned during this program.

What makes the AWS Black Belt validation exclusive, and how is it different from AWS certifications?

The Black Belt Security is a higher-level certification delivering more profound experiences rather than potentially crammed knowledge. Unlike most certifications with multiple-choice style tests, a final capstone project or GameDay evaluates the Black Belt validation. It promotes a community of Security builders with significant hands-on knowledge and practical experience.

What advice/recommendation would you give to those planning to undergo this program?

All certifications require a certain level of understanding of some concepts. Some are introductory, and some are advanced. This one is specifically for experts in this field. The content for this certification is both broad and deep. Therefore, successfully taking on such a challenge requires both experience and skill and a serious commitment to learning new concepts.

However, set aside the actual content, AWS has a very well-thought-out and engaging program that blends the learning of the material with interactive experiences (such as GameDay). I must say that this brings a level of fun and excitement to learning complex concepts.

How did your team/Ness support you in achieving the validation?

One of Ness’s primary focuses is the Cloud Practice. Being part of the Cloud Practice team has given me access to a vast pool of knowledge and experience. It was most important during the training for this certification. Moreover, having someone as experienced as Peter Meulbroek as the sponsor made a big difference.

I believe theoretical concepts are best understood and valued when you apply them in real-life contexts. My involvement in various projects allowed me to see in practice how the certification curriculum was put to good use.