How to Hire an AWS Developer in a Wild Labor Market
Trying to hire an AWS developer in the talent shortage of early 2022 was a challenge. Now, in the wake of massive tech layoffs, what was once a trickle of talent has become something of a fire hose. Unfortunately, this presents a new set of challenges for organizations looking to hire.
Big tech companies like Meta, Salesforce, and—let’s not forget—Twitter shed thousands of employees at the tail end of 2022, and anyone who isn’t a household name is scrambling to scoop up the talent. If you can relate to that, this blog post is for you.
Where is AWS used?
If you’ve surfed the web anytime in the last ten or so years, there’s a good chance you’ve visited a website or used an application that runs on AWS Cloud. From big corporations like SAP, Netflix, and Adobe to some departments of the US federal government to small businesses, millions of organizations around the world use AWS for cloud computing.
AWS is by far the biggest player in the global cloud market, with the next-biggest provider, Microsoft Azure, trailing by 13 percentage points as of Q3 2022. A cloud computing pioneer, AWS started offering cloud infrastructure services to businesses in 2006. It has since grown leaps and bounds, with an annualized revenue run rate of $71 billion by Q4 2021.
The cloud provider offers dozens of products and services in categories such as networking, database management, storage, analytics, and machine learning. Amazon EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud) is the most popular product AWS sells, with Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service) and AWS Lambda being very popular as well.
What is an AWS developer?
AWS developers write software to build and maintain web-based applications on the AWS platform. They should have a firm handle on:
- Managing or working with cloud infrastructure
- The various services and tools AWS offers, like Lambda, EC2, S3, and CloudFormation
- At least one high-level programming language, like Node.js or Python
- Using APIs to develop software
- Building applications on a serverless computing execution model
- Communicating with both technical and non-technical stakeholders
This is by no means an exhaustive list. An ideal developer’s skills, certifications, and experience will depend on the organization and role, but most developers share these basic attributes.
Developer vs. solutions architect
If you’re new to recruiting AWS developers, a note on job title terminology:
- An AWS certified developer develops cloud-based applications, while an AWS solutions architect architects cloud infrastructures
- A developer builds software to run on cloud infrastructure, while an architect makes the blueprint for building that infrastructure, using cloud components like hardware, operating systems, containers, and virtual machines
One person builds the proverbial house (AWS cloud infrastructure), and the other builds the refrigerator, washing machine, toaster oven, and television (cloud-based applications on the AWS infrastructure).
There is some overlap between the two professions. For example, both developers and solutions architects have a deep understanding of core AWS services, like S3, Lambda, and CloudFront. But these roles perform distinct functions—best not to confuse them.
Benefits of hiring an AWS developer
An AWS developer specializes in developing software for the AWS platform. As such, you’ll see significant benefits in hiring an AWS developer over a more generalist software developer. Such benefits include:
- Better security. AWS developers are knowledgeable about identity and access management (IAM), making them well-suited to minimize security risks that can arise from AWS bugs
- Faster deployment. AWS developers can work with and educate other software developers to deploy software faster on the AWS platform
- Cost optimization. AWS is a complex service ecosystem that requires some experience to navigate for the best results at the most reasonable cost
- Facilitating digital transformation. More and more organizations are moving to the cloud, and having an AWS developer on board can help smooth that process
To maximize these benefits, look to hire AWS certified professionals (more on that in a bit).
Top skills for AWS developers
What skills should a good AWS developer have? It depends on the specific role you’re trying to fill, but here are some basic skills to include in the job description:
- Mastery of at least one high-level programming language, like Python or Node.js
- Experience deploying code using a tool like RedHat Ansible, AWS CloudFormation, or AWS CodeDeploy
- Knowledge of the AWS security model and identity and access management (IAM)
- Serverless computing tools like Lambda and API Gateway
- Database migration and familiarity with database tools like Amazon Aurora and Amazon RDS
- Familiarity with the AWS Software Development Kit (SDK)
Though technically not a skill, it’s a good idea to look for someone with at least several years of experience, especially if you have a smaller development team.
Which AWS certifications should you look for?
With a plethora of services to choose from, AWS offers certifications to help candidates stand out and give employers some peace of mind that they aren’t hiring a master of none. At the time of publication, AWS offers 12 different certifications, grouped into four categories:
Some of the most common certifications are:
- AWS Certified Developer – Associate
- AWS Solutions Architect – Associate
- AWS DevOps Engineer – Professional
When hiring an AWS developer, make sure all your top candidates have attained an AWS Certified Developer – Associate certification. These candidates will have at least one year of experience using the AWS Cloud, and they will have passed the AWS certification exam—no walk in the park.
Depending on the role you’re looking to fill, you may also want to look for some specialty certifications, like Security, Machine Learning, or Advanced Networking.
Cost of hiring an AWS developer
When trying to estimate the cost of hiring an AWS developer, remember that you have a few options:
- Recruit using internal resources
- Contract a third-party recruitment agency to fill positions on your behalf
- Hire contractors through a freelancing website
Beyond salary or hourly rates, keep in mind that recruiting comes with other costs:
- Recruiting software tools often require you to purchase job listing credits once you exceed a certain number of active job listings
- Recruitment agencies usually have minimum spend requirements that can run into the tens of thousands of dollars
- Job board sites encourage employers to pay to promote posts for better results or to gain access to special features
Not to mention the cost of paying your own internal recruiters and the opportunity cost tied to positions that take a long time to fill. Make sure to think beyond your future developer’s compensation when estimating recruitment costs.
Average AWS developer salaries
Being in-demand and highly-skilled, AWS developers don’t come cheap. According to Global Knowledge, the average salary in 2021 for an AWS Certified Developer – Associate was $159,767. That number creeps up to $161,409 for an AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional.
A December 2021 Glassdoor report is more conservative, estimating total salary for AWS developers to be around $115,000, while ZipRecruiter lists the national average salary as $122,799 for developers in the US.
Cloud recruitment agency costs
If you opt to hire the services of a recruitment agency for AWS professionals, set realistic expectations for candidate search fees.
Pricing structures vary depending on which vendor you choose, but it’s not uncommon for monthly candidate search rates to start at around $25,000 for junior developers. That number goes up by several thousand dollars per month once you start looking for mid-level and senior developers.
Average hourly rates for freelance AWS developers
The aforementioned ZipRecruiter report puts the average hourly rate for an AWS developer at $59 an hour. But a quick scan of a popular freelancing website shows hourly rates ranging from roughly $50 an hour to upwards of $150 an hour.
Hourly rates can vary drastically on freelancing sites, depending on a freelancer’s experience, skills, certifications, and location. Developers based in countries with a lower cost of living usually charge less than developers based in countries with a higher cost of living. For instance, you might find that developers based in Turkey charge lower hourly rates than developers based in Canada.
Where to outsource development
For this reason, many organizations outsource some cloud development to offshore developers, who are often based in countries like India, Pakistan, and the Philippines. This can be a good option for teams on a tight budget, but keep in mind that time zone differences can present challenges.
When working hour overlap is a concern, nearshore outsourcing is usually the better option. Nearshore developers are located in countries with better time zone overlap for US companies, with most talent based in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Top sites for hiring AWS developers
There’s no shortage of places to look when it comes to hiring AWS talent. Before you start making a list of where to post job openings, it’s important to know if you’re hiring for full time or contract work.
For full time positions, you can’t go wrong with popular job sites like LinkedIn and Indeed. A good applicant tracking system (ATS) will let you distribute your job postings across multiple job boards, so this step usually requires minimal effort.
However, there are a few other industry-specific job sites ATSs sometimes overlook, including:
|Job site||Full time positions||Contract positions||Free to post?|
|Dice.com||Yes||Yes||From $399 per post|
|RemoteTechJobs†||Yes||Yes||From $197 per post|
|Remote.co†||Yes||Yes||$299 for 30 days|
|r/TechJobs on Reddit||Yes||Yes||Yes|
†Remote jobs only
You will likely have to create an employer account (or in the case of r/TechJobs, a Reddit account) for all of these sites, so keep that in mind.
How to write an AWS developer job post
Don’t let the technical aspect intimidate you—writing a job post for an AWS developer isn’t that complicated. Here’s what to include.
Attention-grabbing and keyword-rich headline
One of the most important parts of your job post is the headline. Try to keep the job title as close to the beginning as possible, and include enough details about your company or product to make your post enticing.
For example, if I were writing a job post for a full-stack cloud developer, I would write something like this for the headline:
Seeking Full-Stack Developer for Unbiased Cloud Talent Platform
If you’re posting to a site that allows Google to index job posts, make sure to follow SEO best practices. A good rule of thumb is to keep your headlines around 60 characters long.
Brief description of the role
This is your chance to provide a snapshot of the kind of candidate you’re looking for. Be efficient with your wording here—this section should be no more than two sentences.
Share your company’s mission and how this role ties into it. Specify whether this is a full time or contract role, and don’t forget to indicate if the position is onsite, remote, or hybrid. Going back to my example job post, this section might go like this:
We’re an employment tech startup looking for a full-stack cloud developer to join us full time in our mission to build the country’s number-one unbiased platform for engaging top cloud talent. You’re a curious developer who likes solving complex problems in a collaborative yet fast-paced hybrid work environment.
Brief description of your organization
Again, keep it short and sweet! You could probably write several paragraphs about your organization, but focus on hitting the high points instead of including every detail. It’s helpful to ask yourself the following questions when writing this part:
- In a few words, what does your organization do?
- What makes it a unique and/or exciting place to work?
- Why would someone want to work there? Why did you want to work there when you applied?
- What are the organization’s core values?
- What is the culture like?
- What are the organization’s plans for the future?
For our hypothetical full-stack developer job post, I might say:
NerdRabbit is on a mission to connect a colony of professionals to share ideas and propel careers in a cloud-first world. We pride ourselves on being quick and adaptable, supporting our clients and each other to do our best work, achieve our goals, and make a lasting impact in people’s lives that goes beyond what we do at work.
List of responsibilities and requirements
The rest of the job post is pretty cut and dry. Using bullet points, make a list of both the responsibilities for the position and its requirements. Your internal dev team should be able to supply this, but you may need to trim it down to eight or so points per list.
Some organizations prefer to split their requirements list into two separate lists—one for basic requirements and one for nice-to-haves.
Interview questions for AWS developers
Like most software roles, a typical interview for this position will consist of a mix of technical, experience-based, and situational questions. Here are some ideas to get you started.
1. Explain AWS to me
This may seem too obvious, but it’s a commonly-asked question to ensure a candidate has a firm grasp on the basics before moving forward. Just as importantly, it’s a good way to get a feel for a candidate’s non-technical communication skills.
You should hear something like this: “AWS is Amazon’s cloud computing business. It delivers a number of different services like compute, data storage, development, analytics, and security over the internet using its reliable, scalable, and affordable cloud infrastructure.”
2. When would you need to use an AMI?
AMI stands for Amazon Machine Image. You would use an AMI to launch an instance on Amazon EC2, a compute service from AWS that lets you manage virtual instances (virtual machines).
3. What are some of the main AWS compute services?
AWS offers over 200 different services, and they’re organized into categories like compute, database, and content delivery. Here’s the full list of compute services:
4. List some best practices for managing servers in Lambda.
This is a trick question! One of the main benefits of Lambda is that it’s a serverless compute service, meaning AWS handles server management so developers can focus on running code. The best practices for managing servers in Lambda is to let AWS take care of it.
5. What’s the difference between a public and a private subnet?
If your organization runs a public-facing web application on a virtual private cloud (VPC), AWS recommends using both a public and private subnet. The main distinction between public and private subnets is that a public subnet is attached to an internet gateway—a private subnet is not.
6. Technical questions
We aren’t providing a specific technical question to ask because these will vary greatly by role and organization. You might be hiring an AWS developer to specifically code in Java, Python, or another programming language. For help with this section, it’s best to include a colleague like a senior software engineer or the manager the new hire will report to.
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