2018-01-30

5 #AWS Certifications in 237 days

Today I completed my 5th AWS Certification. Something which I had hoped to complete before the end of 2017, but life got in the way.

I started working dabbling with Screenshot at Jan 29 20-48-24AWS a while ago - signed up for a free account at way back in the end of 2014 and started to play with it, but not too much.

It was  not until the beginning of 2017 that I really went in full force. When I declared my goals for Q1 2017 one of them was to work on AWS.  I am happy to say that I have accomplished this goal - this is what I do all day, every day.

So during the past year I decided to also pursue the AWS certification track, mostly to prove to myself that I could, but also to learn more about AWS, Their products and solutions

Here is my journey.

Solutions Architect - Associate

This was the first one I did. It took me almost six months since starting to use AWS to feel comfortable with my knowledge to go for the exam.

I used the A Cloud Guru course - which was great for this certification, Just the right amount of content - of course you need to know what you were doing in AWS (at least a little bit). I went over the lessons, did the quizzes, took the practice exam on the AWS certification site (and failed). I read the whitepapers (yes – all of the suggested whitepapers). I read the FAQ's for SNS, SQS, S3, EC2. Whatever I did not feel comfortable with – I went over in the actual AWS console – and learned how to use it.

Trying to remember all the options is not realistic – but you will be able to eliminate the really stupid options that are in the test.
 
Taking a test on a new technology is always scary - this was as well.

80 minutes. 60 questions.

Read the questions properly – even if you are not sure – there are some really obvious answers that blatantly incorrect – so that will help you eliminate the noise from the question.

This is an entry level exam - which expects you to understand that AWS concepts - and some cases - how to use them.

SysOps Adminstrator - Associate

Two weeks later. I sat the next exam.The amount of overlap with the previous exam is astounding. Again I used the A Cloud Guru course - but here I skimmed over the videos - as they were repetitive from the previous exam. There was a bit more emphasis on the Cloudwatch and logging aspect of the certification - but nothing too deep.

80 Minutes. less

Onwards and upwards.

Solutions Architect - Professional

Everything I had heard and read about this exam was the same - it is a beast. Damn, bloody hard. Not only do you need to have to understand the AWS services, how they work and when you should use them - but more importantly - you have to know when they will not be a good fit for the particular scenario.

It took me almost 6 weeks to prepare for this one.

The A Cloud Guru course was a waste of time. Not enough depth – the quizzes and practice questions are superficial – and it is mostly a re-hash of the previous Sysops Associate and Solutions Architect Associate – with maybe two-three lectures added in. I went through the whole thing until I realized that it was not enough.
 
I took a practice test available from AWS (everyone that passes a previous exam gets a free voucher – I found it a good practice (40 questions – with a time limit) although the questions on the practice exam were MUCH harder than the real thing and I failed the practice exam.
 
I received recommendations to do the CSA-Pro course from Linuxacademy.com – first 7 days are free – and then $29 / month – I used the subscription for one month to go through the whole course.
 
The lecturer on the course – speaks SO slowly – that it can be really annoying – but luckily – you can speed up the lectures to x1.5 which makes it a lot better. The course is long – the walkthroughs are excellent! And the labs are also really good and give you some hands on with the features discussed - if you have not used them before. They have a good practice exam – 3 hours 80 questions – you can take it multiple times – but the pool of questions or almost exactly the same.
 
The most important part of this is the option to practice sitting on your butt for 3 hours concentrating on the exam – it is crucial to prepare yourself mentally for an ordeal – this is one of biggest challenges in the exam.
 
The blueprint says you have to be an architect with at least 1-2 years experience on AWS (well we all know that we have not more than 6-8 months)
 
The test is a different level completely from the associate exam. A lot more detail. The questions are scenarios about how you combine multiple products within AWS and create a robust/cost effective/quick solution for each scenario. Not only do you need to know what each product can do – but more importantly – you need to know what each CANNOT do. The answers are similar enough to cause problems and you need to pay attention to the details.

So a little bit about the exam.
 
170 minutes (yes almost 3 hours)
77 questions
 
I went through all the questions within about 140 minutes. The two biggest hurdles in the (IMHO) are time and being able to concentrate for almost 3 hours straight. You do not have a lot of time to spend on each question (just above 2 minutes per questions) and some of them are long. So you have to be able to read the question – filter out the nonsense and noise in each question (and there is enough of it) and zoom in on what they are looking to find.
 
Most questions had at least 1-2 answers that I could disqualify off the bat – which makes it easier to focus on the ones left.
 
There were 3-4 questions where I had absolutely no idea what the correct answers were. I chose one of the answers and marked it so I could return to it later. If there were questions where I was uncertain between two of the choices – I marked them down as well – and jotted down on the paper provided by the testing center – which were my possibilities. Most questions were to choose a single answer – there were a few choose X answers in the test as well – but not many.
 
For the last 30 minutes – I went back to the questions I had marked as "no idea" – re-read them – and made an educated guess by eliminating the obvious wrong answers. The rest of the question that I marked as not sure about – re-checked the options I marked down – and confirmed my best choice.
Questions that I was sure I knew the answer to – I did not even go over.
 
I finished my review with 1 minute to spare… (169 minutes)

All in all – a fair but difficult exam – gruesome but fair… Glad to be past it

And then I went on a summer vacation with the family. Time to clear my head, chill and forget about AWS for a while.

Developer - Associate

I was a bit scared about this one - I must say. I am not a developer. Never have aspired to be. I dabble in code and can write a script with the best of them - but a development centric certification - I did not look forward to.

I used the A Cloud Guru course here. There was a lot of overlap with the previous 3 exams, but akso a lot of new stuff that I was not acquainted with - such as Cloudformation, DynamoDB, RDS, Elastic BeanStalk and such.

The exam was not difficult - it is an entry level exam.

Then came the Jewish Holidays, Re:Invent and the first 3 chapters of my book The Cloud Walkabout.

DevOps Engineer - Professional

I must have re-scheduled this exam at least 6 times, really six times - because I felt I was not ready.

As a professional level certification - I was expecting hell like the Solutions Architect. Expecting that you have to know things in detail - a lot more detail than the Associate exam (and I was right).

The A Cloud Guru course was again to shallow. There are things in the blueprint that I do not use in my daily work, some of them - I have never even touched before, and I found the content to be too shallow, not deep enough for what I was expecting to see in a Pro exam.

The Linux Academy course was much better, again the instructor was a bit too slow for my taste (super speed helps though) and the practice exam was quite good, although 70% of the questions on my exam - i had never seen before.

You need to know how a developmentp pipeline works - I mean really works, blue/green deployments, rolling upgrades, CloudWatch, AutoScaling in and out, CloudFormation, Elastic Beanstalk, OpsWorks are some of the in-depth topics you need to know.

The exam was not completely scenario based - but more about technical details on some of the products. It is 80 questions in 3 hours - so you have to manage your time - but nowhere close to the pressure on the Solutions Architect - Professional exam.

And lo and behold…

My Closing Thoughts

  1. There is a lot of information that is really outdated in the AWS exams, all the new shiny stuff, like Lambda, ECS, Kubernetes etc. is not there - maybe a small reference here and there - but no real knowledge of the new stuff. There is stuff in there - that no-one or hardly anyone uses.
  2. I have learned a huge amount over these last 6 months, both by reading , listening watching videos, and lectures and by doing - mostly by doing than anything else.
  3. These are not paper certs, you cannot pass with only reading or going over braindumps or cheatsheets. You need to actually use the products, understand how they work, and where they fit in the overall picture.
  4. I did not take a single AWS course - I learned everything on my own. I have always been a self learner and prefer to play with the tech myself that spend the money on an official course.
  5. The cost of the certification exams is not cheap, in total $1,050 for the 5 exams (PRO exams are $300 a pop) and luckily I had the costs covered by my employer - which made it easier - but also more pressure to pass - ROI you know.

What’s next - I don’t know.. Specialty exams (Networking, Big Data, Security)? Perhaps - I am not sure.

I do know that there are not many people that have the AWS Professional certifications in Israel, and I am pretty sure that I can count the the number of people in Israel with all 5 on one or two hands.

If you are looking to prove your knowledge and expertise in AWS - then go for it. It is possible - it takes time, commitment and support from your surroundings, but it can be done.

I am proud of my achievement and hope this post will give you the motivation to go out and learn something new.

As always, feel free to leave your thoughts and comments below.