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I’ve always been someone that plays with new technology and I’ve had an AWS account since 2008, but I’ve only ever been a casual user.  Lately though, I’ve been working closely with developers on Cloud Native projects so my exposure has increased. Whilst my role in product design isn’t strictly a technical one, I wanted to up my game a little so that I could talk to colleagues more on their level than asking them to explain everything. 

I decided to study using Udemy because it’s easily accessible and there are usually good sales on from time to time so you can get courses for around £10-12 if you wait. Initially I wasn’t thinking about certification up front but I signed up for the A Cloud Guru AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate course. I’d already decided against Cloud Practitioner for being too entry-level, the other intermediate or “Associate” learning paths were SysOps Administrator and Developer – neither of which come close to my day to day experience. I do, however, end up performing something of a Solutions Architect role for some projects though, so that path seemed like the best one to take.

A Cloud Guru’s Course

The course is presented almost exclusively by Ryan Kroonenburg, founder of A Cloud Guru and on the whole was very accessible. The 18 hour course covers all the main aspects of AWS, spending a lot of time on EC2, S3 and VPCs with some coverage on serverless – a great overview. I followed most of the hands-on labs and some of the exercises truly felt like magic. Provisioning servers in auto-scaling groups with CPU alarms from Cloudwatch, load balancers with health checks, etc. would’ve felt like science fiction to me back in the 1990s so it was great to see first hand what modern cloud services can achieve.

After a while I felt like I was making great progress, so in a moment of hasty confidence I decided to book the exam. I’ve never really been one for certifications but I thought it would be nice to have something to show for the work. Coming to the end of the ACG course there were a couple of practice tests, and the first one floored me – I failed. Having booked the exam already and only having a few days to spare I began to feel concerned.

Stephane Maarek’ s Course

I’d already purchased a second course in the Udemy sale so I ploughed into that – Ultimate AWS Certified Solution Architect by Stephane Maarek. This course is longer (24hrs vs. ACG’s 18hrs), and whilst the big services like EC2, S3, VPCs get a lot of coverage I found that Stephane’s course both spent more time on some of the other services and also covered topics that ACG hadn’t covered at all.

I managed to cover about half of the second course in a few days, mainly by listening at 1.5x speed, skipping some of the hands on labs and focusing on what I thought would be the most important parts. In the end I wouldn’t say that I was anywhere near confident but I had done the best I could having completed one and a half Certified Solutions Architect courses.

The Exam

On the day of the exam I got setup okay, went through the weird online proctoring process of showing the examiner that nobody was hiding under my desk and got ready to start.

The exam had 65 multiple choice questions, some taking multiple answers. After a handful of questions I started spotting that several of the questions were asking for detail on things the courses had barely touched on. At first, I started to feel a bit grumpy about the courses, then I noticed that the exam was way more focused on development than infrastructure.

Then, the penny dropped…

I started to realise, maybe 10-15 questions in, that I had registered for the wrong exam.

The booking process is a bit fiddly and all three Associate exams sit next to each other in small text. At this point I’ve begun to believe that I’d booked the Developer exam instead of the Solutions Architect one. Already having minimal confidence this now gave me a firm “do your best” / “what will be will be” attitude and I just wanted to crack on, albeit with a better understanding of why I was finding it so difficult.

At the end of the exam my suspicions were confirmed that it was the Developer certificate. I’m not sure why this happened but I very briefly saw what I thought was the word “PASS” before the session just vanished. I didn’t believe it. I’m not sure whether the browser crashed or the proctor closed the session but I was in limbo. Had I actually passed the exam? Had I managed to scrape by?

The next day I received an email from AWS that put a smile back on my face. I’d received confirmation of the pass and my “digital badge”. In the end, not only had I passed but also by a comfortable margin, 853 points out of 1,000 with a pass mark of 720. I put this down really to the quality and content of both courses, my participation in the hands-on labs and the attitude that came from actually thinking about the answers rather than expecting it to cover recalled facts.

So now, with no original intention of doing so, I have accidentally achieved the status of AWS Certified Developer. I’m definitely pleased with myself, though slightly annoyed that I didn’t get to sit the Solutions Architect exam – maybe something I’ll come back to.

Update: Solution Architect Associate Passed

I’m very pleased to say that I hastily rescheduled the Solutions Architect Associate using the half-price discount code that Amazon provide and have successfully passed the exam with 862/1000 (only marginally better than the developer exam!).

It’s been a great experience overall and I really do feel that I’ve got a much deeper understanding of Amazon Web Services, my mind is buzzing with half a dozen personal projects and ideas that I could implement with classic EC2 infrastructure and serverless technologies.

So, to anyone out there thinking about, or worrying about certification I’d say go for it. If your budget is tight I’d recommend Stephane Maarek’s course over ACG but otherwise, look at doing both.

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