How I became fully certified on AWS

Back in February 2017, I got my first Amazon Web Services certification: AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Associate. I immediately became fascinated by the technology, to the point that I decided to challenge myself and obtain all AWS certifications (with the exception of the Cloud Practitioner certification) within one year.

I am very lucky to work at Cloudreach, where promoting personal growth is one of its core values, so plenty of resources were available for me to achieve my goal. With the help of my peers, leaders, and only one week after the due date I set for myself, I am proud to share that I’m done with my AWS certifications.

After sharing this news on LinkedIn, I had a lot of people reaching out for tips and tricks on how to get certified. To answer all those questions, I am sharing how I prepared for my certs, as well as some general things to keep in mind if you want to get certified.  

Where to start

First of all, if you are considering to get certified in AWS, congratulations! You’ve chosen one of the quickest moving technologies in the world with unbelievable potential.

There are currently 9 AWS certifications that you can take. Based on your current familiarity with IT and Cloud Computing in general, you will probably want to start with the Cloud Practitioner certification, although, if you are comfortable enough, you can skip it and jump into the Solutions Architect - Associate cert right away if you wish.

(Taken from AWS Certification - AWS Cloud Computing Certification Program)

I personally rank AWS certifications as follows, from least to most difficult:

  • AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner
  • AWS Certified Developer - Associate
  • AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Associate
  • AWS Certified SysOps Administrator - Associate
  • AWS Certified Security - Specialty
  • AWS Certified Advanced Networking - Specialty
  • AWS Certified DevOps Engineer - Professional
  • AWS Certified Big Data - Specialty
  • AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Professional

(This is based on my experience with the exams. I am aware that some exams have been revamped since I took them, so the list might no longer be accurate.)

Getting ready for the exams

Some of the resources I used to prepare for the exams are the following:

  • Take a look at the exam blueprint and sample questions. You can find those on AWS website. For example, AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Associate.
  • On the same webpage, you should be able to locate the recommended whitepapers for the exam. Do not skip this! The whitepapers provide a very deep dive into the services you will be tested on for the exam. They are an absolute must!
  • If you are struggling with a specific service, take a look at previous AWS re:Invent videos. This becomes more important for the specialty level certs and above. I complimented this with the official AWS Documentation.
  • Both A Cloud Guru and Linux Academy have great courses to help you get ready for any AWS certs. They also have deep dive courses for specific services, and are a great resource to prepare for taking your exam if you are tight on time.
  • Attend local AWS meetups. I always try to attend all sessions organized by my local Vancouver Amazon Web Services User Group, and they have been extremely useful, as I get to hear about real life scenarios of AWS services that I am studying for.
  • Prepare knowledge shares. Do this either by organizing a small talk in your workplace, local meetup, or simply write a blog post. I found out that the best way for me to memorize new concepts is to teach them to somebody else.
  • And most importantly, get your hands dirty! There is no better way to learn AWS than by using it. Get a free account and take full advantage of the Free Tier.

Tips for exam day

Once you feel ready to take the exam, go ahead and book it! This can be done on the AWS Training & Certification website. A couple of things to keep in mind for the day of your exam:

  • Find a time that works for you. I know it’s harder for me to keep focused after 2 pm, so I try to book my exams first thing in the morning.
  • Try to not drink much water or coffee before your exam. While you are allowed to take washroom breaks, the timer doesn’t stop.
  • Pace yourself. My professional exams had about 80 questions each. With only 170 minutes to complete the exam, you have a little more than 2 minutes per question. Some of the questions were extremely long, so look for keywords in both the questions and the answers. Failing your exam because you ran out of time is never cool!
Best of luck on your own certification journey.
Keep it cloudy!
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