In this post, I will talk about my experience with AWS certification for Solution Architect Associate and how I prepared for it.
AWS certification allows the developer to confirm his qualification and skills in working with AWS services. And the preparation process itself provides additional experience in working with AWS services. But besides all of this, you also get knowledge about architectural patterns that can be applied anywhere else, how solutions are built in the cloud, their limitations and problems.
Documentation and videos on the AWS services pages are certainly not a bad start, but to prepare for the exam it would be very good to have experience in the cloud and system knowledge. But it is not necessary — you can catch up on online courses.
I personally started with "AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Associate 2020" from "A Cloud Guru". I passed it on Udemy, but there are other platforms, including their own website.
The course was quite good. I liked the combination of theoretical materials and practical tasks where you could get your hands dirty. I had some professional experience using AWS, so I already knew and saw many things but the course easily fills in the blanks for services that I didn't use.
Also, within the course, there are many links to additional resources and best practices from AWS itself. They are definitely worth taking a look. And at the end there a several exam tests with the questions from the previous year's exams. Going through them gives me an idea of what format of questions I will get at the exam.
However, after all the lectures and exercises, the course will probably not be enough to gain a passing score on the exam. So, in addition, closer to the exam to consolidate and systematized my knowledge, I took a short course from Amazon Exam Readiness: AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Associate. It is free and does its job well.
It seemed inefficient to review all the courses again in the next step. Instead, I tried to find more exam questions with detailed explanations. I found a collection of close to exam questions on Udemy. This course is no longer accepting enrollments for some reason, but you easily can find similar ones.
Each question is explained in detail with an explanation of the correct options and links to the AWS documentation. Going forward, I will say that the questions are really close to the ones you can get in a real exam.
I spent a long time with those tests, but in the end, I began to gain more than 70%. In the process, I solved each of them twice. On average, it took me an hour and a half to perform a test and then two or three more hours to analyze it. But it was worth it to do it. I got confidence and an understanding of the logic of the questions.
AWS online exam
Before the exam
You can take the exam yourself either at a certified center or at home online (Pearson VUE app). Due to the fact that no other certification center close to me worked on weekends, I decided to take the exam at home.
The exam takes 140 minutes and consists of 65 questions. Most often you need to pick one option out of four, although there are two options out of four or two options out of six. The questions are mostly very large and describe a typical scenario for choosing the right solutions from the AWS world. A passing score of 72%.
The cost of certification is $150 (and for $20 you can get a trial online version).
There are detailed requirements and guidelines for taking the exam. Everything is quite reasonable. You need a laptop or PC with an Internet connection and a web camera. Test the connection and speed in advance. There should not be any notes, devices or any other turned on screens (even headphones cannot be used!) near you for the exam. If possible, the windows should be shut off. No one should enter the room where the exam is taken for the duration of the exam, the door must be closed. During the exam, you should look at the monitor so that there are no complaints from the examiner. You will not be able to go to the toilet or have a snack during the exam.
To pass the test you will need to install a special app that allows the examiner to monitor the screen, camera, and sound when taking the test. I advise you to install it in advance.
All this information is available before the test at pearsonvue.com.
Starting the exam
Frankly speaking, I could not start the exam for the first time — the examiner (in terms of Pearson Vue is called a "proctor") for the first time did not appear after I waited for about an hour. Judging by the feedback on Reddit, this happens quite often, so be prepared for it. After I wrote a letter to support I was allowed to reschedule the exam.
On the day of the exam, 15 minutes before the appointed time, I opened the Pearson Vue application and started to fill in the necessary fields. To confirm your identity, you must take a photo of your driver's license or passport. What is interesting, you can take a photo either on the phone or on the web. More for the sake of interest, I chose the option to take pictures with a camera on the phone. After a couple of seconds, I received a link in SMS. Following the prompts, I took the picture of my license and then the pictures of the room on the four sides. After the final confirmation on the phone, a couple of seconds later the screen on the laptop changed, saying that everything is ready for the exam.
After about five minutes the examiner wrote to me in a chat and then called me. Before the beginning, I was asked to remove the documents from the table because there should be nothing left on the table and then asked to spin a laptop camera. I suppose — to make sure that everything in the room corresponds to the photos received earlier. I received a wish of luck and the exam started.
During the exam
The interface with questions was unusual at first, but then I got involved in the process and no longer paid attention to the appearance. I'm a little screwed up with the timing — I spend too much time reading and thinking about the first half of the questions. I was hurrying through the second half, sometimes I did not even finish reading the question to make it to the end.
After more than two hours of intense thinking, you could finally relax. The examiner did not connect to me anymore — the exam ended by itself. In the end, you can see the most important thing — have you passed or have not passed the exam. This happens automatically. But the number of points comes in a couple of days.
A couple of days later I received a nice letter "Congratulations, You are Now AWS Certified".
Solutions Architect Associate is a relatively simple certification, which gives an overview of AWS and small technical knowledge of the most important topics. It can be passed even by people who have little to do with IT and being a programmer is certainly not a requirement.
But the next step — Solutions Architect Professional — is a challenge even for people with good AWS experience.
Many people are attracted by an increase in salary after obtaining certificates. My salary has not been affected in any way.
It is not a big deal to have a certificate. What people really look at is the experience and successful projects. Certification by itself does not cover many aspects that are related to real tasks. Sophisticated VPC, deployment of env through CloudFormation, ECS/EKS, VPN /Direct connect, etc...
But I'll repeat this is a nice addition to the resume and adds knowledge about architectural patterns, how solutions are built in the cloud, their limitations and problems.