Technology

How I passed my AWS Solutions Architect Associate Certification Exam

This week I became officially certified as an AWS Solution Architect after passing the certification test. It certainly wasn’t easy, but now I get to hang out in the certification lounge at Amazon Web Services events like the NYC Summit and re:Invent. Ok sure, there’s also the prestige of demonstrating my knowledge of AWS and proving to myself that I have a good understanding of it, but it’s really all about getting that sweet badge for LinkedIn.
I was never a big believer in technical certifications like the Microsoft ones in the 90s. I felt on-the-job experience and demonstrating knowledge through actual application and delivering results mattered more. Ok, I still do, but after using parts of AWS fairly extensively for the past 7 years, I thought it made sense to recognize the knowledge I gained and actually get the certification. The process itself was fairly easy with an 80-minute, 50 question quiz gauging knowledge and application of the various AWS services. Some questions just looked for a general understanding of what services would best solve a given problem while other wen deeper into troubleshooting and what combination of services would be best suited to solving a theoretical problem. It was a great assessment of general and applied knowledge of the various AWS services with a deep dive into several.
Granted, worked pretty heavily with a bunch of the key AWS services like EC2, S3, DynamoDB, and Cloudwatch for the bulk of my time at Audible helped a lot, but I still had to learn more. My recent work with CloudFront, Lambda, and API Gateway helped too. I had used Lambda, Cloudwatch, and even Dynamo fairly deeply when building an Alexa skill for a personal project, and I had set up this blog with EC2, ElasticLoadBalancer, Route53, and CloudWatch which gave me more experience. I also found Fargate and ECS very interesting after re:Invent last year and decided to spend time on my own playing around with these in my free time. The general knowledge I gained at re:Invent in the last two years as well as several AWS events and reading the blog helped learn more of the new and supporting services too. However, a good portion of the test focussed on services I hadn’t used like VPC, InternetGateway, NAT, RDS, EC@ instance types I’d never used, and S3 storage options I’d never even heard of.
Keeping up with some of the announcements made at re:Invent and via the AWS blog and newsletter helped too, but I think the most useful thing wasn’t even my use in the job, but the small use cases I found for AWS on my own. Just building a hello world blog and Alexa skill taught me almost half of the topics covered on the test. Adding in some of the labs and tutorials I did as part of my training made the biggest difference and helped me internalize a lot of the material.
The largest credit has to go to acloud.guru though. This training provider had an extensive course I was able to power through at night to learn more about the exam itself as well as dive deeper into topics and services the exam covered that I had less familiarity with. The in-depth video training was great for refreshing my memory on services I had hear of, but couldn’t remember in detail. They also had several hands-on labs where services were set up to learn how they would be done in practice. The video format was great for me too because I could watch at 2x and learn at an accelerated pace, much like my audiobook listening. The silly jokes and pneumonic devices actually worked to help me remember a few things for the exam like which EC2 instance type is best for video processing. While I would actually suggest most test-takers use a book to learn as well, this course was instrumental in helping me actually pass the test.
The exam process itself was actually interesting and unique as well. Living in the middle of nowhere in NJ, but close enough to more popular areas like NYC and Jersey City meant I had an option to take the test at a quieter suburban testing center or a more popular one. When a team member told me his experience was a bit distracting and noisy, I decided to take the quiet suburban setting. I didn’t realize I’d literally be the only one at the testing center for the entire morning though. Passing up on my normal morning run, I got the the test center at 7:30 am and was seated so quickly I didn’t even have a chance to use the bathroom before starting. When my exam coordinator told me the center was used for all kinds of testing including law enforcement, and that I shouldn’t be worried if someone showed up with a gun, I was a bit distracted from the test. However, I was able to spend an hour in total solitude with no other test-takers in the room which made it feel much faster. I ended up having plenty of extra time, so I rechecked my answers a few times, realized I was just second-guessing what were mostly guesses anyway, and hit submit, prepared to be disappointed. When the word “congratulations” appeared, I figured it was just thanking me for taking the test. I re-read the screen at least five times before it fully sank in that I had passed.
I now have access to a special store of merchandise and multiple versions of the swanky icon to show everyone I am certified. I had been fully prepared to have to study more with the book and re-take the test. I’m incredibly thankful to have passed and feel incredibly accomplished. It’s not often that we get to have an official certification to show that we actually know the things we talk about in work and I’ll carry that pride with me for a long time. I also can’t wait to see what sweet swag I get in the certification lounge at AWS events now!