AWS Certified Solutions Architect (Associate)

Starting from today I am one of the AWS CSA(A) certified professionals. The license number is generated sequentially so it is easy to infer that I am the the 16.891st person on this planet holding the title, but given the 2 year recertification cycle I assume that many of those who were certified before may have not renewed their certification status.

Starting on the path

I have registered my own private AWS account in the second part of 2014, around the time when I was assigned to the project I have talked about in the previous text. I did not make much of that account and still do not use it for more than cloud backups; without a professional motivator, getting on this path will not truly bring anyone very far.

The game changer was the DevOps work I have started doing for a customer of my employer: they had a fully configured AWS environment I was given access to. The year Amazon suggests you to spend in a professional environment before trying to get certified is by no means a spurious requirement; there is an entire ecosystem that needs to be mastered in order to make the best use of it.

Preparation

The certification adventure started about a month ago by reading this Reddit post. I didn’t get the free full month of study on offer due to the timezone difference but the seed got planted. What happened next?

  • The first few days were full of confusion – I did not know where to look for, what to read, did not want to pay a lot of money for courses and labs while I had access to AWS environments where I could do everything myself or see how everything was being done. I was not sure what certification type should I go for (Architect, Developer, SysOps?), especially as many overlaps were visible.

  • Through an “alternate channel” (don’t ask) I got myself some course recordings from 2 years ago, first on Sysops, then on Architecture. At some point I decided to go through the Architecture branch first, get certified, and then try to go to SysOps.

  • After being done with the recordings (approx 14 hours), I registered myself with CloudAcademy; their standard offer is 7 days of free usage and I made full use of that. I have gone through all the quizes and through the 157 question sample exam multiple times. If I got a lower score on a topic then I opened the lab and followed the instructions (e.g. create tables and indexes, do work with DynamoDB). The purpose was to consistently get more than 90% correct answers on all the quizes and the final exam on that learning path.

  • By the end of the trial period with CloudAcademy, I have started looking for blogs and forum posts on the topic. Some pointed out Android Apps with quizes. I have installed 4 of them (from best to worst: 1, 2, 3, 4). I have returned the 2 paid ones within the 2 hours trial, but not before answering most, if not all the questions. At this point I was constantly above the 90% correct answer threshold, though.

  • At some point I have started to read Amazon White Papers on various key services (EBS, VPC, Route 53); there are details such as EBS RAID configurations and special Route 53 record types that are not covered anywhere – one may get a few questions in the exam about these.

  • With my confidence on the higher side, I have taken the $20 practice exam and got 90%. Next, I have scheduled the “real thing” on the first available slot at the testing center.

  • A bit on the scared side, I have taken the exam and passed with an overall score of 83%.

The exam itself

I cannot provide any questions from the exam; I do not remember many, though – by the way, there are people that take exams with the purpose of memorizing questions or using recording devices and then selling the dumps to whoever is buying. Not bad for a business opportunity, but I suspect Amazon has literally hundreds of possible questions out of which 60 are given randomly to exam takers.

What I have noted, though:

  • You may get at least one question from the sample questions provided by Amazon on the certification page. They’re on the easier side, though.

  • You may also get one or more questions from the practice exam.

  • Up to 33% of the questions, although difficult for someone not completely familiar with the topic, fall into the “true or false: is water wet?” type.

  • 33% more fall into a bit more complicated category: “what feels wetter, water or oil?”.

  • The rest are honestly crazy – they cover details of service operation or architecture decisions: e.g. which service to use for whatever – honestly, all or all but one option may have a legitimate usage purpose – but no, you have to tell what service Amazon recommends for that scenario!

  • About half of the questions are multiple answer and no partial points are given.

Logistics and Costs

The practice exam can be taken at your computer. The “real exam” can be taken at a special testing center – in my country there is a single such center (yes, throughout the whole country there is a single center where one can take Amazon Certification exams).

Total costs: $20 practice exam + $150 certification exam.

The future

While the future is still to be written, I’m thinking about the SysOps certification and one of the Professional certifications.

Until then, thank you for your read!


AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Associate


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