How I passed two AWS certifications in less than two months.
AWS certification has been in my to-do list since 2017. Finally, Covid-19 lockdown gave an opportunity to work from home and I realized I am saving lot of driving time. I could also plan my morning time bit more effectively. In May 2020, I decided I should look at completing few certifications after we had successfully gone live with a brand new project in office.
AWS has been growing with astronomical numbers each quarter. Nothing else did seem more appropriate for me other than AWS. On May 25th I booked AWS cloud practitioner exam to take on June 6th and same day I started preparation. My teams have been building products on AWS from 2016, but because of my job profile, I did not have much hands-on. But I do understand the terminology and use cases. I felt certification will reinforce my knowledge.
Booking and Preparation for Online Proctor exam:
Before I go with real exam preparation, I want to spend some time on online proctor exam. Because of COVID-19, now you can take AWS exam from home on Pearson VUE platform. AWS exam can be booked here. Do click on “Manage Pearson VUE Exams” as an option for the online exam.
As this exam is being taken at home, you need to ensure your system works well on the test day. You get a link to do System check few days before the exam. Do not ignore the mail. It will avoid last-minute rush during the exam day. To avoid cheating, Pearson expects that you take the exam in a closed and isolated room. During the exam day, you need to take your room pictures on mobile, Front, Back, Right and Left sides of the room. They will ask you to switch off any monitors including TV screens.
No papers, pens, book, headphones and watches are allowed. You will not be able to move away from the chair for the entire duration of the exam and your camera must be on all the time. I have a habit of thinking while answering with my hand close to my chin and mouth. I was told through the chat window to not to cover the mouth. Phone and any electronic items must not be at arm’s length. Both the exams I booked at 5:15 am in the morning as I did not get any other slots. In the middle of the exam, I realized I did not close the window slider as I started hearing the early morning vehicle sounds. I asked for permission to close the slider and they did not allow. Try logging into exam website at least 15 to 30 mins before the actual time slot.
By the way, you can postpone your exam twice before 24 hours without an additional fee. The third time you can only cancel. Your payment will be returned back to you with minus taxes. So you will lose some money. If you have not done any AWS certification so far, I recommend you to start with AWS Cloud Practitioner to get accustomed to “certification” mind set. The fee is $100. The advantage with this is, it will bring the required foundation for all other certifications. If you are taking another exam, for example, AWS Solution Architect Associate, you will get 50% discount. That saves you $75 and you can book one free AWS practice test which is worth $20.
Preparation for Cloud Practitioner (CLF-C01):
I created free AWS account which gives about 750 hours worth of free resources. You need a Credit card for this. For Cloud Practitioner, hands-on is not required but to get the concepts right, hands-on helps a lot. I did Udemy course by Neal Davis and Freecodecamp course on YouTube by Andrew Brown. Both of them can be watched at 1.25 or 1.5 speed to save time. I am still old school, I use a paper pen to take notes, draw architecture diagrams instead of typing on laptop. I feel more comfortable and my ability to recollect the concepts is very high when I use paper and pen. I use Evernote to save links and content that is too difficult to write or draw. I usually follow Pomodoro technique to focus. But when the topics are interesting, I went beyond 25 minutes.
As I had only 10 days to prepare, I spent 2 hours each day morning. Weekends were used to revise and redo topics I could not recollect well. I also did plenty of practice tests from Udemy. I consistently got between 80% to 90% in all the tests except the first one which I failed with 65%.
Here are some sample questions. This will give some sense of type of questions you may encounter.
Q: Which AWS service can host a Microsoft SQL Server database? (Choose two)
A: Amazon EC2
B: Amazon S3
C: Amazon EBS
D: Amazon RDS
E: Amazon Aurora
Option A: This is right option as we can spin off EC2 instance and install Microsoft SQL Server on top of it. This add lot of operational cost though
Option B: Is not right as S3 is best for object store
Option C: EBS is Volume store. Not meant for DB hosting. So not the right answer
Option D: RDS (Relational Database Server) is definitely a choice. RDS can be used for PostgreSqL, MySQL, MariaDB, Oracle and Microsoft SQL Server
Option E: Aurora is PostgreSql and MySQL compatible DB. Not meant to replace Microsoft SQL Server
So we will go with Options Options A and D.
One more Question:
Q: Your CTO wants to build a web application with low maintenance and high scalability. What options do you select?
A: EC2 for App Server, EC2 for Web Server, Amazon RDS
B: Lambda, API Gateway, Aurora Serverless
C: EC2 with ASG for app Server, EC2 for Web Server, Amazon Dynamo DB
D: EC2 with ASG for App Server, EC2 with ASG for Web Server, Amazon Dynamo DB
Answer: The key here is low maintenance and high scalability. EC2 is not the right choice if we want to satisfy both the requirements. So we can directly go to Options B which is the right choice.
My first certification is here.
Preparation for AWS Solution Architect Associate (SAA-C02):
After some show off of CLF-C01 on Linkedin, next day I booked my second exam on June 24th only to realize that it is a too difficult date to achieve. After two reschedules and one cancellation, I finally took the exam on July 15th 2020.
I found this exam is toughest just after PMP which I passed almost a decade back. Compared to SAA-C01, SAA-C02 is more of a scenario-based and at least two answers come close to the correct answer. Let me show an example here.
Q: A company which uses AWS has acquired a start-up and needs to migrate around 100TB of data into AWS within 1 month. They require a secure, reliable and private connection to the AWS cloud. As a solution architect, what is the best option that you propose?
A: Use Storage Gateway to transfer initial data and create VPC peering for further transfer
B: Use Snowball to transfer the initial data and use VPN secure gateway for further transfer
C: Use Snowball to transfer the initial data and use Direct Connect for further transfer
D: Provision VPN Cloud Hub connection to transfer the data and for future connection
Out of the 4 options, we can remove Option A, as data transfer using Storage Gateway will take more than a month to transfer 100TB of data. Options B and C are possible options. Option D can also be removed as transferring 100TB data on VPN Cloud Hub will take more than a month. Between Option B and C, Snowball is the correct answer. We need to now decide between VPN vs. Direct Connect. Direct Connect usually takes more than a month and some times up to 6 months. So we will go with Option B. 80% of questions in the exam are like this. by the way, Direct connect can be a better option beyond 6 months.
For exam preparation, I went with Neal Davis, Stephane Maarek, aCloudGuru and Chandra Lingam. Of course, Amazon FAQs is a great place to understand deeper use cases. I also found This is My architecture on Youtube by Amazon is extremely useful. Amazon white papers are also very useful. I think I spent around 100 hours for the preparation and about 15 hours for sample tests. Sample tests by Neal Davis are extremely stressful bit tougher than the real test. During the sample test, I noted down the areas where I had no clarity and used that data to prepare that topic in-depth before the next sample test. Also, review of the answers post the sample exam helped a lot. Hope this blog helps you to pass the certification exam. Please reach out to me through Linkedin or by commenting below if you need any help.
Some good links here:
- This is a good glimpse of what is AWS infrastructure and how out works: https://infrastructure.aws/
2. A good list of AWS latest service offerings: https://d1.awsstatic.com/whitepapers/aws-overview.pdf
3. AWS Glossary: https://docs.aws.amazon.com/general/latest/gr/glos-chap.html
4. AWS Pricing. This is very useful to answer cost-based questions: https://aws.amazon.com/pricing/?pg=WIAWS&tile=learn_more
5. AWS Support Plans (Useful for Cloud Practitioner): https://aws.amazon.com/premiumsupport/plans/
6. AWS Shared Responsibility Model: https://www.aws.training/Details/Video?id=16488
7: Important White Papers to read for SAA C02:
Well architected framework:
AWS Well-Architected Framework
The AWS Well-Architected Framework helps you understand the pros and cons of decisions you make while building systems…
Cost Optimization Pillar:
Cost Optimization Pillar - AWS Well-Architected Framework
Publication date: April 2020 ( Document Revisions) This whitepaper focuses on the cost optimization pillar of the…
Security Pillar - AWS Well-Architected Framework
Publication date: July 2020 ( Document Revisions) The focus of this paper is the security pillar of the AWS…
Reliability Pillar - AWS Well-Architected Framework
Publication date: April 2020 ( Document Revisions) The focus of this paper is the reliability pillar of the AWS…
Performance Efficiency Pillar:
Performance Efficiency Pillar - AWS Well-Architected Framework
Publication date: April 2020 ( Document Revisions) This whitepaper focuses on the performance efficiency pillar of the…
All the very best!!