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Learner journey: From zero cloud knowledge to achieving three AWS Certifications in one year

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I often get asked how I transitioned from a software development role to a cloud role. If you had asked me a year ago if I would want a career in cloud, I would have told you ‘Not a chance’. I didn’t even know how exactly the cloud worked. In this blog, I’ll share why that changed and how I went from no cloud experience to achieving three AWS Certifications in less than a year. I knew Amazon Web Services (AWS) offered industry-recognized certifications, but I wasn’t really sure how to get started and where to go to prepare for these certifications. This blog will also cover the resources I utilized to prepare for the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner, AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate, and AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional exams.

A little about me

Back in my university days (approximately two years ago), cloud was a buzzword for most of my peers, but I had little to no cloud knowledge and certainly no knowledge of AWS services. I always had a curiosity to learn more about cloud and how exactly it works. While working as a software engineer, I was interested in the cloud and how it could be used to transform technology. I researched cloud business use cases and came across the solutions architect cloud job role that was a perfect balance of cloud and technology concepts. That role seemed to be a good match to my skills and interests. A year ago, I joined AWS via the AWS Tech U program, which is a 48-week technical residency program for a select group of new employees, consisting of project-based learning, creative real-world problem solving, and on-the-job training. I started my AWS Certification journey to validate my cloud knowledge fill any gaps in my knowledge and skills.

I prepared for and earned my first certification, the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner, when I was new to AWS. To build up my cloud knowledge, I then began preparing for AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate Certification. I attained this certification two months after I earned the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner. Today, in my day job as a Solutions Architect, I utilize the skills and knowledge I have gained through these certifications so far. The best part about these certifications is that they are directly aligned towards real world scenarios. From here, I’m keen on broadening my knowledge in the domain of Analytics, AI, and Machine Learning and plan to prepare for AWS Certified Data Analytics – Specialty and AWS Certified Machine Learning – Specialty. (Note: as of April 9, 2024, the AWS Certified Data Analytics – Specialty is retired.)

AWS does not require that you take specific prep ahead of the exam. However, I recommend that you follow these steps to prepare for exam day:

Step 1: Review the exam guides to understand the exam content and take AWS Certification Official Practice Question Set, found in AWS Skill Builder, to understand exam style questions.
Step 2: Learn about exam topics by enrolling in digital training on AWS Skill Builder.
Step 3: Prepare for the exam by subscribing to AWS Skill Builder to access the self-paced Exam Prep Course (with Practice Materials). Review white papers and AWS services-related FAQs available on the exam page.
Step 4: Verify your exam readiness by taking the AWS Certification Official Practice Exam available on AWS Skill Builder with a subscription.

Preparing for AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner

AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner is a knowledge-based certification for foundational understanding of AWS Cloud and requires no prior experience with cloud. It’s a perfect place to start for anyone who is keen to learn more about cloud, especially for those without an IT background.

Resources I used:

Before I jumped in to start preparing, I reviewed the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner exam guide so I could become familiar with the content covered in the exam, number of questions, duration of the exam etc. This particular exam is 90 minutes long covering 65 questions. Next, I took advantage of self-paced digital training.

The AWS Cloud Essentials learning plan, within AWS Skill Builder, was a great resource to get started, as it provides clear path to learn and eliminates the guesswork—you don’t have to wonder if you’re starting in the right place or taking the right courses. When you get comfortable with the content and core concepts, it’s time to attempt the Official Practice Exam to prepare yourself mentally for these certifications. I used Tutorials Dojo’s practice exams to better prepare before I took the actual exam.

I also reviewed the following three whitepapers, all available on the exam page, to gain a clearer understanding of the AWS pricing model and support plans:

Preparing for AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate

AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate is one of three Associate exams currently offered by AWS Certification. It builds upon the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner and helps you showcase knowledge and skills in AWS technology across a wide range of AWS services. This certification is not only for someone who is pursuing a Solutions Architect role, but is equally helpful to an individual who is keen to learn about and demonstrate how AWS services are being used in real world use cases. This exam does not require deep, hands-on coding experience, although familiarity with basic programming concepts could be an advantage.

Resources I used:

I knew this certification would be a step up from the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner so I was quite intentional about my preparation. I reviewed the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate exam guide to learn about the exam outline. This exam is 130 minutes long covering 65 questions.

I utilized this Udemy course and found it helpful in covering all the necessary details for the exam. You can even download all 800+ slides to review or you can watch the 27 hours of on-demand video to help you prepare for the certification—both of which I did.

I also utilized a packet of practice exams from Tutorials Dojo once I had learned about the core concepts to help me practice taking the test as many times as I needed to feel confident in my knowledge. The free Exam Prep course for the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate, found on AWS Skill Builder, is also excellent.

As before, I also reviewed whitepapers to round out my knowledge. These four in particular helped me get a sense of AWS’s Well-Architected Framework and AWS security practices for continuous integration.

Preparing for AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional

When I started preparing for the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional exam, I heard a lot of people saying it’s one of the toughest cloud certifications. It’s long, nerve-racking, and often people fail not once, but multiple times. And true to the stories, I experienced it all. This exam not only tested my knowledge, but my grit and determination as well.

I started with the same strategy I had used for the other two certifications; however, the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional was a different ball game all together. Yes, I failed the exam a couple of times but it just made me and my knowledge of the concepts stronger than ever. It’s not easy to fail a couple of times and keep coming back to try again. But rather than letting it break me, I used the repeated failures to strengthen my mental fortitude, approaching each set back as a way to reinforce my ability to persevere and grow. Apart from my day job as an AWS solutions architect, at this point I was also wearing the hat of a student—a learner who took each and every opportunity to get better at how to use these services optimally in a cost-effective manner.

This certification helps individuals showcase their advanced knowledge and skills in providing solutions to complex problems, optimizing security, cost, and performance, and automating manual processes. This exam is intended for individuals with two or more years of hands-on experience designing and deploying cloud architecture on AWS. This exam is 180 minutes long covering 75 questions.

The AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional certification builds nicely upon the knowledge tested in the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate exam even though it’s not a prerequisite. However, from personal experience, I recommend tackling the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate before pursuing the Professional certification.

How I prepared

I utilized quite a few resources to build my knowledge and practical skills to earn this certification. As before, I turned to the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional exam guide to establish a plan for how to pursue my learning.

The free Exam Prep: AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional and AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional Official Practice Question Set helped me learn the concepts covered on the exam and the type of questions I could expect. I found this set of practice exams from Tutorial Dojo key in acquiring the knowledge I needed to pass this exam. It helped me build the endurance to sit for a three-hour test, simulating the experience with a timed mode option. It also provides the ability to learn from incorrect answers chosen via the review mode. The real exam questions are structured similar to the questions on Tutorials Dojo practice exams. The Tutorial Dojo cheat sheet helped me grasp the key concepts of the services effectively.

A bonus tip regarding the exam questions

In this exam, there are often multiple right answers offered and you need to select the optimal one that demonstrates the ideal solution based on the requirements of the question, in terms of cost, operational overhead, and more. A couple fellow solutions architects offered some helpful tips in this blog for how to use process of elimination in answering exam questions.

It’s always Day 1

I can’t imagine when I graduated college two years ago, with zero cloud acumen, that I’d be able to achieve three AWS Certifications in a matter of a year – nor did I think I’d be qualified to share best practice with you! My focus is to motivate people who might be in same boat as me—with more than a fleeting curiosity to learn about the cloud but not sure where to start. I hope my story inspires to be tenacious and to keep working towards your goals. It’s never too late to learn a new concept or refine your experience. As we say at Amazon, it’s always a Day 1 to learn and try new things. Best of luck with your cloud learning journey toward AWS Certification!