How one learner earned four AWS Certifications in four months
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In the fall of 2020, Rola Dali, a Lebanon native with a PhD in neuroscience and informatics, decided to explore a new profession. She made this decision during the height of Montreal’s COVID-19 restrictions, while sheltered at home with two small children.
Rola had more than a decade’s experience as an academic researcher investigating brain cancer and the use of data technology to create analytic tools for the scientific community. Intrigued by the possibilities that lay beyond her academic background, Rola set out to explore new career opportunities. After a month of searching for a new role that would allow her to utilize her previous experience in a new industry, she accepted a senior software developer position at Local Logic, a company that generates advanced location insights by making digital twin cities to understand how to make cities more livable.
In her new role, Rola makes extensive use of Amazon Web Services (AWS) services every day. To become more proficient, she decided to validate her cloud knowledge with AWS Certifications. Almost a year after beginning her new position, Rola kicked- off what she calls her “four in four challenge”. In four months, she used AWS Training resources to prepare for and complete four certifications: AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate (SA – A), AWS Certified Developer – Associate, AWS Certified Data Analytics – Specialty, and AWS Certified Machine Learning – Specialty.
This blog shares highlights from Rola about her AWS Training and Certification experience; you can also watch her video.
After establishing yourself so highly in the field of genomic research, what led you to make the change to become a software developer?
Working in genomics, I was already comfortable in a high-performance computing environment. The human genome is nine billion base pairs long, and automation, scripting, and the power of computers are central to that field of research.
After about 15 years on the academic side, I was really curious about life on the industry side of the fence. I wanted to know how development cycles differed. I was excited to see what else was out there. But at first, I was also really scared. There is a sense in academia that industry is scary, that it’s too money-oriented. I’ve learned it’s not true.
In the fall of 2020 I started work with Local Logic, a company based in Montreal that uses huge, varied datasets to generate insights that aim to make cities better places to live. I was leaving biology behind and entering the world of real estate but data would still be at the center of my work.
What was your plan? How did changing jobs lead you to seek out AWS Certifications?
My work as a researcher had relied on on-premises servers. With the shift to industry, I knew cloud was a necessary skill. Most of the stack at Local Logic was on AWS, so I was using AWS every day. But I felt I needed a better overview of the ecosystem, so the AWS Certified (SA-A) seemed like a good choice. The AWS SA-A gives an overview of the AWS services and highlights the pillars of the AWS Well-Architected Framework when making architectural decisions.
In particular, I feel the AWS SA-A is a must for anyone in the industry who works in development in AWS. What I learned really changed my perspective of what’s possible in the cloud and transformed the way I work and how quickly I can get things done.
To support my cloud learning journey, I found a program called AWS She Builds. The program was flexible, community oriented, and geared toward helping women gain their AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate.
Why did you decide to pursue four AWS Certifications in such short time period?
Like so many, my reality changed during the pandemic. In November 2021, I wanted a way to prove to myself that I was still the same focused high-achiever I had known myself to be. That’s why I created the “four in four” challenge.
To focus on something useful, to disconnect from the world through learning, was therapeutic. I have a six-year-old and a two-year-old who keep me busy. At night, when they went to bed, I put on music and studied. For all that time, I tuned out politics, the news, and as much stress as I could. It was quiet time with just me and AWS.
As I studied, I used AWS Skill Builder a lot. For every certification, I looked up all available resources in Skill Builder that related to the certification, and went through the material. I was really surprised at how well the material is thought out and curated. It’s an intuitive ecosystem that just makes sense. My “four in four” approach wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.
What has AWS Training brought to your new line of work? How is it going so far?
In my work at Local Logic, I build extract/transform/load pipelines that process our data and application programming interfaces that serve them to our users. My knowledge gained from AWS Training, and the AWS Certifications I have earned, is at the core of what I do.
Now I have a much better understanding of the AWS ecosystems, what services exist, and what use cases fit each service. For example, just this week I tested Amazon Athena vs. Amazon Relational Database Service (RDS) for my project. I was able to run it in a couple of hours because I knew I could extract RDS snapshots to Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) and set up Athena to query the snapshots. Overall, I feel I’m better now at troubleshooting and know how to find and use resources because of what AWS helped me learn.
We’re working toward a future in which we provide the insights to build cities in a way that’s good for humanity. So, it makes sense that the culture within the company [Local Logic] is really human-oriented. What I’ve learned is that industry and academia complement each other. There’s quite a bit of cross-pollination—and nothing to be scared of!
At a time when shutdowns and uncertainty led many people to trim their ambitions, Rola shifted into a higher gear and plotted a deliberate, intense transition into a whole new working life. From peering into the secrets of the brain to analyzing what makes entire communities tick, she’s gone from one way of helping others to another—and the common thread is the growth of her mastery of data systems.
Rola isn’t finished expanding her credentials. In March, she went on to complete her fifth certification—AWS Certified Database – Specialty—and is currently studying for AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate, which she plans to complete in June.
Where can AWS Training and Certification take you next? Check out all the AWS Certification preparation resources to start your journey today, including practice exams, practice question sets, exam guides, and more.