Steps to start your AWS Certification journey
Are you contemplating getting Amazon Web Services (AWS) Certified? Or you have already made a decision but don’t know where to start? In this blog, I’ll share my personal story and the steps I took to get started.
I have a non-technical background in architecture, designing buildings and imagining interiors. However, technology was a passion. Fast forward five years, after my formal education and a lot of self-learning, I found myself working as a platform engineer. I was collaborating with teams like infrastructure, software development, DevOps, security, etc. While I considered myself an expert in my domain, understanding how everything worked together was still difficult. When my previous organization began to migrate to the cloud, I knew it was the perfect opportunity to further explore.
I didn’t start with the intention of earning any certifications, but I found that the recommended training to prepare for the exams was extremely valuable. I completed hands-on labs and learned topics like networking, analytics, and machine learning, which were well beyond the scope of my regular work. Learning how things work behind the scenes taught me to speak the language of my peers. As fate would have it, after more than a year of hands-on experience and earning my AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate certification, I accepted an offer from Amazon as a Solution Architect. I am now guiding organizations through cloud adoption and building cloud solutions. If you are looking to upskill your knowledge and advance your career, now is a great time to earn an AWS Certification.
Which certification should I pursue?
I hold an active AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner Certification. If you are new to the cloud and want a high-level overview, it will help you validate your knowledge of cloud concepts, the AWS ecosystem, cloud fluency, and foundational AWS knowledge. It took me one-two months with seven hours/week of study to pass.
I started my certification journey with the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate certification. It was instrumental in validating my ability to design, build, and deploy cloud-based applications. I suggest this certification if you have some experience working in the cloud but don’t know where to start. If you write and deploy cloud-based applications, take the AWS Certified Developer – Associate exam. For system administrators with experience in operations, go for the AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate certification. Read about the additional exam lab component of the AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate exam. After earning all three certifications, I noticed that some of the content and concepts overlap. With a full-time job, I knew I needed to consistently find an hour every day for learning. It took me three-four months with seven hours/week of study, before I was comfortable taking these exams.
I recently took the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional certification and in my opinion, it is one of the most difficult, albeit sought after certifications to achieve. Professional certifications validate the ability to design, deploy, and evaluate applications on AWS within diverse, complex requirements. There are multiple right answers to choose from and you have to select the best solution based on requirements provided. It tests your ability to understand the problem at hand and recommend an architectural solution. It took me five-six months with seven hours/week of study, and although the AWS Solution Architect – Associate certification isn’t a pre-requisite, I would highly recommend earning it before aiming for the professional-level certifications.
AWS Specialty-level certifications are a great way to gain expertise in your area of work or explore a new domain you want to get comfortable with. I took the AWS Certified Analytics – Specialty certification earlier this year. Now I’m able to understand the existing architectural challenges that my customers face and help them build new analytics pipelines. If you are aiming for a specialty certification, I highly recommend earning your AWS Solution Architect – Associate certification first to ensure your foundational knowledge of basic AWS concepts. It took me three months with seven hours/week of study, to pass the AWS Certified Data Analytics – Specialty certification.
Book, then prepare for the exam
Before studying for any certification, I recommend reviewing the Exam Guides. They provide details about exam content and a breakdown of the domains that are covered.
I typically schedule the exam when I start preparing. There are no penalties for rescheduling or cancelling the exam up to 24 hours before the exam, giving you the flexibility to reschedule if you don’t feel prepared. I work backward from the exam date to set study milestones accordingly. You can read more about what to expect before, during, and after the exam.
Now you’re ready to study. Start by reviewing AWS Training resources like AWS Skill Builder, which offers more than 500+ free, digital, self-paced training courses. I utilized tutorials on udemy.com (Stephane Maarek’s courses). These courses are detailed and include hands-on labs to test your knowledge. I also recommend reading relevant AWS Whitepapers, which provide reference architecture and best practices for adopting AWS Services. Also review frequently asked questions for AWS services, for example, Amazon EC2 FAQ.
Once you feel confident in the knowledge you’ve gained, assess your progress with the AWS Certification Official Practice Question Sets. They are free and give you an idea of what the exam questions will look like. I’ve found tutorialsdojo’s practice exams to be helpful for all my certifications.
My best piece of advice is to give yourself time to thoroughly understand all the AWS concepts. Watch videos and read articles till you have all your questions answered. While getting certified is the goal, it’s the learning that will be most useful in your career. Stay consistent by spending time everyday reviewing and practicing the concepts you’ve learned. Take a practice test as soon as you feel even a little comfortable. It will help you identify which areas require more of your attention.
During and after the exam
For the final exam, if you don’t want to deal with network disruptions or other distractions, take the exam at a test center. If your network connection fails during the exam, you may have to retake your exam. AWS also provides an accommodation of an additional 30 minutes for non-native English speakers (ESL +30). Once registered, the accommodation applies to all future AWS Certification exams.
All the exams are scored from 100 to 1,000 with a passing score of 750. Scores are scaled based on the difficulty of the questions. In most cases, you will know whether you passed or failed at the test center, after submitting your answers. The scores will show up in the AWS Certification portal within five days. Read more about demystifying your AWS Certification exam score.
Kick-start your AWS Certification journey
With the tips and tricks I’ve outlined above, you’re well on your way to preparing for your first or next AWS Certification. Always remember, it’s the things you learn during the journey that will help you succeed. AWS Certifications are a validation of your knowledge and reward for your commitment to continuous learning.