AWS Journey
November 14, 2018

What Is AWS Certification? And How to Prepare For It

Cloud
Version Control

Countless companies deploy on Amazon Web Services (AWS). But not everyone has the expertise it takes to manage AWS... unless they get an AWS certification.

What Is AWS Certification?

AWS certification is given for passing an exam. This marks a level of Amazon Web Services cloud expertise. 

My AWS journey started in 2012. I first used AWS to build web infrastructure to help companies deliver better experiences for their customers and scale to handle higher traffic volumes.

Since then, I’ve helped companies transition legacy SaaS workloads involving many physical servers to AWS. I’ve also led efforts to plan and build new transactional and content management systems.

Why Get AWS Certified?

AWS used to be simpler, when it started in 2006. Today, it's more powerful and complex. 

Companies use AWS to build services for everything from:

  • Selling goods and services on the web.
  • Artificial intelligence applications.
  • Storing music, movies, and pictures to stream to their own customers. 

Some of the best-known companies on the web use AWS as the foundation for their global systems.

When AWS started, it offered three simple services: computing, storage, and database. Virtually any application a company would build uses these three things. They were delivered in the cloud and were easy to use.

Now, there are many choices from AWS for each of these categories. There are nearly 150 services in 19 different categories. Companies can use these services to build, globally deploy, and secure their cloud infrastructure.

With so many options, AWS has become more powerful and more complex.

When I Started the AWS Certification Process...

I first started thinking about AWS certification in 2017.

AWS Global Summit 2017

I attended the AWS Global Summit in San Francisco in May 2017. I went to the event to learn about the latest technology, attend presentations, and learn from other attendees. Also, Alexa was new, and the sessions for developers were packed!

Around the same time, our customers were starting to adopt the cloud. And they were beginning to ask us a lot of questions. We realized we needed to start offering advice on how Helix Core should be used in the cloud.

AWS Global Summit 2018

I attended the AWS Global Summit in San Francisco again in 2018. The the focus had shifted to larger companies and digital transformation. They keynote came from Cerner, a health information technology company with 27,000 employees. They discussed how they’re using AI with AWS.

Another keynote was Peloton, the fitness product innovator. They make a hardware and software product. I also saw a line around the building to attend a session on compliance and governance. This really hit home for me. I knew this was something our customers would adopt. Perhaps not by moving everything to the cloud, but definitely going beyond experimentation to deployments.

More AWS Knowledge Required

I wanted to broaden my AWS knowledge, so I could help our customers better understand how they can use Perforce products and services with AWS. I decided the best option was to become an AWS Certified Solutions Architect — Associate. I went into the AWS certification process confident. I knew this would help me talk to our customers about how best to use Helix Core and AWS.

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How to Prepare For AWS Certification

Here's how to prepare for AWS certification:

  1. Decide which AWS certification books and resources to use.
  2. Utilize AWS.training.
  3. Sign up for AWS CSAA (Cloud Guru).

Keep reading to go in-depth on each of these steps.

1. Decide Which AWS Certification Books and Resources to Use

First, I started researching the AWS CSAA. I also bought AWS Certified Solutions Architect, Official Study Guide, Associate Exam, a book by Joe Baron, Principle Solutions Architect at AWS, and a team of experts. Then, I found aws.training, the official AWS training and certification site.

It’s loaded with resources, including free digital training content. Clicking the certification link,  I found comprehensive information about certification, including a step-by-step path to the AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Associate exam. This gave me the complete outline, including the AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Associate Exam Guide, which contains a blueprint of what to study.

That blueprint referred me to two white papers: “Architecting for the Cloud: AWS Best Practices” and “AWS Well-Architected Framework.” Well-Architected is kind of the solutions architect’s bible. It’s gigantic, both in number of pages and in the important information it provides. These white papers teach The Five Pillars of the Well-Architected Framework:

  • Operational Excellence
  • Security
  • Reliability
  • Performance Efficiency
  • Cost Optimization

By now, I had 1,000s of pages of reading to do! But I also wanted some training, not just reading, to provide direction, insight, and hands-on practice with the AWS technologies I hadn’t worked with before.

2. Utilize AWS.Training

Go to aws.training. You can choose a role, such as Architect or Developer. Or you can browse by Content Domains, such as Compute, Database, and Developer Tools. Under the roles, you can find instructor-led training.

I chose Architect and found a 3-day Intermediate Architecting on AWS class, which could either be taken in a classroom or virtually.

After reading the materials I had collected, I realized that a 3-day class wasn’t going to cut it. There was too much information. At this point, I’d told my colleagues about my AWS certification process and was looking for advice.

3. Sign up for AWS CSAA (A Cloud Guru)

One friend told me about Ryan Kroonenburg, who is famous in the AWS community and has been an AWS Community Hero (an exalted status) since 2016. His company, A Cloud Guru, offers online training for AWS.

The AWS CSAA course from A Cloud Guru provides about 20 hours of video, all delivered by Ryan. The quality is excellent, and a low monthly subscription fee gives you access to all of their content.

The course is divided into primary topics that include lectures and hands-on labs. Topics include:

  • IAM
  • EC2
  • Storage
  • VPCs
  • Route53 (Amazon’s DNS)
  • Databases
  • Application Services
  • Serverless.

It also included a lab to build an Alexa application. Helpfully, Ryan is quick to point out which AWS services you should delete after activating them in a lab to prevent incurring unwanted AWS charges.

Each topic section had a quiz at the end. Since I already knew a lot about AWS (or at least, I thought I did), I could bounce through the content in the course and try to “test out” before watching the whole program.

Once you’ve covered the material, the course has a Final Practice Exam. It’s 80 minutes long and has 60 questions, like the real test. The first time I took it…let’s just say, I could have done better! But it clearly showed me what I needed to study before the real test. The next step is an Exam Simulator, which is yet another set of questions.

How Long Does It Take to Become AWS Certified?

My AWS certification process took over a year. It started in May 2017 and ended in August 2018. 

All-in-all, it took:

  • LOTS of reading.
  • A 20-hour training session.
  • An 80-minute practice test.

AWS and Perforce

Many of our products at Perforce can be deployed on AWS. Learn more about our offerings. 

AWS Support From Perforce

 

Interested in deploying version control on AWS? We have a special offer for Helix Core on AWS. You'll get: 

  • Up to 5 users and 20 workspaces on Helix Core.
  • 12-month free tier on AWS.
  • A free technical guide to help you get started faster: Best Practices For Deploying Helix Core on AWS.

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