Amazon Web Services Certified Solutions Architect Exam: A Guide to Success!
Amazon Web Services is one of the leading public cloud service providers across the industry. Knowing this, it would be invaluable to stay up to date with their services and increase your value through their certification program. Having an idea of which areas to focus on and which resources are the most helpful will help you in achieving your AWS certification. My goal here is to share my path to achieving the AWS Associate certification and offer some guidance. I will begin by sharing my background, followed by information about the exam and its structure, and then I’ll discuss which resources I used and the approach I took to pass the exam on my first attempt.
I am a recent graduate in Information Systems with a huge interest and desire to learn about the cloud. While being a student, I had zero experience in AWS. Although I had some experience with cloud technologies like Salesforce.com, NetSuite, and JIRA, the Platform-as-a-Service/Infrastructure-as-a-Service model wasn’t emphasized during my studies and not a focus in my past internships. Overall, I was very new to this technology aside from the occasional article I’d read about how innovating the Cloud is. Having spoken to several friends and professionals in the industry, I was convinced I wanted to pursue a cloud-related career and thus sparked my pursuit of becoming an AWS professional. Fortunately, I was given the opportunity to join a tech company as a Cloud Intern to begin my journey into the cloud.
What is AWS CSA?
Amazon has three types of certificates: Foundational, Associate, and Professional level. Each has their own target audience, and each is more difficult than the other, with Professional being the most in-depth and challenging, Foundational being more of an introductory/beginner level certificate, and Associate level being in the middle.
The AWS CSA certification is a highly sought after certificate for any IT professional working with cloud technologies. It is designed to prove that an individual has expertise in designing, deploying, and operating highly-available, fault-tolerant, cost-effective and secure applications within AWS. The AWS CSA is a great way to get a feel for the AWS environment, understand many of the AWS services at a high level, and take a deep dive into several of the more common services, including compute, storage, databases, security, and networking.
Which exam did I take?
Amazon recently released an updated exam for the CSA in February 2018 and will be retiring the old exam in August 2018. Between February and August 2018, they are both available. Since I began studying before the new exam was released, I opted to sit the old exam. More information about both exams can be found here.
My Study Plan – What Approach did I take?
Before I began my internship, I found the A Cloud Guru course on Udemy for the Amazon AWS CSA exam, this was the first resource I used to study the AWS material. The A Cloud Guru course is a comprehensive online course featuring over 22 hours of instructional videos, labs, and quizzes covering AWS. I spent approximately four weeks and 45 hours of studying to complete this course. I took my time with it because it was very new to me and so that I could develop notes that would accommodate the videos in the course. My goal was to complete this course before joining my internship and to have a head start. Overall, I felt this course was a high-level introduction to AWS but I felt I needed more knowledge to pass the exam.
When I started my internship, my manager recommended that since I was relatively new to the AWS cloud, that I take another course through Linux Academy to reinforce my learning before sitting the exam. The Linux Academy training was very similar to the A Cloud Guru training in that it had 20 hours of video, multiple supplementary labs, and many quizzes to test competency. In addition to this, they included “The Orion Papers”, which is a visual and interactive guide filled with diagrams of the AWS environment they are working with in the videos. I found this extremely helpful and it was a huge advantage in my studying over the A Cloud Guru course on Udemy. I spent approximately the same amount of time (45 hours) completing this course over the first five weeks of my internship. I also thought that the content in this course was a high-level introduction, and still felt I still needed more knowledge to pass the exam, but having completed both the Linux Academy & A Cloud Guru courses was a huge advantage.
Following the two courses, I spent a lot of time reading the official AWS White Papers. These are official documents written by AWS employees that include in-depth information regarding each and every service in AWS. Although these papers tend to be long and dry, they are really helpful in further reinforcing the material learned in the videos. I spent almost two weeks reading the following five white papers.
- Overview of Amazon Web Services
- AWS Overview of Security Processes
- AWS Risk and Compliance
- AWS Storage Services Overview
- Architecting for the Cloud: AWS Best Practices
After completing the white papers, I went back and reread the notes I made from the A Cloud Guru course to further reinforce my learning. These notes were extremely helpful because I practically typed everything that was taught in the course into the notes, as well as exam tips and summaries. While reading these notes, whenever I could not remember certain services or procedures, I made flashcards to study before my exam.
In the last few days before taking the exam, I ran through my flashcards countless times, studied the notes I made, and also redid some of the labs from the courses. I also discovered a fantastic blog, “Jayendra’s Blog” written by Jayendra Patil. This blog has summaries for nearly all the services available on AWS and even has practice exam questions for each service that will be very beneficial for anyone studying for the exam. In addition, you may find the FAQs helpful when preparing for the exam.
Cloud computing has been around for over a decade and is only growing faster, larger, and more functional. Having the AWS CSA certification will allow you to remain competitive in the job market and help increase your value. That said, the Amazon AWS CSA Associate level exam is not a walk in the park. This exam is challenging, it will take a lot of time to learn, and the AWS ecosystem is very detailed with new services and features being released every day. If you take the time to slowly and meticulously study the material necessary to pass this exam, you will be well positioned to have a fruitful and rewarding career in IT.
I am more than willing to answer any questions about my approach and to offer additional exam tips, but I will not be sharing exam questions themselves. Feel free to contact me here.
Additional resources on AWS: