Welcome back my fellow geeks!
Today I’m going to interrupt the series on AWS Managed Microsoft AD For the past few weeks, in between writing the entries for the recent deep dive series, I’ve been preparing for the AWS Cloud Practitioner exam. I thought it would be helpful to share my experience prepping for and passing the exam.
If you’re not familiar with the AWS Certificated Cloud Practitioner exam, it’s very much an introductory exam into the Amazon Web Services’ overarching architecture and products. Amazon’s intended audience for the certification are your C-levels, sales people, and technical people who are new to the AWS stack and potentially cloud in general. It’s very much an inch deep and mile wide. For those of you who have passed your CISSP, the experience studying for it similar (although greatly scaled down content-wise) in that you need to be able to navigate the shallow end of many pools.
Some of you may be asking yourselves why I invested my time in getting an introductory certificate rather than just going for the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate. The reason is my personal belief that establishing a solid foundation in a technology or product is a must. I’ve encountered too many IT professionals with a decade more of experience and a hundred certificates to their name who can’t explain the basics of the OSI model or the difference in process between digitally signing something versus encrypting it. The sign of a stellar IT professional is one who can start at the business justification for an application and walk you right down through the stack to speak to the technology standards being leveraged within the application to deliver its value. This importance in foundation is one reason I recommend every new engineer start out by taking the CompTIA A+, Network+, and Security+ exams. You won’t find exams out there that better focus on foundational concepts than CompTIA exams.
The other selling point of this exam to me was the audience it’s intended for. Who wouldn’t want to know the contents and messaging in an exam intended for the C-level? Nothing is more effective influencing the C-level than speaking the language they’re familiar with and pushing the messaging you know they’ve been exposed to.
Let me step off this soapbox and get back to my experience with the exam. 🙂
As I mentioned above I spent about two weeks preparing for the exam. My experience with the AWS stack was pretty minimal prior to that restricted to experience for my prior blogs on Azure AD and AWS integration for SSO and provisioning and Microsoft Cloud App Security integration with AWS. As you can tell from the blog, I’ve done a fair amount of public cloud solutions over the past few years, just very minimally AWS. The experience in other public cloud solutions such as Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform (GCP) proved hugely helpful because the core offerings are leveraging similar modern concepts (i.e. all selling computer, network, and storage). Additionally, the experiences I’ve had over my career with lots of different infrastructure gave me the core foundation I needed to get up and running. The biggest challenge for me was really learning the names of all the different offerings, their use cases, and their capabilities that set them apart from the other vendors.
For studying materials I followed most of the recommendations from Amazon which included reviews of a number of whitepapers. I had started the official Amazon Cloud Practitioner Essentials course (which is free by the way) but didn’t find the instructors engaging enough to keep my attention. I ended up purchasing a monthly subscription to courses offered by A Cloud Guru which were absolutely stellar and engaging at a very affordable monthly price (something like $29/month). In addition to the courses I read each of the recommended whitepapers (ended reading a bunch of others as well) a few times each taking notes of key concepts and terminology. While I was studying for this exam, I also was working on my AWS deep dive which helped to reinforce the concepts by actually building out the services for my own use.
I spent a lot of time diving into the rabbit whole of products I found really interesting (RedShift) as well as reading up on concepts I’m weaker on (big data analytics, modern nosql databases, etc). That rabbit hole consisted of reading blogs, Wikipedia, and standards to better understand the technical concepts. Anything I felt would be worthwhile I captured in my notes. Once I had a good 15-20 pages of notes (sorry all paper this time around), I grabbed the key concepts I wanted to focus on and created flash cards. I studying the deck of 200 or so flash cards each night as well as re-reading sections of the whitepapers I wanted to familiarize myself with.
For practice exams I used the practice questions Amazon provides as well as the quizzes from A Cloud Guru. I found the questions on the actual exam more challenging, but the practice question and quizzes were helpful to getting into the right mindset. The A Cloud Guru courses probably covered a good 85-90% of the material, but I wouldn’t recommend using it was a sole source of study, you need to read those whitepapers multiple times over. You also need to do some serious hands on because some of the questions do ask you very basic questions about how you do things in the AWS Management Console.
Overall it was a well done exam. I learned a bunch about the AWS product offerings, the capabilities that set AWS apart from the rest of the industry, and gained a ton of good insight into general cloud architecture and design from the whitepapers (which are really well done). I’d highly recommend the exam to anyone who has anything to do with the cloud, whether you’re using AWS or not. You’ll gain some great insight into cloud architecture best practices as well seeing modern technology concepts put in action.
I’ll be back with the next entry in my AWS Managed Microsoft AD series later this week. Have a great week and thanks for reading!