AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate Exam Experience

I sat my AWS CSA Associate exam today, and I’m happy to say I passed with 78%. This post will talk about my previous experiences with AWS, and the resources I used to study it.

A bit of history about this certification; AWS currently have a total of five generally available certifications, and three in beta:

Associate level (the easiest):

  • AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate – aimed I guess at Solutions Architects (pre-sales or post-sales consultants), and covering most of the core services, with a focus on designing highly available infrastructures
  • AWS Certified Developer – Associate – aimed at people developing software solutions to run on top of AWS, this looks to cover most of the same ground, but aimed more around using APIs, using the services to build applications, and some of the tools available to help developers consume services more easily
  • AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate – aimed at people administering AWS environments, covering a lot of the same ground as the other two associate level exams, but focussing more on the tools available to keep things running, and troubleshooting

Specialist level (the new ones – currently beta):

  • AWS Certified Big Data – Specialty – focussing on the Big Data type services available in AWS
  • AWS Certified Advanced Networking – Specialty – focussing on the networking concepts and services in AWS
  • AWS Certified Security – Specialty – focussing on security in AWS

Professional level (the hard ones):

  • AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional – focussed on designing and implanting highly available systems and applications on AWS
  • AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional – focussed on developing and managing distributed applications on AWS

The associate level exam blueprints talk about having hands on experience and time served with AWS; I haven’t used AWS at work, so had to start from scratch basically. Having a good understanding of how modern applications are architected, databases, Linux and Windows, and infrastructure in general will definitely help with getting your head around the concepts in play in AWS.

Free Tier Account:

The first thing you will need is a Free Tier account with AWS, this gives you 12 months of basically free services (but there are limits). You will need a credit card to sign up for this, but don’t worry about spending a tonne of money with it. You can put billing notifications in place which will tell you if you are spending any cash, and as long as you shut stuff down when you are not using it then it wont cost you any money. Get your free tier account here. When you have it then spend as much time as possible playing with the services, checking out all the options, and reading about what they do, this is the easiest way to understand the service.

Some video training:

This is optional I guess, but if you’re new to AWS, as I was, then it should help focus you on the things you need to pass the exam. I used the following courses:

  • Pluralsight – Nigel Poulton (@nigelpoulton) – AWS VPC Operations – I watched this course probably a year ago or more, and while I didn’t use it directly when studying for my CSA Associate exam, it did give me a broad understanding of VPCs in AWS and how things tie together, definitely worth a watch
  • A Cloud Guru – this course is widely lauded by people on social media in my experience, and the guys have done an excellent job of the course, although I felt it didn’t cover some bits in as much detail as needed to pass the exam. This is available on their site (at a discount until 19/01/16), or (where I bought it from) on Udemy where I paid £19 (think it is £10 for January as well). I would definitely say this course is worth it anyway, but I would look at another one as well to complement the parts lacking in the ACG course.
  • Linux Academy – the instructor for this course was not quite as good as Ryan from ACG in my opinion, but the depth and breadth of the subject matter, hands on labs, and the practice exams make this worth looking at. To top it off, if you join the Microsoft Dev Essentials program (here) you can get 3 months access to both Linux Academy and Pluralsight for free!

Books:

There is an official study gude, but it’s near enough 30 quid, and the reviews on Amazon were generally negative so I avoided it.

Whitepapers etc:

The Exam Blueprint (here) lists a bunch of whitepapers and these were definitely worth swotting up on. In addition, the documentation for each technology should be read and understood: there really is a lot to learn here, and you need to know everything in reasonable detail in my opinion.

Other:

These flash cards were pretty good, but think they’re generally taken from the ACG practice exams anyway.

Note taking:

I have taken a lot of notes for each of the services; I used Evernote for this which i found to be very useful in summarising the key fundamentals of each service. I will likely tidy these up now the exam is out the way and publish them as a series of blog posts, to hopefully help other exam candidates.

The Exam itself:

I was seriously stressed going into this exam; the breadth and depth of information you need to take in is pretty daunting if you only give yourself a couple of weeks to learn it as I did, and while the exam was slightly easier than I thought it would be, I still found it tough. I would suggest giving yourself 4-6 weeks of preparation if you have no AWS experience.

One gripe I have is that although I am lucky enough to have a Kryterion exam centre only 5 miles away, they only seem to do the exams once a month, which doesn’t give much flexibility. Looks to be the same in Leeds as well, so hopefully this will improve in the future.

Glad I got it done anyway, and putting myself under intense time pressure seems to have paid off anyway. Onwards and upwards to the Certified Developer Associate exam now. I would recommend doing the exam to anyone, AWS certification is in high demand at the moment, and getting a foot on the ladder will definitely help anyone in the IT industry over the next few years. I hope to go on and do as many of these exams as I can because I genuinely find what AWS are doing, and the way the services are implemented, to be interesting.

 

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Author: railroadmanuk

Currently working at ANS Group as a FlexPod Engineer, designing and implementing converged infrastructure solutions featuring NetApp storage, Cisco Nexus networking, and UCS compute. Aspiring coder, virtualization aficionado, and automator of things.

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