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Learning path

Oct 22, 2020
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Due to the lockdown, advanced training and obtaining certificates via various online courses has become mainstream. I invite all of you to seize the opportunity to gain new knowledge and achievements, as well as figure out what AWS Cloud Practitioner is, who will benefit from this certificate, and how to get it.

For whom and why?

AWS Certification means that its holder has extensive knowledge of the Cloud. There are different exams depending on your role (developer, architect, etc.). For non-technical specialists, the basic exam is AWS Cloud Practitioner. When preparing for the certification, Sales Managers, PMs, POs, BAs, and others will delve deeper into the concept of Сloud and global infrastructure, learn about the main benefits of Сloud solutions, architectural principles, and the distribution of responsibilities between the client and AWS in different contexts.

A large layer of information is devoted to the services and solutions provided by AWS to its customers, particularly their targets and the main scenarios for their use. The number of products is steadily growing, some become outdated, prices change, etc. (check the relevance of any information on the official website).

Supporting this knowledge with a certificate is indisputable proof that you are a specialist who can help your customer/team understand the basic needs, as well as navigate in the flood of new information and available services. Along with that, you will understand why the Cloud is interesting and promising for business (plus what fears the apologists of On-Premises data centers have).

How to prepare?

I started my preparation with a search for free resources. AWS also gives recommendations on the learning path and provides sample questions (which merely help to understand what an average question looks like). In the end, I went with the following list:

1. AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner Training 2020 – Full Course (4 hours, free) – an excellent collage of thematic videos with sufficient detail, examples of application, and explanations in lay terms.

2. AWS Cloud Practitioner Essentials 2nd edition (6 hours, free) – a standard course by AWS with basic information; helps you to get used to the “AWS language”.

3.  AWS Web page – a resource for finding up-to-date information; after all, it’s quite useful to thoroughly study the description of a service/product, examples of use, and FAQ.

4. Overview of AWS (long read) – information about the main services and products to be sure you didn’t miss a thing (check the relevance of the document version at the moment of reading).

When watching videos, it became clear to me that practice on simulators would be a huge advantage and increase the chances of passing the exam at the first attempt. The questions in the test are very convoluted, and the absence/presence of one word affects the meaning a lot and sometimes changes the whole context. I chose a course with six simulators by Udemy (at that time, the price was $12). I was paying close attention when taking these tests – each question was read carefully until I understand it fully.

What’s convenient about these tests is that, after each simulator is finished, the system gives not just an assessment but also comments on each question and answer option (!), explaining why it is correct/incorrect. The topics of the questions overlapped, but the questions themselves were not repeated. The wording and rendering of the questions are as close to the “combat” ones as possible, so I do recommend this or any similar simulator. But you should not expect that you will come across the same questions in a real exam.

Below is an approximate list of topics and issues that I would suggest you pay attention to when preparing. The likelihood of meeting a question on these topics is very high.

1. AWS Products and Services. Examples of their interaction + advantages (well shown in the videos and in simulators).

2. Pricing and support plans (links to the corresponding pages are “hardcoded” in this line).

3. Responsibilities of the customer and AWS (shared responsibilities and managed services)

4. Whitepapers (eg. Well-Architectured Framework).

5. General notions (AZ, durability, reliability, etc.) and FAQ.

6. Abbreviation expansions 🙂

How about the exam?

I recommend paying attention to the organizational aspects:

1. Registration: create an AWS account and make sure the full name there matches the transliteration in your passport/driver’s license (highly important!).

2. Time for preparation: no less than 2.5 days of intensive self-study.

3. Difficulty: above average (the higher the level of familiarity with the Cloud is, the easier the exam will be).

4. Important: logical thinking in situational cases (for example, on the exam you have to “suggest” services and solutions based on data from the “customer”), good English, attention to detail in the wording of questions and answers.

5. Format: an online exam* or an offline exam in an authorized training center; 90 minutes for 65 questions; selection of one or more correct answers; the ability to mark questions and return to them later.

6. Additional features: If English is not your native language, you can request 30 minutes of extra time in your account settings for any exam. However, note that due to this option, you will only be able to register for the online exam by phone. From my experience, I can say that the given 90 minutes is more than enough (check your speed via simulators).

7. Budget: $100 for an exam, paid courses/simulators if desired.

8. Certificate validity period: 3 years, then must be renewed.

9. Additional benefits: the possibility to participate in additional events, discounts on events and merch, and many others.

During COVID-19, it is possible to take the exam online, but the requirements are very strict: you must close all third-party programs and tabs, disable all notifications, turn on your web camera; the screen and sound will be recorded. A special manager from the training center will keep an eye on you online, and you are prohibited from leaving the visible area, drinking or eating, talking, using gadgets, or making any notes. The appearance of other people on the screen or in the exam area (for example, the sound of someone walking in the background) or violation of the above-mentioned rules can lead to the cancellation of your participation in the exam without a refund.

At the start of the exam, you will be asked to take a picture of the room (a reason to do the cleaning if you are going to take it at home) and your ID, as well as show your desk and the absence, for example, of a smartwatch or other devices in your immediate vicinity.

You should strictly follow these rules and check your computer and network in advance (for example, VPN often causes failures and hence turns your hair prematurely gray).

To sum up

The exam is both challenging and interesting. I was motivated by the fact that I would finally systemize my knowledge about AWS and be able to help my customers in choosing services and/or outlining alternatives to the On-Premises approach for them. In addition, Andersen, where I work as a PM, launched a campaign to promote certifications among employees, and this was an additional trigger.

If you read questions in a simulator without a dictionary, if you can understand abbreviations, if your score in simulators is > 75-80% at least 3 times in a row (to exclude coincidences), and if you can explain the topic in your own words to some of your colleagues (an auto-test for understanding, not memorizing information), you can be sure you’re ready for the exam.

Good luck!

Written by Oleksandra Riazantseva, PM/PO at Andersen

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