Amazon Webservices Architect Certification

I have recently cleared the Amazon web services certified architect associate (CSA) certification and I wanted to pen my thoughts here so that it will be useful for future aspirants. Below are my opinions based on my research and preparation. My Background: I am a JEE architect in my current role and my work involves Designing/Developing web based applications. I am also an Oracle Certified Enterprise Architect, which has no bearing for writing CSA exam and wouldn't give you an edge for it.

Motivation for AWS CSA: Last year while browsing for architect certifications, I found Amazon CSA exam. The exam content, the usability to real world applications (than just theory), and the recognition were the key motivations for me to write the exam.

My Approach:

  1. Google'd blogs/articles of people who have taken the exam and how they got succeeded.
  2. Peered with one of my friend who was also interested.
  3. Enrolled in LinuxAcademy.com AWS CSA course.
  4. Kept a target of 1 week to complete the entire course (around 6 hours) - Round 1 prep.
  5. For round 2, I realized that I need to go deep dive on Virtual Private Cloud (VPC). So I went through the entire documentation literally line by line and was using wiki, networking videos on youtube and all resources that I can find to understand the terminology used (Subnets, CIDR, EIP, Ip address formulas etc.,). Initially it was tough-believe me, but I was persistent and have decided that I will understand VPC to the best. So it took me 3 days to complete the entire VPC sections with notes. I read for about 16 hours close to (Took 1 day off from work-- just to keep the tempo). After VPC documentation, I went through VPC FAQ and ended the section with a Quiz. I believe the best quiz is to go through FAQ, and try answering them one by one with out looking at answers.
  6. Same as VPC, I went deep dive on EC2, and S3. S3 is very deep with lot of details on how to secure the bucket. I loved reading that portion, this is because the way it is designed is amazing, you can secure the bucket, the object, and entire S3 at different levels (IAM, Bucket level policy and ACL). There are couple of rules that if you can remember would be helpful.
  7. For EC2 and S3 I have practiced most of the scenarios mentioned in LinuxAcademy.com course. I even took their developer course, since there were some classes which are in developer but not in CSA and both the courses help you get the complete details about a topic.
  8. After completing all the relevant topics for exams. I read three white papers: AWS Storage options, AWS Security best practices and Disaster Recovery. AWS Storage Options is an excellent paper, by the end of it, given a AWS scenario you can confidently pick which Storage option is good for the company (Cost and other factors).
  9. After completing all the reading, I took all the quiz, exams from CSA and developer in Linux Academy. I was skipping questions which were not relevant to CSA from developer course.

So, how to pass:

  1. First believe that you want to pass. I know this sentence might sound silly, but you got to be adamant that you want to pass this exam (if you are coming from my background and little AWS experience). This is because, the exam is not an easy one, and also not super hard one either. But if you prepare less and go you will fall for the traps. So by believing you want to pass, you will come up with a plan of how to ace it. In my case, I took a pen and paper and jotted down all the topics I wanted to cover and associated time against each topic (like 2 hours etc.,) and I was always thinking how to clear it or how would I lose it. Their is a slogan in AWS, "design for failure", same thing here, "design for success":)
  2. Time it. You need to have a plan for how you will be completing the 55 questions in 80 minutes. What would you do if you face a tough question, what is your time plan, or by how much time would you be half way through the exam. You need to decide these before you go to the exam. My Mantra was simple, skip it if it is tough (Mark it for review). My goal was to complete the first pass in 40 mins with giving my best to each question. So you would read a question and eliminate the wrong ones and pick the best and move on. This usually takes 1 min. If it takes more, check mark the review later button. I was able to complete my first pass in 40 mins with 17 questions for review. I completed those in 20 mins and I went through all the questions once in the last 20 mins. So timing is very important, some questions are designed tough and no one might know the answer to it, spending time on it is not advisable.
  3. Five things to do: Concept, Practice, Use Case, FAQ, and Quiz. For any topic these five are very important. Get the concept first, for this take the course and understand the basics of it, then go to documentation and read about it. Next is practice, fire up AWS console and try it, like creating a bucket, load balancer or auto scaling, VPC ingress, security etc., For use cases, AWS provides lots of use cases and architecture diagrams, you can go through them and get a big picture of the technology and usage. Finally complete the topic with FAQ sections and Quiz from linux academy. Also documentation for some topics are very vast, I only read documentation for top 3 things in AWS (S3, EC2, VPC). So it's upto you, plan it based on your time.

It took me a month to prepare, with more time on weekends and 5 days continuos prep(10 hours each day) before going to the exam. After completing the exam I feel very confident in using AWS technology and in the last 1 week we have ported an existing web application to a AWS based application. I am planning to take the DEV/SYSOPS certifications some time in the next 1-2 months, so that I am comfortable using the AWS CLI/SDK.

Finally, good luck to all who are aspiring to become AWS CSA and I wish you the best.