How I prepared for AWS SA Professional exam

Last week I managed to pass the AWS Solution Architect professional certification exam. Here's my certification, in all its glory:



If you've been following my blog, you'll know that I passed a Google Cloud Professional Architect exam in March. I wrote a few blog posts about how I prepared it, and you may find it all here.

Even though I've been preparing for the AWS exam for quite a while, the two main reasons I went for GCP professional level exam first are simple:

  • I think Google Cloud is a sleeping giant, and I wanted to be among the first certified experts. 
  • AWS has much more services. For a professional level exam you don't just need to know some of them in depth, you need to know ALL of them in depth, in order to make the right architecture that fits the customers requirements.


How I prepared

Simple:

  • Linux Academy has amazing hands-on courses for both Associate and Professional level. In my experience - the only one that really prepare you for this exam.
  • Work experience. This is where it gets tricky… AWS has a wide service catalogue, and your work environment hands is unlikely to cover the entire blueprint.


Difference between AWS Associate and Professional level exams

This is something I get asked a lot. Here is the main difference:

  • To pass the associate level exam, you need to know what each service does. The questions are straight forward, if you know what the service does - you'll eliminate most of the options in your test, and get the right answer.
  • AWS SAP (Solutions Architect Professional) is a real world business problem oriented exam. It's understood that you know all the AWS Service Catalogue in depth, and you are tasked with getting the most optimal architecture based on the customer requirements. You will get 77 different business scenarios (this is a LOT of text, so be prepared), and each one has 4-5 possible answers, which are all correct, you just need to figure out which one is the best for that particular scenario.


This basically means that if the question is how to connect your VPN with your on-premises infrastructure in the most cost efficient way, the answer will vary:

  • In Associate level, you will go with VPN IPSec, cause Direct Connect is more expensive.
  • In Professional level you'll have to go deeper, and it's likely that mapping the use case with the architecture, Direct Connect could come out as the most cost efficient option.


AWS vs GCP professional certifications

This is a tricky one… Basically this is how it is:

  • GCP exam is very, very difficult. I feel like it's a Cloud Architect and DevOps merged into one exam, which makes it quite complex and "uncomfortable" at moments. BUT - GCP doesn’t have nearly as many services as AWS does in the Service Catalogue, so I guess the blueprint is narrower, which kind of justifies the complexity of the exam.
  • AWS is difficult, and long, requires high concentration during the 170 minutes, and probably what I like more - tests you for the real world skills. You will potentially get the same possible architectures as the answers in many different questions, and I feel it's impossible for someone to pass it even if they knew the questions, you really need an architect mind. On the positive side - there are no trick questions, so if you're good - you'll pass, it's as simple as that.


What's next? 

I'm going all in for my VMware VCDX (Design Expert) exam now. Did the design, going for the defence. I think I'm in the point in my career to go for something like this, get roasted for thinking I'm a super architect… Bring it on, my ego is about to be destroyed, but I feel like I'll come out of the experience as a true business architect.

On relevance of CCIE in 2019

A question I've been getting a lot from the Network Engineers, should they go for CCIE. There are two points to this question:

  • Knowledge and skill
  • Value of CCIE as a Certification




Let me get into more detail.

Value of CCIE as gaining skill and knowledge

Networking as such is changing. A network engineer for the cloud era needs to understand programmability, APIs, SDN with its use cases, Public Cloud networking (inter and intra public cloud). BUT, if you've ever talked to a network engineer who doesn't come from hardcore cisco or juniper networking, and rather comes from systems (VMware or Linux), or someone who's just studied something like OpenFlow and considers hardware to be a "commodity", you'll notice how due to lack of basic networking L1-4 concepts, they tend to not understand some limitations in both functionality and performance. There are exceptions, of course, and I want to acknowledge that!!! The point I'm trying to make is that CCIE gives you the best of breed base for any kind of programmable, cloud, Kubernetes or whichever networking-related activity you want to pursue in the future.

Value of CCIE as a Certification

This is a completely different topic. If you want to do your CCIE just because you want more money from your employer - don’t. Go learn AWS, learn Python and Ansible, maybe some ACI and NSX but from the "north side" (API). The days when getting a CCIE meant an immediate salary increase of 50% are over… It is now a step in your trip, not the final goal.

Conclusion

Should you go for a CCIE? Yes. If you are serious about networking, you 100% should. You will learn all that other SDx and Cloud stuff much more easy if you understand bits and bytes. Hey, I passed my Google Cloud, AWS, and NSX highest level technical certifications greatly thanking to the networking knowledge I learned working on the field as a CCIE... I'm just doing Networking in a different way now. But - it's still networking, L2 and L3, same old MAC, IP and BGP, just consumed in a different way.

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