As promised in episode 81, today we will talk about passing two AWS exams: Developer Associate and Solution Architect Associate. I’ve managed to get both certifications within a week and I would be happy to share my experience of actual exams, discuss what I did to prepare, list some useful materials, and compare the scope of both certificates.
The Developer and Architect certifications are regarded as the first two, and relatively easiest to obtain on the AWS certification path. Third would be the SysOps, closing the Associate level trio. After completing Developer and SysOps, one can obtain DevOps Professional. Independently, after completing Architect Associate, one can get Architect Professional, which is considered the toughest of initial five certifications. There are also three specialized certifications introduced few months ago, covering the area of security, big data and advanced networking.
How it Looks
In both cases, we need to schedule the exam via our AWS account linked with the exam vendor platform. When I was taking the exams it was Kryterion, although I heard this is going to change. Associate level exams cost 150 USD each and require physical presence in examination center. I was kinda surprised when I heard that there was none in my city, whereas when I was doing Java certificates few years ago, there were several sites within 20 miles radius. Currently in Poland you can only take AWS exams in Gdańsk, Kraków and Warsaw.
The exam consists of 55 questions, both single and multiple choice. You are given an indication of number of answers to choose in the latter though. There is 80 minutes for completing the test. I managed to finish Developer in little more than 30, but the Architect was much more difficult and I used basically all the time trying to figure out stuff I wasn’t sure or that I plainly had no idea how to answer. You are also given a piece of paper and a pen if you need to take some notes and noise stoppers if you find your environment annoying. The testing software lets you get to any question at any time and you can select a question to later review – it just adds a mark in the overview screen. You need to score at least 80% to pass and the result is revealed immediately after the test (and a survey if you choose to complete it). Email confirmation arrives immediately and after around two days you got another email with link to badges on AWS page. Here is the official overview for Developer and Architect respectively.
It’s hard to say how many hours is required to prepare. It depends on your previous experiences with AWS and how comfortably you want to feel with your chances of passing / what score are you aiming for. I had no previous experience with AWS, spent probably somewhere around 200 hours total and got 96% for Developer and 89% for Architect. Why do two at once? Because Developer and Architect are quite similar and I would say that if you passed one, you will probably need no more than additional 30% time to pass the other. I will get to the differences later.
First I had a plan to pass only the Developer exam. I started with attending AWS lectures organized at my company and going through starting pages of particular services. Along that I was actually writing articles on the blog, as it helps to understand something if you force yourself to describe it and try not to look too silly at the same time. Then I watched CloudGuru Developer course on Udemy and tried to follow the hands on using my own AWS account. I realized, that there are actually more learning materials for Architect certification and that scope is similar, so I also watched Architect course on Pluralsight and read the official guide for Architect from Amazon since there is no official guide for Developer. I read FAQs for all services that appear in exams. Some of the FAQs are really long, and contain information out of scope of the exam. Or at least which seems to be out of scope, because the official scope given by AWS is very vague if you compare similar info from Oracle’s Java certifications. I’ve also read AWS whitepapers mentioned in exam blueprint. There is also a Packt course, which is ok substantially, but the delivery is not so good since the Author tends to have a lot of short annoying freezes.
As for Architect – specific preparation, I’ve looked through the analogous Cloud Guru course on Udemy. It’s 5 hours longer than the Developer one, but a lot of material is duplicated, so I just went through the list of parts and filtered out what I’ve already seen on Developer course. There is also Packt course on Safari analogous to the Developer one.
When I was approaching the time I wanted to take the exam, I switched to doing mock exams. There are a lot of them available, and you can actually find questions that either literally appear on the real exam or are very similar to them, especially in case of Developer certification. When preparing for similar stuff, I have a habit of doing a lot of mock exams and taking notes each time I answer incorrectly or I’m not sure. I go through such personalized and condensed notes every day for few days before the exam, so that it sinks well.
For Developer exam, I think, that Whizlab product is the most comprehensive. It contains 7 trial exams, 60 question each according to advertisement, while in practice some of them are duplicated in one form or another. There are solid explanations for questions and not many mistakes or outdated stuff. The Architect version has even more content.
The second collection of questions comes from Cloud Guru again. There are only 180 questions there though and I saw a lot of them in Whizlab pack. Explanations are less verbose, but at least the site itself is more responsive. Here are the Developer and Architect versions respectively.
There are also a lot of mobile apps with mock questions, but the quality is usually inferior to aforementioned content. For Developer exam, I checked Cloud Pros app containing around 240 questions. For Architect exam, there is AWSome app, containing around 400.
Aside from dedicated mock exam content, there are mock questions after most chapters in online courses from Cloud Guru and Packt I’ve mentioned, and in the official study guide.
Developer vs Architect
Do Developer and Architect have a lot in common? It turns out they do. I have some experience with Java and JEE certifications in the past, and for example, if you look at Web Components certificate and EJB certificate there, there is basically no overlap whatsoever. If you look at AWS Developer and Architect, the overlap is probably somewhere around 60 – 80% depending how you count. For both, you need to be familiar with global AWS infrastructure, S3, CloudFront, IAM, EC2, VPC, SQS, SNS, SWF, ELB, Autoscaling, Route53, Beanstalk, Lambda and Cloud Formation.
Developer is easier in my opinion, for two reasons. First, the questions are more technical and specific. There are no ambiguities, either you can do something, or you can’t. Something works this way or that way. Second reason is that available Developer exam mock exams resemble the real exam much more than in case of the Architect. Services that are covered much more extensively in Developer exam are DynamoDB and Cloud Formation. In general, there is also more focus on technicalities, low level and specific stuff, function names, error codes, limits, numbers etc.
Architect was more difficult for me because questions were much more open ended. It was usually a description of certain scenario and choice of most suitable solution or set of services to use. Some of them were obviously correct or incorrect; however, it was not always the case. You can engineer solutions in many different ways and it usually requires deeper understanding and more description of a problem to solve than one sentence in the question. Especially in case of multiple choice question, you often run into guessing what the author had in mind exactly. There are answers that are only slightly more correct or incorrect, and you have to hunt for keyword in question like “scalable” or “decoupling” or “highly available” to nail the “correct” answer. Also, the spectrum of services you should be familiar with is much broader than for Developer exam and includes additionally RDS, Elasticache, Kinesis, API Gateway, Elastic Transcoder, EMR, OpsWorks, Directory Service, KMS, Storage Gateway, Cloud Trial, Data Pipeline, Import/Export, Config and ECS.
Is it for me?
I’m, not going to write how useful those certificates are. Most online courses will go to great lengths to convince you that passing all AWS certifications is the best thing you can do in life. I did them mostly because I had a break between commercial projects and my company is kinda on board of AWS hype train, so it was expected of me. I’ve learned a lot interesting things for sure, but I have a feeling that most of the time spent to ensure passing the test at the end could be spent better elsewhere. As is the case with most certifications basically. I hope this article will be useful for you in case you decide to go for it. If you are just starting with AWS feel free to check my introduction and other articles in the AWS category. Best of luck on your exams and feel free to post your AWS certification experience in comments ;)