After getting some hands-on experience in AWS during my recent projects, I decided to test my knowledge in AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate. I was also hoping to learn about topics which I hadn’t had opportunity to dive into. This post contains my thoughts on preparing and passing this exam. I won’t provide you with any example questions (which is banned by NDA), but I’ll try to give you some tips.
First of all, it was fun, because the exam doesn’t require you to memorise the entire API’s or know all ‘gotchas’ and configuration details. Instead, there are many questions like: ‘You’re about to build high available distributed application XYZ, which AWS services would you use?’. Because of this fact, the best preparation is real-life experience in implementing and deploying applications on AWS. In case you have an experience in some, but not all topics described in exam blueprint, you’ll need to study a bit (as I also needed). I recommend taking beta exam (20 USD), which gave me an idea of how the real exam looks like and motivated me to learn more (because I failed it the first time).
I started learning from Cloudacademy courses, but I would not recommend it unless you want to learn basics, which I already knew. Then I moved to AWS docs and papers listed in blueprint. Let’s go through the most important topics to study for the exam (and in AWS, in general).
VPC is a software defined network so make sure that you know what it means. You must know the differences between public and private subnets and get familiar with common VPC scenarios. Other core VPC topics are security groups and network ACLs, and their use cases. The former are statefull and the latter are stateless, which has some interesting implications. I’m sure you will encounter questions testing your understanding of this difference.
Regarding EC2, read instance lifecycle several times. It’s very important to know when you can rely on different instance IPs or DNS names and when volume data is preserved or lost. Another must read is autoscalling guide, there are several things to know about, like autoscalling groups, triggers, instance termination policies, cooldowns. Make sure you understand it.
You will be asked about how you would build batch processing service, e-commerce website and so on. Make sure you know which services allow to decouple components, buildscalable share-nothing architecture or protect data (in transit and at rest). You’ll be also asked about building high available systems, so knowledge about disaster recovery scenarios can be useful.
Apart from absolutely crucial topics I’ve mentioned, there are several additional topics to study:
- IAM Users, Groups, Roles and Policies
- Different options of storage (S3, DynamoDB, RDS, Glacier)
- Automating cloud architecture with CloudFormation
- Use cases of application services (PaaS) like SES, SQS, SWF, SNS and differences between them
I’ve found real exam much easier than the beta one, but still, it was rather comprehensive. You will have 80 minutes, but I think you will need no more than one hour including double checking every question (assuming you are well prepared). Preparation wasn’t painful and I feel it improved my knowledge, so I’m motivated to take other AWS certificates in the future.
If you have plans to pass this exam in the near future and have questions, please don’t hesitate to ask in comments.
Any thoughts from certified AWS architects would also be appreciated.