Tuesday, October 13, 2015

AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Professional



This past week whilst at AWS re:Invent I'm pleased to report that I sat and passed the AWS Certified Solutions Architect Professional level exam.

Having passed the exam I thought I’d share some of my thoughts and experiences on the exam. Hopefully if you are planning on taking the exam, some of these "pearls" will help you prepare, at least mentally for the exam.

The Exam

To start with, it's important to remember that in order to qualify to take this exam you must already hold the the AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Associate badge.

The exam is 170 minutes long and includes 80 questions. 

You'll be measured on 8 domains of knowledge, with the largest percentage of the marks going to "Security". This kind of makes sense considering AWS makes no secret about how security is of paramount importance in everything they do.

This white paper is a very very good read ... 

You can read all about the exam here ... 

The Questions 

Most of the questions are LONG scenario based questions. I felt a bit like I'd run a marathon by the time I clicked the "Submit" button at the end of the exam.

The best piece of advice I can offer here is READ the question completely and READ the answers completely. After all, this is a professional grade architecture exam and as Solutions Architects, there is an expectation that we can extract key requirements from a given scenario.

Unlike many of the other exams I've taken, where a set of answers typically includes two or three options  which, to the trained eye, are obviously incorrect, most answer-sets in this exam contained a full range of answers that could all be correct. However, what you are being asked is to choose the best answer based on the scenario provided. Again, it's important to read and extract the key points or requirements from each question. 

Considering the number of questions and time available, time management is really important. You need to allow yourself around 2 minutes per question. 

I personally found working in 20 minute blocks with a target of 10 questions each block helped me manage my time.

That said, after reviewing my marked answers and going back to review, I only ended up with about 9 minutes remaining on the clock.

Marking for Review

This brings me to another piece of useful advice for keeping time on your side. Use the check later tick box to help you push ahead with the exam if you end up getting stuck on a particular question. You can go back and have another crack at the end.

Preparation

In terms of study guides and resources, I personally found that the "Practice Exam", available for $40 USD through Kryterion, was an excellent starting point. Not only does it give you a feel for the questions and the time constrains you have to work with, it also provides a breakdown (once you've completed the exam) of how you performed in each of the domains. For me this helped guide me on some of the areas I needed to focus on.

Other materials I would recommend all candidates read ... 

AWS White Papers are a must:

Read through the product FAQs:

The reality is that there is not substitute for real-world experience. I have personally worked with the AWS platform for around 3 years which gave me a solid foundation on which to prepare for the exam.

Conclusion

In closing, I think this is a great exam which really tests broad set of skills. The exam prep guide really should be used as a starting point for planning your study. 

The exam tests you’re knowledge of a range of AWS services which can be a challenge if the scope of your work has been limited to a smaller subset of the more commonly uses services. 

Don't forget that Security carries a lot of weight in terms of the overall mark, so really make sure you understand things like IAM, roles, polices, federation, web identity. 

There is also a new "Well Architected Framework" document that AWS published recently. This is definitely worth a read because it will help you understand the best practices that should be applied to your thinking when you make architectural decisions.


Good luck!

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A little about Me

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My name is Mitch Beaumont and I've been a technology professional since 1999. I began my career working as a desk-side support engineer for a medical devices company in a small town in the middle of England (Ashby De La Zouch). I then joined IBM Global Services where I began specialising in customer projects which were based on and around Citrix technologies. Following a couple of very enjoyable years with IBM I relocated to London to work as a system operations engineer for a large law firm where I responsible for the day to day operations and development of the firms global Citrix infrastructure. In 2006 I was offered a position in Sydney, Australia. Since then I've had the privilege of working for and with a number of companies in various technology roles including as a Solutions Architect and Technical team leader.