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My AWS Training and Certification journey

My AWS Training and Certification journey

My AWS Training and Certification journey. I also give tips to help you for your future AWS Exams.

Published Mar 21, 2024
Last Modified Mar 22, 2024
I’m Sylvain BRUAS, AWS Solutions Architect at Teamwork France since 2015.
I started to use AWS in 2014, as a customer in an E-learning company. AWS services were used to deliver baccalaureate results to students at scale (more than 600 000 students each year). We were using Amazon EC2 to generate the result pages, and stored them on Amazon S3 to be able to deliver them using Amazon Cloudfront.
In 2015, I started my journey as AWS Solutions Architect.
I passed my first certification in 2016 (AWS Certified Solutions Architect). My manager asked me to take the exam to be compliant with AWS partner requirements, and to help our company grow.
I currently have 9 active AWS certifications.

Why so many certifications?

People often ask this question, and sometimes my friends see me like this:
Cloud Consultant
There are several reasons:
  1. Minimum Knowledge Validation. Certification validates a certain level of expertise recognized by AWS, confirming that an individual possesses essential knowledge and skills in architecture and methodology, enabling them to provide valuable assistance to customers or colleagues.
  2. Self-confidence. As there is a lot of subjects, whitepapers, architectures, design, etc… to discover and know on AWS, it’s easy to be lost. The worst time for me is just after re:Invent, as I see too many interesting things. Certifications help me to calm down and keep one thing in mind: “Ok Sylvain, you are not an expert on all these interesting subjects, but you are not lost, you are still able to pass this exam and you are not an "impostor”.
  3. Professional Spotlight! With certification you are easily identified by new customers or new employers, even if they are not too technical.
    Each time I pass an exam, I have new contact requests on LinkedIn for several weeks.
  4. Creditability Support. As a final benefit, certifications can bolster your credibility and ensure your voice is taken seriously.
    I passed AWS security specialty to be more heard by cyber security team at one of my customers. I have learned nothing new during my studies for this exam, but this certification reassured them and facilitated communication.

My working method for certifications

My first habit is to go regularly on skillbuilder.aws to find new content. It’s an amazing source of knowledge, as you can find over 1000 courses both free and paid.
I register to the courses that are useful for my next certification, to read them during my studies.
To stay fit between 2 exams, I challenge myself with AWS Learning Badges. I read the courses and the questions in final review are quite similar to the certification exam (even if the questions are easier for badges).
My manager supports my interest in content development on AWS, that allows me to be part of “AWS community builder” group. This program provides technical resources, webinars, best practices for sharing AWS knowledge and networking opportunities to AWS enthusiasts. It keeps me motivated to test new services, share architectures and show the time required to be up to date with all AWS news. It helps me to remember how a service works and know limits and best practices.
AWS Certification need to be re-certified every 3 years. Since I have 9 certifications, in order to keep them active, I find myself taking an exam approximately once a year to ensure all remain active. I try to take 2 exams in the same quarter to mutualize my studies between certifications.
To simplify this process, I tried to find certifications with the same set of topics. I took the exam guide file on AWS website and extracted the list of services.
Coverage of AWS subjects by Certification
Example: Data associate covers 33% of all the AWS services listed in exam guides.
Certifications vary in terms of difficulty, ranging from Foundational to Associate, Professional, and Specialty levels. For example, Cloud Practitioner is a foundational level certification that covers 62% of services, it will not go deep on each of them.
If you want to take an exam with the minimal set of services to know, you can try Associate level certifications including SysOps, Developer and Data Engineer certifications.
In the next picture, you will find the common and specific subjects between certifications (same data source).
Example: if we take the first line at the top. Data Associate has 20 subjects that are not in DevOps pro certification. They have 50 subjects in common, and DevOps has 60 specific subjects.
You can use these charts to identify how to share efforts across certifications.

Certification Tips

1. Don’t start on a whim

You must work to prepare for the exam and have your environment under control. Don’t forget an exam is like an Olympic final, and your objective is to win:
Usain Bolt
My worst decision was in 2019, when I decided to recertify during re:Invent. I was so excited to be there, and I had an afternoon without conferences. I booked the AWS solutions Architect Professional exam.
I have just forgotten details … 3 to be honest :
  1. I didn’t start to study before the event, but I said to myself: “no problem, I will have it with my skills.
  2. The Jet Lag. 8 hours difference with France
  3. 3. The background noise of the re:Invent. Even if the best was done by AWS to have a quiet place to take the exam, it’s complicated to have no noises when you are in the same area with an event with thousands of people and an expo.
Hopefully, I passed the exam. It took me several days (and Las Vegas nights) to recover from the necessary concentration effort.
In one picture:
Face Palm

2. Use AWS question sets to train.

You must train with real AWS questions, to find quickly the keywords that will help you choose the right answer at the speed of light.
Questions are designed by Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), and the way to write them is normalized. For not native English speakers like me, it’s important to know the patterns, vocabulary to save time.
I also use other learning and testing platforms, like A Cloud Guru for example, to check that I have understood all the subjects. It’s interesting, but the questions are not written as the one from AWS. Therefore, the time invested may not yield complete benefits as expected.
The best questions are the ones available on skillbuilder.aws. As the set of question is limited, I keep them for my final review. If myscore on these questions is 85% or higher, I’m ready.

3. Manage your time and find your rhythm

We all have a different way of managing time. Some of my colleagues do the exam in one go, keeping 10% of time to read once again the questions on which they have doubts.
My tactics are different and require lots of concentration. I give myself 50% of the time to finish the exam. During this first phase, I put a tag on the questions that bother me, to be able to focus on them in the second phase.
This method helps me to avoid looping on too difficult questions. It helps me to save time for all the next questions and guarantee that I answered to all “quick win” questions.
In the second phase, I read once again all the questions, to validate that I didn’t choose a wrong answer by reading too quickly. I take the necessary time on the remaining questions.
With this method, after the exam I feel like a zombie.
There is no recipe for this. You must find the method that suits you.
Golden rule: Don’t panic and believe in yourself ! 

4. Read a couple of answers at the same time

The exam is made of single choice among 4, or multiple choice.
For single choice, we can often see 2 groups of similar answers. Only a few words make the difference. The aim is to first find the group of 2 “quite good” answers (50% of answers are removed), and then read carefully and in parallel the 2 remaining answers.
**Tips **: In the answer we always have the full name of services. If there is a mistake in the name, it’s quite sure that this answer is wrong. example: if you read “AWS S3” instead of “Amazon S3”, you can be pretty sure that the answer is wrong.

5. Don’t panic if you don’t have the results at the end of the exam

On two occasions, at the end of the exam, I was impatiently awaiting the result and then…. A nice screen appeared with a message indicating that the exam will be reread by the AWS teams and that the results will be given in a few days.
It was a new source of stress and disappointment. Do not panic! This does not mean that you did not do well on your exam.
Last time I got 900/1000. Even though I was happy with my answers, this extra wait gave me extra stress.
Wait for an answer

6. Try to pass beta certifications!

Beta certification are a chance and I encourage you to try to get them.
They have 3 interesting characteristics:
  • Half price
  • One retry included
  • Drawback: not a lot of specific content to study
I have tried (and passed) the last beta available that was on data, which is not one of my favorite subjects and not one on which I spent time.
I planned to take the exam beginning of January 2024, to have time to study after Christmas, and after December, that is a crazy month in my customer’s office.
When I tried to book the exam, there were no more slots to take it (to be honest, some slots were available at 5am, but it’s not a good idea)
2 solutions for the next move:
  • Let it go
  • Take it in December, with no time to study as only fewa few slots were still available in the next 5 days.
I chose to take the exam, after thinking about these points:
  • If I pass it, wonderful! But it is unlikely to happen.
  • I have only a few hours to study.
    I need to optimize my time to increase my chance of passing. I read again the prerequisites for the exam, and I chose to focus on subjects that seem to be linked to dataOps job role.
  • What happens if I fail?
    • I will take it for free one more time in 3 months.
    • I will see a large set of questions and themes related to the certification.
      -> It will give me valuable data for the retake.
Takeaway: Do not fear failure and see the first attempt as training and information gathering.

7. Don’t be unprepared or allow your colleagues to be!

Please verify all the following points before starting the exam:
  • Stop all alarms on your phone.
    I have an alarm at 13:50 to have time to have a coffee before going back to work after lunch. During my last certification, which have started at 13:30, I had the pleasure to hear my alarm …
    Big discomfort with the proctor, and some acrobatics movements with my laptop to show him that I only stop the alarm.
  • Don’t forget to plug in your laptop after showing to the proctor your exam room.
    Result: 5min before the end of the exam the laptop shutdown. Stress at the highest level to restart the computer, and more stress when the proctor that had problems to recover my exam session. I was close to restart the entire exam.
  • Put and EXPLICIT and LARGE WARNING about your exam on the door.
    Even if it was written in red, one of my colleagues knocked on my exam room door. My heart forgot to beat for a few seconds.
    I still don’t know who did this, but if I catch him …
Takeaway: don’t be as unprepared as I was!

8. Find the right place

I have tested 3 places to take exams:
  • In a test center: simple and in a dedicated environment, everything is ready. You need to adapt to the required equipment, and you have no control over the environment. It’s like Software as a Service (SaaS).
  • In the office: need to book a meeting room and adapt it (remove extra screens, move tables …). Environment is well known with its good and bad points.It’s like Platform as a service (PaaS).
  • At home: you need to redesign your office room to comply with the requirements (remove screens, children drawings …). You must also tell your family to go outside during the test (ex: movie theater) to have a quiet place.It’s like Infrastructure as a service (IaaS), you can change nearly everything.
I chose to take exams at the office, as my wife nearly killed me when I tried to do it at home. She is already kind with me during studies, I no longer impose exam constraints on her.
Love

9. Have healthy routines before the exam

Don’t forget that the exam can be 3h long. Food, drink, smoke or pee break are not allowed.
One hour before the exam I start to drink several small quantities of water. I also eat a healthy meal but not to fat (exam is not the right time for a nap).
Put nicotine patch to control smoking needs if you’re smoking.
Clean your glasses before the exam if, like me, you are no longer able to read without them.Don’t forget that you will not be allowed to clean them as the proctor wants to see your hands during the exam.
Last point and maybe the more important one. Take 15min before the exam to breathe, calm down and clean your head.
I even allow myself to take a little nap to rest my eyes before starting.
Meditate

Conclusion

In conclusion, my journey through AWS certification has been enhanced by continuous learning, practical application, and community engagement.
This strategy has not only kept me updated with AWS technologies but also bolstered my professional visibility and credibility. I also learned about myself and found solutions to reduce exam stress.
I hope you find these tips helpful on your cloud journey!
Many thanks to Viktoria Semaan and Anda-Catalina Giraud for their help with the writing of this article and for their comments.