Q&A with AWS Community Hero Cyrus Wong

Today, we will be sharing an excerpt of our recent discussion with Cyrus Wong. Cyrus is the first all-5 AWS certified professional in Hong Kong and an AWS Community Hero. He is a passionate instructor of all things cloud and AWS at the Cloud Innovation Centre in the IT Department of the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education (Lee Wai Lee). Here, he helps deliver the full-time course, “Higher Diploma in the Cloud and Data Center Administration,” the first such course in Asia dedicated to providing cloud technology training.

He has won three Hong Kong ICT awards in 2014 and 2015 for projects that run exclusively on AWS with Data Science and Machine Learning. One of those projects is the “AWS Cloud Lab Environment,” an open source project that allows educators to create custom lab environments on Amazon Web Services.

In this post, we’re going to get his tips for becoming all-5 AWS certified, and we’ll learn about some of his exciting projects.

Q. Although you had been using AWS for several years, you got your certifications–all 5 of them–in just three months! How did you do it?

A. When I took my first professional exam, I was just the third person in Hong Kong (and maybe even in Taiwan and China) to do so. There was no formal training in Hong Kong at the time, so I just had to read everything. I basically read all of the AWS documentation. All of it. No kidding!

On my first attempt of the first associate level exam, I realized that I was under prepared. So, for my second attempt, I read each document carefully, line by line, over a month of intense, full-time studying. In total, I followed this schedule for about four months, during which I took and passed the certification exams within three months.

Q. Based on your experience, in what order should a student approach the exams?

A. For the associate level exams, I think you could choose either the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate, or the AWS Certified Developer – Associate, followed by the AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate. For the professional level exams, I actually recommend taking the more difficult exam first, so I took the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional first, followed by the AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional. Naturally, whatever is the most difficult for you depends on your experience and background.

Q. A lot of people worry about the AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional exam if they don’t have any programming or DevOps experience. What do you think?

The DevOps exam is focused on server deployment and configuration. Programming skills are not important, however, you will want to be extremely familiar with the deployment of applications in different technologies. I was surprised that they asked a lot about Microsoft, ASP.Net deployment.

If you have a programming background you will most likely have some experience with deployment and setting up a development or testing environment. Deployment knowledge is important (setting up servers, webcasts, or web forums, for example).

To prepare, I recommend that you read all of the Amazon documentation on the topic. The DevOps exam is much more specific than say the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional, which covers nearly everything in Amazon (and takes twice as long to prepare for).  DevOps is very concentrated on the AWS service: install, confirmation, ops work. You need to have a deep understanding of both their differences and their limitations.

I would also say that having some practical experience would be helpful for passing the DevOps exam, as it will make it much easier to remember and understand how to design the pipeline, the scenarios, etc.

Q. Let’s shift gears to your projects, several of which have been recognized in both Hong Kong and throughout Asia. Can you tell us more about your award-winning AWS Cloud Lab Environment project?

A. In educational institutions, no matter where you are, we share a common problem when it comes to the physical computer in a lab environment. Essentially, they depreciate in value quite easily and it is expensive to keep them up to date or to replace them.
Our AWS Cloud Lab Environment is an open source project for educators to create tailor-made environments from AWS. This eliminates the limits of the physical computer and allows the instructor to create a custom lab environment for each student.

Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2)
To do this, we built a system, actually a lab, inside AWS for a class. We opened a lot of EC2 instances (around 100). Each student got one EC2 instance during the class so that they could connect to Amazon and do their lab assignment anywhere, at their own pace.
EC2 Instances
We also do the backup and share it with students. We just clone the instructor’s instance and then each student connects to it from their desktop.

After that, each student is able to connect to their custom computer in every class, and for every lab. Students can connect by remote desktop or SSH to the lab computer from wherever they are. They can recover their lab machine at home at different levels.

We use a lot of AWS services in our labs, and cloud formation to back up and automate the marking pauses all inside the AWS and physical computer.

In one example, we installed VMWare inside EC2 for an exercise, along with some level of security. We were basically doing a hacker lab inside the EC2 cluster and we asked students to play around with it.

To hear the rest of this conversation, check out our webinar, AWS Certifications: From Zero to Hero with Cyrus Wong.

Meet Dr. Cloud

We would also like to highlight Cyrus’ latest project, a 100% serverless virtual doctor built on AWS that was developed with three of his students who recently completed the latest AWS Academy Program.

Dr. Cloud (Cloud Virtual Smart Doctor) is a self-diagnostic tool that is built with Alexa Skill, Rekognition, AWS IoT and Lambda.

Dr. Cloud uses Alexa to interact with patients, Rekognition to analyze their facial features, AWS IoT to communicate with medical equipment and AR to provide visual instruction to the patient.

Learn more

Cyrus shares his AWS and cloud-related knowledge and experience on his LinkedIn blog. One of his most popular posts is How to Get All AWS Certifications in Asia. Cyrus is an active member of the AWS Hong Kong user group. He also created a YouTube channel, “AWS Talks in Cantonese,” which is an excellent resource for AWS topics for Hong Kong, China, and Taiwan.

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