Author: Kevin Felichko
Apr, 01st 2015

Prepare for AWS certifications: an overview of the available certifications.

In this video Kevin Felichko, one of our in-house AWS cloud expert, will begin our webinar series on AWS training with an overview of the available certifications, the purpose of each certification, and what makes these certifications so important to anybody who wishes to work with cloud technologies.

To prepare for AWS certification, you'll have the opportunity to hear some unique observations directly from an AWS cloud expert.

Prepare for AWS Certification: introduction

We're going to look at the target audience, outline the content, and throughout I'll sprinkle in some of my thoughts and tips I've had for each exam. So about me. My name is Kevin Falichko. I have 20 years developing software. Two years of that, I've been working with AWS.

In my career, I have witnessed the transition from an on-premise environment or data center environment to the cloud. It's been amazing to watch and it's a good thing to be a part of. I have four out of five of the AWS certifications.

You can follow me on Twitter, @kfelichko, if you're interested in talking more about the cloud, hearing my thoughts about that, or if you want to discuss soccer, because I'm a big soccer fan.

Who is Cloud Academy? Always a good question. Cloud Academy was founded in 2013 in San Francisco. It was created by a group of cloud computing experts. All of us here at Cloud Academy are engineers and trainers. We're technically certified in AWS. We work with Azure and Google Cloud. We educate IT professionals in 130 countries around the world. Why AWS? Why cloud computing? Why should you prepare for AWS certification and get certified?

According to a Forbes article, there are about 18 million jobs globally that deal with cloud computing. Now out of those 18 million, developers are in high demand. Now every job in cloud computing is in high demand, developers tend to be the highest out of that group. Out of all the cloud computing jobs that deal with infrastructure, Amazon web services is the most requested.

AWS certifications are a great thing to have. I personally believe in them because they have great integrity. They're tough exams and there's not any brain dumps you can go out and find answers and just go in and get a paper certification. Some things about the exams you should know about. It's common across all the exams. The passing score is not published. That's because AWS has the right to change what the methodology is behind the scenes. The number of questions, they're not published either. Once you get a certification, you have to re-certify every two years. That's kind of a new requirement. If you took the certifications, if you have an associate's level certification you took a couple of years ago, you'll find that there's no expiration date on your certificate. Newer ones have that, so you are required to re-certify every two years.

AWS Certified Solutions Architect-Associate level certification: Overview

We're going to start with the AWS Certified Solutions Architect-Associate level certification.

The AWS Certified Solution Architect-Associate level tests your guidance, how you can offer guidance to anybody looking to be in the AWS cloud. It's looking at your ability to design solutions in the AWS cloud and whether or not you can apply best practices. It's really looking for a well rounded individual, looking to test your ability to recommend the right solutions and looking at some of the best practices offered by Amazon in order to bring people into their environment. The target audience tends to be not only composed by developers and system administrators. I've seen a lot of IT managers and chief technology officers take this exam.

The point of taking the exam for them could be to learn more about the cloud because the preparation behind becoming certified really helps you to get to know the different offerings from AWS. The content areas that are covered by the AWS Solution Architect-Associate level exam they're looking to see if you can design highly available, cost efficient, fault tolerant, and scalable solutions. They're looking for implementation and deployment skills.

They're looking for your ability to protect data through data security and locking down environments. They want to know if you can troubleshoot in AWS. All of these content areas can be found documented in the architecture or exam guide for the architect associate exam. If you look at it, it will actually tell you a breakdown of each of these areas and how much you will encounter them on the exam.

The first one, the designing highly available, cost efficient, fault tolerant, scalable systems, that covers 60% of the actual exam. That doesn't mean that's all you need to study. You need to study all four areas but when you start your path to learning the technology, start looking at how to design these systems. In fact, AWS makes it very simple. If you go and you look at our Cloud Academy course on designing for failure, some of the things we do in there, we explain how to use auto-scaling. How to incorporate using CloudFront, so if you have CloudFront, which is a content delivery network, you can use static and dynamic content that is available at different edge locations in the Amazon environment.

That will help you in case your application fails on the back end. You can have a reduced set of functionality so that you're never fully experiencing an outage. If you go and you take this course, you'll cover a lot of what's in that first content area. I've spoken to many people about this exam and the biggest thing I can tell is this is one of the exams I suggest you start with.

It covers so much. If you're looking to go to other exams and do the SysOps or do the Developer exam, this is a really, really good start. In fact, my personal experience, I went and I took the architect exam and went and got lunch and came back and took the developer exam.This is a great foundation.

To prepare for AWS certification and for this one, we have a lot of Cloud Academy resources. You can take our quizzes, you can take our labs and follow the courses. Do this, find your strengths, find your weaknesses and then improve on both. But focus on those weaknesses. Like I said, start this one first. We do have a lot of questions. I want to mention that we have a lot of questions, that we will address those at the end of the presentation. We're just going to keep working through this.

AWS Certified Developer Administrator - Associate level

In the discussion on how to prepare for AWS certification, we're going to jump over to the AWS Certified Developer-Associate level exam. The AWS Certified Developer-Associate exam is looking to see if you understand AWS fundamentals and that you can integrate with services such as Simple Q Service, Simple Workflow Service and DynamoDB, and some others. It's also looking to see if you can build cloud aware applications.

I'm a developer by nature. The functionality that AWS offers for developers, it's an amazing set of tools that we can use that are managed for us.

We don't have to worry about setting them up. We don't have to worry about every aspect of insuring that they're available as long as we select the right options, and we take the right steps in developing our application. This certification is testing that. It's making sure you know how to use those services efficiently. Developers are the target audience for this exam.

That doesn't mean only developers can take this or should take this. There are non-developers who are interested in programming that benefit from this. You'll learn a lot about the API. You'll learn a lot about the SDK, using command line tools. It's a great exam to really understand the developer side and to understand how those things work, especially if you plan to get into DevOps.

DevOps can benefit from this exam. The content areas that are being tested; we're looking for the AWS fundamentals, that is knowing auto-scaling, knowing EC2, how they work. It's looking to see if you can design and develop in AWS. It's looking to see if you can deploy and apply appropriate security measures, and can you debug your applications that are running in the cloud, in the AWS cloud. Some of the things you can do to begin learning this. Really just start building applications.

You can build, if you follow along on the design for failure course, we take an application, we build it, we make it run in a highly available environment. You can take that, you can mix in Elastic Beanstalk, which is one of the Amazon's deployment tools that allow you to use command line instructions like you would with Git where you can just push your deployment up to an EC2 instance and have it running. You can even then roll back failed deployment or just roll back because you feel like it. The other thing is to incorporate other services. Use DynamoDB to maybe store some of your data.

Maybe store session data there if you want to have persistent data store between session logins. Use Simple Q services.

Simple Q services is a really fun tool. It might not sound like it, but you can throw something in there and pick it up later and have it replayed. You can do a lot of great stuff. Simple Workflow, some of the things with Simple Workflow allow you to have things follow a certain order. One of the things you can do in there is to have a human task. Learn to play around with that, because some of your questions will probably have to do with the human task side of Simple Workflow. Learn CloudFormation.

We'll get to CloudFormation in a second in one of my tips. I love CloudFormation. It's a great declarative language for building your environment. Use Simple Notifications services. It's another great way to send messages between services, building a loosely coupled application. You can also use it with Lambda, if you're familiar with what Lambda is. It was announced at re:Invent. It's a great add-on that let's you send text messages. It lets you notify another application using topics. There's a lot you can do with it. You should write applications that can use all of these in order to learn how they function, learn the API, learn the command line tools that will make you more successful when you take this exam. So my tip that I mentioned was to use CloudFormation from the start.

CloudFormation is a declarative language written in json format that lets you build your entire environment, lets you build the VPC, the subnets. It lets you build EC2 instances. What you can do, is you can take that and run that script. You can then tear down your environment. You can build it back up. You can take it from one region. You can move it to another region. You can store it as source code, version it, and no matter what you do, whether this is just for you to pass an exam or if it's for you to learn how to work with AWS, you can use this in a production environment. You can script your entire production environment and have a disaster recovery tool at your disposal just by all of a sudden, say Amazon has it's first big regional outage where the whole region is out. You can quickly fire something up in another region just by using this script. It's very powerful, helps you learn and prepare for AWS certification, and I can't stress enough how important it is to incorporate as part of your daily AWS use and as you learn more and more about AWS.

AWS Certified SysOps Administrator - Associate level

The next certification is the SysOps Administration-Associate level. This is looking to see if you can automate solutions. Everything in AWS you can do from a console, you can do from command lines tools. Most things you can do from a console and some things you can only do from the command line tools. You can pretty much automate everything in AWS. This is testing your ability to automate that. Provision new systems and environments, that's basically bringing up EC2, setting up a VPC, creating your subnets. It's looking to make sure you can do all that. It's looking to see that you can monitor performance. Performance is a very important topic in AWS.

They've built so many tools around it like CloudWatch. You can use it to your advantage. You can write custom CloudWatch metrics. You can use the existing CloudWatch metrics. All of which combined you need to know for this exam because it's very important to the day to day operations which is what a SysOps administrator is most likely focused on. The last thing it's going to check in this exam is to make sure you can maintain stability and availability in the cloud. Yes, building highly available solutions that stay up during high traffic load. This exam is testing that. It's focused on system administrators and developers with a DevOps focus. Those are the two people this is targeting. If you're a VP, if you're a C level executive and you want to get hands on. Let's say you're in a small shop and you want to get hands on, this is a great exam to study for as well. It's going to force you to do things from the command line. It's going to force you to basically learn the ins and outs of every service. There are seven content areas this is focused on: monitoring and metrics, high availability, analysis, deployment and provisioning, data management, security, and networking.

I'm going to give you my two cents on this exam. Out of all the associate level exams that I have taken, this was the most difficult. All areas are covered equally and you need to really, like I said, get into the command line. Get into the things you can't do in the console. It was very difficult. I have to admit, it took me more than one attempt on this. I thought I had the skills to go in and just do it and I wasn't right. I didn't know certain things and this really opened up my eyes.

I got in and now I love the command line. I love doing that, scripting things through: running a Node.js application and interacting with the SDK. This is a tough exam but it's very rewarding. There are many tools on Cloud Academy that can help you but you have to go through each one and learn the ins and outs of every service and how you can automate them.

AWS Certified Solution Architect - Professional level

The next one up in the certification hierarchy, we start hitting the professional level. In the professional level, this is the AWS Certified Solution Architect-Professional. This is less of a technical focus. Now that you've passed the associate and you're here taking the professional, the professional level exam doesn't look at your ability to go in and set auto-scaling. It's looking to see if you're given a set of requirements can you build a solution that meets those requirements. The questions are going to be very detailed. This is targeting solution architects. It's targeting system administrators and developers.

If you have the Architect-Associate, you can take the professional. As it says, you've got to pass the associate before you can take it. You can't even schedule it until you've passed the associate level. There are eight content areas that you are being graded in; high availability and business continuity, costing, deployment management, network design, data storage, security, scalability and elasticity, cloud migration and hybrid architecture. I can tell you that, for many people, there are some of these things, services in AWS and some situations that you won't encounter on a day to day basis. I, for example, I don't encounter hybrid architecture. I still had to go out and learn how to configure hybrid architecture. I still had to learn those ins and outs in order to be successful in this exam. You've got to keep that in mind, it's very challenging. Like I said, it's more than just hands on experience.

You have to know how to interpret the questions and solutions. In order to be successful, you're going to have to eliminate solutions that don't meet certain requirements. We're working right now on a professional level course. In that professional level course, we have some questions. And those questions are long questions and they're tricky. You might encounter a question that gives you a bunch of requirements and then you'll have solutions where three of those solutions are viable solutions. You can throw one of them out because it doesn't make sense.

In those remaining three, you're going to have to interpret the solution and does it meet every requirement? Does it do something that might cost more than say a different one and the requirement was find the lowest cost? Completely passable exam. It is challenging in the sense that if you're like me, you read through it, you see these great solutions and you don't know which one to pick because any of them would work, you really have to go and read, interpret the question, understand what's needed and apply it to the right solution. That's what we're going to discuss in the professional level course.

Next up is the DevOps Engineer-Professional. It's the newest exam that is out there from AWS. It merges the developer and SysOps Associate level path together. You only need to take and have passed one of those, not both, in order to take the professional. This is looking to insure you can implement continuous delivery. You can automate operational processes, create self-healing systems, and you can monitor using the metrics and logging provided through CloudWatch and through some of the tools AWS provides. You have these areas, it really focuses a lot on continuous delivery and process automation. When I say that, it's looking for, can you take a system you've built; an application you've built, can you deploy it across five servers out of ten? Basically, doing a rolling deployment. Can you do that frequently? Can you roll back? Can you properly roll back? That's what it's looking for. You're checking the monitoring, the metrics, and the logging to make sure that deployments were successful and if not roll them back.

The exam is testing to see that you can make a secure environment and validate the outcome of deployments. It's looking to see that you've built a highly available system that can scale up and scale back down and doing all of this through using different tools, OpsWorks, CodeDeploy. If you're familiar with different deployment models. Can you do A/B testing? Here we go again; understanding how to do rolling deployments, the A/B testing. I suggest you get hands on with OpsWorks, CodeDeploy, Elastic Beanstalk. These are some really great tools that even if you've never touched them before, maybe you're not a developer, maybe you've always left deployment up to developers.

This is basically a way you can get hands on. Just grab those tools, mess with them. Take an open source app and deploy it to some servers and see how they work. Get familiar with the SDK. Look at the command line interface. Those are some tools you can use for this exam. Now we're going to jump over to another question.

AWS certifications are great. I have a team that I've challenged to pass AWS certifications and they've successfully done that and they've used Cloud Academy. They were successful because they took these courses and it's a great, great tool to use. To conclude in this overview, study, study, study.

Prepare for AWS certification: how to get AWS Certified?

I went into this exam the first time and I didn't study. I thought my hands on experience was just enough to prepare for AWS certification. For some people, that may be the case. For me, I needed to understand what kind of questions were going to be asked and they helped guide me into the right study materials. I highly recommend studying, really prepare for AWS certification.

Definitely get your hands dirty with AWS. Whether or not you're using AWS day to day, there's a free account. Go sign up, use it. It can help you in combination with the studying, it'll help you pass the exam. Watch our courses, view our labs, and take our quizzes. We have some great courses and quizzes you can take that will help you pass these exams. We're constantly adding more to the mix that will help you.

Remember, you re-certify every two years, so keep that knowledge up. Don't just let it fade away. 

What's next? Our next webinar, we're going to dive into how to pass the AWS Certified Solution Architect-Associate level course.