Life-size AWS statue

After joining the Wirehive family in September, I spoke to the management team on our objectives and goals for the AWS platform - and how our managed cloud services can better serve our customers.

And one of the first things we touched on was the Well Architected Framework.

Organisations must meet several key criteria to be included in their partner programme. This includes earning a Solution Architect Professional certification which, due to the sheer range of services that you must understand to qualify, is easier said than done.

To cut a long story short, I'm pleased to announce that I recently passed the exam myself. I know first-hand how difficult it was, so I thought I would share my experiences to help others who find themselves in the same boat.

Disclaimer: the experiences mentioned here are completely my own. Any resources I mention are not sponsored/endorsed by Wirehive in any way. With that out of the way, let's begin.
AWS-Certified

Finding the right learning materials

This wasn't my first experience with the AWS certification. I achieved the Associate tier for the Solution Architect, Developer, and SysOps exams in 2018.

These exams were challenging enough, so I wondered how I was going to be able to reach the next level of certification (aka the Professional tier). My first step was to find the right learning materials.

Previously, I used the training materials from acloud.guru. They'd served me well in the past, but I noticed that, at the professional tier, there were many average reviews. Many of the comments claimed there was plenty of room for improvement, so I kept looking.

I eventually came across a course on Udemy led by DolphinEd which had many excellent reviews. After reviewing a couple of sample lectures, I decided to go with this option.

The course was broken down into bitesize videos, and I would go through each one and make some notes on a google doc. This was particularly useful, as it allowed me to access the content anytime to review my notes. It was a long process - there was over 45 hours of content, and I had a day job to do as well! Overall, it probably took around 2 months to complete. By the end of it, I'd written 65 pages and ~23K words...

Aside from the lectures, the course highlighted the importance of reading AWS' own whitepapers. While there're many recommendations to consider, the ones I gained the most value from was the Well Architected Framework whitepaper and the overview of the EBS (Elastic Block Service) presentation slides.

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Try your hand at some practice exams

Next, I bought a set of practice exam papers from Whizlabs - after trying their free exam. These exams were challenging, to say the least. Still, they taught me the main difference between the associate and professional tier.

The questions were typically long and detailed. There'd usually be a keyword(s) somewhere in the text to look out for. When you review your answers, you'll probably find that, while two or three are technically correct, they're not perfect.

The trick here is finding those keywords: “cost-optimised”, “highly available”, or “least complex”. When you have this, you should then be able to answer the questions more fully. This is the hardest thing to get right. I spent a significant amount of time and effort taking practice exams (it was probably 8 in total, with each one taking about 2 and a bit hours).

In the early stages, I failed more often than not, routinely scoring in the low to mid 60% range. But, over time, my grades increased to the point where I was regularly hitting the high 70% range. I found that the time limit imposed of 2 hours 50 mins was plenty - a far cry from the stories I'd read online of people literally finishing their last question as the clock ticked down to 00:00.

As the exam date drew closer and I was getting into focus, I spoke with one of my colleagues, who'd already been through the SA Professional process twice. We did a whiteboarding session on a topic I was struggling with: the variety of SSL termination options of the different Load Balancers that AWS provided. This 20 minute session was vital, and helped me frame so much of this topic, that I never got an SSL question wrong in a practice exam again. Thanks Jon!

AWS Solution Architect Professional: the exam

So came the big day. Suffice it to say, I was quite nervous.

After 3 months of learning, reading, practicing, re-reading, watching, re-practicing, I was hoping for the right result. The first question came in, and I got into my groove. I'd check the timer every so often to ensure I had enough time to answer all 75 questions.

Finally, I submitted the exam, and got back the message I was looking for: “Congratulations you have passed!”. I was so happy, and If I’m honest very relieved that I'd made it over the line.

What's the moral of this story? There're no shortcuts where the AWS Solution Architect Professional certification is concerned. It took a solid 2-3 months of effort, dedication, and, most importantly, confidence in myself. It's this that, more than anything else, will set you up for success.

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