After joining the Wirehive family in September, I was speaking with the management team on our objectives and goals for the AWS platform with our customers. One of those discussions that came up was on the Well Architected Framework, and the requirements to be on its partner program.

One of those requirements was to have a Solution Architect Professional certification. I knew this to be a challenging qualification due to its far-reaching range of services that you need to have a deep understanding of. Very recently I was pleased to announce that I passed this exam, and as I know first-hand how difficult it was, I would share my experience of this. This experience here is completely my own, and any resources I mention are not sponsored/endorsed by Wirehive in anyway.
AWS-Certified

I have had experience of AWS certifications in the past, as I achieved the Associate tier for the Solution Architect, Developer, and SysOps exams in 2018.

I found these exams challenging enough, so did wonder how I was going to be able to reach the next level of certification aka the Professional tier. The first step I took was finding the right learning materials for the course.

Previously I had used the training materials from acloud.guru and these had served me well in the past, however I noticed that at the professional tier there were many average reviews online, with lots of comments about room for improvement, so I kept looking about.

I eventually came across a course on Udemy led by DolphinEd which had many excellent reviews, and 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. The use of a google doc was great as it allowed me to access the content anytime to review what I had read. This process took quite some time to complete, as there were over 45 hours of content, and I had a day job to do as well! Overall this process took around 2 months to complete, and by the end of it I had written 65 pages, and ~23K words!

One of the important thing this course mentioned was the value in reading whitepapers that AWS publish. Whilst there are many recommendations to make, 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.

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

These questions are long in their descriptions, and there will usually be a keyword(s) somewhere in the text to look out for. When you first read the question and answers you may find that 2 or 3 of them are technical correct and will delivery what is asked… but the analytical part here is finding those keyword(s) such as “cost-optimised”, “highly available”, or “least complex”. When you have this, you should then be able to answer the question correctly.

This is what took me time to get right, and I spent a good amount of effort taking practice exams (it was probably 8 in total, with each one taking about 2 ¼ hours). Initially I was failing and scoring in the low to mid 60% range, but then over time the grades increased to where I was hitting a high 70%. I did find that the time limit imposed of 2 hours 50 mins was plenty for me, compared to many stories I read online of people literally finishing their last question as the clock ticks down to 00:00

As the exam date drew closer and I was getting into focus I spoke with one of my colleagues, who had 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!

So came the big day, and I was quite nervous. It was 3 months of learning, reading, practicing, re-reading, watching, re-practicing, and I was hoping for the right result. The first question came in, and I got into my groove, and every so often checking the timer to be sure I would answer all 75 questions in the 2 hours 50 minutes. At times it felt like I had answered 100 questions, but in reality it was only 32, but slowly the number of questions ticked off rose.

Finally, I submitted the exam, and got back that awesome message of “Congratulations you have passed!”. I was so happy, and If I’m honest very relieved that I had got this over the line, and didn’t need to have a retake.

So, the moral of this one is that there are no shortcuts, and no quick routes to victory. It takes a solid 2-3 months of effort, comprised with a dedication to learning after work hours, and most importantly having some confidence in yourself that you have put in a great amount of effort which has set you up for success.