Ndifreke Ekott

Thoughts, stories, ideas and programming

18 Jun 2023

AWS Solutions Architect Associate Certification - A Retrospective Look

So I finally got that AWS certification I have been dreaming of for a few years. On the 8th of June 2023, I obtained the AWS Solutions Architect Associate certification and a few days after, I am still recovering from the Exam preparation adrenaline.

There are different perspectives on whether certifications are of any relevance in today’s tech environment. However, whether you are for, against or indifferent about certifications, it is known that having one does open up employment conversations, to say the least.

The backstory

A couple of years back when I lived a past life as a PHP developer, I was looking to leave my current employment and came to the realisation that a senior role expected you to have a lot of AWS hands-on experience. Though at my place of work, we used AWS, we had a dedicated systems admin team and as a result, never really got direct hands-on exposure to using AWS management consoles.

When I got into my next employment, I was given a performance target of writing the AWS Solutions Architect certification as a means to level up my cloud experience. However, during my time there, I never got around to writing the certification exam after numerous starts and stops due to a myriad of busy schedules.

Preparing for the certification

Mental Preparation

Achieving any major milestones starts with setting your mind on it. I started out by following a couple of accounts on LinkedIn of people who are AWS certified. The LinkedIn algorithm would do the magic of bringing you new updates when has gotten certified or it would recommend an account with Nx AWS certification.

The certification community on LinkedIn is very generous with sharing preparation materials and putting up motivational posts. I must admit some of the materials were numerous and I didn’t read most of them but it did give me an insight into the effort I would need to put in.

It also helps to see that, a lot of people who got certified didn’t come from a traditional technology background. This got me thinking, if someone could come from a nursing background and get a solutions architect cert, what then is my excuse for not writing the exam? Maybe this way of motivating yourself may not work - but it does get me fired up.

Finding a study partner

Some life journey or aspirations is easier when embarking on them with a partner. The last few times I tried preparing for the exam, I went alone, and I would admit it was tough. Accountability sucked because I was bored reading the endless video materials, I had a kid and life after work was busy with little energy left to do any studying.

This time around, I had a study partner Steve. I have known Steve for a long time and have worked and brainstormed on endless technical ventures. I mentioned to Steve my intention to write the AWS exam and he too was interested. We picked our study materials and came up with a schedule and plan.

Our plan involved reading our chosen materials - in our case materials from A Cloud Guru and spending every Saturday going through revision questions. We started back in March 2023 and studied till June when we both wrote the exam on the same day. I would say, Steve was the one who booked the exam first, even when I didn’t feel ready, I went ahead and booked for the same day. Having a set date definitely put pressure on us and pushed us to our goal. It all worked out.

Getting rid of distractors

I would say this should actually be the first action item on your quest to chase any given ambition. I had a couple of things I had to disconnect from. Although I didn’t go cold turkey from the start. A couple of things on my plate were - streaming services (Netflix, Disney and Prime) and my Xbox game pass subscription.

I usually rotate my streaming service subscriptions based on shows or movies of interest. So I decided, well, I don’t have time to watch anything new, so I paused all streaming service subscriptions. My wife doesn’t watch a lot of movies, so I didn’t have that temptation.

My Xbox game pass subscription serves as an outlet to relax after the close of work and when the kids are asleep. I think I paused my subscription three months into my study for the exam.

Paused all side projects or hobbies. I typically do some coding outside work either for learning or exploring ideas. During this period, I put a pause on all ideas, intentionally not bothering to read about any new tech, all I had in my mind was - What is the next AWS topic to cover?

Getting your study time scheduled

It is imperative you have an honest conversation about how much time you can spend each day revising the course material. Having young kids will definitely make this process difficult and some days very disruptive.

In my situation, aside from being tired, I only had from 9 - 12 midnight to study. I came to the realisation that if I can at least read for 1 - 1.5 hours, I would call that a good effort for that day. Some days, in the middle of studying, my son wakes up and that ends the revision for that day.

At the end of each month, I evaluate my exam readiness in terms of how much effort is left before considering when to book the exam. During this evaluation, I also look at if I need to spend more time reading. This led to some nights having to go to bed at 2 am as a way to catch up.

You have to sprint

What I learned so far is to not spend too long prepping for the exam. You have to attack your intention to write the exam as a sprint. Anywhere from 4 to 6 months should be fine. Reasoning, there are a lot of topics involved in the AWS certification and it is easy to forget what you read previously.

Sprinting through the preparation keeps every knowledge acquired fresh in mind. There were times in our Saturday revision sessions, I completely forget I have heard of an AWS service or remembered what a service does.

Not having a sprint mindset, I think must have also contributed to my delay in not writing the exam previously.

Reading materials

Here is a list of study materials I used during my preparation sprint.

  1. A Cloud Guru - AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Associate ( SAA-C03) - 55 hours of video content.
  2. Udemy - AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate Practice Exam by Neal Davis
  3. Whizlabs - In the beginning, I started with their practice questions but didn’t use them much afterwards.
  4. Digital Cloud Training - AWS Solutions Architect Associate Cheatsheet - Material by Neal Davis (practice questions I used on Udemy). This I used as I was closer to the exam date. It was way easier to read the cheat sheet than utilise my notes. He also had an exam simulator which was good as well.

Post exam

I felt exhausted after the exam. It also didn’t help that the result wasn’t instantaneous but rather arrived a day later. The day after, at night, when I would typically spend it reading or revising cheat sheets, I had nothing doing. I had a lot of exam adrenaline still flowing and it was a bit difficult to not do anything. This feeling lasted for a week.

The exam also highlighted areas of AWS I should study further. I plan to delve a little deeper to understand a few areas like - Governance, EKS, Savings Plans etc.

I have also been evaluating the next certification I could potentially look at. I had also decided to learn a new programming language in the next two months before embarking on any Certification.