We interviewed Christian Rojas, AWS Cloud Infrastructure Consultant at Lemongrass Consulting, in December and caught up with him again recently (6 months later) to see how he’s been doing. He worked in the music industry before getting Certified in AWS, earning him a 6-figure salary. Initially, he had very little knowledge of AWS and the cloud in general, but he’s now got a wide range of cloud skills and a handful of certifications under his belt. Here’s advice from him about how to get started in the industry, and advancing your career in technology.
If you missed his interview, make sure you watch it here:
Hey Christian! What have you been up to since we last spoke with you?
Hi there! It’s been awhile =)
Last time we spoke, I was only a couple months in at Lemongrass and soaking everything in. I’m happy to report that I am still at Lemongrass and have been tasked with leading the AWS infrastructure portion of one of our major migration projects. It’s allowed me to hone in on my cloud skills and to really dive deep into CloudFormation and SaltStack.
Since my current project is working directly with Direct Connect and transit VPCs, I decided it was time to go for the AWS Networking Specialty Certification. After some juggling (earlier mornings/later nights and weekend sessions), I was able to pass the exam. It was tough but definitely worth taking if a part of your job requires you to dive [in] deep on this topic.
How has the industry or even the technologies changed since you first started working in it?
I have not seen any major shifts so far. Public cloud, containers (along with orchestration), Big Data/AI, and serverless seem to remain the hot topics at the moment. It’s easy to get overwhelmed keeping up with trends, so I tend to peek my head out every 3 to 4 months.
What were some initial fears about CLI and SSH before you delved into it?
That I was going to break something and implode the internet. Not really…ok, maybe a little bit. The unknown can be daunting. I remember spending an hour figuring out how to navigate through directories and open files. My browser had about 20 tabs open! It’s funny looking back now considering I spend about half of my day staring at a black screen and blinking cursor. The thing is, we all have to start somewhere. It’s cliché, but I just try to focus on being better than I was yesterday. That got me through days like the one I just shared.
You mentioned in your interview that you fell in love with AWS. What was it about AWS that really ‘caught your eye’ when you first started working in it?
That I could have a website up and running in about 15 minutes. I was used to ordering a server from a managed hosting service and waiting hours (sometimes days) to just get access to my machine. With AWS, I can stand up a box instantly and destroy it 10 minutes later with no repercussions. It’s fantastic.
You mentioned your path was: CSA-Associate -> CDA-Associate -> SysOps-Associate -> DevOps-Professional -> CSA-Professional. What challenges did you come across in your path for getting all 5 of your AWS Certifications?
Here’s the thing: I understood just about nothing on how AWS worked. It was all brand new to me. This forced me to spend the most time studying for the Certified Architect Associate exam. Every time I would run into a general IT concept that I did not understand, I stopped everything and took days getting to a point where I felt comfortable with the concept. A great example of this would be CIDR ranges and subnetting. As those topics were introduced learning about VPCs, I made the decision to take a break from exam prep to dive deeper in both concepts.
Once I passed the CSA, I not only knew about the overall AWS ecosystem, I also had a stronger foundation of IT fundamentals to pull from. This cycle continued while prepping for all my certifications. It was frustrating at times, but I embraced the challenge. Every certification became validation that I was on the right path.
Consistency and persistence and failure were all part of the journey, you even cut out revenue streams and took a leap of faith – can you touch a bit more on that and how you kept going; looking back what did it mean for your career?
It gave me a career when I no longer had one. If I’m being perfectly honest, that ‘leap of faith’ left me with no safety net. I needed to make this work no matter what. So instead of feeling panic, I became focused. I studied whenever I had a spare minute. I took notes during every interview and focused on the questions I did not know the answer to, and there were a lot because I bombed more interviews than I’d like to admit. But that’s all part of the process!
Did I have my doubts? All the time. But that’s when I reminded myself that I was here to play the long game. I wasn’t looking for a get rich quick scheme. I was here to stay, and no matter how long it took, I was eventually going to get my break. As long as I continued to do the work.
Any other tips for future students who are looking to take that same track?
Don’t lose focus on what you are trying to achieve. Always keep the end game in mind.
Best advice for getting the most out of Linux Academy?
Playback a lesson if you have to.
Silence your phone. Wear headphones if you have to cut out any noise.
Go deeper when you need to and research that topic online.
Take screenshots of anything you’d like to remember from the videos and add [them] to your notes.
I was determined not to waste my own time. That’s really how I looked at it. So when it came time to review, I was refreshing my knowledge and not trying to learn it all over again.
You mentioned that our community was really helpful for you – could you go into a bit more detail as to how it helped you?
It’s just really great to have a question about a topic and have a place to ask the instructor instead of being forced to Google something you don’t understand. In my case, I used the community for Puppet certification course. I found it very helpful.
What are your favorite Linux Academy courses and how have they helped you in your career? Are you still using that knowledge/skill now?
Absolutely, I use the skills I learned at Linux Academy every day. AWS, Linux, DevOps, etc. My favorites were both professional level AWS certification courses.
What is your advice for somebody looking to start a career in the IT industry?
If you’re stepping into this for the first time, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.
The way I worked through that was to dive into one topic at a time. I found that every time I learned something new, it added to the topic before. For example, I started with the AWS CSA – Associate and then went to learning Linux. I noticed a lot of concepts introduced to me from the AWS training were reinforced while studying Linux.
You will see that it happens all the time. The technologies may change, but the fundamentals of IT rarely do.
Is a 6-figure salary really possible? How?
ABSOLUTELY. I am living proof of that. Watch my YouTube interview for the how. It’s all right there. One thing I would add that may (or may not) be unpopular… Employers are not doing you a favor by granting an interview or offering a job. You earned that spot yourself. The time you put in to learn and apply your new knowledge got you there.
If you make it to the point where you receive an offer, do your research and don’t be afraid to ask for whatever amount that position is demanding. You earned it. Because when it comes to salary negotiation, you usually don’t get what you deserve. You get what you negotiate.
What were your initial goals when transitioning your career? What are your goals now?
My #1 initial goal was to land a job and keep the position for at least six months. That’s all I cared about. I’m grateful that I’ve been able to achieve that. Nowadays, one goal is to add the remaining two AWS certifications (Big Data and Security) by the end of the year.
What do you enjoy most about your career now?
At the top of my list is the team I get to work with at Lemongrass. Being a distributed company, I get the chance to learn from people all around the world. It’s great!
How has Linux Academy changed your life?
Linux Academy gave me the tools to build a new life for myself which I am extremely grateful for. That being said, Linux Academy did not take the exams for me or spend the countless hours to get that done. That was up to me. And now it’s up to you…
Yes, YOU. Enough reading. Try out the Linux Academy platform with a 7-day free trial. Open up that course and get to work. Best of luck!
Thanks for taking the time to catch up with us, Christian!