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I had the pleasure of speaking with one of our amazing students about his experience training for AWS certifications on Linux Academy. Mike had a lot of great advice for others who are training for certifications and developing their AWS knowledge. Keep reading to meet Mike!

Thanks for talking with me today, Mike! Tell me a little bit about what you do.

Currently, I am a Systems Architect at Emory University. We have a large hospital organization with a clinic with 20-30 healthcare providers and a large research health science division. I want to say the research health science division was quoted at maybe $460 million in grant money last year. We also have the university system which encompasses everything else. Even though it’s Emory University, we have a very large footprint in the South.

What kinds of responsibilities do you have as a Systems Architect at Emory University?

My responsibilities encompass supporting and architecting AWS initiatives, VMWare, Containers, with Unix hardware and software support.  We have over 1600 virtual instances and physical servers at any given time, spread across two main data centers. The majority of our on-prem servers are hosted in VMWare, AWS is our recommended and preferred Cloud Solutions provider at Emory.  I’m a small part of a very good team at Emory.

We have 2 major AWS/Cloud initiatives at Emory. One, on the research side at The Woodruff School of Health Sciences, researches required compute resources that Central IT could not quickly and cost effectively provide using our on-prem VMware and physical hardware environments without incurring massive hardware and software licensing costs.  Cloud Computing was a logical solution and AWS is the industry leader.  It took close to 3 years from when Emory first started to where we stand today.  Researches today can request a new AWS environment and quickly and securely deploy into the cloud with full system, networking and security support of Emory IT. We’ve integrated billing into our existing financials software to provide a seamless transition to the cloud.

The second project which we started July of last year is our data center migration project which we call the CIMP project (Cloud Infrastructure Migration Project). We are currently designing the infrastructure, support, documentation and procedures to migrate our data centers to AWS. Our end game is to eventually create a migration factory where we have a framework to take our on-prem applications and quickly migrate them to AWS. It has been a challenging endeavor but rewarding. We are on schedule to finish the project this month and present to our executive leadership. We’re hoping to go ahead and start active migration after that.

How did you end up working with AWS and cloud technologies? Was this something you always had an interest in? 

I’ve always embraced new technology. I think to be successful in IT you always need to be learning the new technologies. Cloud is the next big thing, right? I’ve had a successful career of integrating new technologies into production environments, be it open source linux to replace expensive proprietary RISC Unix servers or virtualization and hyper visor technology to break up the mindset of one operating system on one server. I’ve always been looking for the next new technology.  Cloud and AWS seemed like the next logical step.

We agree.. never stop learning! So how has training at Linux Academy helped you?

My manager got us a team account for Linux Academy because he was having trouble scheduling training classes for our team.

In the past I might go to a training class once a year or I might not go at all because I couldn’t find the right time, the right class, or the right schedule. Web-based training seemed to be the best fit for our team because we’re able to go at our own pace and take the class any time we can. You can go back and replay the lectures to reinforce those critical points in the lessons.  This worked very well for me.  Also, I like the tools that Linux Academy provided such as the course scheduler, where I could schedule training in order to give me and my management an idea of how long it was going to take to complete the courses.  I’ve taken more training courses the past 2 years at Linux Academy then I have taken in the past 15 years combined using other training methods.

The best way to be successful in a self-paced learning environment is to have the motivation and discipline to commit and stay with it. Let’s say you want to take a VMware certification test. Well, to take a VMware certification test, you have to schedule a class, take time out of the office and sit through the class.  It can cost anywhere from $2,300 to $5,000 where they give you 40 hours plus of lectures. My retention was shot after 2 or 3 days.  With the web-based training at Linux Academy, I go at my own pace and if I need to replay the lectures or redo the Hands-On Labs, that was available and invaluable to my learning experience. It helped me reinforce what I was learning, especially with the AWS Professional-level courses – which in my opinion are incredibly difficult exams.

You mentioned earlier to me that you had 6 AWS certifications. That’s very impressive, Mike! Congratulations! How did you get there?

Thank you!

I have all 3 AWS Associate certs, both Professional certs, and my Cloud Practitioner.  It took me 18 months to complete.  The best advice I can give is just to stick with it and make the time to study.  Get into the habit of reserving time to learn the content.  Linux Academy is a great way to get that foundational knowledge. After the Linux Academy course, I would read the AWS white papers recommend in the lectures.  Practice tests are an awesome measurement of where you need additional study.  The flashcards were very helpful as well.

The content at Linux Academy is substantially better compared to the training that I have used in the past. I take Linux Academy courses whenever I am training for certifications because they provide all the tools and concepts to not only pass the exam but exceed it. Right now, I’m studying for the AWS Certified Security – Specialty Certification. The course is in depth and complex but very interesting.  The instructor, Adrian Cantrill (who is an excellent instructor and one of my favorites), mentioned this in the video intro:

“I’m teaching this course not so you just pass the exam, but I’m also giving you the tools you need to be successful.”

Which is exactly what I want out of my training because, at the end of the day, I want to add value to my organization by having the tools and skills that I need to be successful. Other web-based training providers train on the basis of “here is what you need to pass the exam” and that’s not really good for you nor the organization.

What was most valuable for your training? 

During my AWS certification training, Linux Academy always had many options for training, including a Quick Start course and a separate, in-depth course to help guide me towards my goals. There are also other topics to train for, such as programming or DevOps technology, in case I wanted to delve into another topic to understand what I was already learning. Not to mention, your team keeps adding more quality, hands-on content that I can’t keep up anymore, but it’s great. I used to be able to keep up but now, I’m more excited because of the constant updates in hands-on training to keep up with the industry to help me gain relevant skills. My only regret was this wasn’t available 10 or 15 years ago.

I’m also a heavy user of the Hands-On Labs. The Labs are all set up for you to dig right into the training so that all you have to do is follow the videos or content. You can follow along in a true, live environment and practice what you’re learning in the comfort of knowing that if something breaks, it’s okay because you can just restart the lab. If you want to make it a little more difficult, you could just go into an account and build it all yourself. In fact, I have an AWS account on my own so that when I do want to do it on my own, I can. However, it’s a relief that Linux Academy provides these Hands-On Labs that I can use without having to worry. The Labs have helped me tremendously because it reinforces previous lessons and I’m a repetition guy. I’m not somebody who can just read a book and take a test. I have to keep doing it and doing it to reinforce it to the point that I feel comfortable.

When I took my first AWS exam (AWS Solutions Architect Associate) a year and a half ago I relied heavily on the Orion Papers. I realize that it’s a tremendous amount of work for the instructors to create and maintain these, but they are awesome and were instrumental in clearing my certification.

I also utilize the mobile app on my iPhone and iPad.  I use these mobile options when I am commuting or when I don’t have access to my PC. Most of the time though, I’ve been really diligent in scheduling time in the evenings to sit down and study in front of the computer and putting in some quality study time.  If I’m not able to get to it during the week because of work and personal or family commitments, I find time on the weekends. I also enjoy posting in the Community from time to time, especially when I pass the exams. It’s great to let everybody know that I’m moving onto the next one but really it’s to thank the whole Linux Academy team for helping me out.  The support is outstanding.

How does having all your team members training on the same platform help you?

I know myself and a few other coworkers are probably the heaviest users on our team.  Actually, all of us who do use it all say the same thing- it’s an outstanding resource. We often talk about what we got out of certain courses. Most of my team took the Git Quick Start and we all talked about it and what each person took out of that course. It was a good exercise.  By the end of the Quick Start we were up and running and committing our code.

AWS Certifications do a couple of things. One, it helps us validate our skills. That lets our employer know and potential employers know that we have a mastery of major concepts in AWS. We may not be the expert at one particular subset of a service in AWS, but we a good baseline on the core services which to build from. When you have that baseline, you’re able to be more agile as a team and quick to deploy solutions in AWS. You can have that DevOps mindset that we’re trying to embrace in IT. You don’t even have to get a certification, even if you just complete a class in Linux Academy you can contribute. It helps to have that common base knowledge across your team.  Often times we see individuals who only use a service or two in AWS and even though they have an excellent working knowledge of that one service they lack the broader view of services of the AWS ecosystem that AWS Certification training provides. With AWS Certifications I feel confident that I can recommend the best solution in AWS to my leadership and not pigeon hole them into one or services only.  You need to know all the tools in the toolbox to be successful, a screwdriver as good as a tool as it is can’t solve everything.  AWS Certifications help me pick the right tool for the task.

What is something you learned on Linux Academy that you’ve been able to apply to your day to day work almost immediately? 

I took the Git Quick Start and I was able to start using Git later that morning. I really like the Quick Start courses that Linux Academy has. I took the AWS Cloud Formation Deep Dive when it first and it took me a couple of weeks to get through it, but I went from zero to hero, in very little time. Quick Starts are very good and contain a lot of in-depth knowledge for me to develop my skills quickly and the in depth course build on the skills learned in the Quick Starts and takes you to the next level.

You mentioned that it takes a lot of motivation earlier. How do you stay motivated?

My motivation came from my circle of support. I had plenty of motivation from my management at Emory, family, and colleagues to complete these certifications.  It’s like anything in life, you get out of it what you put into it. There were plenty of weekends and evenings spent in front of the PC and not at a baseball or football game or other activity.  Also, my employer paid for the certification testing so there was a little bit of extra motivation…. you definitely want to clear them on the first try.  There were plenty of positives and some negatives to draw motivation from.  Find what works for you and stay with it.

Also, I have a couple of friends in the industry who helped me along the way with advice and encouragement. One of my friends has all 9 AWS certifications and now he’s pushing me to finish up with my AWS Specialty Certs. When you start something you want to see the journey through.

What advice do you have for other professionals who are training for certifications?

Take your time, go at your pace, and find a method that helps you retain knowledge. It is overwhelming, but take it one day at a time… You’ll get there!

It was laughable when I thought I would try to get all 5 certifications. As a matter of fact, I didn’t tell anyone I was doing it. I thought it was an unrealistic task but you have to keep at it. If you take one, you might as well take the next one and then that last one. Start with that first Associate Cert, then do the next one. Then you might as well get the last one.  Next thing you know you got all 3 Associate Certs.  ½ way there.  Might as well start on your Professional Certs.  Take your time and learn the concepts.  Take the Linux Academy courses and Labs, AWS testing blueprints, re:Invent lectures on YouTube, and white papers.

Thanks for being a loyal member of our community, Mike! We love hearing from students like you about how Linux Academy has helped them reach their certification or career goals. We wish you the best of luck with your AWS Security Specialty exam.

Looking to develop your AWS skills? Try out Linux Academy today, start your free trial.

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