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Preparing For The AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate Level Exam

Posted on August 16, 2013 by Anthony James Founder/CEOAnthony James Founder/CEO

Amazon Web Services has done nothing short of disrupting the traditional data center paradigm. Large corporations to small startups are testing, prototyping, and sometimes flat out converting large scale data centers to Amazon Web Servers. Running applications on Amazon Web Services isn’t exactly the same as running them in traditional hosting environments. In some ways it feels the same and in others it feels, well, incredibly better.
With AWS we can build our applications on top of a scaleable and elastic, fault tolerant infrastructure that helps react automatically to any change in demand for your app. Here is the most common misconception of the cloud, it’s not magical. It doesn’t just “do everything for you”. You still need to build on it, code it, automate it, configure it, network it, and everything else. You just do it differently now. To help prepare organizations and individuals for this process, Amazon recently announced a certificate program called AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate Level.
I’ve recently had the opportunity to sit in on this exam and pass it on the first try. Without breaking any NDA’s I agreed to while taking the exam, I’m going to attempt to help you “prepare” for the exam. After reading several other posts on the internet, I notice that they are pushing you disproportionately towards services such as VPC (Virtual Private Cloud). Lets see if we can’t clear a few things up and help you prepare for this exam.

You Need Both Hands On Experience And Conceptual Understanding

I’ve read some blog posts that suggest all you need is mere working knowledge of AWS to pass the exam. This is not entirely a false statement but just working knowledge won’t do it for you. Having hands on experience will greatly help you achieve a good understanding how of AWS works. The title of the exam is “Architect”, meaning you will need know how to design applications to use AWS. That means understanding what the best use case is for each setup, when you should use SWF (Simple Work Flow) over (SQS) Simple Queuing Service. How does S3 play into your infrastructure? How would you design a content delivery solution? You need an understanding of how the services work, how security plays into each service, and a great understanding of how redundancy, fault tolerance, and elasticity play into each service.

Where To Get AWS Conceptual Understanding

Read the suggested white papers by Amazon. If you’ve followed the Linux Academy online training video’s for AWS certification, read the notes, and practiced building your applications, all that’s left is to read the white papers. Yes, you need to read the white papers. Not only does it help “drill” concepts into your brain, but it covers the nitty gritty details on AWS that you will need to know. Details such as how the physical data centers replicate, how Amazon handles internal security procedures, and other details.

Instructor Led, Hands On Labs, Tutorials And Example Applications

The Linux Academy offers video education series on the AWS Certified Solutions Architect program. We cover a lot of concepts in the videos as well as build a hands on application that takes many of those concepts and applies them to our lab infrastructure. This is where concepts will start to take place, make sense, and stick in your mind. If you do not have hands on experience this is a great way to get it, hear the concepts, practice and prepare for your certification. As a shameless plug for Linux Academy you will also get access to instructors, community, and more to help answer your questions and really prepare you for your exam. Even if you are not looking to prepare for the exam we can help you understand how to build your application on AWS or use AWS as a great backup/disaster recovery solution.

VPC, VPC, and more VPC

I’ve had several students say they’ve seen sources on the internet that say you can’t pass the exam without VPC knowledge. So much so that they focus only studying on VPC and that may cause you more harm than good. VPC may be covered in the exam, as much as Amazon S3, RDS, SES, SQS, and all the other services as outlined in the AWS Exam Blue Print. You need to have an understanding of VPC and how it plays in your environment. VPC is almost always used when building applications on AWS, especially if you are not going to use RDS as your database service. What you need to be searching for is why? What does VPC (Virtual Private Cloud) do that is so important?
There isn’t a “know this and you’ll” pass formula. If you study all VPC and nothing else you’ll fail because you don’t know what you need to know for S3 or database concepts, etc. Be careful of looking for a “cheap and easy way” to pass the exam.

The Perfect Combination For Passing The Exam

Yes, I can give you the perfect combination for passing the exam and if you follow it you WILL pass the exam.

  1. Download the AWS Exam Blue Print
  2. Watch the Linux Academy AWS Certification videos, study the included notes, and take the practice quizzes
  3. Read the suggested white papers by amazon
  4. Go as far as to read technical documentation on the services as well.

The one thing you won’t get is a list of all the questions I saw on the exam. I like Amazon and I respect their NDA agreement. Don’t look for easy ways out, you will not be doing yourself any favors. Do it the right way and you’ll not only get certified, but you’ll be qualified to get jobs as an Amazon Certified Solutions Architect.

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