In need of a bit of Csíkszentmihályi flow and distraction, last weekend I completed the AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate exam, followed today by the professional level examination. A few quick thoughts on the exams and the preparation I performed for them follow.

Over the years, I’ve taken pursued more than my fair share of certifications. Back when I was consulting full time, there was an era where your worth to a potential client was measured in the number of technical certifications you could boast. While that was an area in which I excelled, at one time carrying close to 20 different certifications across a variety of platforms, it’s also a time I’m glad has now passed. Apart from a few core certifications which I maintain with the same level of enthusiasm as attending a dysfunctional family dinner, the paper chase for certs is neither something I participate in nor encourage others to pursue.

All that not withstanding, I’ve been very interested in cloud technologies, particularly around how they can enable traditional enterprise organizations to adopt devops patterns, transforming them into more manageable, nimble, secure, and cost-effective functions. My own personal AWS account goes back over four years now, and my team has been running services and analytics in the cloud for 18 months in an increasingly mature and production-ready fashion. Other parts of my organization have been exploring the cloud recently, a trend I’ve been enthused to see and been trying to find ways to assist being successful. With a forthcoming opportunity to help a particularly high profile project adopt the cloud, this seemed like a good opportunity to help round out my knowledge by trying out the AWS certifications.

There aren’t a lot of resources for exam prep at the moment. Apart from Amazon’s own classroom training, the three main providers of AWS oriented training, CloudAcademy, A Cloud Guru and Linux Academy are all in various stages of beta as of this writing. I tried out all three providers and found Cloud Academy to have the nicest platform, but the weakest content. Linux Academy has a nice monthly all-you-can-eat subscription, but they require Flash (!) for playing the content. A Cloud Guru, which is on a pay for each course model, had pretty good content though the course is still incomplete.

For my own preparation, I started with Adam Cantril’s suggestions. Having gone through AWS’s Big Data training last year, in combination with my own production work, was a solid start. Adding on the Linux Academy and A Cloud Guru’s materials for areas where I did not have experience (CloudFront, for instance) was very helpful. I also went through a number of the AWS YouTube videos (my own person favorites are here) and most of the AWS architecture whitepapers. The practice exams available from Amazon were both very helpful as well.

All told, I went from zero to AWS CSA Professional #1440 in just over a week. The professional certification was certainly challenging, being completely scenario-based and focusing on the best solution out of several technically viable choices. I was on vacation this past week and spent quite a bit of time on the rainy Washington coast going over materials.

Overall, I’m glad to have done these two certifications. Since I’m not in the architecture function, I don’t know if I’ll maintain the certs, but I do feel more confident in my knowledge of the AWS ecosystem as it currently stands and more qualified to help my organization navigate to a more modern paradigm.