Passing and Failing Google Cloud Certification Exams
Note: This is an updated version of an article I published on LinkedIn two years ago.
I just sat for my 18th Google Cloud certification exam, and as an active Google Cloud trainer, I often share my experience with my students. So, I thought I would share this with a wider audience. I don’t advocate anybody taking that many exams, but as a Google Cloud authorized trainer, I like to keep my certifications active. While I now focus on Google Cloud, I also maintain up-to-date solutions architect certifications from AWS and Azure to have a comparison that I can share with my students.
Now, there is a healthy debate on the value of cloud certification, and I will share my opinion in another article. Needless to say, I am in total agreement that certifications are no substitute for practical experience. I distinguish between the objective and the goal. For me, the objective of the certification is to learn, the goal is to pass the exam. On a couple of occasions, I achieved my objective, that is, I learned about the subject, but I failed in my goal, that is, I didn’t pass the exam. I was okay with that (though disappointed).
Google Cloud was a late entry to the certification “game.” I took the Solutions Architect Pro exam in April 2017 and was the 180the person to get certified. I remember that the only available learning course was expensive and not very good (to put it diplomatically). Since then, Google Cloud has been steadily rolling out new certifications, with the Machine Learning and Cloud Database Engineer certifications as their latest certifications.
Google Cloud calls the cloud engineers an associate certification, while all the others are professional certifications. However, in my experience, the associate and professional nomenclature is not a reflection of the degree of difficulty (as opposed to the AWS certifications, which have a huge difference in associate and professional exams). The cloud engineer exam is on par with the professional exams but is more “hands-on” than the others.
Overall there is considerable overlap among all the exams. Personally, I found the networking exam to be the hardest, and I failed it the first time around. The solutions architect exam contains several conceptual cloud questions unrelated to any specific GCP service. I found this to be a good test of knowledge as compared to the other cloud service provider exams, where every question is tied to a service within their cloud.
As the GCP exams are maturing, so is the ecosystem. There are now numerous instructor-led and on-demand courses. (DISCLOSURE: I am a trainer for ROI Training, the premier Google Cloud Training partner). I generally advise students to start preparing for the exam with a course that fits their learning style and schedule.
As others have pointed out, you must (and should) have practical experience to pass the exam. The whole purpose of certifications is to apply the theoretical knowledge to actual deployments. Google Cloud Skills Boost (formerly known as Qwiklabs) is an excellent and cost-effective resource for labs, and I highly recommend it.
I am lucky in my job that I design architectures and implement them, which gives me plenty of practical experience. Numerous questions across all exams are directly asked to solve problems I had encountered in real life. This does speak to the relevancy of the questions. Now, there are plenty of awkward questions in the exam. While it is easy to deride those questions, I have designed questions for a similar exam, and I know how hard it is to develop a question that is a good test of knowledge and easy to understand in a few sentences.
Now, knowing the material and passing the exam are two different things. There are several well-documented exam techniques that will come in handy particular for non-English native speakers. Some of the questions require good English comprehension skills. I wish Google and other cloud providers would move away from the straight multiple-choice format. I found the Azure Solutions Architect Exam (AZ 300) to be the most relevant. It included two practical hands-on labs as well as a question format where guessing or eliminating answers won’t help. An excellent question that truly tests the knowledge yet is still easy to grade is: here are 10 steps to implement a VPC, pick five of them, and put them in the right order.
This brings me to the practice exams. There is a distinction between the official sample questions, practice exams offered by reputable vendors such as Udemy, and “exam dumps” which are of questionable quality and origin. We, as industry players, should not encourage the practice of exam dumps.
You absolutely should take the official practice exams (Sample Questions). I find them very useful. For people taking a Google Cloud exam for the first time, they help to become familiar with the format. I found the biggest value in the practice exam identifying holes in my knowledge. Thus, by seeing questions, I know immediately where I need to deepen my knowledge. Discussion groups, whether F2F or virtual, can be of immense value. Analyzing a question or scenario and discussing why a certain answer is incorrect is more valuable than knowing the correct answer
I often get the question: “Which certification should I start with?” First, I do not recommend taking the Digital Leader certification for anybody technical. The Digital Leader certification targets sales and business people who want to learn the fundamentals of cloud computing and Google Cloud. I generally advise students to either take the Associate Cloud engineer or the Professional Cloud Architect as their first certification. Data engineers who are experienced in open-source or other cloud provider data tools, the professional data engineer certification is also a good start. I generally recommend any other certification as a second or third certification.
The cloud engineer and architect are the most popular certifications by far, followed by the data engineer certifications. All the other certifications are much less popular. However, that also means having them can distinguish you.
So, to those of you considering taking up a Google Cloud or any other cloud certification, I hope you find some of my thoughts insightful. I hope you will enjoy the learning journey and maybe even enjoy taking the exam.