2021: From AWS Certified Developer to AWS Certified Solutions Architect in 6 weeks

In the days leading up to the Developer Associate exam, I thought to myself that I am never going to go through with this again. Not being a full time developer, I had to put in so much effort to remember all the details by heart. Also, I’m fine with the questions that really test your knowledge but I don’t like those tricky questions that seem as if they’re there just to fail you.

For example, I had a question in one of the practice exams on the common use cases for Elasticache. So there was an answer there on ‘improving latency and throughput for read-heavy application workloads’ which obviously is a correct answer. But it was a multiple answer question and the second correct answer was ‘compute-intensive workloads’ which didn’t seem intuitive to me. In the FAQ they go on and explain how storing information in the cache during complex calculations helps improve application performance but in the practice test answer they omitted that part. I find those ones frustrating.

The Developer’s exam was long and the place I went to do it was kind of dingy. Not the best place to keep yourself awake while being tested. But, the feeling of relief I had when I saw the “PASS” on screen, and the grade I saw I got the next day made me reconsider my initial decision not to go through with this ever again.

Preparing for the Developers exam, I covered alot of the material for the Certified Solutions Architect Associate exam. If anything, the Solution Architect exam is more about scenario based questions than “what is the name of the API” type questions. So while the material is still fresh in your mind it almost doesn’t make sense not to go get certified as a Solutions Architect as well.

My tips:

  1. Online Training — Again aCloudGuru, the #1 platform for online learning. I went through all of the lectures but increased the playback speed to x 1.75. This is brilliant! Not only do you get through the lectures faster but it puts you into this high adrenaline mode that is good for being really focused on the material they’re covering.
  2. Hands-on — If you can set up a VPC with Public and Private subnets, with several EC2 with Bootstrap scripts, an RDS instance, sharing an EFS, with Security Groups as well as Network Access Control Lists (NACLs), with Auto Scaling and Elastic Load Balancing and even set up an NAT gateway to enable instances in a private subnet to connect to the internet, on you own within the AWS Console. And then recreate the same environment with CloudFormation from scratch. If you can do all that on your own, from memory, then you’re absolutely ready. See diagram below for an architecture example.
    Side note: I spent a bit too much time on rebuilding the environment utilizing CloudFormation, especially struggling with setting up a Launch Template instead of a Launch Configuration as was defined in the AWS sample templates for practice. In the end I was stuck on the Security Group in the Network Interface part. Take a look at this if you get stuck on the same.
    And just remember to shut down all the RDS, Auto Scaling, EC2s, etc... you provisioned. That was an $8.54 lesson on RDS usage I learned the wrong way.
  3. Cheat sheet — I’ve added on to the one I put together for the developers test. There’s more EBS, EFS, VPC, ELB data points there but without the CI/CD parts. You’re welcome to get it here.
  4. Practice Tests — as a lesson learned from the Developer’s Prep, I focused more on hands-on than on practice tests. I bought the 6 pack practice exams on Udemy by Neal Davis and just used those and the aCloudGuru One. The Udemy test are by far harder than aCloudGuru or most Whizlabs. So depending on your personality, if you want to feel good about yourself do the easier tests but make sure you get at least 85%. If you want to feel inadequate :) do the Udemy ones and make sure you get at least 75%.
  5. Healthy Mind — so one of the tips I was reluctant to share in the prep for Developer’s exam article is that in additional to eating healthy which I pretty much do all the time, I found this great dance exercise class online. We have a platform at work that provides these classes but I think his rates are totally reasonable. I did a class a day from past recordings and found it very invigorating and it definitely helped with my focus and concentration. I didn’t share earlier since its not directly connected to AWS material but I think his classes are just awesome and I’m planning to continue doing them.

Now for my week by week schedule. I think I put in maybe 10 hours a week. So overall maybe 50 hours in total.

  1. Week 1: Skimmed through aCloudGuru Chapters 1, 2, 3 & 4
  2. Week 2: Went through aCloudGuru Chapters 5 (expect for DynamoDB that I felt I already knew well enough), 6, 7, 8 and 9. Skimmed through aCloudGuru Chapters 10, 11 & 12 (just SAM and ECS) and some leftover labs.
  3. Week 3–4: Did as much hands-on as possible. Set up a VPC as detailed below and was able to set it up with CloudFormation as well. Even though I hit alot of snags on the way to create the script, its really amazing how when you run it, it can set up an entire VPC configuration within minutes. This really shows the power of this “new age”.
    I did the aCloudGuru test and one of the Udemy Solutions Architects practice tests. Based on my results, I scheduled my exam.
  4. Week 5–6: Did a test every other day and put emphasis on learning from my mistakes and from all of the terms in the questions and answers. Reviewed all notes, did some more hands-on labs and went through alot of AWS FAQs.
Hands-On VPC with EC2s, RDS replicas, EFS, Elastic Load Balancing, Auto Scaling and Security

I’m happy to say that I passed and am now officially certified.
I think I can give it a rest for 2021.

Good luck to you too! Let me know how it worked out for you.

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