AWS DevOps Engineer — Professional Certification Guide

The toughest Amazon exam out there, AWS Certified DevOps Engineer, is the biggest challenge among professional certifications. Not sure how to prepare for this mission? Read on.

Tip: if you are looking for an easier certification, we also did a guide to AWS Certified SysOps Administrator exam. It’s definitely worth obtaining at least one of the associate-level credentials before moving up the level.

Just before we begin, let’s learn from official AWS introduction what it means to be certified as DevOps.

The AWS Certified DevOps Engineer — Professional exam validates technical expertise in provisioning, operating, and managing distributed application systems on the AWS platform. Exam concepts you should understand for this exam include the ability to:

  • Implement and manage continuous delivery systems and methodologies on AWS
  • Understand, implement, and automate security controls, governance processes, and compliance validation
  • Define and deploy monitoring, metrics, and logging systems on AWS
  • Implement systems that are highly available, scalable, and self-healing on the AWS platform
  • Design, manage, and maintain tools to automate operational processes
All types of AWS certifications. Source: aws.amazon.com

It was already said many times but it never harms to remind ourselves about top three must have rules for any learning endeavour.

  1. Write down notes. It will help you to remember the material.
  2. Repeat if you do not understand — a so called “deliberate practice” can go a long way. (Check Learning how to learn online class available on Coursera to know more.)
  3. Read. You can’t skip this part, sorry. Watching an online course won’t be enough. You will need to read and understand quite a bit of technical documents. No shortcuts, no cheating: just stay focused and read.

And as in our previous article, let’s dive now into more juicy bits.

Get all that you need to become a DevOps

This certification is unlike any other from Amazon. You can’t fake your expertise in any way and we found that almost no available online courses and materials corresponds 100% to exam questions — but they can still help.

Online course

Even though we went through two separate online courses, we found they both covered at most 20% of preparation required for this exam. They are a great high-level overview of DevOps techniques and patterns within AWS but they are just a starting point.

Two MOOCs we liked were:

Although, remember that content is quite similar so pick whichever you like better and keep going with it — there’s no reason to spend too much time watching videos.

Tip: pause and speed buttons are there for a reason, don’t be afraid to use them. This is even important here as it was on the associate level. You probably have some experience already, either from previous certifications or your day to day work, and there’s no reason to dwell too much on video lessons.

Offline course

As for any other AWS exam, there is a possibility to book classes and workshops taught in real life — and as usual, we did not follow this course of action and thus we cannot vouch for its usefulness.

If you prefer to meet with instructors in real life, keep in mind that:

  • you must live nearby or be able to get to the location of the workshop
  • while you can pause video class at any time, it may be considerably harder to keep up with a real-life training
  • many people learn better while reading documents (see our list below) and might not gain much from listening, even to experts
  • it requires more time and scheduling than an online course
  • it costs more

The most important things to read

There are a lot. Only this, and practical experience, will help you.

ElasticBeanstalk

If you need an introduction to this service than perhaps you should get an easier exam before proceeding with DevOps. Here are the key takeaways for this service:

Tip: even if you’re using *nix OS in your day to day work, you must know how to handle Windows environments for this exam. Specially, keep in mind how MSI packages can be installed. From the Unix side, make sure you know how to mount volumes with option_settings like mentioned here.

OpsWorks

This service should not require any introduction either if you have done the MOOC listed above. Here we have three tips to share:

CloudFormation

Foundation block of almost all other services (along with SQS) will not only help you deploy complicated infrastructure but it’ll also help you to understand how everything else works in the AWS family.

  • knowcfn-init, cfn-signal, cfn-get-metadata and cfn-hup helpers
  • make sure you know how they correspond to AWS::CloudFormation::Init
  • know how to use UserData with or without those helpers
  • knowledge of WaitCondition and WaitConditionHandle is a must as well

CLI commands

We’d advise to understand all CLI commands for at least EC2 and S3.

Imagine dragons

Questions are long, real life scenarios with many services, often purposely tangled together to create as much complicated use case as possible.

One good way to entangle them is to base them on the project you might already know from your work experience. There’s nothing more to say but we found that this short advice, imagine this issue happens for one of your clients, is a really good way to keep check on your sanity during the exam.

Whitepapers

Obviously, you will not always agree with an approach Amazon wants you to take. Many quiz answers may seem 100% legitimate to you — but exam won’t grant you any points for them.

To keep yourself more aligned with AWS way of thinking, you should read through several papers published as a part of an official documentation.

Here’s a handy list extracted from the exam guide:

Highlighted with bold are papers which we found most useful for this specific exam and, at the same time, knowledge not already included in one of the lower tiers of certifications.

Next steps

Remember:

  1. Go through sample questions — all questions during exam will be that much, or even more, complicated. We did have several of sample questions appear on the final exam so make sure you know them by heart.
  2. Take a practice exam — unlike sample questions above, we did not see them re-appear during the final exam. They will however provide you with a good overview of your knowledge and cost only $20.
  3. Don’t rush through it — spreading the learning process between multiple days or weeks is a sensible approach to take.

Exam overview

Here’s the overview of the exam itself:

  • Multiple choice and multiple answer questions
  • 170 minutes to complete the exam
  • Exam registration fee is USD 300

Now that you’re ready, we have some small pieces of final advice.

Few more tips

  1. describe-snapshot does not exist, describe-snapshots, with an additional “s” at the end, does. Sometimes it’ll be the only difference between answers so try to keep scrutiny in mind. In case of EC2 commands a good rule of thumb is that you usually describe-* many resources at once, while create, delete and so on takes a single target.
  2. In case of multiple-choice questions, answers will often form a story i.e. all three choices will nicely connect with each other.
  3. As with all other AWS exams, 170 minutes is more than enough time to complete it if you are prepared thoroughly. Don’t panic.
  4. While they did not appear on our exams, it’s a knowledge every DevOps working with AWS should have anyway: intrinsic functions in CloudFormation.
  5. Similarly, while we did not receive any questions related to writing scripts directly, it’s still good to read through CloudFormation template snippets.
Tip: If you have any questions, ask them in responses below or on Twitter.

Good luck!

PS

Here’s our usual brain teaser. Look at the list of acronyms below, how many do you know?

EC2, ELB, EBS, S3, ACL, IAM, NAT, TOC, AMI, CDN, CLI, DNS, EMR, IOPS, JSON, MFA, NFS, RDS, SES, SNS, SQS, SSL, SLA, SFW, SMS, TTL, VTL, VPC, VM, AZ, ARN, CIDR, DoS, DDoS, EIP, ENI, HPC, IGW, VPN, VLAN.