First things first: Why the cloud is important?
Companies like Amazon, Google and Microsoft spend huge amounts of money buying computers and infrastructure to power their numerous digital services. One day they realized that it is possible to sell some of their unused computer capacity to other companies, so they can earn more while providing an invaluable service to companies that are not tech-centric or do not have pockets so deep but need to offer digital services or rely on them to maintain their operations. Think about Coca-Cola, the BBC TV or the Government.
When a company ditches its in-house servers and moves to cloud-based services, it gets rid of many pains, while getting many advantages over competitors:
Avoid the hassle of buying and managing expensive servers
Do not need to hire expensive employees to take care of their servers
Avoid having expensive servers that most of the time work below 20% of their total capacity
Avoid having expensive downtimes and poor user experience during peak time due to insufficient server capacity
Can react to sudden changes in demand. You can add more cloud servers at any time, but you cannot do the same with in-house servers that need to be bought, configured and maintained. Think about peaks in e-commerce during Black Friday sales
Developers can focus on the business part of the application, avoiding undifferentiated work, like applying updates, checking the health of servers or managing backups
For a startup, cloud services are even more important:
Do not need to commit huge amounts of cash before starting the business. They can pay for what they use in a gradual manner
Do not need to guess what will be the demand for their servers
Can deploy an entire infrastructure very fast, with some mouse clicks or a simple command in a terminal
One single developer can manage a complex infrastructure
Why have a certification?
Currently, there are more than 300 services on AWS and the number keeps growing. Their combined documentation has thousands of pages so it takes a great deal of time and effort to learn the inner workings. So, while knowledge of cloud services is in high demand, it is difficult to assert the level of knowledge a person has. Certifications can fix this issue, by attesting that a developer has a good understanding of a particular field in the cloud.
For me, having a certification is important because:
Many job postings have AWS as a requirement and a certification is an important differentiator
As I am doing freelance work, my customers can rest assured that I know AWS services
It is a good opportunity to do an in-depth study of the AWS services otherwise, I would not be so keen to go deep into the AWS ecosystem
Why I chose the Cloud Practitioner certification?
There are many certifications to choose from and they are divided into levels, from generalist to specialist:
Cloud Practitioner certification should be your first certification, as it is situated at the Foundational level and evaluates the general understating of AWS, without going too deep. Other certifications assume that you are specializing in a role, such as:
How I prepared for the exam
The Cloud Practitioner certification exam asks for a general understanding of AWS and its most important services, so they will not ask for coding a solution or open-ended questions, just multiple-choice questions, but do not be fooled: it is not an easy exam. Some questions are tricky as they thoroughly test if you have a good grip on the topic or just a shallow understanding.
I am not a fan of buying courses and I don't find it necessary at all to pass the certification exam. There is plenty of content on Youtube and AWS Skill Builder. I would recommend reading the Cloud Practitioner exam page, carefully reading the exam guide and studying each of the required topics. There are many things to study and you could feel overwhelmed, but keep in mind that they will always ask for general understanding, not specifics. I studied every day for about 3 weeks and I learned the most when doing hands-on tutorials and trying to get the bigger picture instead of trying to memorize names or parts of the documentation.
AWS Skill Builder is a great tool for learning, unfortunately, it is not easy to use, as most of its valuable free courses are hidden by paid courses. Here are the most helpful ones I completed for my preparations for the Cloud Practitioner certification:
AWS Cloud Quest: Cloud Practitioner (a nice 3D game for learning AWS)
The exam day
I was a little skeptical of the seriousness of the exam, as I opted for the online version. Do they care about my ID or if I am possibly reading the answers in another browser tab? I wondered.
Yes, they care.
I got into my first trouble when I tried to log into the exam page at the scheduled time. Before taking the exam it is necessary to install proprietary software that blocks others browsers during the exam. Although I tested beforehand if my Ubuntu laptop would meet the requirements of the exam, the link for installing the software was not working, despite changing from Firefox to Chrome. I changed to a Macbook and managed to complete the installation of the software.
The second trouble happened when they wanted to check my ID. My bedroom does not have good lighting and the examiner could not read my ID data. After more than 30 minutes of struggle, I got redirected to technical support. Luckily I managed to get more lights into the room and another document and they managed to
Some tips for the exam:
Be well-rested and have a good night's sleep
Make sure that the name you used to register on the AWS Certification website matches the name on your ID
If you chose the online exam option, pick a location and time with no chance for interruptions or background noise
Be in a well-lit room and use a good-quality webcam
Have at least two types of identification documents. Make sure both are in good condition and legible when using your webcam
They will ask for moving your webcam to check if you are the only person in the room or if you have study material on your desk or below it, so organize your desk and room before the exam for the process to go smoothly
The day after
Having passed the certification I received some perks:
Access to AWS Certified Global Comunity, where other people who managed to get certified can connect
Access to AWS Subject Matter Expert, where you can help create and validate questions for AWS Certification exams
Access to AWS Certified Store, where you can buy AWS Certified goods
A digital base that can be shared on social media
A 50% discount voucher that can be used in any other exam
As I am a web developer, I plan to get to the Associate level, by going after the Developer Associate and the Solutions Architect Associate certifications, as they are a perfect fit for my current role. In the long term, I would go for the Database Specialty certification, but other certifications would go way off course.
I will keep you updated about my progress and happy coding!