Should you take the AWS Solutions Architect Exam?

TLDR: If you want to learn about cloud computing or AWS specifically, then yes.  Here are some lessons learned on my 2-month journey studying for and passing the AWS Solutions Architect Exam.

Why become a certified AWS Solutions Architect?

Maybe you shouldn’t.  There is nothing more wasteful than embarking on a 2-month journey you never should have taken.  I’m going to share my experience with this exam and help you decide if it’s the right path for you to take.

The TLDR is if you want to learn about cloud computing or AWS specifically then take it.  If you are only interested in it as a resume credential, then don’t take it.

I found the preparation course and the studying (aka the journey getting there) to be well worth it for me.  I use a lot of AWS at my day job and had some knowledge gaps I wanted to fill.  This effort achieved that goal.

What did I do?

In November of this year, I passed the AWS Solutions Architect Associate exam.  Using my ritual of 1-2 pomodori in the morning it took me about 2 months prepare.  I took a Udemy prep course and then spent roughly a week reviewing practice exams.

I took the exam because I WANTED to.  I wanted to learn more about some cloud concepts I was fuzzy on. I wanted a thorough survey of AWS’s offerings. I wanted this knowledge because it would help me in my day job where we almost exclusively rely on AWS.

If that’s how you feel about this exam, then you should take it.  The basic concepts you will learn are easily transferrable to other cloud providers.  While there is time spent on AWS specific services – I consider learning cloud services like learning a programming language – if you know Python well, you’ll be able to pick up Javascript.

Preparing for this exam is a big commitment.  The test questions are fairly tricky (AWS Sample Questions) and do a pretty good job, given the limitations of multiple-choice exams, of testing whether you “know” something or not.

If you’re not learning the concepts because you are interested in the cloud, then you’re going to have a bad time.  The value of this credential is debatable but the lessons learned about the cloud are worth it.

My Process

I took the Ultimate AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate 2020 course on Udemy by Stephan Maarek (my employer has a business Udemy account).  The course provides 24hrs of video content and several practice exams.

As I worked through this course, I took notes on the videos, completed some of the labs in my free tier AWS account, and then would read the AWS Documentation for any parts I didn’t quite understand after the lecture.

Once I finished the course I began taking practice exams (provided by the course and several Android apps).  Here I marked the questions I wasn’t sure of or got wrong and reviewed those concepts again.  This step was great because it kept me honest about whether I knew a topic or not.

After a week of practice exams, I took the exam and passed.

Exam Day Tips

  • When in doubt, pick the AWS service 
  • Do practice exams. You will get a feel for the length of the questions and what key points they might put in to trick you (ie. Custom VPC vs Default VPC)
  • Check-in for your remote exam early, the day before is best.
    • Don’t use a work laptop, I ran into a firewall issue
    • Give yourself time to verify with the online proctor – it will take at least 10 minutes.
    • Read the testing day instructions from your provider (get your ID, clean workspace, etc.)

Cloud Lessons Learned

Your mileage may vary, but here is some of what I picked up to fill my cloud knowledge gaps.

  • When a connection times out to an AWS service, it is likely a security group issue.
  • Caching will boost performance for frequent access since caches expire.  For performant distribution use CloudFront.
  • EC2 instances can learn about themselves by requesting

Topics I did a deep dive on

What’s Next?

  • Decide if learning about the cloud is something you want to do.  The answer here is the answer to “should I take this exam”.  It’s not worth the time if you aren’t interested
  • Find a Solutions Architect prep course or study guide.  I used this one on Udemy
  • Register for the exam, give yourself a few months to prep.