So you want to become an AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate…

Last month I became an AWS Certified Solutions Architect by passing the SAA-C02 exam. [Crowd Applause Here]

This was one of the most difficult exams I have ever studied for. The sheer number of products and services that you need to be familiar with is daunting. It isn’t an exam where skimming some technical documentation and you will get the certification. Experience is a requirement!

I had been playing around with AWS service in my spare time for a couple months before I started to study in earnest for the SysOps exam at the beginning of November 2019. Yes, the SysOps exam. Originally, I had no intent on getting my Solutions Architect certification. I thought it would be more prudent to start at sysops and work my way to a Solutions Architect certification. I thought that it would be good prerequisite work.

I then thought about what my long-term career goals had been. I want to become an architect in title, despite already doing a fair amount of architecture as it stands. What better way to be considered for an architect role than getting an architecture certification? So, I switched gears and began the journey.

Heading into the new year, I thought I was making quite a bit of progress. I was using up my free tier account resources at a good clip, building and destroying environments, figuring out how Route 53 and CloudFront worked while trying my best to keep things in the Well Architected Framework. I had been utilizing Udemy and Pluralsight for video training, while also working through the lab content in each course.

In March, the SAA-C02 came out. I got worried that what I was working on wasn’t going to be enough to pass the new version of the exam. Luckily, there were many places slowing adding new content to their courses for the SAA-C02, so I pushed ahead.

Around June I decided to pick up a Kindle. While I had been reading most of the documentation that is out there on the web, I wanted to get it on something that wasn’t my home computer. At the time I didn’t have an iPad, so I thought a Kindle would be a smart choice. It was one of the best decisions I had ever made. Almost all of the Amazon documentation can be downloaded to a Kindle as a Kindle book. This made consumption of these documents easy and with focus.

With my workplace becoming more AWS focused, I was also enrolled in an AWS Solutions Architecture course along with several of my colleagues. The instructor for the class opened the course by stating that we were really going to be talking about the exam and its topics at a high level. It was great review, and I was answering questions for colleagues all throughout the course. It was after that I decided to book the exam.

I landed on August 12, 2020. Originally, this was going to be a week before we departed for Arizona to see my wife’s grandma and a week before my son’s summer day care ended. It was the perfect way to close out the month before I went on a long vacation. While the vacation was cancelled by the airline (we got all our money back), I still ended up having to take the vacation.

So, I crammed the entire month of July and the days in August leading up to the exam. I ended up spending a bit more in AWS fees as I was tearing down and redeploying at a clip that I thought was aggressive. Up until that point, over eight and a half months I had only spent about $45 total. I spent almost $60 because I knew I needed to try and spin things up that were not in the free tier. I also found some fantastic practice exams and labs from DigitalCloud.Training.

When I scheduled my exam through PearsonVue for the 12th of August, I also decided that I would take a practice exam two weeks before the actual exam. I thought that this exam would reenforce the work I had been putting into the DigitalCloud exams and workbooks that I had been studying with. I scored an 85%, missing only a couple questions. I felt confident but didn’t want to think I was in the clear.

Something I always do the weekend before an exam is go somewhere so I can isolate myself and put all focus on the task at hand. So, I enlisted the grandparents to watch my son and sequestered myself for one final cram. I got through 30 hours of training materials, including several practice exams and focused exams on specific topics so I knew where I needed to deep dive. It was methodical. It was deliberate. It reflected the many late nights and early mornings of college exam prep.

I felt that the Monday and Tuesday before the exam was just going to be maintenance. I read the little bits of documentation that I thought I needed to keep some key concepts in memory for the exam but I also didn’t spend all night studying. I needed the break.

On August 12, 2020, in my empty apartment, I logged into the exam system and sat the SAA-C02 exam. For 90 minutes I endured one of the hardest certification exams I have ever taken. When you finish the test, you must take a survey before it tells you if you have passed or failed. I could feel my heart rate spike and my nerves take over. I clicked through it as quickly as I could. I passed.

Here is a list of training that I recommend to pass the exam:

In the end, on top of the $150 for the exam and $20 for the practice exam (which I would skip), I ended up spending about $200 on additional training. I recommend these because they all come with supplemental content that will help you build many of the solutions you will be tested on. This real world experience is practical. Getting used to reading IAM policy JSON, how to configure cross-service functionality and then inner workings of deployment both instance-based and serverless technologies helps distinguish the product lines.

I hope you found this useful as you move forward towards passing your AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate exam. Leave comments below if you have any questions! I’ll be more than happy to answer them! 😀


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