Passing The AWS Solutions Architect Professional Exam

I won’t bury the lead – I passed the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional exam and I like documenting things. Huzzah!

The journey has been weird. When I first took an AWS exam (see AWS Solutions Architect Associate (SAA-C02) Exam Tips) I was working at Rubrik and just sort of knocking out various associate level certifications across AWS, Google, and HashiCorp. Much of this was just me shopping around to see what vendors consider to be important information. I find that sort of insight valuable and professionally interesting.

Then, I joined Slalom, a consulting services firm, and found myself working in whatever cloud platform(s) the client had or wanted to use. The bulk of my cloud platform work has been in AWS because it’s hard to turn a corner without running into a company using AWS. They’re big on a scale that is difficult for the human brain to comprehend and working with them (both internally as a highly valued partner and for clients) has been dope.

I put the professional exam on my list of personal goals for this calendar year way back in January for three reasons:

  1. Focused learning is fun.
  2. It’s kind of expected in my line of work.
  3. Clients like it.

However, I never gave my studies any significant time and attention. The goal has been sort of dangling in my peripheral vision up until I started writing about Deep Work. Now I’m flush with time and extremely focused on my goals! Check out New Time Spending Habits, Part 1 for details on that.

For the rest of this post, I’ll cover study specific topics.

Study Plan

For the month of November, I followed this plan:

  • 10 hours during weekdays by scheduling uninterrupted study time from 0700-0900 each day.
  • 4 hours on Saturdays, usually in the morning.
  • 8 hours per day during the four-day Thanksgiving holiday.
  • Sit the exam on November 29th.

That puts me in the neighborhood of 70-80 hours of study.

Study Materials

Here’s what I used:

  1. Bulk of courseware: A Cloud Guru’s AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional 2020 videos, labs, and exams. It’s fantastic.
  2. Deeper dives: A Cloud Guru’s AWS Certified Advanced Networking – Specialty 2020 and Amazon DynamoDB Deep Dive courses and exams.
  3. Practice exams: Whizlabs’ AWS Certified Solutions Architect Professional practice exams. They were OK. Sometimes the question wording is goofy but the answers have links to official documentation. I didn’t get the brain dump vibe.

I passed on Pluralsight because the current content library is not well suited for passing the professional exam. I guess that’s why they acquired A Cloud Guru. I can’t wait!

The A Cloud Guru progress tracker is pretty slick.

Study Tips

With AWS having 200+ services, the idea of being a professional architect is daunting. However, I’ve found that most of my projects use a core of perhaps 25 services with just a few special ones thrown in (Elastic MapReduce (EMR), SageMaker, or Outposts) when the situation demands it. Thus, knowing the core services provides the most benefit across projects and also helps with the exam.

I’d consider anything required to build a global, elastic, available, and secure environment to be a core service. This means understanding everything from setting up organizations and landing zones to migration to the cloud and designing new applications. I’d also point out that the cloud is just a giant network, so understanding how to make network traffic go where you want and do what you intend is critical to passing.

The exam tests the theory that you are able to take a set of requirements (business, technical, or otherwise) and translate that into choices that will work. These requirements take on many forms and relate well to the AWS Well-Architected framework and often challenge you to think about what is being asked, such as prioritizing cost savings above all else. These are fair questions that I get asked all the time. No one ever walks up to me and says “here’s my future microservices architecture, just go build it for me.” It’s a lot of little meetings and conversations that discover what’s going on, what should be going on, and how to get there.

I took advantage of many different AWS burner accounts to test out assumptions and get some muscle memory for tasks I rarely do. A Cloud Guru had this feature natively, which was nice. I certainly took their lab exercises.

Next Steps

Please accept a crisp high five for reaching this point in the post!

If you’d like to learn more about Cloud Architecture, or other modern technology approaches, head over to the Guided Learning page.