My Pandemic Cloud Certification Journey

How I studied for -- and passed -- 11 certification exams while working from home


Today I am an AWS Certified Solution Architect and DevOps Professional, but my AWS certification journey started in 2017 with a failure. I took the AWS Solutions Architect Associate exam and did not pass. It was really frustrating for me to fail this test because of my lack of preparation and overconfidence in my understanding of the material. It was in fact so demoralizing that I didn’t attempt another AWS certification for the next two and half years. Meanwhile, I continued working with many different AWS services and architecture patterns for various projects within Capital One and grew my on-job understanding of the cloud even more.

Then, before I knew it, it was 2020 and we hit a pandemic and started working remotely. Initially, I was enjoying working from home because I was saving two hours of commute time every day and was spending time with my family, especially my infant son who was born in the fall of 2019. But one month into the pandemic, I realized there was also an opportunity to spend time enhancing my professional expertise while I was working from home and saving on commute time. So I did some introspection and decided to restart my AWS certification journey in May of 2020.

Taking the AWS certification plunge

I have been working with AWS services for almost six years now, so I do have a lot of knowledge on the AWS ecosystem, multiple AWS services, and the different terminologies around the cloud -- I just didn’t have the certificates to show that. Given my initial certification failure, I wanted to start on a positive note by putting my best foot forward. Hence I decided to start with the first basic AWS certification -- the AWS Cloud Practitioner certification.

On Jun 01, 2020 -- after one month of rigorous study -- I took my AWS Cloud Practitioner Certification exam, and I was very happy that I passed it on the very first attempt! This worked as a big motivating factor for continuing my journey into the deep ocean of AWS certification exams. It also made me curious and ignited a spark in me to learn more and more about AWS and the various services that it offers.

After this first achievement, I convinced myself to put in the effort to finish one AWS certification every month for as long as I was working from home. Putting my commute time towards studying was a golden opportunity and I was going to take it. In order to meet this goal, I started preparing immediately and have actually been able to complete a number of AWS certifications (and one Azure certification) since June 2020!  

AWS certifications completed since June 2020

My studying strategy for AWS certification exams

I know all of you must be thinking how did I manage to pass all these ten certifications in this short timeframe? The vital study resources that really helped me were A Cloud Guru and re:Invent videos. After taking practice tests on A Cloud Guru, I used the results to focus and improve on my weaknesses i.e. the topics on which I got the answers wrong. The re:Invent videos also helped me to gain a deeper knowledge on various AWS services. For example, from watching these videos I learned that we can create a single EC2 instance that’s available in two different subnets by creating a network interface card in each subnet and then associating it with an EC2 instance. I also learned how security groups are associated with network interfaces, and not with EC2 instances.

I also utilized these other resources during my certification journey, including:

  • O'Reilly
  • Udemy
  • AWS Training
  • Practice tests from A Cloud Guru, O’Reilly, Whizlabs, & Udemy

A vital piece of advice I would like to share with you is that if you are really interested in passing these certifications, test your knowledge by taking multiple practice tests. In addition to that I recommend patience building strategies, over a period of time, as these exams test you on your comprehending skills too. I am more of a kinesthetic learner, where I learn better by actively engaging. Hence I plan my studies in two phases: Learn and Test. I also try to be consistent with my studying as slow and steady always wins the race.

Phase 1 - Learn

In this phase, I went through full study courses on A Cloud Guru, focusing on learning and understanding all the concepts thoroughly. One by one, I learned the individual concepts in the course, looked hard for related AWS re:Invent deep dive videos, and then studied for those with extra hands-on engagement.

Study Resources I used for the Learn Phase:

Phase 2 - Test

The associate exams test your knowledge but the speciality/professional exams test your knowledge, patience and your comprehending skills. Hence, after studying the concepts thoroughly, I always kept my goal of passing the certification in mind and moved on to the next step of taking the practice tests. In this phase, I did exam-oriented studying by taking multiple practice tests. Whenever I took those tests, it gave me the feeling of an actual exam day with a sense of realism that studying alone cannot give. Specifically, these practice tests helped me understand my personal test speed and how it might deviate for different questions, sections, and specific tests.

After taking a few such tests, you too will better understand the various flavors of questions asked, as well as which topics may need more of your attention, in addition, these exams are long and can easily drain you out if you do not have practice of sitting through a three hour long exam. So the practice test helps in both aspects. It’s important that you practice reading long questions, their  options, understand the gist of the question, eliminate the wrong answers and narrow down the right answer, all at a speed of less than 3 mins per question. So accuracy and speed both go hand in hand here in these exams. I used practice tests to identify my weak areas so I could work harder on improving them. AWS provides very helpful exam readiness courses for each exam, which are available at https://www.aws.training/. Personally, I keenly watched for those offerings and scheduled them close to each of my final exam timeframes.

Once I started getting a 90% or higher score in the practice tests, I would feel more confident going for the final exam. At that point, I would generally schedule my final exam within the next 3 to 5 days while continuing to take more practice tests during that time.

Study Resources I used for the Test Phase:

Conclusion

Today, I feel really proud of myself for taking that first tiny step and then continuing all the way through in my AWS certification journey. It’s like when you take a metal spring and intensely pull backward on it; when you let it go, the more you pull, the farther away it ends up landing. I am proud of how far I have gone.

I am the kind of person who tends to develop a sore throat while trying to swallow failure. When I did not pass that first exam it was very hard on me. But I’ve come to realize that passing certification tests is a challenge even for experienced engineers. If you find yourself struggling, I would like to advise you to not lose hope and keep chasing your dreams as hard as you can. Through slow and steady work, you can make your dreams come true.

Stay focused, put in the hard work, and good luck! Hope to see you progressing well on your own certification journey!


Bhavik Desai, Master Software Engineer

Delivery experience and enterprise tech cloud evangelist. Passionate about architecting and building cloud native solutions.


DISCLOSURE STATEMENT: © 2021 Capital One. Opinions are those of the individual author. Unless noted otherwise in this post, Capital One is not affiliated with, nor endorsed by, any of the companies mentioned. All trademarks and other intellectual property used or displayed are property of their respective owners.

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