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AWS Certification Ponderings

Basking in the glow of passing the AWS SysOps Administrator – Associate Level certification, I can now carry out a post mortem on how I prepared for the exam, what I did correctly and where could I have improved my preparation.

Learning Curve

I’ve been working with Amazon Web Services for about 4-5 years now, but still with a pet rather than cattle mentality. Vowing to change this way of thinking, I decided getting certified was the answer!

There are 3 associate level certifications:

I decided on the SysOps certification, no idea why exactly. All 3 require a fairly deep knowledge of EC2, S3, networking and general security.

The first place to checkout is the Prepare for Certification page which lists the core areas to learn, a selection of white papers and some sample exam questions. It doesn’t tell you the answer to the exam questions, which isn’t exactly useful, but it’s a handy template to the type of questions you can expect. That’s it, your basically on your own.

I’ve tried a few methods to improve my AWS knowledge over the last few months, which I’ll gauge against whats required to pass the certification exam.

  • AWSome day roadshow - I attended the Edinburgh conference and stuck to the technical track (theres also a business track) and really enjoyed it. The speakers were as you would expect, experts in their field and got through a hell of a lot of information. I came away with a lot of ideas on how to use Amazon in a more programmatic way and learned a lot of best practices.

  • Training Course - I did a remote course with a Amazon training partner through my employer. At best it was ok, it was a decent introduction to AWS, but I expected much more in-depth training rather than briefly skimming over subjects to keep to a schedule. I’m not sure this manner of learning suits me, the pace is never to my liking.

  • A Cloud Guru - A nice site with courses geared towards the specific certifications. Around 15 hours of videos and test questions, a really nice way to learn. Be aware that the questions and mock exams are a fair bit easier than the actual exam questions.

  • Sample Questions - Doing as many sample questions as possible is a good way to get the mindset of whats expected. A lot of the questions are, to say the least; open to interpretation. I found to have a wealth of reasonably accurate questions. A donation of $4 opens up lots more questions. Be aware of dodgy questions, nearly every sample question set I tried had a few dubious answers.

  • AWS Free Tier Account - A bit of a no brainer, you really need to play around with the services, theres no real substitute to creating a free tier account if you want to learn, experimenting and then wondering where the $5 bill came from.

Test Thoughts

So what does the test entail? AWS is a sprawling collection of services, every day seems to bring a new service. The SysOps exam is broken into the following categories:

  • Monitoring and Metrics - CloudWatch, CloudTrail and billing metrics.

  • High Availability - Route 53, Load Balancing and Autoscaling groups.

  • Analysis - Finding and fixing bottlenecks and issues across services.

  • Deployment and Provisioning - Design solutions to problems, including CloudFormation and OpsWorks.

  • Data Management - Backups and compliance.

  • Security - Data integrity and access controls including IAM, bucket policies.

  • Networking - Regions, VPCs, subnets, VPNS, NATs, NACLs etc.

My test comprised of 55 questions, not sure if thats a set amount or it differs per question set. The passmark apparently varies around 65-68%, I assume on the average of recent exam results. The general consensus seems to agree the SysOps certification is the harder of the 3 Associate level certifications, with results around 6-8% lower than the Solutions or Developer certifications.

The time allowed is 80 minutes, which I expected to be ample as I was doing sample question sets of around 60-100 questions well within that timescale. The tougher questions and test conditions made the time slip away a lot quicker than I imagined, but I still had 10 minutes to spare.

Lots of questions (when a single answer is required) tend to have 2 relatively obvious incorrect answers and 2 questions which you could probably argue a case for. Always make sure you read the questions thoroughly. Theres usually a keyword in there to guide you to the correct answer, but in some cases it can be very ambiguous. I suppose its down to your knowledge, but I found some to be almost trick questions. Again, don’t skim over the answers, look carefully for the red herrings.

Good luck!

SysOps Administrator Associate 1

Published 20 May 2017

John McCracken