My experience - AWS SysOps Administrator certification

I recently started my journey with the AWS platform and have just attained my AWS SysOps Administrator - Associate certification. I noticed there aren't many personal experiences out there on the certification process, so I thought I might write a bit about mine in the hope it might assist others.

Why bother?

I had two motivations for this.

A: My organisation is a cloud solution provider and is working towards a larger AWS offering as part of our existing self-hosted services. A partnership status with AWS will assist with this goal and requires a number of employees to be certified at various levels.

B: I wanted to consolidate my knowledge and provide proof of my experience on the platform.

I have several years of system administration experience, but almost exclusively on VMware based platforms. Prior to taking the exam I'd had very minimal experience with AWS. I'd done some 'hello world' level deployments and spent some time playing around with the very cool Hashicorp tool Terraform to do some basic VPC, network and EC2 management. For this reason I decided to attend the SysOps for AWS instructor-led training course.

How the course works

The course is three days in length and is a mix of theory and hands-on labs. I took the course through Global Knowledge here in the Netherlands. Obviously, the quality of the facilities and instruction will vary but I was impressed with the written materials prepared by Amazon, as well as the labs.

The labs were pre-provisioned to allow you to concentrate on a particular service rather than having to waste time provisioning VPCs, subnets etc. each time.

Why it’s worth it

The course will give you a solid foundation in the core services (VPC, EC2, S3, EBS) and an introduction to CloudWatch, IAM and Glacier among others.  You'll use both the console as well as the CLI and all the labs can be completed using Windows or Linux based instances.

What was missing

On its own, this isn't enough to pass the exam but it will give you a head start and I certainly found it worth while. One thing I felt was missing from the course was RDS, this is really a foundational service these days and deserved some focus.

Things to try after the course

After the course I continued playing with as many different services as I could, including those outside the core compute platform. It is useful to have at least a cursory understanding of things like Route 53, Elastic Beanstalk and OpsWorks.

All these services are incredibly powerful, so even if you aren't intending to use them all as part of your daily work it's useful to know what  they are there for when a use case comes up.

Preparing for the exam

Prior to taking the exam I shelled out the $20 to take the practice exam which is 20 questions long. I found this useful and it is very similar to the actual exam.

I was a bit disappointed that you don't receive any specific feedback on each question. Instead, it is just a breakdown by topic. For instance you will be told you scored 50% for monitoring. Given this is a practice exam it would be good to know which questions were specifically wrong and an explanation of the correct answer.

Exam day

The exam consists of 55 multiple choice questions, which you have 80 minutes to complete. I think it is a pretty well put together exam and I found it difficult, but reasonable if you have done the study.

There are no "how many cores can used under this license" or similar pointless factoids that can be referenced as required. Each question requires a solid comprehension of the service and the problem you are addressing. For this reason, you really do need a reasonable amount of hands-on experience to pass.

None of the questions relate specifically to use of the CLI, SDKs or APIs. It all relates to functional use, so don't worry if you aren't familiar with one particular provisioning tool or syntax. Instead concentrate on understanding the use cases for each service based on different types of requirements, HA etc.

What’s next?

From here I'm going to attain the Solution Architect certification and will also look at the professional level certifications as I’m making use of AWS more and more in a production setting.

From what I understand, the professional level certs require several years of hands-on experience to pass so I'll leave those for a way down the road.

Best of luck if you are studying for your certification, if you have any questions leave them below!