Preparing for the AWS Certified Developer-Associate exam

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Preparing for the AWS Certified Developer-Associate exam

Cloud computing skills are no longer a nice-to-have for an IT professional, but rather a must-have. The speed and the breadth of the transformations happening inside organizations, especially during our challenging times, are perfect for the agility of cloud offerings. Here’s where the question of how to obtain and showcase such skills arises. One of the possibilities is getting certified.

In this article, we’re going to discuss the journey from a complete newbie in terms of cloud computing to achieving an AWS Certified Developer — Associate Certification, the resources used for preparation and a couple of lessons learned.

Background

I was looking into learning more about the cloud for some time now when I realized that Cloud Computing was missing from my skill set. I figured out that getting a certification is both a great opportunity to learn something new and to stand out. Coming from a Business Intelligence / Analytics background, my final focus is a Big Data or Machine Learning certification, but I think being a certified developer first makes for a good foundation.

Why did I choose AWS?

So there are two reasons for that. First, it was the cloud provider I had the most experience with (of the little experience I’ve had). I had the opportunity to work with Redshift and S3 a while ago.

Second, it’s the market leader. Though the gap between the market share of AWS and its main competitors (Google Cloud and Azure) is decreasing, Amazon Web Services remains the biggest cloud services provider. This reassures me that the demand (and the certification) will be continued to be sought-after.

Is it worth it?

I looked into this very question before I started preparing. There are a couple of scenarios where looking into a certification might help. I would think about three possibilities:

  • you already work with a subset of AWS services and want to get a glimpse of the bigger picture

  • you’re a consultant and it’s a requirement for your job

  • you want to pick up a new skill and showcase it — working towards certification provides a nice way to achieve both

Apparently, in some places, it might influence your pay, but even if that’s not the case, let’s agree it can’t hurt your chances.

Prerequisites

I’ve started my certification journey with AWS about seven months ago with the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner exam. This is a foundational exam, aimed at non-technical people, that provides a general understanding of what the AWS cloud is and what it offers. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t call it a walk in the park either. It’s a serious exam that needs consistent preparation as well, even more so for the uninitiated folk. Just as a note, AWS recommends the Certified Cloud Practitioner certification as a stepping stone towards more advanced ones.

Resources

We’re now going to review several resources I’ve used to prepare for the exam.

AWS Official Study Guide

First of all, the book — the official study guide. I’m going to be honest here, I went for the video platforms first but left the book for a quick browse on the last day before the exam. In retrospect, this was a mistake. The book provides everything one would need to know and does so in a clear, concise manner. It provides context and background information that the video courses just don’t have the time to provide.

A very useful feature, included with the book, is access to the “Comprehensive Online Learning Environment”, which is an online test bank with hundreds of questions and flashcards to help you prepare.

Now, what I found to be a great deal is having a membership with O’Reilly. This will give you access to the said official study guide as well as other books and multiple video preparation courses — make sure just to sort them by published date so you would get the most updated ones. I’ve done two of them, one by Nick Garner and the other one by Malcolm Orr. They’re also great content. In case you’d need it, there’s also an O’Reilly mobile app that you can use.

All in all, I would say that getting so much for the price of a single membership is pretty fabulous.

LinuxAcademy

The Linux Academy’s AWS Certified Developer — Associate Level course is one of the most comprehensive I’ve seen. At almost 30 hours of video content, it packs quite a punch. For my previous certification, I prepared with a course on LinuxAcademy and it proved to be a good preparation that allowed me to pass the exam.

One of the great features of this option is the availability of labs. You don’t need to have an AWS account of your own but rather are offered a preconfigured environment that allows you the practice a particular topic learned in the lesson. It’s very useful to be able to focus on learning and not worry about the setup or the costs.

Overall, this is solid, comprehensive training, that allows you to put the things you’re learning into practice as you go. There’s also a mobile app if you’re on the go.

A Cloud Guru

Another option in our list is A Cloud Guru. It’s similar in many ways to the previous entry (in fact, they’ve acquired Linux Academy recently) but different in approach. While the course is shorter it puts a lot of emphasis on what you need to know for the exam, so it might be a great option if you’re running short on time. The content is polished and it’s just a pleasure to watch this video course.

I would say A Cloud Guru has the best user experience and interface, as well as the nicest-looking mobile app.

Tutorials Dojo

Not a course option, but rather a test bank, it offers flashcards, as well as timed or learning-mode exams that would help you assess how you’d do in a real setting and where your weak points are. Besides that, there are also cheat sheets available for free that you can use for a quick recap.

While I’ve found the interface pretty unintuitive and unpolished, the test content itself is very good and at $15, great value for money.

Tips

Here are a couple of things I’ve learned in the process:

  • Do not underestimate the Official Guide. Depending on the type of learner you are, reading the book might get you very far and the included test bank is a great assessment tool. If you’ve gone with the O’Reilly subscription, you’d also get multiple video courses to pick from.

  • Try a couple of platforms (for free). Most of these platforms offer free trials, so be sure to check out a couple of them for free to see which one fits you best.

  • Try to stay focused. With video courses, often times I’d find myself just doing other things in the background and not paying full attention. In this case, it’s better to either study in bursts or go for a shorter, more concentrated course.

  • Do not procrastinate. It took me more than 6 months to prepare for this certification but only 2 of them were studying, the rest consisting of moving the exam some 2 weeks further and paying for a Linux Academy membership and not using it. Not very productive.

  • Test and review. Testing is a good tool for understanding where you’re falling behind. I’d go over several rounds of review so I understand why a particular answer was incorrect and what was the correct one and again, why. The good thing about the practice tests is that during review you’ll get some context and often some links to the official documentation.

Conclusion and next steps

In conclusion, I would say preparing for this certification is pretty straightforward thanks to the very good content available. One would just need to pick up a platform that suits his or her learning needs and embark on this fun journey.

As for the next steps, after becoming an AWS Certified Developer-Associate, you can either get a deeper understanding by going for the professional certification (AWS Certified DevOps Engineer) or one of the six currently available specializations. I for one would like to get more experience first with AWS and achieve an AWS Certified Data Analytics (recently rebranded from AWS Certified Big Data ) specialization.

Thanks for reading and good luck on your certification journey!

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