What is the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional exam

On Dec 21, 2020, I passed the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional exam.

I want to state upfront that this is a difficult examination. It took me 3 months of study to prepare for it. If you do not have a study plan you will almost certainly fail.

Despite the difficulty and the time investment required, I recommend taking the certification if you work extensively with the AWS platform and want formal recognition of your expertise.

In this post, I will talk about

  • What is cloud computing?
  • What certificates does AWS offer?
  • Why did I get certified?

To prevent this post from becoming overly long – I will cover these points in part 2

  • How did I prepare for it?
  • What was the experience of taking the exam?

If you’ve decided to take the Solutions Architect – Professional exam and want to prepare for it. Go right to How I passed the AWS Certified Solutions Architect Professional exam

What does the certificate look like?

You will know if you passed the exam immediately on submitting the exam. A detailed score report becomes accessible a few days later on certmetrics.com

I obtained a scaled score of 894. The certification badge is also viewable here at Acclaim

The result of my sweat and tears: an AWS Certified Solution Architect – Professional certificate

What is cloud computing?

If you already know what cloud computing is – you can skip this section and proceed to “What certificates does AWS offer”.

Anyone working in IT in the last 10 years would have heard of cloud computing. The idea of cloud computing is the provision of computing as a service.

Cloud computing offers computing as a service on-demand

In more concrete terms, cloud computing allows a company to buy its computing needs from a cloud provider instead of building and running its own data centre. This is akin to a company buying water and power from a utilities company instead of building its own water treatment and power plant.

The greatest benefit of using cloud computing is the enablement of organizational agility. The company is charged using a Pay-As-You-Go model, has the option to spin-up large number of virtual machines in minutes, implement a global distribution network, then tear it all down when it’s no longer required.

The benefits of using cloud computing are numerous and I will not do them justice in this summary. An in-depth treatment can be found in this AWS Whitepaper

There 3 largest cloud providers in descending order are

AWS tops the list of cloud providers

I chose to pursue the AWS certification since they have the largest marketshare and out of the top 3 cloud providers, I am most familiar with AWS and have used AWS extensively for more than 3 years in a professional capacity.

What certificates does AWS offer?

AWS offers multiple certification options. There are the generalist certificates tiered by skill level: Foundational, Associate, and Professional. Then there are the Speciality certificates grouped by subject.

AWS provides many certification options to fit your job requirements.
The certificate I took has a red arrow pointing to it.

Above the foundational level, the generalist certificates are split into 3 tracks by organizational archetypes: Architect, Operations, and Developer. These certificates always cover a wide range of AWS services but the depth of coverage varies depends on the archetype.

The Specialty certificates are hyper-focused on certain areas and skillsets. I recommend taking these after completing at least an Associate certification and when you are certain of the demands of your job.

For example, a Database Administrator managing RDS instances would want to know the fine details of RDS, AuroraDB, and DynamoDB and take the Database Specialty, whereas a Data Scientist wanting to leverage SageMaker to train his ML models would take the Machine Learning Specialty instead.

On the other hand, both the DBA and DS will benefit from learning about the basic AWS services which provide

  • Network (VPCs, Subnets, Route tables etc.)
  • Storage (S3, EBS, RDS etc.)
  • Compute (EC2, ECS, EKS, Lambda etc.)

These basic services are covered in the Associate and Professional level certificates.

If you are unsure of which certification suits you – check out The 12 AWS Certifications: Which is Right for You and Your Team

Why did I get certified?

I chose to take the AWS Solution Architect Professional certification

  • to validate my pre-existing AWS experience
  • to expand my knowledge of the AWS platform
  • to increase my future compensation.

Validate pre-existing AWS experience

I have used AWS services extensively in the past 3 years for professional and personal purposes. I have provisioned EC2 instances, placed them into Auto-Scaling groups, used Application Load Balancers to distribute incoming traffic, and bought top-level domains on Route53

Yet my portfolio of work lack visibility to outsiders. I cannot demonstrate my expertise since I build products for internal customers.

The AWS Cloud Architect certificate provides an opportunity to formally recognize my expertise. According to the AWS website, the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional certification validates the following abilities

  • Design and deploy dynamically scalable, highly available, fault-tolerant, and reliable applications on AWS
  • Select appropriate AWS services to design and deploy an application based on given requirements
  • Migrate complex, multi-tier applications on AWS
  • Design and deploy enterprise-wide scalable operations on AWS
  • Implement cost-control strategies

Expand knowledge

If the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail. You will learn the full array of AWS tools at your disposal when studying for the AWS Cloud Solutions Architect certificate.

For example, AWS offers S3, EBS, RDS and DynamoDB as data storage options. As a Cloud Solution Architect, you are expected to know the strengths and limitations of each services and choose the right one for the job. You are expected to read the AWS Storage Services Whitepaper as part of exam preparation

A Cloud Solutions Architect is expected to design for organizational complexity. You must decide how to manage permissions and cost allocation in an organization where each department has its own AWS account. You are expected to understand how to use AWS Organizations and its best practices

For someone who is solidly grounded in the technical fundamentals of AWS, who knows the ins-and-outs of S3 and EC2, the Professional certificate offers a higher level view of AWS usage in the company. It prepares the candidate to not just architect the infrastructure for a single service or department but to manage the federated cloud infrastructure of a company with thousands of employees

Monetary gain

Becoming AWS certified grants significant monetary benefits. Companies are increasingly adopting cloud technologies for their IT infrastructure. This means lots of jobs for cloud computing experts.

Being AWS certified is financially rewarding

At the time of writing, persons knowledgable about cloud computing platforms are uncommon, those who understand the Well-Architected Framework are few and certified persons are rare.

A growing demand for cloud computing experts compounded with the shortage of certified Cloud Architects means generous compensation for those who obtain the AWS Certified Cloud Architect certification.

This is validated by Paycale.com numbers.

The average US annual salary for someone certified as a AWS Certified Cloud Architect – Associate is $113,585.

The average US annual salary for a AWS Certified Cloud Architect – Professional is a cool $129,288

Part 2

In part 2 of this post I will cover

  • How did I prepare for it?
  • What was the experience of taking the exam?

Click here to go to part 2!

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