Category: certifications

Passing the AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate Exam

I passed the exam Friday (10/4) and it was nothing if not one of the most stressful things that could happen to a person. Here is a quick review of my test preparation as well as what happened the day of the exam.

Test Prep

There is a bit of a backstory. I took the cloud practitioner exam in June and since so much of that material is relevant to the solutions architect exam, it’s safe to say, my studies started in June. I signed up for an Intro to Cloud Computing online course with The-ITEM and had taken the exam into my third week. I stayed in the course because my husband wanted to learn about cloud computing and I could be there for moral support.

The materials I used to study with and pass the CSAA are as follows:

  • AWS Certified Solutions Architect Study Guide: Associate (SAA-C01) Exam book $
  • AWS Certified Solutions Architect Practice Tests: Associate SAA-C01 Exam book $
  • AWS Certified Solutions Architect-Associate Certification Guide book $
  • A Cloud Guru: AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate 2019 course $
  • AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate Practice Exams on Udemy $
  • Linux Academy: AWS Certified Solutions Architect -Associate Level course $
  • FAQs for the following services: (free)

I watched the A Cloud Guru course from beginning to end, twice. Once along with The-ITEM and once with my study buddy, more on that later. Since the Linux Academy content was in the process of being refreshed, I only reviewed certain modules in that course. As I got closer to the test date, the course was done and I watched a few sections through from beginning to end. Linux Academy has a very thorough way of going through the services. It will do you well to watch this course from beginning to end. The depth and breadth of the 44 hour course is staggering.

The books were just as helpful as the course. I like to read physical books. Being able to mark up, highlight and doodle in the margins was a plus for me. I’d print out the chapter quizzes or a few pages of questions and practice answering them, over and over. The exams in the A Cloud Guru course were good as were the practice exams provided by the cert guide.

Reading the FAQs the day before and the day of the exam really helped me get a few extra points. I would highly recommend not skipping this step. The courses aren’t up to date, nor are they comprehensive. Getting the information straight from AWS is always a sound choice.

My AWS Study Buddy

After having taken a over a month off from study prep, I knew I needed to get back on the ball. The power of Twitter found me someone to study with and keep me on track to take the exam. I tweeted that I was looking for an AWS study buddy and some how, my tweet found its way to a young lady in Portugal.

We met online twice a week for 2-3 hours each time. She’s 5 hours ahead, so she was talking to me in the middle of the night. We read and watched the courses in advance and would discuss the content, walk through the console and do the quizzes and exam questions together. I scheduled my exam just to put it on my calendar and have a date to work towards. She scheduled her exam for the same day.

As the exam date neared, I fell behind. My dog died and I was devastated. I didn’t feel ready and was about to reschedule the exam. My husband told me not to. He said, “only two things can happen, you will pass or you will fail and know just what to expect on the exam”. So, I pressed on.

The Exam

My study buddy took her test before me and she passed. She messaged me to tell me that I won’t have any trouble passing it either. She would know. We’d spend hours together going over content and questions and had so many discussions about all things AWS CSAA. She used almost every minute they gave her and suggested I do the same. I knew I would take her advice.

“Only two things can happen, you will pass or you will fail and know just what to expect on the exam”

Darryl Andrews

Whatever could go wrong at the test center did go wrong. The computer wouldn’t log me in and someone had to assist. After that little hiccup, I was off and running. with 130 minutes to complete 65 questions. I went through the exam and flagged 18 questions, then at the end, revisited them. Next, I went through each question again, from beginning to end. I told myself that I’d end the test with a minute left. As that time approached, I felt very good about the exam and went to end the test.


The system was still counting down, but I wasn’t able to end the test. I didn’t know what to do. I got up and ran out of the room and screamed, “MY TEST WON’T END!!!” I had 30 seconds left and I had no idea what would happen. When I got back to the test, it had timed out, the proctor tried to get my test to end, screen to move or anything. Nothing happened. She walked out and I followed her. Heart racing and feeling a tear in my eye, she reassured me that the test would save and nothing would be lost. She had to call someone and he walked her through the process and she was able to log me in and end the exam for me. I sat back down, completed the survey and got the notification I was waiting for. I PASSED!

I took to Twitter to scream it from the rooftop that I passed.

…and that my study buddy passed too!

A load was lifted. All that work paid off. Next up, the AWS Certified Sysops Administrator Associate Exam.

Passing the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner Exam

I passed the exam today, so before I’m inundated with work stuff and AWS re:Inforce next week, I thought I’d write this up while it was fresh in my head.

I set my intentions this year to move forward learning more about AWS and getting a few certifications along the way. I started a new job in January that has some production but mostly test/dev workloads in AWS. Once I got my  AWS credentials, I was off and running. I logged in and took a look around at what was running. I started trying and failing at a few things, but I learned a lot along the way.  

Promising myself I’d get my AWS Certified SysOps Administrator Associates (SysOps) certification this year, so I set off in that direction. I’m going to admit, It’s better to have a little bit of experience in AWS before you dive into that exam. My boss suggested I try for the AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associates (SA) exam first, so I changed course. I discovered there was even an more entry-level certification, the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner exam so decided to try that one first while studying for the SA. 

Cover of textbook
Cert book to curl up with

To start my study, I purchased a book by Anthony Sequeira on May 17th and set to reading. I also started the Linux Academy course on the same topic. My SA study group started on June 3rd, held by this local group called The Item which stand for “The Inclusive Technology + Entrepreneurship Movement”. My husband decided to join the group as well, now we’re both studying to become SAs!!! 

Linux Academy is my go-to learning resource

To study for the exam, we get on Zoom 3x a week and talk about the topics on the exam. We use Qwiklabs and the ‘A Cloud Guru’ course on Udemy and of course Linux Academy’s course and playground to reinforce what we’ve talked about for more practical experience and reinforcement.

Now, back to the Cloud Practitioner exam. I will admit, I like getting information from various sources. I tend to grasp certain topics better when the delivery comes in several formats (blogs, books, videos, podcasts, tutorials, flash cards). I also tried Amazon Polly which translates my notes to speech. It was such a hit! With just a few tags to make the speech more ‘human’, I was able to listen to my notes on my commute using MP3s downloaded from S3 (AWS Simple Storage Service).

Code with Markup
Writing SSML markup

I can say, with 100% certainty, that the icing on my studying cake was watching the AWS Cloud Practitioner Essentials course on their site. This was what I watched in the days leading up to the exam in addition to taking practice exams on the Pearson website.

We talking about practice.

I didn’t fully grasp IAM roles and polices until I watched the Identity and Access Management video in the ‘AWS Cloud Practitioner Essentials: Security’ video by Blaine Sundrud. His explanations and white-boarding really hit it home for me. Also, what gave me confidence on the understanding the Well-Architected Framework (on top of having read it) was the video on AWS. I recommend watching it and reading it as well. These concepts are important to grasp. 

3x5 cards with writing on them
Yes, I’m Old School

I stayed up late the night before and got  up early on test day just to watch more of the videos on AWS. I also did a few more runs on the practice tests, scoring 93-100% all the way. I felt ready. I got a few good luck emails from the CTO, my boss and a few team mates. I got to the PearsonVue location early and was ready to go. The wait almost did me in. With 2 people ahead of me for my 9AM test appointment, I didn’t get into my test chair until 9:30.

Once there, I was off and running. I was done in almost 30 minutes, but marked several for review. After reviewing about 10 or so questions, I started from the beginning and went over each question again. They gave my 90 minutes, so I used an hour of it. I wasn’t in a rush after having waited over 30 minutes to get to my workstation. When it was all over, I exhaled, ended the exam and found out I passed.  

My main advice to anyone studying for either exam is to practice. Go through the console and get an idea of where everything is. Then step through creating the resources and getting a feel for what the configurations looks like. Know the terms and their nuances, you will be tested on similar ‘feeling ‘ terms, so know what they mean emphatically. Read the  FAQs for key services and don’t forget to commit the Well-Architected Framework to memory. In my opinion, your success on your practice exams will closely mimic your success on the real exams. Sadly, my results haven’t been posted to my account yet. I was hoping they’d be up before the AWS conference next week so I could stunt in the certification lounge.

I took a LOT of notes

The resources I used for the Cloud Practitioner exam are as follows:

  • AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner Exam Book $
  • Linux Academy course $
  • AWS Cloud Practitioner Essentials videos (free)
  • AWS Cloud Practitioner Essentials Bootcamp at AWS Public Sector Summit $
  • Pearson Test Prep Practice Exams from the book (free with book)
  • Amazon Polly for text to speech of my notes (free)
  • AWS Well-Architected Framework PDF (free)
  • AWS Well-Architected framework training course (free)
  • Good old fashioned flashcards (free)
  • Copious notes (free)

You don’ t need all of this to pass this exam. I’m just fortunate to have access to so many resources, so find what works within your budget and work hard. To find out more about AWS certifications and to register for an exam, visit AWS training and certification and set up and account.

Good luck and I’ll see you when I’ve taken the SA exam. 

*UPDATE* I got my results! Now it’s official. I can proudly flex my badge and get into the certification lounge at AWS re:Inforce and re:Invent.

AWS cloud practitioner badge
It’s Official

Leveling up skills with Linux Academy

My stand up desk with the Linux Academy Penguin

I haven’t been blogging much, I’ve been busy learning.

I got a subscription to Linux Academy and for the past month, I’ve been immersed in retooling for a skill switch into DevOps. I’ve been using Linux for years, but my goal is not to have a cursory understanding of the OS, but to be as comfortable in it as I am in Windows. I’ve gotten a few successful completions on a few courses on Linux Academy under my belt. I’m currently in the Linux, Cloud, and Ruby Coding learning path which consists of:

  • Linux Essentials Certification (done)
  • CompTIA Cloud Essentials Certification (in progress)
  • AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate
  • OpenStack Essentials
  • Nginx And The LEMP Stack
  • Introduction To Ruby Programming Language On Linux

Linux Academy Completion Certificate- Linux Essentials Linux Academy Completion Certificate- DevOps Essentials

I’ll sit for the LPI Linux Essentials exam this month and move on to the AWS Certified Solutions Architect-Associate exam after that.

In the meantime, I’m writing 2 blog series that will highlight some of the tools, commands, packages that I come across in my studies. Today’s 10 will highlight 10 commands, tips, tricks, etc. The other, Fab 5 will cover 5 quick hitters about Linux.

Stay tuned for more posts about my DevOps journey.


I passed the VCA

I am officially a VMware Certified Associate  in Data Center Virtualization (VCA-DCV)!


Last week I attended the VMware vSphere: Optimize and Scale (5.1) class at New Horizons and after hearing from a few of the attendees that the exam was a cinch if you worked with VMware and you sat through the online VMware Data Center Virtualization Fundamentals e-learning course, you could pass the VMware Certified Associate (VCA) exam with no problem. After watching the video, reading the exam blueprint, VMware vSphere Basics guide, and taking the practice exam twice, I was ready to schedule.

There is no class prerequisite to take the VCA like the VCP5 and such!

The test is administered by Pearsons Vue and you must request authorization from VMware first to schedule your exam.  There is a PDF that outlines the exam registration procedure in great detail. Once you’re registered, signed up with Pearsons and pay for your exam ($120) you’re ready to go. There are tons of discount codes out there that will either give you a 50% discount or maybe even a freebie. Check the VCA forums and see which one works.

The test was 50 questions, 75 minutes long and for but a few questions, they come straight from the e-learning course. My advice, read the question, re-read it and focus on the sentence in the middle that gives you the most clues about what the answer may be. Did I say READ the question?  To pass, you need to score a 300. The scale is 100-500 and I got a 420.

My next stop is to study for the VMware Certified Professional 5 – Data Center Virtualization (VCP5-DCV) exam. To obtain this one, you must have taken qualifying coursework prior to obtaining your certification. In the meantime, I’ll take the VMware Certified Associate – Cloud (VCA-Cloud) & VMware Certified Associate – Workforce Mobility (VCA-WM) as well.

I’ll post my training plan and will let you know of my progress. Good luck to you if you’re on the path to becoming VMware certified.

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