AWS Solutions Architect Associate (SAA-C02): my learnings & path to success
Hello there! Are you looking to crack the AWS Certified Solution Architect — Associate Exam in 2021 here are few learnings I would like to share as it might help others to prioritize as AWS is a big spaghetti bowl with 300+ AWS services with interconnected service, hopefully, this guide will give one a head start. I attended SAA-C02 certification in Feb 2021 and got a score of 870/1000 (passing required is 72%)
Before I start, earning any certification needs the 2 most powerful tools in investing are PATIENCE and DISCIPLINE.
Where do I start my certification?
If you lost which AWS certification is more relevant to your-set this is a short video that might help to pick the right path.
AWS Certification Recommendations
What is SAA-C02 is about?
The AWS Certified Solutions Architect — Associate examination is intended for individuals who perform a solutions architect role and have one or more years of hands-on experience designing available, cost-efficient, fault-tolerant, and scalable distributed systems on AWS.
Earners of this certification have a comprehensive understanding of AWS services and technologies. They demonstrated the ability to build secure and robust solutions using architectural design principles based on customer requirements. Badge owners are able to strategically design well-architected distributed systems that are scalable, resilient, efficient, and fault-tolerant.
Abilities Validated by the Certification
- Effectively demonstrate knowledge of how to architect and deploy secure and robust applications on AWS technologies
- Define a solution using architectural design principles based on customer requirements
- Provide implementation guidance based on best practices to the organization throughout the life cycle of the project
Recommended Knowledge and Experience
- Hands-on experience using compute, networking, storage, and database AWS services
- Hands-on experience with AWS deployment and management services
- Ability to identify and define technical requirements for an AWS-based application
- Ability to identify which AWS services meet a given technical requirement
- Knowledge of recommended best practices for building secure and reliable applications on the AWS platform
- An understanding of the basic architectural principles of building on the AWS Cloud
- An understanding of the AWS global infrastructure
- An understanding of network technologies as they relate to AWS
- An understanding of security features and tools that AWS provides and how they relate to traditional services
Ground reality checks -
Is this certificate recommended for Backend Engineers?
Absolutely YES! It covers services you need for the backend development like Kinesis, SQS, DynamoDB, RDS/Aurora, Elasticache, CloudWatch, Lambda, S3, EC2, IAM, ECS… What’s more, the exam is based on the AWS Well-Architected Framework. This is an official AWS guideline that teaches you how to drive your architectural decisions based on reliability, security, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness.
What about Frontend Engineers?
Absolutely YES! You’ll learn about Cloudfront, S3, Route53, Lambda, Cognito, IAM, CloudWatch. Again, with emphasis on reliability, security, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness.
What about Data Engineers/Scientists?
This exam touches a few of AWS core data services useful for Data Engineers/Scientists
AWS Glue, EMR, S3, Athena, Redshift
What about DevOps/SysOps?
Yes! You’ll learn:
- How to set up a VPC from scratch.
- How to create private/public subnets with high availability. Setting up internet gateway, NAT gateway, route tables.
- How to connect two VPCs with VPC peering.
- How to enable private connection from services inside a VPC to AWS services without going through the internet with VPC endpoints.
- How to monitor VPC with Flow Logs.
- How to connect on-premise data center with VPC: VPN, DirectConnect, TransitGateway, CloudHub.
- How to manage larger organizations in AWS with multiple accounts and cross-account access using AWS Organizations. How to easily globally restrict access to certain services.
- How to use Route53 to set up the domain(s) and hosted zone(s) with different routing policies.
What about Engineering Managers/Leaders?
Absolutely YES!! However, the exam is very technical and will require you to study all of the mentioned above. If you’re an Engineering Manager, the Solutions Architect exam will help get have a better overview of how to use AWS to meet compliance, Optimize cost requirements, and what are its auditing capabilities.
You’ll be exposed to industry-specific solution architectures and to trade-offs those architectures come with. This might be interesting for you to understand them and see what are the other options. This will help you work with engineering teams more productively. You can find example solutions architectures here: https://aws.amazon.com/solutions/.
How to prepare?
I took the Udemy course by Stéphane Maarek (From the sweet country of France) and I totally recommend it. It puts emphasis on understanding rather than cramming with full hands-on for each AWS service required for the exam. Stéphane has covered all the latest test data, exhaustive hand-on, and cover each topic in both breadth and depth. I really enjoyed it. Udemy offers an unlimited reply so as you can listen on the go, practice hands-on once you are back at the home. The best part is the Quiz at the end of each chapter tests your learnings to make sure you have understood it thoroughly.
I took those six preparation exams by Jon Bonso. [I felt tests from Jon seems to be much easier, but they are good ]
They resemble the questions you’ll see in the exam, although they’re obviously not the same. This is a good learning opportunity for you and the ultimate way to consolidate your knowledge after the course
I took another six preparation exams by Neal Davies. [Neal had covered the right size of questions like you will get in real test ]
it’s also a good learning opportunity.
Apart from this — Read [ just google it you will find these pdf’s as they are constantly updated ]
- AWS Well-Architected Framework whitepaper.
- AWS Cost Optimization Pillar
- Using Amazon Web Services for Disaster Recovery
- Overview of Amazon Web Services: AWS Whitepaper — DO NOT MISS THIS
How long does it take to prepare?
In my case, it was 2 months. I studied intensively from the beginning of Jan to Mid-Feb 2021. Started with mock tests for 2 weeks [replayed a few to make sure I have consistent 85% scores] once I felt confident I booked the test and attended the next day.
I have prepared my notes up to 149 pages on Google doc [YES, YES, YES] so as I can revise them before I pop in the test room.
It was quite well organized, they let you in with an identity-check and start your test in 10-min once you are done you will see your results instantly once you answer all 65 followed by a survey.
Detailed report scores and certificates will come in a few day's time.
Few other tips:
1. Pick answers by eliminating the ones you are confident so as you narrow to the right answers
2. Avoid examtopics as I found sometimes you land in incorrect answers as it completely community-driven, you might lose marks in the actual exam.
3. Practice as many mock tests you can, until you get a consistent 85% pass rate
practice test covers the following domains:
- Design Resilient Architectures
- Define Performant Architecture
- Specify Secure Applications and Architectures
- Design Cost-Optimized Architectures
- Define Operationally-Excellent Architecture
4. Read a lot of AWS Faq: as you might get a few questions from here
5. Follow this mindmeister — I loved this mind map
6. Use reviewnprep to validate your self, it handy https://reviewnprep.com/
7. AWS Certifications recommendations by Cantrill — I love these too
8. AWS Practice Test
9. TutorialDojo (https://tutorialsdojo.com/comparison-of-aws-services/) has this amazing cheatsheet where they had summarized the key difference between the services of AWS which was very useful for me.
10. Finally, Keep Calm and Carry On — I know its a lot
That’s it! I hope this gave you a better understanding of why you’d consider attending this certification over the others and what are the possible ways of preparation and get ahead of curve in cloud computing.
Please post any questions you might have, I’m happy to help, and good luck with your prep.