Sam Fetchero - January 14, 2020

What I learned from taking the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner exam

For seven years, I was a Microsoft guy.  Signing up to take the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner exam felt a little foreign, and honestly, a little traitorous.

I’ve used AWS – I’ve tried out their free tier and some of their fun services like AWS Device Farm. I’ve also left stuff on, blew past the free tier, and received a bill that I wasn’t prepared to pay!

However, having (and proving) a deep understanding of the #1 cloud provider is an important part of my job, so I signed up.

I gave myself three days to prepare.


The Prep

I started with the sample test. How hard could this thing be? After getting 50% (70% needed to past), I quickly realized I needed to study.

I resolved to do all the studying myself. No A Cloud Guru for me (although several members of my team have passed using their 13-hour course and swear by it). My study plan: Watch the 6-hour video course and read whitepapers while on an airplane:

I was blown away by the number and depth of services AWS offers.

Did you know they offer a service to control satellite communications (AWS Ground Station)?

And, AWS has a service to inject personalized videos into video streams at high quality (AWS Elemental MediaTailor)?

There are a lot of services to remember and tons of stuff I want to go back and play with.

I also solidified my understanding of the “shared responsibility model.” In the video course, Amazon simplifies the aspects of security they retain responsibility for – while making it clear what the customer is accountable for on their end.

On an EC2 instance, for example, AWS owns the hardware, the network, and the hypervisor. After that, they can’t even see what the customer is doing with it – it’s the customer's responsibility for everything else. AWS doesn’t even know what OS the user chooses for an EC2 instance, for example.

Finally, I was shocked to read that AWS admits their pricing is difficult to understand and predict. From their pricing whitepaper (page 19): “Projecting costs for a use case, such as web application hosting, can be challenging because a solution typically uses multiple features across multiple AWS products, which in turn means there are more factors and purchase options to consider.” Yet another reason AWS has chosen to partner with Apptio Cloudability.


The Test

AWS recently announced that you could take the Cloud Practitioner Certification from the comfort of your own home. Several members of my team have taken the test this way and swear by it. However, because I took the test this summer, that option wasn’t available.

I went to a Pearson testing facility, handed over all my possessions, sat down at a 1990s-era terminal, and took the exam on an OS that appeared to be Windows 3.1.

I passed: a solid 88 out of 100.

Or, as Larry Blasko, Chief Revenue Officer of Apptio, said, “Only a B+.”

However, do you know what they call the medical student that finishes last in their class? “Doctor.”


The Aftermath

The knowledge and street cred I picked up through studying and passing has proved to be well worth it.

For example, the Capital One data breach (another former employer of mine) happened a few weeks after I passed the exam. In reading about the repercussions, I read that a little known AWS service, AWS Macie, could have prevented the whole thing from happening. AWS Macie uses ML to find and alert you about potential risks.

Later, I was meeting with a customer who was talking about rearchitecting some of their workloads and moving off of EC2 to a new architecture based on AWS Glue and Amazon Athena. I knew exactly what they were talking about!

Finally, the fringe benefits are great. You get to put a badge on your email signature, and at re:Invent there is a special room reserved only for those folks AWS certified with snacks and great swag. While I love mingling with 60,000 of my closest friends at re:Invent, it was nice to take a break at the AWS Certified Lounge!

I recommend everyone working in the cloud take the AWS Cloud Practitioner exam.

Next up: Azure Fundamentals.

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