How to Become an AWS Certified Solutions Architect

Andreas Wittig – 07 Jan 2021

In 2012, I created my first AWS account. Back then, I worked as a software engineer and was looking for a way to deploy an online trading platform. Two years later, I attended re:Invent — the yearly conference organized by AWS — in Las Vegas for the first time. I was lucky to pass the Certified Solutions Architect certification without any preparation due to my hands-on experience.

How to Become an AWS Certified Solutions Architect

This is a cross-post from the Cloudcraft blog.

Are you aiming to pass the Solutions Architect Associate (SAA-C02) exam? In this blog, you’ll find my advice on how to prepare for the certification exam. My approach is not the fastest way to get certified but a sustainable and joyful way to learn about AWS that will pay off in the long term.

The learning map

AWS is a vast country with its own language. Therefore, I’ve created a learning map to navigate AWS’s most important parts to pass the exam. Think of your exam preparations as a journey of discovery through this country.

AWS Certified Learning Map

Use the following checklist to track your learning progress.

  • EC2
  • VPC
  • RDS
  • ElastiCache
  • EBS
  • EFS
  • IAM
  • S3
  • CloudWatch
  • Auto Scaling
  • Route 53
  • CloudFront
  • API Gateway
  • Lambda
  • DynamoDB
  • Redshift
  • KMS
  • CloudFormation

The official exam guide describes the requirements to get certified in more detail.

What’s your learning style?

I prefer learning about new topics by reading a book. I do recommend the following two books to get started with AWS.

On top of that, I suggest reading through the AWS Well-Architected Framework. The framework summarizes best practices on how to build secure, reliable and efficient systems on AWS. You will find a lot of questions about those principles within the exam.

Andreas and Michael Wittig

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Do you prefer watching videos instead of reading? The place to go is A Cloud Guru with their AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate SAA-C02 course consisting of more than 34 hours of videos. Besides that, Adrian Cantrill — an independent instructor — puts a lot of effort into his video courses. Of course, Adrian offers an AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate (SAA-C02) course as well.

Participating in instructor-led classroom training is another way of getting started with AWS. An onsite training breaks the daily routine and provides a place to concentrate. AWS and its partners offer training all around the world. Until last year, I was an instructor for official AWS training in Germany. Based on that experience, I do recommend the 3-day Architecting on AWS training.

Learning by doing

Reading books, watching videos and participating in classroom training is an excellent way to get familiar with AWS. However, I observe that learning by doing is even more critical. By the way, AWS recommends one year of hands-on experience (see exam guide).

In my opinion, a side project is a perfect way to learn about AWS. Get inspired by the following examples.

  • Deploy a personal blog based on WordPress. Start with a single EC2 instance and expand to a highly available infrastructure with Route 53, ALB, EC2, Auto Scaling, EFS, and RDS.
  • Back up data from your local machine or network to AWS. Start by using a basic S3 bucket and proceed with lifecycle policies to decrease costs, encryption-at-rest with a customer-managed KMS key, and scheduled backups with the help of AWS DataSync.
  • Install your a VPN server — for example, OpenVPN — on an EC2 instance to tunnel your traffic through unsecured networks or to another country. Expand by accessing additional resources like an EFS file system over the VPN connection.
  • When working on a side project to deepen your knowledge about AWS, you will most likely struggle from time to time. Therefore, we recommend joining a community of AWS users.

Join a community

There are AWS user groups all around the world. For example, I’m the co-organizer of the AWS user group in Stuttgart. And of course, there are online communities as well. For example, #100DaysOfCloud is a community of AWS/GCP/Azure beginners. Get involved, for example, with one of the following activities.

  • Ask for help when you are struggling and need some guidance to get back on track.
  • Watch talks where experts share their knowledge and experience.
  • Share your side project to get motivating feedback.
  • Help others as early as possible. Explaining a topic to a beginner is very helpful to deepen your understanding.

I highly recommend joining a community of AWS users!

Broaden your knowledge

After gaining some hands-on AWS experience, I encourage you to broaden your knowledge about AWS in two dimensions:

  • Vertical: Pick 2-3 services in which you want to become an expert. Take a close look at every detail. I highly recommend testing the limits. For example, what’s the maximum network bandwidth of an EC2 instance? Or, how fast does an ALB scale?
  • Horizontal: Add 2-3 services to your learning agenda. Pick services you are most interested in — for example, machine learning, analytics, or IoT.
    Doing so helps you to see the bigger picture and to connect the dots.

Take a practice exam

So you learned a lot about AWS and gained some hands-on experience? Time for the last steps before the exam.

First, I recommend the exam readiness course from AWS. The free course summarizes important information and contains example questions. Next, I recommend taking the practice exam to build trust in your knowledge and sleep well before the final exam.

Go, go, go!

Did you pass the practice exam? Schedule a certification exam right away. Good luck, and don’t forget to share your success in the comments.

Andreas Wittig

Andreas Wittig

I launched cloudonaut.io in 2015 with my brother Michael. Since then, we have published hundreds of articles, podcast episodes, and videos. It’s all free and means a lot of work in our spare time. We enjoy sharing our AWS knowledge with you.
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