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.

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’ve been building on AWS since 2012 together with my brother Michael. We are sharing our insights into all things AWS on cloudonaut and have written the book AWS in Action. Besides that, we’re currently working on bucketAV,HyperEnv for GitHub Actions, and marbot.

Here are the contact options for feedback and questions.