About axes and cabbage

    Reflections on where the desire to pass AWS Solutions Architect Associate certification comes from .

    First motive: “Axes”

    One of the most useful principles for any professional, “Know your tools” (or in one of the “ sharpen a saw ” variations ).

    We have been in the clouds for a long time, but for the time being they were just monolithic applications with bases deployed on EC2 instances - cheap and cheerful.

    But gradually we became cramped within the monolith. We took a course on cutting in a good sense - on modularization, and then microservices that are now fashionable. And very quickly, “a hundred flowers bloom” on this soil.

    Yes, that there is a long way to go - the activity logging project that I am currently conducting includes:

    • Customers in the form of various applications of our product - from the backwoods of the dense Legacy to the trendy microservices on .Net Core.
    • Amazon SQS queues that add up logs of what's happening to customers.
    • A .Net Core microservice that retrieves messages from the queue and sends them to Amazon Kinesis Data Streams (KDS). It also has a Web API and swagger UI as a backup channel and for manual testing. Wrapped in a docker linux container and hosted under Amazon ECS. Autoscaling is provided in case of a large stream of logs.
    • From KDS, fire hose data is sent to Amazon Redshift, with intermediate warehouses in Amazon S3.
    • Operating logs for developers (debug information, error messages, etc.) are formatted in a nice looking JSON and sent to Amazon CloudWatch Logs

    Working with such an AWS services zoo, I want to know what is in the arsenal and how is it better to use something.

    Just imagine - you have an old proven ax that cuts trees well and clogs nails well. Over the years you have learned to handle him well, put together a doghouse, a couple of sheds and maybe even a hut. Sometimes difficulties arise, let's say screwing a screw with an ax does not always work out quickly, but is usually solved with the help of patience and such and such a mother.

    And then a wealthy neighbor appears next to him, who has a damn cloud of a variety of tools: power saws, nail guns, screwdrivers and God knows what else. He is ready to lease all this wealth around the clock. What to do? The option of taking an ax and dispossessing we dismiss as political illiteracy. It will be most reasonable to study what kind of tools are there, how they can complement each other at different jobs, and under what conditions they are rented out.

    Since this motive was the main thing for me, the preparation was structured accordingly - to find fundamental guidance and study it carefully. And such a guide was found . The book is written a little dry, but this is unlikely to scare away people who taught matan in Fichtenholtz.

    I read it from cover to cover and I think that it fully meets the set goal - it gives a good overview of both the services themselves and the more general concepts that can occur on the exam. In addition, a nice bonus is the opportunity to go through a somewhat strange registration procedure for Sybex and answer all the test questions and test exams from the book online.

    An important point: I learned from the book of the 2016 edition, but in AWS everything changes quite dynamically, so look for the latest edition that will be at the time of preparation. For example, in trial tests, questions often arise about the availability and durability of various classes S3 and Glacier, but some of the numbers have changed compared to 2016. In addition, new ones were added (for example, INTELLIGENT_TIERING or ONEZONE_IA).

    The second motive: “65 shades of orange.”

    Intense thinking requires some effort. But it is no secret that many programmers experience masochistic pleasure from puzzling tasks, questions and sometimes even exams.

    I think this pleasure is much akin to playing “What?” Where? When?" or, say, a good game of chess.

    In this sense, the current AWS Solutions Architect Associate exam is very good. Although during the preparation of the test questions from time to time there were “cramped” ones, such as “ How many maximum elastic IP addresses can I have in a VPC ” or “ What is the availability of S3 IA?", They didn’t come across such an exam. In fact, almost each of the 65 questions was a mini-task for design. Here is a fairly typical example from the official documentation:
    A web application allows customers to upload orders to an S3 bucket. The resulting Amazon S3 events trigger a Lambda function that inserts a message to an SQS queue. A single EC2 instance reads messages from the queue, processes them, and stores them in an DynamoDB table partitioned by unique order ID. Next month traffic is expected to increase by a factor of 10 and a Solutions Architect is reviewing the architecture for possible scaling problems. Which component is MOST likely to need re-architecting to be able to scale to accommodate the new traffic?
    A. Lambda function B. SQS queue C. EC2 instance D. DynamoDB table

    As far as I know, the previous version of the exam contained 55 questions and 80 minutes were allocated for it. Apparently, they did a good job of him: now there are 65 questions and 130 minutes on them. Time in terms of a question has increased, but there are practically no passing questions. Each had to think, sometimes for more than two minutes.

    By the way, there is a practical conclusion from here. Usually a winning tactic is to quickly go over all the questions and answer what is answered immediately. In the case of SAA-C01, this generally does not work, almost every question will have to be flagged, otherwise there is a risk of not noticing some detail and answering incorrectly. In the end, I answered, spending a minute or two on each question, and then returned to the shutters and spent the remaining 20 minutes on them.

    The third motive: “If youth knew, if old age could”

    As you know, one of the most frequent causes of failures that programmers receive over 40 is their reduced ability to learn compared to youth.

    Meanwhile, there is a feeling that in some areas my ability to learn has even increased compared to my student years - due to greater perseverance, and experience, which allows attracting familiar analogies to unfamiliar questions.

    But the sensation can be deceiving, an objective criterion is needed. Prepare for the exam and pass it - what is not an option?

    I believe that the verification was a success. I prepared myself and the preparation went smoothly enough. Well, yes, a couple of times I fell asleep in a hammock reading a manual - but this can happen to everyone.
    Now there is a certificate and decent points for the exam as a sign of gunpowder in the flasks.

    Well, a little about what might be motivation, but it was unlikely in my case.

    Not the first motive: “Cabbage”

    There are interesting studies by “Forbes” about which specialists with which certificates are the most paid in the world, and AWS SAA is in honor of 4th place

    But, firstly, what is the reason and what is the consequence? I suspect that the guys make good money
    because of certain abilities, and these same abilities help to pass certification. Secondly, vague doubts torment that someone will be paid $ 130 K per year outside the United States, even though he is being evaluated from head to toe.

    And in general, as you know, after satisfying the lower levels of the pyramid, salary ceases to be the main factor.

    Not the second motive: “Company Requirements”

    Companies can encourage certification or even require them (especially if they are needed for partnerships, such as joining AWS APN in the case of Amazon).

    But in our case, an independent product is produced, in addition, we try to avoid vendor lock-in. So no one requires certificates. They will praise and pay for the exam in recognition of certain efforts - that’s the whole officialdom.

    Not the third motive: “Employment”

    Perhaps the availability of certificates will be a definite plus for getting a job, all other things being equal. But I have no plans to change jobs. It is interesting to work on a complex product that actively uses many newfangled approaches and AWS services. All this is enough at the current place.

    No, of course, there are different cases: for 23 years in IT, I changed my job once 5. It’s not a fact that I don’t have to change it again if I stretch another 20 years. But if they beat me, we will cry.


    In conclusion, I will mention a few more materials that I used in the process of preparing for the exam and just as a “sharpener for a saw”:

    • Videocourses pluralsight and cloud is guru . The latter, they say, are especially good if you buy a subscription with access to all mock exams. But for me, as one of the conditions of the game, it was meant not to spend a dime on the preparation, buying a subscription did not go well with this. In addition, I generally consider the video format less dense in terms of the amount of information per unit time. However, when they are preparing for SA Professional, then most likely I will issue a subscription.
    • Tons of Amazon official documentation, including FAQ and WhitePapers.
    • Well, the last, but significant thing - verification tests . I found them a couple of days before the exam and trained well. There is nothing to read there, but the online interface and comments on the answers are good.

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