There is a natural progression of an early career data professional’s abilities. They typically begin with learning basic data wrangling/munging skills including SQL and eventually progress to building machine learning models using APIs like scikit-learn. Once the foundational skills are in place, more advanced programming paradigms are used including object-oriented programming, custom modules, version control, environment management, etc. All of this inevitably leads to the need to incorporate all of the cool analysis and/or models built into some sort of product. This product may be a stand-alone machine learning application or a small feature in a larger software offering. Nevertheless, all roads lead to deployment. Most of the time, the cloud is the where the deployment takes place.
As a result, most data professionals will eventually need, at a minimum, a basic understanding of how cloud-based applications work. It’s likely that many of those will need to be “cloud fluent” in order to work alongside their data and machine learning engineers to put their models into production. In fact, this is exactly where my career has led me with one of the biggest providers of cloud services – Amazon Web Services (AWS).
(I have experience leveraging the Google Cloud to build and deploy machine learning models. You can check out my previous blog about that here).
AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner Exam
AWS is the largest cloud provider in the world, with Azure and Google coming in second and third place, respectively. All of the cloud providers provide a number of certification paths to demonstrate proficiency in their various service offerings. These paths cover various “roles” that someone using the cloud might have. Such roles include solutions architect, data engineer, developer, and security engineers. AWS divides their available certifications into four different categories: Foundational, Associate, Professional, and Specialty:
Available AWS Certifications
The foundational certification provided by AWS is the Cloud Practitioner. This exam is meant for anyone, including those with non-technical backgrounds, that would like to validate their fundamental knowledge of the cloud and how the various AWS services satisfy certain use-cases. Here’s a high-level breakdown of the exam (as of this writing):
Duration: 90 minutes
Format: 65 multiple choice, multiple answer questions
Delivery Method: In-person or online proctored exam.
My preparation took place over six months using a variety of online resources; but I was not very consistent in my studies and took breaks for months at a time. Eventually I had a self-imposed deadline to complete the certification exam by the end of June.
The best place to start is on the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner (CCP) website. AWS provides an exam guide that provides a great overview of what is on the exam. There is also a small practice set of questions to test your knowledge, but I didn’t find these questions to be particularly helpful. After reviewing what is on the exam and looking at the practice test, I used the following resources to prepare for the exam.
AWS Cloud Practitioner Essentials:
Length: 6 hours
AWS does offer a free training option on their website, which consists of a series of videos on the foundational services offered by AWS as well as information about security, pricing and support. The videos are definitely a good introduction to the services offered, but I felt that either the material went too deep too quickly without adequate explanation in some areas (particularly about networking) and was too shallow in other areas (like pricing). Many of the topics covered are relevant for the exam, but I needed a more thorough introduction (and repetition). Lastly, their delivery of material is about as dry as they could make it.
– AWS Essentials: 16 hours
– AWS Cloud Practitioner (CLF-C01): 17 hours
I used a combination of two courses from Linux Academy to prepare for the exam. First I completed the AWS Essentials course, which provides a more thorough and rigorous technical introduction to the most common AWS services. There are several hands-on labs that reinforce what is taught in the videos and provide real-world experience setting up basic AWS infrastructure. The depth of this course is far beyond what is necessary for the CCP exam, but I also wanted to understand how to actually set-up and configure some of the main AWS services. However, the AWS Essentials course also admits up front that it doesn’t fully prepare a candidate for the CCP exam, and to study a subset of the AWS Cloud Practitioner course materials that are relevant to the exam. I only watched the videos recommended in the AWS Cloud Practitioner course, which probably amounted to about half (7.5 hours) of the total course.
All of these materials are based on and use Project Omega as a hypothetical AWS solution use-case that we are in charge of designing from scratch. Using this as a framework for learning how the various services tie together was really helpful as well as providing a quick and easy way to review the core services and their relationships. Linux Academy was the bedrock of my preparation and got me to where I was about 80% confident in my ability to pass. I took the practice exam at the end of the Cloud Practitioner course and realized that I needed a little more exam practice and a better understanding of what AWS refers to as the Well Architected Framework.
AWS Well Architected Framework Whitepaper
Length: 2 hours
The AWS Well Architected Framework is details the five core pillars of creating a well architected solution using AWS. The CCP exam will ask questions about the five pillars and how the core AWS services (and their associated configurations) are related. For example, to increase the availability of an application (availability being one of the pillars) cross-region replication (CRR) can used to copy objects across Amazon S3 buckets in different AWS Regions. Due to its importance on the exam, I would consider reviewing this whitepaper mandatory. The whole document is over 80 pages long; but for the purposes of the CCP exam I would focus on the first half.
AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner 500 Practice Exam Questions on Udemy
Cost: Varies (Typically around $15 when using a special offer)
Length: 8 hours
The last resource I used to prepare was a Udemy course that consisted of six full-length practice exams that were incredibly reflective of the actual exam. Taking these exams highlighted areas that I needed to brush up on. For me, it was understanding the distinctions between the various AWS Support Plans. I would suggest working through all of the practice exams, review the answers (with a focus on the ones answered incorrectly), and practice the exams again until scores of 80%. Since there is a 500 question bank, retaking a test doesn’t mean you’ll get all of the same questions again, making memorization difficult. Once scores are achieved in the 80%+ range, I felt confident to take the exam.
What to Expect on Exam Day
I took the exam through the Pearson VUE online proctoring platform. To ensure that there is no cheating, Pearson requires pretty much everything to be cleared from your desk and your immediate reach. Make sure to read through all of the instructions thoroughly before the exam day to make sure that you understand what is all required of your testing environment/workspace. I checked into my exam 30 minutes before the start time to double check that my computer was set-up and ready for the exam. After logging in, I had to take pictures of myself, my identification, and my work space. Shortly after upload, a proctor reviewed the photos and video chatted me and asked about my workspace. I had some markers on a whiteboard nearby that they had me put away. After the proctor is satisfied with the testing environment, they will start the exam; and, at that point, you’ll be 65 questions away from being a Certified Cloud Practitioner!