After countless hours of intense study, I finally managed to get the last certification to add to my arsenal of 11 certifications: The Alexa Skill Builder – Specialty Certification. It was a certification quite outside my expertise (being that I have not dealt with developing skills for Alexa before) but the challenge sure was an interesting one, as completing a certification within an area unfamiliar to me was, in my opinion, the perfect way to end this certification journey.

This post will be the first in my series of posts regarding AWS. The next series of posts will be reviewing each certification individually to talk about my thoughts on them, uses in the industry, and how I prepared for them to be used for the benefit of the community.

All 12 Certifications finally in the arsenal.

Did Everything Go Smoothly?

Definitely not. I failed my first certification exam, the Solutions Architect Associate, despite coming in feeling confident that I had already covered every possible topic that could appear on the test, especially since my work has allowed me to get in-depth with most of the areas in the exam. Midway through that exam, I discovered just how different AWS exams are compared to other exams; that it definitely asked questions in such a way that you will have to reflect on your own use cases and direct experience on the platform.

However, it is through this experience that I then changed my approach of studying to doing more experimentation on the platform directly and coming back two weeks later and passing the exam, as well as passing the Professional certification of it a month later after intensive studying. It truly does require dedication and perseverance to be able to reach the finish line of each of these certifications.

First Certification, first failure

What was the Motivation Behind Finishing All 12?

Originally, I didn’t have any intention of finishing more than just the Solutions Architect Professional and Data Analytics Specialty certifications, as those were the certifications most closely connected to my work. However, after finishing those two, I felt even more interested in challenging myself to try the journey at getting all 12. There was fun in the experience, and it had helped me to understand myself better as well in the process.

As one blog also put it, the challenge to attempt to become an AWS expert. As all the certifications were connected in a way (with Solutions Architect probably being the certification that embodied at least a chunk of nearly all of the other ones), I became more fascinated with what each of the services within the certifications entail, and how I can further develop my business applications on the cloud based on that.

Getting more active certifications and validating skills does put a smile on my face.

Which was the Most Challenging and Which was the Least?

It’s hard to answer this particular question, really, as it also all depends on your field of work. The more familiar you are with the area, the more likely you are to perform well in the field. However, in my personal experience, I would say that the Data Analytics Specialty and Solutions Architect (Professional and Associate) certs are the most comfortable for me, just because I have spent a great deal of time working in fields that require me utilizing skills in those areas.

For the most challenging certification, I would be torn on deciding between Alexa Skill Builder and Advanced Networking. Many say Alexa Skill Builder is one, if not, the easiest certification, but for me, who has no exposure to Alexa Skill Building prior to preparing for the exam, it was quite the challenge. I have had quite the experience with configuring networks on AWS in regards to Advanced Networking, but it was the complexity in some questions and the appearance of scenarios I have not yet considered that really forced me to think very critically and try to abstract from scenarios I have been in. This made it quite challenging in that regard.

The Alexa App Logo

What Approach did I Generally Use to Tackle the Exams?

For most of the exams, I was greatly helped by my hands-on experience in my work. I am used to working with many different AWS services, which formed my foundational knowledge for tackling the exams. With the exception of the Alexa Skill Builder certification exam, I already had enough knowledge to tackle the basics in each of the exams.

Aside from that, my second main resource was AWS Whitepapers and guide books. Through reading through the Whitepapers and books, I was able to explore new sides of the services that I have not yet been aware of before. Guided with this, I was able to try new hands-on experiments on AWS to ensure that I had already covered the scope of the topic well before plunging into the exam. This was accompanied by sites others have posted from their experience, as well as how-to exam videos. I will talk more about the specific videos and posts that I took as reference in my later posts, where I go to more in-depth details about the resources I have used for each exam.

Nothing beats officially released best practices on whitepapers and guides from AWS.

Would I Recommend Everyone to Try the 12 Certs Challenge?

Given that you have time set aside, I definitely would. We have seen usage of cloud platforms grow to extraordinary heights, especially with many businesses transitioning towards it in this Work From Home era. Amazon has reported an increase of 29% for AWS revenue just in Q3 2020 (Amazon, 2020). I believe that this will only continue to keep growing, as once businesses have transitioned to the cloud, they will see and reap the benefits of how the cloud makes everything so much easier, especially with regards to AWS’ Shared Responsibility Model.

However, if you have less time to set aside and want to focus on getting the certifications that would be most valuable and aligned to your work only, I would recommend a combination of 1-2 associate certificates, 1 Professional certificate, and 1 specialty certificate. I believe that this combination should already help make you in your journey to becoming more of an expert within your particular field of work and provide invaluable insights to the projects you are working on within your company.

A sample powerful trio for validating and strengthening your skills at work.

Alright, it’s the End of the Journey, so What’s Next for my AWS Learning Adventure?

Having reached the end, aside from being happy to answer anyone’s questions regarding the experience, I hope to be able to contribute to the AWS Community by being an Subject Matter Expert (SME) in AWS’ SME program. I’ve sent through my application to be an SME in so it’s just going to be the waiting game for now. I believe that developing questions that really validate that a test taker has at least the minimal knowledge required to be certified within a particular certification through the experiences that he/she has had is one of the biggest reasons why AWS’ certifications have been highly sought by many in the industry.

I hope that by being an SME, I will be able to continue building on the reputation that the certifications have had and continue to have within the community, and give back to the community with that. I will also continue sharing best practices within AWS in the talks that I do for the numerous conferences and events I contribute to. I believe that there is no better way to end a journey then to restart the journey by trying a different path. As T.S. Eliot once said, “The journey, not the arrival, matters.”

The journey, not the arrival, matters.

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