Piotr Rusin

Software Engineer | Deliberate Practitioner | Husband

Ultralearning Challenge: Pass All AWS Certificates In 9 Months


UPDATE 19th Aug 2023: this project was abandoned


This is a challenge that came to my mind when I was reading Scott Brown's "Ultralearning" book. I wanted to approach a few of those exams for quite a while, and finally decided to just do it.

Down below, you can read about my motivations, time constraints I put myself into, approximated roadmap, progress with exams results, studying approach that I took, study materials that I used, and last but not least – a journal-like log of my daily thoughts, and struggles.

Let's see how it all goes.

Starting Point

I am aware that AWS exists. I know nothing much beyond how to use S3 to host static files.

I have Bachelor of Engineering in CS and about 7 years of professional experience as a PHP backend developer.

Motivations

I'm doing it mostly for fun, and out of curiosity – to see whether it is in fact possible in such a constrained timespan.

Constraints

Starting today (March 31, 2023).

Ending at the end of 2023 (December 31, 2023).

9 months. 3 quarters.

Roadmap

I'm aiming for 6 exams in Q2, 4 exams in Q3, 2 exams in Q4.

ExamOrderEst. Date
Cloud Practitioner1Q2'23
Solutions Architect – Associate2Q2'23
Developer – Associate3Q2'23
SysOps Administrator – Associate4Q2'23
Data Analytics – Specialty5Q2'23
Security – Specialty6Q2'23
SAP on AWS – Specialty7Q3'23
Machine Learning – Specialty8Q3'23
Database – Specialty9Q3'23
Advanced Networking – Specialty10Q3'23
Solutions Architect – Professional11Q4'23
DevOps Engineer – Professional12Q4'23

I'm going to start with Cloud Practitioner, and Associate (Solutions Architect, SysOps Administrator, Developer).

Then, proceed with Specialty (Advanced Networking, Data Analytics, Database, Machine Learning, Security, SAP on AWS)

And finish with Professional (Solutions Architect, DevOps Engineer)

I'm going to use official learning materials:

[April 7th, 2023] Update: official study materials quickly turned out to be insufficient. There is no feedback loop in practice tests and courses cover less topics that other, unofficial alternatives.

I want to utilize tips from Scott Brown's Ultralearning book, and approach this challenge along my 9-5 job. Waking up around 5 am. 3 hours of studying. Work. And another 3-4 hours of studying. Sums up to about 6-7 hours of studying each day (so 40-50 hours per week) with exceptions to time spent with my fiancée and family.

Progress

3 / 12

ExamExam Result
Cloud Practitioner

Score: 822

Passed At: April 8, 2023

Study Period: 7 days (~47h30m)

Solutions Architect – Associate

Score: 738

Passed At: April 18, 2023

Study Period: 10 days (~59h)

Developer – Associate

Score: 789

Passed At: May 1, 2023

Study Period: 12 days (~49h30m)

Research

How to schedule an exam?

Exams can be scheduled here.

There are some policies that needs to be checked a day prior testing.

About Certificates

ExamGuideQ.Passing ScoreLengthCost
Cloud PractitionerPDF65700 (70%)90 minutes100 USD
Solutions Architect – AssociatePDF65720 (72%)130 minutes150 USD
Developer – AssociatePDF65720 (72%)130 minutes150 USD
SysOps Administrator – AssociatePDF65720 (72%)130 minutes150 USD
SAP on AWS – SpecialtyPDF65750 (75%)170 minutes300 USD
Data Analytics – SpecialtyPDF65750 (75%)180 minutes300 USD
Security – SpecialtyPDF65750 (75%)170 minutes300 USD
Database – SpecialtyPDF65750 (75%)180 minutes300 USD
Advanced Networking – SpecialtyPDF65750 (75%)170 minutes300 USD
Machine Learning – SpecialtyPDF65750 (75%)180 minutes300 USD
DevOps Engineer – ProfessionalPDF75750 (75%)180 minutes300 USD
Solutions Architect – ProfessionalPDF75750 (75%)180 minutes300 USD

Certifications are valid for three years.

Scoring is within 100 - 1,000 range in all exams. Passing score, length, and cost vary.

Cost depends on exam difficulty - from 100 USD to 300 USD.

Total cost without discount: 100 + 150 * 3 + 300 * 8 = 2950 USD

There is a discount though. It is gained when at least one of the exam is passed and it lowers the cost of following exams by 50%.

It is also possible to re-take any failed exam taken between March 15, 2023 and May 31, 2023 for free.

Details about re-take offer are here.

Study Materials

Study Materials I Relied On

ACloudGuru - comprehensive platform with a sandbox cloud environments. Their video prep courses are great (plus there are practice tests you can take)

Cloud Practitioner - freeCodeCamp.org YouTube course

SysOps Administrator - freeCodeCamp.org YouTube course

Other Study Materials

Those are materials that I stumbled upon during research phase but haven't actually used. I can't really tell if they are good or not.

CloudAcademy

Pluralsight

Whizlabs

ExamPro

Log

All times in parentheses are rough approximates of a time I spent each day preparing for exams or researching.

000 - March 31, 2023 (2h)

Setting up challenge and this post.

Initial research of available resources.

Week 1 - Research & CP

Initial Research

001 - April 1, 2023 (11h)

I created AWS account https://portal.aws.amazon.com

and AWS training account https://www.aws.training

Extension of research. I added passing scores, length, cost, and domains for each exam. There is also a new section Services and Features to visualize which services are covered by which exams. I used exam guides to extract the relationship between exams and services, and Sheets to aggregate it. You can find the sheet here.

Today's outcome looks promising. I found out about the top 10 services covered in exams. The list goes as follows:

  1. Amazon CloudWatch - covered in all (12) exams
  2. AWS CloudTrail - covered in all (12) exams
  3. AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) - covered in all (12) exams
  4. Amazon EC2 - covered in 11 exams
  5. Amazon S3 - covered in 11 exams
  6. AWS Lambda - covered in 11 exams
  7. Amazon Simple Notification Service (Amazon SNS) - covered in 10 exams
  8. Amazon VPC - covered in 10 exams
  9. AWS CloudFormation - covered in 10 exams
  10. AWS Trusted Advisor - covered in 10 exams

Cloud Practitioner

002 - April 2, 2023 (11h)

I subscribed to AWS Skill Builder Individual and I started Cloud Practitioner video course.

Then, I took the official practice test for Cloud Practitioner and ended up with 682 points. Not bad. During the test I felt like my basic knowledge of AWS services is lacking which given the fact that I'm into this challenge since the last 2 days is inherently... true.

It's time to catch up.

I want to approach the real exam in about a week or so. The reasoning behind this is fairly simple - if I'm not able to pass the simplest exam quickly (in less than two weeks) then it's very unlikely that I will pass the rest in such a constrained timespan.


003 - April 3, 2023 (6h)

I updated Services and Features section with GPT-generated synopsis and possibilities. I will use those service-synopsis pairs for flashcards and further studying.

I created those flashcards and started studying them in Quizlet.

Besides that I converted long list of services and features into a dynamic react-select. It looks more cleaner now.

I am thinking about joining Cloud Guru. Access to paid platforms with courses and practice tests might speed learning up a little bit - let's see if it's actually worth it.


004 - April 4, 2023 (4h30m)

I studied quizlet service-synopsis pairs and started watching freeCodeCamp.org YouTube course for Cloud Practitioner.

I also set up test EC2 instances, Lambda, Auto Scaling, CloudFront, S3, IAM and got to know pricing models, difference between regions, availability zones, and edge locations. And also AWS support plans.

I want to approach exam in the next 2 days.


005 - April 5, 2023 (5h30m)

More of freeCodeCamp.org course. Landing Zones, Pricing Calculator, AWS Marketplace, AWS Budgets, AWS Cost Explorer, Consolidated Billing, AWS Trusted Advisor, AWS Partner Solutions.

I also learned about resource groups and tagging - such a clean and cool service! It makes my inner self-organization freak oddly satisfied.


006 - April 6, 2023 (5h)

I subscribed to ACloudGuru, and I took 2 practice tests there (72%, 83%), and studied missing pieces of knowledge.

Besides that - I added an updated roadmap with colors and order column.

There are four more tests on ACloudGuru for me to take. If I score them all at 85% – 100% then I'll schedule an exam for tomorrow.


007 - April 7, 2023 (5h30m)

My practice testing went poorly (77%, 77%) but ACloudGuru platform is cool enough to tell me what I did wrong, and why.

I'm catching up with its Cloud Practitioner course as I barely watched any videos there since I subscribed.

Week 2 - CP & SAA

Cloud Practitioner

008 - April 8, 2023 (10h)

I retook 5 out of 6 practice tests on Acloudguru and scored all of them 85-92%.

I decided to approach an exam today, and I managed to schedule it (after some initial payment difficulties)

I approached an exam, and I passed it.

11 more to go.

I started ACloudGuru course for a Developer – Associate but one of the introduction videos mentioned that it is suggested to have either a Solution Architect certification or 1 year of experience with AWS. I have neither of those but Solution Architect certification sounds like something which is faster to get.

I'm adjusting the roadmap to fit to that reasoning - I switched Developer – Associate with Solution Architect – Associate.

I'm going to prepare for a Solution Architect – Associate first.

Solution Architect – Associate

009 - April 9, 2023 (6h30m)

I started studying ACloudGuru's Solution Architect – Associate course.

Covered topics:

  • IAM - Users, Groups, Roles
  • S3 and its bucket policies, versioning, object ACLs, object lock, encryption, prefixes, performance optimization, replication, byte-range fetches, storage classes
  • EC2 - pricing options, EC2 & AWS CLI

010 - April 10, 2023 (6h30m)

Covered topics:

  • EC2 and bootstrap scripts, its networking, placement groups, spot blocks & fleets, AWS Outposts, and instance profiles
  • EBS and its volume types, snapshots, and encryption

011 - April 11, 2023 (2h)

We went to a jazz concert with Monika and I studied relatively shortly today.

Covered topics:

  • EC2 Hibernation, EFS, FSx, EBS, Instance Store, AWS Backup
  • RDS and difference between OLTP and OLAP

012 - April 12, 2023 (6h)

Covered topics:

  • RDS's replication, and types of databases
  • Networking through VPC and things like subnets, route tables, NAT Gateways, and NACL
  • VPC endpoints, and VPC Peering
  • Route 53 and its routing policies
  • ELB and types of load balancers

13 sections left to walk through in ACloudGuru's SAA course.

Then, I want to proceed with practice testing, evaluation, and rephrasing through a quizlet cards.


013 - April 13, 2023 (3h30m)

Covered topics:

  • Monitoring with CloudWatch, Grafana, and Prometheus
  • High availability and scaling
  • Decoupling workflows with SQS

014 - April 14, 2023 (7h)

Covered topics:

  • Decoupling workflows - AWS Batch, StepFunctions, AppFlow
  • Big data services - Redshift, Kinesis, Glue, QuickSight, OpenSearch
  • Serverless in AWS - Lambda, Application Repository, ECS, EKS, Fargate, X-Ray, AppSync
  • Security topics including WAF, Shield, GuardDuty, Inspector, Macie, amongst others
  • Automation with CloudFormation, Elastic Beanstalk, and System Manager
  • Introduction to caching in AWS

Week 3 - SAA & DA

Solution Architect – Associate

015 - April 15, 2023 (10h)

I finished remaining sections from the ACloudGuru course, and I took two practice tests (74%, 72%).

There are two more tests to go before I turn my missing pieces of knowledge into quizlet cards, and study them again.

It looks that I will be able to approach the real exam within a few days.

I'm testing something I called solidification technique which is basically cold exposure after intensive studying to enhance my memory.

Before falling asleep I'm also rehearsing everything that I remember studying during the day.


016 - April 16, 2023 (10h)

I finished two additional practice tests (74%, 85%) and I re-watched ACG videos related to questions I stumbled on all tests. This time, I extracted Quizlet term-description pairs out of those videos.

I'm thinking about the incoming week, and well...

The 4developers conference is happening on Tuesday (April 18), and I got my ticket before starting this challenge. I'm going to Warsaw tomorrow, and I will probably have no time to study for the next two days (which is really unfortunate)

I want to re-take all practice tests again next morning, and, if it goes well, I will book an exam for afternoon, prior to traveling to Warsaw.


017 - April 17, 2023 (5h30m)

I'm sitting on the train to Warsaw right now.

I retook all practice tests (85%, 94%, 89%, 86%) and I changed my mind – I scheduled an exam for tomorrow morning (at 5:30 am) instead for today. I'll take this exam in a hotel apartment (hopefully without connection issues).

I'm happy that AWS provides discount benefits after a passed exam – I managed to cut this exam cost in half (150 75 USD + tax) thanks to the Cloud Practitioner discount.


018 - April 18, 2023 (2h)

I woke up at 4:55 am, barely conscious. I took a quick cold shower, and I started preparing for online check-in in ProctorVUE. My wishful thinking about lack of connection issues turned out to be very naive. Apartment's Wi-Fi was just... not working at all. I used mobile hotspot instead.

I was very sleepy throughout the exam but that hotspot was merciful enough to not disconnect until the very end.

After about 2 hours I submitted exam but this time there was no indicator whether I passed it or not. I had to wait. Luckily - not long. I arrived at PGE (4developers venue) at 9 am after having light breakfast, and, around 11 am, I received an email from Credly. I passed it.

I'm sitting in a train right now, going back to Pszczyna, and I'm really exhausted. I have just enough mental capacity to rest and read few pages of Akira (a manga series). This was the first and last time I approached any certification that early in the morning.

I'm starting preparation for a Developer – Associate tomorrow.

Developer – Associate

019 - April 19, 2023 (3h)

I watched a few videos from the ACloudGuru's Developer – Associate course. I also tried something new.

I approached the practice test immediately, without going through all videos. I got 62%. When I was answering the questions, I transformed them as questions asked myself and I scribbled them down in my notebook.

The list I ended up with is following:

  • How can I scale DynamoDB past its limits?
  • What can I do to maximize upload speed to S3 for files which are less than 50MB?
  • Which protocols can I use to securely connect to AWS CodeCommit repositories?
  • What can I do to orchestrate complex pipelines, and automate my software builds, tests, and releases?
  • What can I do to connect my servers to the database?
  • What can I use to securely upload and download data to S3?
  • What languages can I use in Elastic Beanstalk?
  • What can be Elastic Beanstalk used for?
  • What can I do when the Application Load Balancer is overloaded?
  • How can I access content located in an S3 bucket which exists in a different AWS account?
  • How can I improve the performance of Lambda functions?
  • What table relationships does DynamoDB support?
  • How to create relationships between tables in DynamoDB?
  • Can I roll back CodeDeploy deployments?
  • What can I scale past its limits in DynamoDB?
  • What is the order in which I can consume records from Kinesis?
  • What S3 bucket tabs are there, and what are they for?
  • How can I configure Elastic Beanstalk?
  • What are partition keys in DynamoDB for?
  • What are lifecycle hooks in CodeDeploy for?
  • What protocol policies are there in CloudFront?
  • How can I access S3 files from the different buckets when I'm hosting a static S3 website?
  • What is provisioned throughput in DynamoDB?
  • How can I improve the performance of DynamoDB tables?
  • What are composite partition/sort keys for in DynamoDB?
  • What can I do to increase the performance of EBS volumes?
  • Which types of indexes does DynamoDB support?
  • What CodeDeploy deployment approaches are there?
  • What Elastic Beanstalk deployment approaches are there?
  • What are read capacity units and how can I use them?
  • What API formats can I import into API Gateway?
  • How can I upload and deploy code to Lambda?
  • What are units of write capacity in DynamoDB?

I have plenty to learn.


020 - April 20, 2023 (2h30m)

ACloudGuru course – 17% complete.


021 - April 21, 2023 (4h)

ACloudGuru course – 33% complete.

Week 4 - DA

Developer – Associate

022 - April 22, 2023 (5h30m)

I created simple architecture to play with serverless services. Here is a diagram:

infra

S3 hosts a static website with an input and submit button. When this button is clicked, a request is sent to API Gateway with message sourced from input field. API Gateway then runs Lambda #1 which reads this message, and sends it into SQS queue. SQS queue triggers Lambda #2 when new messages arrive in a queue. Lambda #2 consumes queue messages and puts it into DynamoDB.

AWS is fun.

ACloudGuru course – 40% complete.


023 - April 23, 2023 (6h)

ACloudGuru course – 56% complete.


024 - April 24, 2023 (4h30m)

ACloudGuru course – 71% complete.


025 - April 25, 2023 (3h)

We did some housekeeping together with Monika, and then we went for a 30~ minutes walk, so I had little time to study today.

ACloudGuru course – 80% complete.


026 - April 26, 2023 (2h30m)

ACloudGuru course – 90% complete.

I'm thinking about approaching an exam on Monday (May 1)


027 - April 27, 2023 (3h30m)

ACloudGuru course – 100% completed.

I took two practice tests (83%, 74%). There are still some gaps in my knowledge which I need to address.


028 - April 28, 2023 (4h30m)

I took another practice test (72%), and I walked through results out of all tests. I bookmarked AWS documentation references attached to failed answers, and I started reading them.

Week 5 - DA & SOAA

Developer – Associate

029 - April 29, 2023 (7h)

I took last practice test (72%), and studied gaps in my understanding. Then, I retook three practice tests (97%, 89%, 86%)

I also scheduled an exam on May 1st.


030 - April 30, 2023 (1h30m)

We went to the mountains with Monika, and just got back (its evening). Klimczok is a cool shelter to spent your time in. Because of our trip I had little time to study today.

I'm taking exam tomorrow. I feel that I'm ready, but you never know until the very end.


031 - May 1, 2023 (2h15m DA, 2h SOAA)

I woke up at 7 am refreshed after yesterday's hiking. I started preparing my desk for the exam, and shortly after I did routine photos of myself, my ID, and my surroundings.

Then, I landed in a queue.

For all the previous exams this queue was about 3-5 people long, and it took me less than 3-5 minutes to connect with a proctor.

But not today.

Today my place in queue was... 26.

I launched Candy Crush Saga on my mobile, and ended up waiting 10+ minutes for my proctor.

Then, I proceeded with an exam without any additional issues.

Questions seemed easier compared to the ones from SAA. I had more of those "AHA" moments you get when you know the answer.

It's 8:45 pm, and I'm still waiting for the results (it's the longest I've been waiting so far)

In the meantime I started preparing for SysOps Administrator - Associate.

Break

032 - May 2, 2023 (0m)

We went to Krakow with Monika to see my family, and I wasn't studying today.

Besides that, I got confirmation that I passed Developer Associate exam.


033 - May 3, 2023 (0m)

Another day off spent in Krakow with no significant progress.


034 - May 4, 2023 (0m)

I helped Monika's parents in a garden, and I had no time to study.

SysOps Administrator – Associate

035 - May 5, 2023 (3h)

I started watching freeCodeCamp video course.

I also took one of SysOps practice tests at ACG. Surprisingly, some questions overlapped with Cloud Practitioner, and Solution Architect. I got 77% out of first attempt with little (45mins~ of freeCodeCamp course) prior studying. It is cool that ACG does take their practice test to another level by including practice labs there.

Week 6 - SOAA & Family

SysOps Administrator – Associate

036 - May 6, 2023 (1h30m)

I studied shortly in the morning, and then I spent rest of the day with my family.

freeCodeCamp course 2h/12h.


037 - May 7, 2023 (5h)

I started coding budgeting app for our personal finances using Amplify and React.

Amplify abstracted away all nuances of social login with Cognito, and I got working proof of concept with Google login, logout, and e-mail deny list within hours. AWS makes it a lot of easier.

freeCodeCamp course 4h/12h.


038 - May 8, 2023 (2h30m)

freeCodeCamp course 5h30m/12h.

ACloudGuru course 8%.


039 - May 9, 2023 (0m)

I spent this day with my family.


040 - May 10, 2023 (30m)

ACloudGuru course 9%. I started severely procrastinating on this one. SysOps exam sounds kind of boring. I want to somehow address this issue (asap) because clock is ticking, and there is no time to waste playing around.


041 - May 11, 2023 (0m)

Afternoon grill with my family.


042 - May 12, 2023 (0m)

Travel back and forth to Krakow for orthodontist visit.

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