Certified

Last Friday I passed the AWS Certification Data Analytics Specialty exam. This is both an old, and a new certification in the AWS space. Old because it partially replaced the old Big Data Specialty certification. New because it was fairly recently made available to be certified in.

I had not done the old Big Data Specialty certification before, but what I have been told is that this new certification is quite similar to the old Big Data certification, but with less emphasis on Machine Learning (ML) topics. This is certainly true, the exposure to ML-related issues in the exam was superficial at best.

I liked the exam. It did put my knowledge to test, and it also triggered me to look up some details which I had not been aware of or used in 1-2 services. This got me thinking of some new solution design ideas. This is multiple wins - get some certification of knowledge and also inspire to learn more at the same time!

The issue with exam scheduling

In these Covid-19 times, scheduling an exam was not as easy as it could have been. I did not want to go to a testing centre as our family kept a fairly strict regime of social distancing. Luckily (it seemed), Pearson VUE provided online proctoring for the AWS certifications. Great! However, as I had an accommodation request initially, this complicated matters. The AWS certification website said that it was required to make the scheduling of the exam by phone in that case. So I called Pearson VUE. After a bit over 1 hour in the phone queue, I got hold of a support person. She said she could not do anything, her computer was not accessing the Pearson VUE reservation system properly, she could only answer general questions. She could not transfer the call either to someone else, as they were all working from home. So I tried another call and got through after about 1 1/2 hour in the queue - to the very same person again… Next day I tried for the third time and got another person this time (after about 1 hour). She said pretty much the same thing, except that she said none of the support persons could schedule exams when they were working at home.

Schedule an exam without accommodations did not work either, since that was registered on my profile. To remove the accommodation to be able to schedule the online proctoring I had to file a request with AWS Support. I did that and after a few days, the accommodation was removed. Now I could schedule online proctoring!

Exam day came, and I had prepared an isolated area of the house with strict directives to the rest of the family to not even come nearby, as this could invalidate the exam. I went through all the preparation and system checks, photo validation steps up to the point to start the practice question start - and I got a blank screen. Nothing happened. I did not have any device or anything to try to call support since all of that should have been put away. Leaving the seat would invalidate the exam also, so I just sat there - staring at a blank screen and hoping that it was just a temporary glitch. Nothing happened.

Finally, I gave up, got away and called Pearson VUE support. They could not say anything about what may have happened and they filed an issue. After that, I heard nothing. About a week later I got the exam fee refunded from Pearson VUE, no other info.

I did not want to try the online proctoring again, in case this failed yet again since they had neither provided any additional information nor contacted me for questions. A few weeks later I decided I would try with a regular test centre since there was one that was nearby which I could get to by car relatively easy.

This scheduling experience was much better with Pearson VUE and the accommodations, concerning Covid-19 were reasonably good. The procedures around the exam worked well.

The exam questions

There were 65 questions on the test and similarly to the AWS professional certifications, there were almost all scenario-based, and you had to pick the right answer(s). It is not allowed to write about specific questions asked in the exam, but I can mention some services that were included:

  • Kinesis (Streams, Firehose, Analytics) - with KPL, SDK APIs, Kinesis Agent referenced for the clients
  • MSK (Managed Service for Kafka)
  • Athena
  • Glue (with Glue Data Catalog)
  • Redshift
  • EMR
  • KMS, CloudHSM
  • S3, Glacier
  • Lambda
  • IAM
  • DataSync
  • RDS

Some questions would require some detailed knowledge about Kafka and Spark (Glue-flavored), also details around the AWS services.

There are essentially five areas which the exam covers and how to appropriately apply AWS services in these areas:

  • Collection
  • Storage and data management
  • Processing
  • Analysis and visualization
  • Security

It does not test you on any knowledge of statistics and algorithms - it is focused on the engineering aspects of data processing using AWS services.

The preparation

My study materials for the exam were based on:

  • AWS Whitepapers
  • AWS Big Data blog posts
  • The AWS online course “Exam Readiness - Data Analytics Specialty”
  • The Udemy course “AWS Certified Data Analytics Specialty 2020”
  • Practice exam

Both the Udemy course and AWS own course were pretty good and did help with covering the right type of knowledge. I was in very much positively surprised with the AWS Course, which I accessed through the AWS Partner portal. Previous AWS online courses I had taken in the past, for the most part, had used a pretty annoying LMS (Learning Management System) setup and course content in some cases left a few things to be desired. The Exam Readiness course was top notch though, I think. A lot of good material and a great design for the course presents itself. Well done, AWS!

I liked the Udemy course also, good material. There were some minor glitches around lab execution, but those issues were kind of learning experience in themselves, so I am pretty happy with it anyway. Both courses had some useful practice questions.

The practise exam is one that you can schedule in the same way as a real exam and you do it online - no need to go to a test centre. It was just 20 questions, so much shorter than the real exam.

Summary

Completing the certification was fun and enjoyed most of the way to get there (except the scheduling issues due to Covid-19).