Daniel Ives | 16 April 2019
I've been threatening to take the new version of the Dev Associate certification ever since it was announced.
Not because I need to (as a DevOps Professional I never need to recertify the associate-level), but because I want to. Amongst many other official AWS Training & Certification courses, I occasionally deliver the Developing on AWS course and the Developer Associate Exam Preparation Workshop. The topic of the exam comes up frequently on the Dev course and of course the workshop is all about the exam, so for the last six months or so (since the "new" version became the only version candidates could sit) I've been telling my learners, "sorry I can't tell you anything about the exam because the one I took was completely different to the one you'll be taking". I mean, back when I took the exam, Lambda wasn't even a thing, ECS may just about have been a twinkle in Werner's eye and the serverless buzzword was far, far away from being coined. I'd then tell them that I would get around to it eventually.
Pearson Vue on the scene
So when AWS announced that they'd added Pearson as a testing provider I thought I'd kill two birds with one stone and check out the "new" exam engine and the "new" Dev exam and write about it for you, my loyal reader.
Booking the exam
You still need to sign in several times at https://www.aws.training before getting to the point where you can book the thing, which is still irritating. But they've changed what happens next. You click to book an exam and you are then presented with a list of exams that you can take. There are two links to the right of each exam, one to book with PSI and another one to book with Pearson Vue.
Click on either and you'll be redirected that provider's website. It looks like as part of the onboarding process your details have been given to Pearson. Either that or part of the identity federation with AWS is transferring them across because Pearson's website knew who I was already and I already had a Pearson test taker ID. So that was painless.
Like any other provider, chose up to three locations where you might like to sit the exam. But you can only see availability dates for one at a time. I got quite excited when I saw there was a Pearson Vue centre in Harlow, because that's quite close to where I live, but there was no availability at any time for the next three months, which was as far ahead as I could be bothered to look. I ended up settling for a place I used to visit to take Microsoft Prometric exams, just around the corner from our training centre by Tower Bridge. Really good availability there - I booked on the Friday afternoon for an exam on the Monday!
Pearson's test engine
Again, very similar to all the other providers - radio buttons for choose one questions, checkboxes for choose all that apply questions, mark questions for later review. Something I'm commented about elsewhere is that the PSI engine doesn't provide a "review all marked questions" option, which enables you to go through your marked questions just by clicking "next" rather than having to go back to the summary screen each time. I'm delighted to report that Pearson does have that functionality, so that probably means I'll be recommending Pearson over PSI if anyone asks me in future.
What about the exam?
As ever, I've absolutely no intention of contravening the NDA I signed before taking the exam but a few things stick in my mind.
- Still no questions of the form "which chunk of code is correct" and for the same reason - it would be unfair to ask a Java programmer questions about Ruby.
- By the same token, you still need to understand how the APIs work and how to communicate with them.
- Much more on deployment than in the previous exam, reflecting the changing responsibilities of Developers into more DevOps. I was expecting that, because it was explicitly mentioned in the exam guide, which is required reading if you're thinking about taking this exam.
- Plenty of questions on Lambda, API Gateway and "serverless" development / deployment in general; again reflecting the changes that have occurred over the last four or five years.
- More questions relating to security than I was expecting but actually, looking at that exam guide, the Security Domain is 26% of the exam. You need to know how to code securely to call yourself an AWS Developer Associate!
- My gut feeling is a broader range of services are covered than in the previous version but again, I took the previous four or five years ago and there were a lot fewer services back then!
- I used to (half-jokingly) categorise the Dev exam as "the DynamoDB exam" because I felt like there were a lot of questions about that particular service. I'd still recommend that you swot up on DDb before taking the exam if you're not already familiar with it.
- The final question I'm better placed to answer now I've taken the exam is, Developing on AWS course align with the new exam? Yes.
One other question that I get asked quite often about AWS exams in general is "what if the question is now wrong because of a new service or a change or whatever?" For example, in the olden days the maximum size of EBS volume was 1TB, so if there was a question written about the maximum size of an EBS volume where one of the answers is 16TB and one is 1TB and the 1TB is the "correct" answer but now 16TB is the correct answer. My answer to that question has always been threefold.
Firstly, I've never (in 12 AWS exams) encountered such a dubious question. Secondly, there may be some unscored questions on your exam. It's right there in the guide. Some may be unscored because they are beta questions but some might be deprecated because they are now incorrect. Thirdly, AWS will try to avoid putting such questions in the exam.
I now have a concrete example of answer three. I'm not going to tell you the details of the stem, but it was worded in a similar way to the following: "You receive an error message saying you've exceeded XXXXXX, where XXXXXX is the current service limit. What do you need to do to resolve it?" So, should the value of that limit change in future, the question itself is future-proofed because the solution will always be the same.
That's it for me. To summarise, loving the new exam provider and the update to the Dev exam has made it much more relevant.
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