Daniel Ives, our Principal Technologist for Amazon Web Services (AWS) brags about joining the elite group of people globally who hold all seven of the currently-available AWS certifications. In between his shameless self-aggrandisement, you might also find out something about AWS’s new exam provider, PSI.
I’d like for this post to be all about me. About me passing the Advanced Networking on AWS exam and being able, once more, to boast about having all of the available AWS certifications. But I’m a humble man, really.
While attending re: Invent last year I wrote a blog on the beta exam I took - AWS re:Invent 2016 - Certified Advanced Networking - Specialty. So this one is going to be more about AWS’s new exam provider, PSI, who have become the official provider since the start of September.
I’d heard bad things about availability, but possibly due to my location, however I found it not bad at all. Having decided that I needed All Seven before re:Invent 2017, (have I mentioned I have all 7 AWS certifications?) I’d chased up my free resit voucher (despite having shamefully failed the beta, I hadn’t been too worried as I knew I’d get another chance to sit the “real” exam). Finding time in my schedule for the 20th on the 19th, I wasn’t too hopeful, but I got a seat in my most convenient centre (Artillery Lane in London F.Y.I.) with about 24 hours notice. In spite of my lucky break, I know I’m in the minority and I’ll never complain about Kryterion’s lack of centres again! To be fair, there do seem to be more centres available now than when I first looked around a month ago, presumably as willing centres get approved by PSI.
The New Engine
So let’s talk about the new provider’s engine. Naturally, it shares a lot of features with others (like being able to mark questions for later review) and it also has some very nice additional features:
- The Nav button displays a list of all your answers, making it easier to navigate to your marked answers than with Kryterion and other engines.
- There is a numbered navigation strip along the bottom of the UI that shows about twenty numbers at a time, indicating which ones you’ve marked and offering a quick jump option. I found this useful on at least two occasions, where a question popped up that gave me more insight into an earlier question; rather than frantically clicking Previous to get back I could just click on the number of the question I wanted.
- The ticking time bomb in the corner doesn’t just count down your remaining time; it’s also a progress bar that runs backwards, going from a dark fill background to a light one. Whoever suggested that UI innovation deserves a beer at least! Instant idea of how long you have left! Genius!
To be honest, there were also a couple of not so nice parts:
- Having to click a Clear button (and then confirming a dialog box) to be able to alter your answers burns a few milliseconds at a time. Minor, but irritating. (On the other hand, it probably mitigates against too much changing of answers, which can often be a bad thing.)
- Once you’ve answered all the questions, 65 in this case, every time you submit a new answer (or when you submit the 65th answer initially), the engine tells you how many questions you still have marked for review and almost encourages you to end the exam. This strikes me as a bit needy and doesn't feel right.
- Confusingly, after I clicked Finish on the post-exam survey it told me I had answers marked for review (they were from the actual test and obviously it's too late by then to change anything). Just annoying, but I was still nervous at that point because I still didn't know whether I’d passed or not.
- I’m told, but I didn’t encounter this myself, that if you have answered all the questions but have some marked for review and there’s a problem with the equipment, that the PSI engine will automatically submit the exam when you get back online. Apparently, this is to prevent people from deliberately causing the problem and going off to research answers whilst the problem is being addressed. As I say, this is hearsay so I don't know if that’s correct, but the ProTip here is to leave one “banker” question (one you know you know the answer to) unanswered until you’re ready to submit. Just what I heard, OK?
- I had no opportunity to feed back on the test but frankly I can't remember if you could do that with Kryterion's anymore so that’s definitely minor.
- Last point: It doesn’t tell you your score, not that I cared! A pass is a pass. But the Kryterion engine did and I’m comparing and contrasting.
In summary, I think if they can sort out the availability issues, I mostly prefer the new provider.
OK then, a Little Bit about the Exam
Just because this is also about the exam, which I passed, a quick and hopefully NDA-friendly run down of the exam:
I was expecting lots of questions on Direct Connect and probably got fewer of those than I thought I would. There were lots of questions about making your connections highly available and fault tolerant. Not necessarily as focused on hybrid (on-prem to cloud) architectures as I remember the beta being, but lots of multi-VPC multi-account topologies. Basically, if there's a route, permissions or going across network boundaries involved, expect questions on it! To quote myself from my original blog about the beta, you need deep understanding of Direct Connect, VPN, and complex peered VPC architectures, AWS global infrastructure and such like.
Seriously, there was a huge range of services covered. What should you study? Anything that traverses a network boundary. Logical or physical (or both!).
I think I coped better with this exam than with the beta because a) I have another year’s worth of experience (well OK ten months if you’re going to out-pedant me!) and b) there were a lot fewer questions and I didn't have to provide feedback on them oh and c) they got rid of the really bad questions after the beta!
On a personal note, with some of the other professional / specialty level certs, I could use a technique I call “process of elimination”, going through all the answers and distractors and eliminating the incorrect ones. With this one I felt like I either knew I had the right answer and didn’t need to identify the distractors, or it was a total guess! In other words, a lot of the distractors looked very reasonable, which probably tells us more about my networking knowledge than about the question writers...
For three years I’ve been telling people that the Professional Certified Solutions Architect exam is the hardest I’ve ever taken. Not any more - it’s this one! Good luck!
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