Certification

11Oct19

TL;DR

Knowing how the cloud works is becoming essential knowledge in the IT industry, and getting certification is a reliable way of ensuring that knowledge is consistent and tested.

Background

Yesterday this excellent cartoon showed up in Forrest Brazeal’sFaaS and Furious‘ strip, it’s very timely as certification has been a hot topic at work lately as we’re building out a cloud professional services capability that will need hundreds of pro certified people.

My own initial journey

I first came across IT certifications as I was leaving the Navy and preparing for life ‘outside’. At the time Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) seemed to be the ticket to a well compensated new role, so along with a bunch of my colleagues I bought the books, built a home lab, and started taking the exams.

After lots of reading, and rebuilding, and re-configuring, and more reading of ‘brain dumps’ I was finally ready for my first exam. I started out with a single (Workstation) exam to get Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP), then a few months later two more (Server), then a few months later the final three (Networking and Web Server) to get MCSE.

At that stage I was a ‘paper’ MCSE with no experience beyond that home lab scraped together out of Y2K surplus PCs, but it was enough for me to be taken seriously and hired into a system admin role, and that quickly brought me real world experience.

Almost 20 years rolled by before I did another certification, not because I didn’t believe in their value (like the character pictured above), but more because I was on a continuous learning journey that was often ahead of mainstream adoption and the certification that comes with that.

More recently

As we were bringing together DXC our CTO Dan Hushon asked his team to ‘get a cloud or DevOps certification’ before the new company launch day.

I ended up booking the last remaining slot in the London test centre a short walk from the office for the AWS Certified Solution Architect – Associate (CSA-A) exam. I’d been using AWS from the beginning[1], but not all of it, because there’s a tremendous volume of services now, so I used the A Cloud Guru course to fill the gaps in my knowledge.

Even more recently

I’ve been involved in DXC’s partnership with Google Cloud Platform (GCP) so I took advantage of the recent certification challenge to check out the training material and then took exams for Associate Cloud Engineer (ACE) and Professional Cloud Architect (PCA).

For detailed accounts of my prep for those exams check out my A Cloud Guru forum posts for ACE and PCA. Generally I’d say I’m not a big fan of watching videos as a means of learning, much preferring interactive training, which I wrote about before in The Future of tech Skills Training.

What’s the point?

I think for all the groups highlighted in the cartoon above it’s to get taken seriously, and to have a shot at getting an initial job in IT.

For those already in IT the point is completely different. The landscape is increasingly defined by the 3 major cloud providers (AWS, Azure and GCP) and an associate level certification shows that you understand how at least one of them works, and that such knowledge isn’t superficial. A pro level cert shows (significantly) greater depth of knowledge, and specially certs, or certs from more than one cloud show a breadth of knowledge.

Note

[1] I signed up for the original Amazon Web Services to use as a test point for some work I was doing. It was a SOAP or XML over HTTP based ‘web service’ that allowed books to be looked up by ISBN and other stuff by ASIN. So when services like EC2 and S3 came along I already had an account.



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