I was asked, “Why is it so hard to learn AWS?”


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Recently, I was asked the same question others previously asked me, “Why is it so hard to learn AWS?”  with a follow-on of: “What is suggested to start from ground zero?” My responses below are nowhere near the full and complete reasons of “why?” but it is a start. (At the end, see a small collage of faces of Pioneers & Success.)

Well, for my journey, in late 2015, I turned to virtualization (cloud) and settled on learning AWS and it is quite the beast (Currently, I’m working on the AWS Cloud Solutions Architect Professional certification along with two other AWS professional certs). And in compounding learning efforts for everyone, AWS continues to come out with more and more new (or modified) services, every month… Without actually working in virtualization/cloud (AWS, Azure, Google, etc.) learning AWS from scratch and on-going is difficult. But it does not take a visionary to extrapolate out 5 – 10 years to see that virtualization (the Cloud) is where you need to be…

However, many of you need to be aware of a few things on your journey as you try to grow or break into a new career of virtualization. Even in this age of “still” blossoming diversity, some of you may face any of the bug-a-boo battles of Gender, Age or Race – I wish you “Great Luck” on those fronts. Continue to gain more cloud certs, more than others, eventually, employers will see what is in front of them, the value of ‘you’Just try to keep learning content as fast as possible, even if you might get rusty on content you picked up months ago. 

Several years ago, my wife willingly agreed to delay our wedding while I completed my 2nd two-year grad degree. Now, she is somewhat irritated (a tad) that I’m spending most of my free time (nights and weekends) learning more AWS. But she understands it is to gain more certs, in order to make a switch over to working in the cloud (no, I do not wish to work at my current company at the current agency).

Without working on AWS day-to-day, many companies won’t take someone on, who does not already have hands-on experience. So, as recourse, we have to gain more certs to show that knowledge. And AWS certs are not easy where you can just sit down, read a book and go pass a test – the AWS tests are some of the toughest I’ve seen.

But to answer that first question “why is it so hard”, it is so hard because the cloud environment is complicated. There are so many permutations to work through for different architectures; so many surrounding variables to be concerned with:

  • cloud services, which ones (EC2 M3 or C4; EBS SSD; Kinesis; Cognito; DynamoDB or Aurora RDS; etc.);
  • cloud platforms, which ones (SaaS, PaaS, IaaS);
  • cost of services;
  • redundancy and replication;
  • disaster recovery – hot site or cold site (or AWS Pilot site);
  • high-availability;
  • latency to users, what level (lowest for some users, all users, national or global);
  • Recovery Point Objective (how far back do we need to recover from – the closer to the present, it becomes much more expensive);
  • virtual machines – do we want graphic intensive or compute intensive instances;
  • data center – are replacing it with a cloud (private or hybrid) infrastructure;
  • corporate CapEx and OpEx for the cloud, not to mention the valuation, brand and reputation of the corporation to work in the cloud;
  • data warehousing solution (Redshift) or do we need a SQL or noSQL database solution – or do we need both;
  • what about analytics – do we buy our own and have to worry about seat licensing and continual updates or use SaaS or AWS Kinesis (or Quicksight);
  • what about long-term archival for posterity or compliance;
  • what about moving petabytes of data from your on-premise location to AWS;
  • what about alarm/log metrics (basic or the more {but necessary} slightly expensive detailed option);
  • what about the strategy and tactical efforts necessary for future success;
  • etc., etc., etc….

This is why it is so hard – the items mentioned above, those are just the tip of the massive iceberg lumbering your way.

On top of those few areas listed, it “also” depends on your background. Are you technically oriented (some kind of previous IT roles)?; what about being a good to great trouble-shooter / problem solver; what about a business role – strategist?, analyst?; are you a celebrated nerd (no shame there, it can be exhilarating to be one)?; are you a communicator and able to talk at different levels, from secretaries (all genders) to executives – on mundane technical topics to higher level global issues?; what about a combination of all of them…? The more, the better…

So, that follow-on question, of “where to start”. In being blunt, for someone like me and because of so much AWS material and working a different day job, I am “flat out” ready to quit my senior InfoSec day job in order to focus on AWS for 3-4 weeks full time. If it were not for my security clearances, I would, in order to more rapidly gain – one or two AWS professional level certifications being worked on (in addition to the AWS certs I’ve already obtained). And ALL of what is written below is before someone like me can get to what I really want to learn, AWS IoT and AWS Machine Learning…  

However, you should use multiple media to study from, books, phone, tablet and/or a laptop. Using a laptop is the best because you get all the course features on the screen, more than the smaller devices. And with the laptop, I plug in my larger monitor to have other material up the second screen.

NOTE: Beware of costs; I paid for all of the following at my expense, including vacation time from work – it can get expensive.

My cloud career training started off by going through the AWS Sys Ops course and the ISC2 CSSP (see sidebar at bottom) training.

Second, after spending so much time on the CCSP (and Cloud Security Alliance CCSK study material), I sat for and passed the CSA CCSK.

For AWS, I sat through a 1 week AWS Sys Admin/Ops class out in Reston, VA (apparently, I knew IPv4 better than quite a few of the folks in the room who were ‘actually working’ as AWS Sys Ops – due to my previous technical background) – but this was not a certification that I wanted, I did not want to become a Sys Admin. (for some of you out there, this is where I learned about PuTTy) – I jumped on this course before I moved to work on CCSP & CCSK efforts above. And for the course, you should have some kind of technical background to understand and keep up with the material (my past IT work roles aided me here).

Then, I started on the AWS Cloud Solutions Architect Associate course work (I did fail the test the first time I attempted it). I buckled down, studied more and then passed it later.

—- See sites below where I studied at, not just AWS owned classes.

After that, I started on AWS Certified Developer Associate course work and passed it.

In August, I took the month to work on my VMware NSX material (previously, I had taken the VMware class in Reston). But, silly me, thinking I could get gain expert level status in both, AWS and VMware — I gave up on VMware, there is too much material in both areas to stay current with…

Following the above, CCSK & 2 AWS certs, I moved my attention to (current):

  • AWS Cloud Solutions Architect Professional course work

And wouldn’t you know it, AWS came out with more Professional level courses at the November 2016 re:Invent in Las Vegas:

  • AWS Advanced Networking Specialty (beta) course work
  • AWS Security Specialty (beta) course work

— so now, I’m also working on these two beta courses as well.

Almost forgot to mention, you also need to pick up one or two or three of the following:

  • Chef, Python, Jenkins, GitHub, Ruby, on and on and on… (I’m working on Python & Chef but I do have a GitHub account)

For many of us learning AWS, here are several sites we use (not all inclusive):

Different instructors present material in a different manner that viewers are receptive to (or not). Also, different courses on different sites add or remove certain content that aid their various presentation styles. Then there is the matter of how well the viewer connects with/grasps/understands the presenter – is the presenter clear enough in delivery; solid explanation coming through the first time or do you have to review a 2nd or 3rd time; is the material understandable or not clear enough for the level it is being presented at; are the graphics detailed enough or bare minimum; etc… 

The same courses, from different instructors (cross-pollination if you will) really do help to pick up the material (if you’re willing to spend the money) because some sites add more content or go deeper in various areas. It truly is a left-brain/right-brain situation in learning.

Not to forget, find time to watch as many videos as you can from the multiple AWS re:Invent sessions from the past few years. Go to YouTube and search on re:Invent and then scroll through all the many sessions. There are a plethora, many, many, videos – just have to find time to view them (even set on higher speaking speeds)… This is when you should watch the videos on your phone or tablet while you’re in a cab, on a train or on the bus…

All in all, you have to just keep moving forward, starting out with most likely, one of the associate level courses and work up from there.


To gain an AWS job, it would be easy to find one at $70 – 80K – that is, if I were willing to drop my pay significantly but I’m not willing to drop that far in pay. I’m not willing to discount my previous skillsets of:

  • IT (mainframe, routers, firewalls, IDS, voice & data communication, PC Networks, Help Desk)
  • InfoSec,
  • Cyber security,
  • dual grad degrees (MBA Technology Management & MS in Cyber security) and
  • Intelligence (national security – did this work to gain more insights into strategy)
  • Foreign languages (yes, even learning Chinese, Russian, Arabic & Japanese were to expand my brain {& mind})

My goal is to move into the cloud at least a mid-level role in order to gain a higher pay than noted above. The skills I just listed were gained with the forethought that they are all to be complementary for furthering the work I do in the future (strategic & creative work, maybe even innovative at some point). The past work was not meant to be diametrically opposed to each area.

Good luck out there for those of you wanting to learn any of the cloud areas: AWS, Azure, Google, VMware, etc…..

Be a dreamer or a doer – overcome adversity and persevere…

People from across time and gender

Success – across time and gender, sometimes, posthumously… click on image to enlarge

Elon Musk – you all know of him; George Washington Carver (early 1900s & on) – multipleinventions & innovations from research on peanuts, sweet potatoes, and other products (this Chemist invented Peanut Butter and multiple protein & oil based products from soybeans); Grace Hopper – invented first compiler for a computer programming language & popularized the idea of machine-independent programming languages (also know for bugs & debugging when she pulled a dead moth from a computer); Valerie Thomas – invented the illusion transmitter, a device that NASA continues to use today (produces 3D effects); Hedy Lamarr (yes, the movie star) – invented frequency hopping spectrum (for WiFi); Alan Turing – Cracked German code in WWII – Invented the Turing machine, which can be considered a model of a general purpose computer and widely considered to be the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence.

Sidebar: Read my post from last year (https://patrick642.wordpress.com/2016/03/09/isc2-ccsp-newish-cloud-cert-poor-isc2-cbk-book-on-demand-video-poor-pearson-vue-test/) – where I tear a hole in ISC2 CCSP and their 1st edition book but I also talk about what else I did (& still doing). ISC2 cancelled that 1st edition very rapidly, coming out a 2nd edition very, very expeditiously – which irritated a lot of other people who had book orders in the pipeline and then had to wait even longer for that new book (I hope it is much better for others). 

ISC2 should not have indicated that CISSP holders could grab this book (or video course), pass the test and gain the CCSP cert. The book was not good enough by itself and individuals need to do a lot more studying (other cloud material, ENISA, CSA and at least some cloud experience) in order to pass the test.