How I Got #AWSCertified, Got a Job, and Became an Author for freeCodeCamp – All After the Pandemic Started

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Emily Johnson

Cover image: Woman working on laptop with AWS logos overlaid

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted lives and careers around the globe in unprecedented ways. As a full-stack developer, I found myself in a precarious position when the major project I had been working on came to an abrupt halt due to budget cuts. Suddenly, the future seemed uncertain, and I knew I needed to take action to bolster my skills and marketability in a challenging job landscape.

After some reflection, I decided to focus on deepening my knowledge of cloud computing, specifically Amazon Web Services (AWS). Cloud skills have been in high demand for years, and that trend has only accelerated during the pandemic as more companies have shifted to remote work and digital operations. In fact, a 2020 survey by O‘Reilly found that 65% of organizations were using cloud infrastructure, and 53% of respondents said their companies were seeking to boost cloud usage in the future.[^1]

Embracing the #AWSCertified Challenge

Determined to turn my unexpected free time into an opportunity for growth, I stumbled upon the #AWSCertified challenge launched by freeCodeCamp founder Quincy Larson. The challenge laid out a clear path to earning the AWS Cloud Practitioner and Solutions Architect Associate certifications using free online resources.

I had some prior experience with AWS from past projects, but I knew I needed a more structured and comprehensive approach to really master the platform. The #AWSCertified challenge provided just that, with a supportive community of learners and a wealth of study materials all accessible from the comfort of my own home during lockdown.

I committed to studying for at least an hour each day, working through the video courses, practice exams, and hands-on labs. The curriculum covered a wide range of topics, from the fundamentals of cloud computing to the intricacies of individual AWS services like EC2, S3, RDS, and IAM.

Here‘s a high-level overview of the two certifications I pursued:

Certification Format Passing Score Validity Period
AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner 65 questions, multiple choice 70% 3 years
AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate 65 questions, multiple choice and multiple response 72% 3 years

Source: AWS Certification website[^2]

The Cloud Practitioner exam focuses on four key domains: cloud concepts, security and compliance, technology, and billing and pricing. It‘s a foundational certification that validates one‘s overall understanding of the AWS Cloud.

The Solutions Architect Associate exam, on the other hand, dives much deeper into the core AWS services and how they can be used to design secure, robust, and cost-optimized architectures. It covers a wide range of topics including high availability, business continuity, migration, security, deployment, and more.[^3]

Preparing for these exams wasn‘t always easy, especially in the midst of a global pandemic. There were days when I struggled to focus or felt overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information to absorb. But I found that breaking the material down into smaller chunks, setting achievable daily goals, and regularly reviewing my progress helped me stay on track.

Putting Knowledge into Practice

After several weeks of intensive study, I felt ready to take on the Cloud Practitioner exam. Thanks to the high-quality training materials and my diligent preparation, I managed to pass on my first attempt with a score of 920/1000 (the passing score is 700). Buoyed by this success, I immediately set my sights on the more challenging Solutions Architect Associate exam.

As I prepared for the second exam, I started to explore ways to apply my growing AWS knowledge in practical settings. I worked on several personal projects, including a serverless web application using AWS Lambda and S3, and a data analysis pipeline using Kinesis and Athena. These hands-on experiences helped solidify the concepts I was learning and gave me valuable fodder for my resume and portfolio.

Here‘s an example of an AWS Lambda function I wrote in Python to resize uploaded images and save the thumbnails in S3:

import json
import boto3
from io import BytesIO
from PIL import Image

s3 = boto3.resource(‘s3‘)

def lambda_handler(event, context):
    # Parse incoming event
    bucket = event[‘Records‘][0][‘s3‘][‘bucket‘][‘name‘]
    key = event[‘Records‘][0][‘s3‘][‘object‘][‘key‘] 

    # Retrieve image from S3
    obj = s3.Object(bucket, key)
    img = Image.open(BytesIO(obj.get()[‘Body‘].read()))

    # Resize image
    thumb = img.copy()
    thumb.thumbnail((128, 128))

    # Save thumbnail to S3
    out_filename = key.replace(".jpg", "_thumb.jpg")
    out_bucket = "my-thumbnail-bucket"

    thumb_buffer = BytesIO()
    thumb.save(thumb_buffer, ‘JPEG‘)
    thumb_buffer.seek(0)

    s3.Object(out_bucket, out_filename).put(Body=thumb_buffer)

    return {
        ‘statusCode‘: 200,
        ‘body‘: json.dumps(f‘Thumbnail created: {out_bucket}/{out_filename}‘)
    }

For a detailed walkthrough of this code and underlying concepts, check out my tutorial post: Image Processing with AWS Lambda and S3: A Step-by-Step Guide.

After months of hands-on practice and study, I went into my Solutions Architect Associate exam feeling nervous but well-prepared. The exam was challenging, with complex scenario-based questions that really tested my understanding of AWS services and best practices. But in the end, I emerged victorious, with a passing score of 889/1000.

Leveraging Certifications for Career Growth

Earning these AWS certifications marked a major milestone in my journey as a cloud developer, but the real value came from applying those skills in the real world. Almost immediately after adding my new credentials to LinkedIn, I noticed an uptick in recruiter inquiries and interview requests.

One opportunity that particularly excited me was the chance to contribute to an open-source project building cloud-native data analysis tools. By leveraging my newfound AWS expertise, I was able to make meaningful contributions to the codebase, including implementing a cost-optimization strategy using EC2 Spot Instances and Elastic Container Registry.

These practical experiences, combined with my certifications, made me a much stronger candidate when I eventually interviewed for a full-time cloud developer role at an education technology startup. The technical interviews, which in the past had filled me with dread, now felt like natural conversations where I could demonstrate my knowledge and problem-solving skills. After three rounds of interviews, I was thrilled to accept an offer for my dream job.

Paying It Forward Through Writing and Teaching

With a newfound sense of confidence and security in my career, I started to think about ways I could give back to the community that had supported me throughout my learning journey. As someone who had always enjoyed writing and teaching, becoming an author for freeCodeCamp seemed like the perfect opportunity.

I put together writing samples on topics like serverless architectures, infrastructure as code, and data processing on AWS, and was thrilled to be accepted into the author program. Over the past year, I‘ve published over a dozen tutorials and guides to help make cloud concepts more approachable for developers of all skill levels.

One of my most popular posts, "A Beginner‘s Guide to AWS Lambda," walks readers through the process of building and deploying a serverless application on AWS step-by-step. Another, "How to Ace the AWS Solutions Architect Associate Exam," shares my top study tips and recommended resources based on my own experience.

Writing for freeCodeCamp has been an incredibly rewarding experience. Not only has it helped me sharpen my own understanding of AWS and cloud computing, but it‘s also allowed me to make a real impact by sharing knowledge with thousands of eager learners around the world. I‘ve lost count of the number of messages I‘ve received from readers who have used my articles to land their first cloud role or pass a certification exam.

Continuous Learning and Future Goals

Of course, the learning journey never really ends, especially in a field as dynamic as cloud computing. As I‘ve settled into my new role and continued to write and teach about AWS, I‘ve also set my sights on new challenges and certifications.

Most recently, I earned the Microsoft Azure Fundamentals certification, which has helped round out my multi-cloud knowledge and opened up even more career opportunities. I‘m also diving deeper into containerization and orchestration with tools like Docker and Kubernetes, which are increasingly essential for deploying and managing cloud-native applications at scale.

Looking ahead, I‘m excited to continue growing as a cloud developer and educator. I‘m currently working on a series of advanced AWS tutorials focused on machine learning and data analytics, and have plans to create some video courses as well. I‘m also hoping to speak at some virtual conferences and meetups to share my experiences and connect with other professionals in the field.

Advice for Aspiring Cloud Developers

For anyone out there thinking about pursuing a career in cloud computing, especially in light of the challenges and uncertainties brought on by the pandemic, I‘ll leave you with a few pieces of advice:

  1. Start small, but start now. You don‘t need to have everything figured out from the get-go. Pick one certification or learning path and focus on making a little bit of progress each day. Momentum builds quickly.

  2. Embrace hands-on learning. Reading and watching courses is important, but you‘ll learn so much more by actually building projects and solving problems in your own AWS account. Don‘t be afraid to experiment and make mistakes.

  3. Cultivate a growth mindset. Learning a new skill is challenging, and there will be moments of frustration and self-doubt. Try to approach setbacks as opportunities to learn and improve rather than as personal failures. Celebrate your progress, no matter how small.

  4. Engage with the community. The cloud computing community is incredibly welcoming and supportive. Participate in forums and study groups, attend virtual events, and don‘t hesitate to reach out to people you admire for advice or mentorship. You never know where a single connection might lead.

  5. Share your knowledge. Once you start to feel comfortable with a topic, challenge yourself to explain it to someone else. Write a blog post, give a talk, or mentor someone who is just getting started. Teaching is one of the best ways to solidify your own understanding while also making a positive impact.

The path to a successful career in the cloud is not always easy, but it is absolutely worthwhile. With hard work, persistence, and a commitment to continuous learning, you can achieve things you never thought possible – even in the face of unprecedented challenges. So what are you waiting for? Your cloud journey starts now.

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