There are those who believe you’d have to be crazy to take a certification exam to prove your knowledge on a particular set of products. Their argument is that an exam doesn’t demonstrate real-world experience and therefore isn’t a valuable way to determine whether someone has appropriate skills for the workplace. I have always, respectfully, disagreed with this perspective. Even if an exam demonstrates nothing more than a high-level understanding of a product or set of products, the knowledge gained from the study and preparation required to successfully pass that exam will serve you well in many ways throughout your career.
Hiring managers look at your record of achievement as demonstrated not only by the entries on your resume, but also by the things you did to distinguish yourself from your competitors in the job market. Certifications are a verifiable way to show the world that you have gone the extra mile, and that you are committed to being a lifelong learner; a skill that is invaluable for the 21st Century workforce. For folks in consulting, sales, or sales-related roles, customers often require certifications before handing you their business and their hard-earned dollars. A certification is living proof of a certain level of competency in your field of interest, however...
Not all certifications are created equal
The Google “Certified Professional Cloud Architect” exam is one of the most well-designed exams I’ve encountered in over 20 years of work in the IT industry. Some exams, as critics point out, are simply a test of book-learning; how much information can you cram into your brain from the product documentation before you sit down to take the test. The Cloud Architect exam certainly includes questions that require a knowledge of the products from a strictly book-learning perspective; if you don’t know Google Cloud Platform (GCP) at all, there’s no chance you will pass the exam.
That said, this exam really does test your working knowledge of the GCP platform, and requires a deeper understanding of how the products work together to create solutions for real users in the real world. Many questions on the exam have multi-part answers, so you are not just choosing a single response to a multiple-choice question; you need to select, for example, 3 out of 6 options offered. And, of course, you have to choose all 3 correct choices. The complexity of the exam and the design of the questions is geared towards demonstrating that you have a deep, hands-on knowledge of how to design solutions on the Google Cloud Platform.
So how do you pass this thing?
Google provides you with an in-depth exam guide – it’s your job to know it inside and out. This site includes the case studies that are actually used in the test, as well as a very comprehensive list of topics that may be covered in the exam. If there is anything on this page that you don’t know about or don’t understand, dig in and discover. The most important thing to know is that the questions on the test focus on your ability to connect GCP services into a solution, so simply knowing what App Engine or Compute Engine can do is not enough. Test takers need to understand how the components work together to provide solutions. A good place to learn more about solution design is the Treehouse where you can study architectural approaches and design patterns to common problems.
Practice makes perfect
The single best way to prepare is to get yourself on the platform and start banging away at the tutorials. Google offers an incredibly generous trial account on GCP that lets you have full access to the platform with $300 in credits and a full year of access. The tutorials offered right from the console are a great starting point for getting hands-on experience with the usage and capabilities of the platform. In addition to the Google tutorials, I would strongly recommend that you go to codelabs.com and go through as many GCP labs as possible. Codelabs dive even deeper than the tutorials, and you will have a chance to practice using the platform with real-world scenarios that you will be able to apply to your work on GCP.
I took the exam twice. The first time I received a FAIL. However, it was a great learning experience to sit through the exam to understand how it worked and what areas the exam focused on. Keep in mind that every time you sit for the test, you will get a different set of questions! These days Google makes it much easier for you to practice, without having to invest real money in taking the actual exam. The main investment is your time leading up to it. In September 2017, Google made a practice exam available for you to try your hand at it without spending the money for a real test. Here it is!
Some practical advice
If you are hesitant about taking the test after all your preparation, my recommendation is to bite the bullet and go for it. Even if you don’t pass the first time, the cost of sitting for the test is worth it from a learning perspective; having had the experience of taking the exam once was very helpful when I sat down the second time. Just remember: don’t count on questions repeating, because each exam is different; you won’t get the same questions twice.
Something else you should know is that the exam provides zero feedback, so there is no way to know what you missed and what you got right. Take your time and really think through the questions. They are structured in such a way as to make it seem that there are multiple correct answers; and in fact, in some cases that is true. Read the questions very carefully and understand that everything in the question or the case study has to be taken into consideration. For example, there were a couple of questions where I was sure there was more than one right answer, but when I realized the question included the cost of a solution as a critical factor, the true correct answer became more clear.
Get yourself educated!
Whether you are taking on a GCP project yourself, or working with a Partner who will, take a few GCP courses. One of the best I encountered was the GCP Architecture prep course from CloudAcademy. The CloudAcademy course goes through a case study that is a terrific example of how to analyze a business need and develop a solution on Google Cloud Platform. Google also offers training options that will help you learn, so make sure to visit their site to find courses you are interested in as well.
Another focus of study for me was to simply navigate to cloud.google.com and search for “FAQ” and “best practices” and “architecture.” These queries link to a lot of documentation that was helpful for the exam, so read as much as you can about the platform and definitely dive deep into the documentation.
Take your time. Think, think, and think some more. It isn’t a test of your knowledge of the docs and specs of GCP, although some questions do ask for that kind of information. It is mostly about understanding how the pieces and parts of GCP fit together, and how you can build a solution based on the requirements in any given situation.
Go for it, and GOOD LUCK!!!Originally published on November 14, 2017