Success! On to the next step

I passed the Solutions Architect Professional exam today with a 79%.  Here’s the breakdown:

Topic Level Scoring:
1.0  High Availability and Business Continuity: 90%
2.0  Costing: 100%
3.0  Deployment Management: 100%
4.0  Network Design: 85%
5.0  Data Storage: 81%
6.0  Security: 71%
7.0  Scalability & Elasticity: 63%
8.0  Cloud Migration & Hybrid Architecture: 57%

The test was only 77 questions, and I still had 170 minutes. I’m not sure why I did so poorly on Scalability & Elasticity, but the hybrid architecture questions were really tough and reflected my lack of experience operating in a truly hybrid situation. My work environment is technically hybrid, as we run the web, db and ldap services in the cloud, but we connect the school network to the cloud over our internet access. I have an experiment planned to create a VPN gateway to the private subnets and connect to our ldap server over that. We can’t afford a Direct Connect, so that part will have to remain theoretical.

My score was very similar to my Whizlabs results, but the exam was harder, as there were no duplicated questions or associate level questions, which did account for about 5 questions in my last practice. The exam questions were no joke, not a throwaway in the bunch. I took about two hours on the exam, where I usually mowed through in about a hour. There were a couple I had to transcribe to the scratch paper, identifying the salient concepts or potential solutions as I went. Reading them on the screen was just too much like Capote’s criticism of Kerouac:”That’s not writing, that’s typing.”

My testing experience was better than the last, there was no lag between questions. There was still construction noise, and the table was shaking a bit from some mechanical vibration, but it wasn’t a game changer.  When I saw the pass notification screen, I sat there, smiling like an idiot for about 30 seconds. I am so happy to see that all the time spent studying and practicing paid off.

My next step will be to purse the Advanced Networking specialty exam and the Sysops Engineer professional certification, both via my Linux Academy subscription. I’ll see if I can squeeze one or the other in before the end of the year.

Last chance to reschedule – nah….

I sat in my office contemplating rescheduling the solutions architect professional certification exam again, may a week or two. I took a diagnostic on Sunday and hit a 59%, with most of my missed questions having to do with products I don’t use in production, or the really detailed options of CloudFront, which I do use, but haven’t done anything complex. So, I’ve been reading my notes and the white papers on those unfamiliar services, and last night, in spite of watching the World Series at the same time, I cleared a 78% on a diagnostic. So, I’ve decided to go for it this Saturday, spend the next two days taking practice tests and ferreting out the details of the stuff I miss and committing it to memory. Got to keep the anxiety at bay, and stay focused. Almost there…

On approach, checkers green, Starbuck has the ball…

I’ve got 5 days left until I take the solutions architect professional certification test. After taking a diagnostic, I think I will not reschedule but will give it  shot on Saturday. The areas I need to practice are:

  • Redshift
  • HLS vs MP4 streaming strategies
  • Storage gateway
  • Placement groups
  • Data Pipeline
  • Oracle RDS exceptions
  • CloudFront
  • Kinesis
  • DRDB asynchronous replication

On my first pass at the diagnostic in the Linux Academy course I got 33 out of 80 questions incorrect, which is better than my first two attempts at the associate level diagnostic. I sat the exam cold, with no note review. I took slightly more than an hour to complete the test, so I can slow down and read more carefully. The LA diagnostic doesn’t allow you to go back and check your answers, just an “Answer Later” option. I felt pretty confident on the concepts I deal with regularly, I just need to practice is a couple of areas, slow down and read the questions more thoroughly, review my notes, and I think I’ll be ready to take the plunge.

The best exam tip I have received so far is to read the last question paragraph sentence first, then read the question completely, then read the answers completely. That helped me to look for key words in the question to solve for in the answers.

Another thing I need to do is to stop binge-watching “Battlestar Galactica“…

Two weeks to go

My Solutions Architect Professional exam is coming up in two weeks, so it is time to knuckle down to some serious test preparation. The last two weeks were difficult times to study, what with work taking up a lot of time and processing power. I’ve completed one pass through the A Cloud Guru course, I just need to finish up the Linux Academy version and begin the practice tests at Whizlabs. We’ll see how it goes, as next week is parent conferences which looks to be a 60 hour work week.

I’ll go another week of prep and then decide if I need to postpone my test date again. Keeping positive thoughts!

Learning Node.js

As part of my effort to find an opportunity outside of education, I am working on building my link app first as a php app that leverages DynamoDB, and then in a later version uses Lambda. So, I’m trying to learn Node.js with this course from Udemy:  Learn and Understand Node.js.  One thing I really like about this course is that the instructor takes time to explain how and why Javascript works the way it does, which can be a bit confusing coming from a PHP background. I have rarely used Javascript for more than field validation, so to see it as a full blown programming language with some really funky function syntax can be a bit intimidating. The author. Anthony Alicea, does a very thorough yet approachable dive into how things work. I highly recommend it. So far, not much to show for myself beyond a hello world script and some odd ports running on my workstation, but it looks exciting. I can’t wait to start putting the pieces together!

Time Constraints

I am finding it a challenge to balance work, study and job searching. I’ve had a few phone screenings, but have yet to get to an in person interview. I need to retool my resume and cover letters again, in tune with the guidance from Work It Work has kept me pretty busy, and I am behind on my studies for my pro cert test coming up in less that 3 weeks. I am also finding that I need to bring my coding skills into focus, so add node.js tutorials to my study load and my sleep time is slipping away. At this rate, I might as well start my masters in software engineering. A lot of paths to walk down simultaneously…

VPC NACLs good for hasty intervention, but no replacement for WAF

Our school web site gets attacked all the time. It has been an exercise in learning how to defend against wordpress attacks. The principal defense is when I get a notification that the site is under attack, I add an entry to block the offending IP in my httpd.conf file.

GeoIPEnable On
Deny from env=BlockCountry
Deny from

However, it doesn’t stop the attack traffic, just denies the attempt via 403 notice. The server is still spending resources bouncing the traffic. High availability and resiliency is not an organizational priority for this website, I just need to be able to bring it back if it goes down. However, I do not like it when bad guys bang my site.

I figure that VPC NACLs would be useful, since I can drop offending traffic at the network layer and not worry my webserver instance. Pretty cool, right?

Not so much. There is a 20 rule limit (20 for ingress, 20 for egress) per NACL, so it is great for squelching subnets or immediate attacks, but not for a long list of attackers. I guess I’ll have to play with setting up a WAF after all.

Rekindling the spark

I stumbled across this video from Cloud Assessments on LinkedIn or Twitter and found it to be very interesting:

For me, the project I am working on to peak some employer’s interest is a links listing application from my work that integrates web identity federation and DynamoDB. I wrote the original prototype in php with mysql, your standard LAMP stack application. The idea of storing data in key pairs without a structure and making queries without awkward select and join statements is really intriguing. I had proposed the app to my company as a way to aggregate useful links to docs and resources that are commonly needed, but they felt it was better (perhaps just more familiar and easier) to create Google Docs lists of links, so I didn’t pursue it further. However, I think I’ll give it a hack again, an intellectual challenge that shows the spark of interest, and perhaps someone will find it useful.  A Cloud Guru has a DynamoDB tutorial that will be informative. I hope I can show the app off soon, just a challenge to squeeze it all in, between work and studying for certifications. Gotta keep grinding!

Exercise tutorial

Well, exercise during a tutorial. I wish I had thought of this a couple of weeks ago.


Sadly, the sound didn’t mix in, so this video doesn’t have as much impact. Also, I’m chewing gum, sending a conflicting message. Well, lessons learned for next time!