How to Advance Your Career with AWS

Author: Marko Salug

“You need the experience to get experience”

You have probably heard this sentence before. You need the experience to get started in this field. Experience to get started you say? Whether you are just starting your career in the cloud or are a battle born veteran trying to break into a new field of expertise, it is a common scenario to find yourself in a classic catch 22 situations. No experience. No job. 

So how do you break into the cloud computing business? How do you switch your field of expertise once you are in the cloud? The answer is honestly staring you in the face. You need experience. Wait a minute? What? But that’s the catch 22 again. I can’t get experience without the job and I can’t get the job without experience. 

So, what’s the next best thing? Getting certified? OK! Let’s do that! Let’s get certified! You start toiling away, taking every exam prep course out there, you study all the exam prep questions that you can find in detail and now you’re ready to pass! 

On the day of the exam, you feel nervous but you are ready to ace it. Your career is on the line here. You need to pass this one and if you don’t your chances of getting into the cloud are slim. Almost two hours pass and you are almost at the end. Just review the questions you flagged and then you submit the exam for scoring. Maybe you should have gone through the questions again? There were 12 minutes left on the clock? All these thoughts race through your head while you wait for the result. And then – a PASS! Well, your career is guaranteed to be catapulted into the stratosphere now for sure!

With your newly earned certificate in your hand, you apply for the coveted job and the response is the same as before! No experience. No job. 

But how is that possible? I passed the cert you say to yourself. I’ve proven I can work with the platform! Not so fast. Most cloud exams are designed to test your real-world knowledge. You have just passed an exam that proves you have real-world experience with no real-world experience at all. All you’ve proven at this point is that you can pass an exam. And it’s completely possible to pass the exam without real-world experience. Just don’t expect the certificate that you are holding in your hand right now is going to get you a job. 

To get around this problem you need to think outside of the box. First, let’s address what experience with the cloud actually is? Is it sitting behind a desk and troubleshooting why your ERP virtual machine isn’t accessible via the network? Is it debugging that function that just keeps throwing exceptions in line 22 no matter how you rewrite it? Is it writing a YAML template to automate your DevOps pipeline? 

Well, it’s all of that. But it’s also just being confident with using the tools and consoles at your disposal. It’s all about being aware of the features a service provides and how to configure the service. It’s thinking of ways to use a service instead of using a server. It’s knowing how to think about protecting your application and what vectors of attack are possible against it. 

In essence experience with the cloud is knowing how to work with the platform in an optimal, reliable, and secure way. Lessons you can learn only by working with the platform. Now, wait a minute! Doesn’t that just fit into the same catch 22? Don’t I need a job to get that kind of experience? No, you don’t. All you need is an account with your favorite cloud provider and some time and willingness to learn. Most providers will allow you to use their platform for free for a certain amount of time or with a certain amount of budget. Take advantage of the free usage provided by playing around with the environment. Pick some kind of task. Challenge yourself. Pick a hobby. Do you like gardening? Build yourself an online reminder that sends notifications on when to sow. Are you into mountain biking? Set up a cheap archive for all your action videos in the cloud. Are you into gaming? Deploy a game or chat server. Pick something you are interested in and build a prototype. Build something that you can show off. That will be your proof of experience.  

My advice to you would be to create an account, activate your free tier or your complimentary credits, and then start building. Make sure to start with something that is familiar to you. Most vendors will provide all of their management tools and all the documentation in an easily consumable format. Start with the web-based management console just to get a feel for the environment. The graphical representation can be a good way to visualize what you are building and is a great learning tool. While you’re in the management console make sure to take a look at the monitoring tools available. Whether you are an admin, developer, architect, or your job is only loosely connected to the cloud, understanding the metrics that are available in the monitoring system will be a benefit to any role. 

Once you can confidently navigate the management console, start some virtual machines. Store some data on the cloud. Set up a message queue and send and receive some messages. Maybe get adventurous and start up a NoSQL database. All of those can be done for free. This way you can get some experience working with the platform. 

Finally crack open the CLI, the SDKs, and try your hand at writing an automation template. Once you get to this stage you are really using the cloud. Once you get to this stage you are ready to apply for that job again. Good luck!

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