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Ervin Szilagyi
Ervin Szilagyi

Posted on • Originally published at ervinszilagyi.dev

GCP Associate Cloud Engineer Certification Experience

Intro

Today (9th of August, 2022) I took the Associate Cloud Engineer certification exam from Google. I'm writing this article to document my experience and to potentially give some advice to anybody who is planning to sit through this exam. This article reflects my own opinion about the exam itself, about the requirements to pass the exam, and about the online proctored exam process. I will talk about these in detail in the following lines, but as an intro, I have to mention that I had a questionable experience.

Motivation

Before talking about the exam, I feel the necessity to present my background. I think it is important for everyone to understand what I mean when I throw around some adjectives like "easy", "hard", "challenging", etc. What might be challenging for me, might be a walk in the park for you, since your background matters when taking an exam based mostly on experience.

Currently, I am a platform engineer working for a big automotive company. I have a software engineering background, working as a professional developer since 2015. I worked on several projects for several clients using a wide range of technologies. In my current work, I am responsible for managing the cloud infrastructure of a global product. I use AWS cloud on a daily basis at my work. I am 6 times AWS certified (you can read about my experience here: My Journey to become 5 times AWS Certified and here: Passed the Advanced Networking Specialty exam, which means I have a bit of experience working with cloud technologies and also with taking certification exams.

Before preparing for this exam, I never used Google Cloud products at all. Obviously, I never had the chance to work with them professionally. My cloud experience relies mostly on AWS and slightly on Azure (I am also a Microsoft certified Azure developer). What motivated me to invest time in a GCP certificate, was just pure curiosity and the will of knowing more. I'm not looking for a career change or a new job and I won't get a promotion for this. I just wanted to have an alternative view compared mainly to my AWS experience.

Preparation

I won't go into the details about what learning material is required for the Cloud Engineering certification. This can be found on the official certification page: What I will talk about is the material I've used to pass the exam:

  • The official learning path provided by Google https://cloud.google.com/training/cloud-infrastructure#cloud-engineer-learning-path: This learning path consists of several introductory courses for Google Cloud services. It also provides the ability to do labs (Qwiklabs) using temporary accounts created for Google Cloud. This can be very handy to get practical experience with GCP and to try out services without the fear of inquiring costs for your personal GCP account. The learning material provided by these courses is fine but is not enough for being able to pass the exam. This means we need to look elsewhere for other resources.
  • Google Cloud Associate Cloud Engineer Course - Pass the Exam! course provided by freeCodeCamp and Antoni Tzavelas https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jpno8FSqpc8: this is a 20+ hour course provided for free and available on youtube. This was published while I was doing the courses from the official learning path and it became super useful for my preparation. Since this is a free course on youtube, I don't know how much effort will be put by the author into keeping it up to date. GCP can change significantly from one day to another. But for the near future, I think this course would be one of the best materials out there.
  • Dan Sullivan - Official Google Cloud Certified Associate https://www.amazon.com/Google-Cloud-Certified-Associate-Engineer/dp/1119564417: A book by Dan Sullivan for preparing the exam, which is a good addition to the resources presented above. While the content of the book is great, I don't feel like it is enough by itself to pass the exam. If you have 30$ to spare for this book, go for it, otherwise, just forget about it.

While learning I also did create my own notes and cheat sheets, which can be found on GitHub: https://github.com/Ernyoke/certified-gcp-cloud-engineer. While this helped me remember and revisit certain things, I feel everyone should do their own notes to get the most value out of it. Nevertheless, I believe it could help others to get an idea of what is required to pass this certification.

Practice Questions

Going through course materials and having hands-on experience with GCP is a must for passing the exam. What is also important, in my opinion, is having the necessary skills to deal with exam questions. The exam structure is multiple choice and multiple select type questions (I personally had only multiple choice questions during my exam). In order to get some experience with similar types of questions, I recommend the following options:

I must note that while practice questions are great, you should avoid brain-dumps. Brain-dumps are questions memorized by certain individuals after taking the exam. Using brain dumps is illegal and I personally would question the quality of those question sets.

Thoughts about the Exam itself

The exam was challenging. It was certainly not the hardest certification exam I've taken, it does not even get close to the "AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Professional" exam, but it nevertheless is challenging. In complexity I think it is similar to the AWS Sysops exam, but without having a practical part. Most of the questions present in the exam are based on real life situations where you have to choose the most suitable option from the available ones. While it requires certain things to be memorized, I did not find that many hard factual questions during my exam.

Some important topics I suggest focusing on, are the following:

  • Cloud security: knowing about some predefined roles and permissions and when to use them. Also, there can be several questions about security best practices (least privilege, when to use predefined and custom roles, service accounts, etc.);
  • Containers: Google Kubernetes Engine represents a significant part of the exam, focusing on learning basic Kubernetes terminology is a must;
  • High level knowledge about all the database/big data offerings by GCP. The questions mostly rely deciding which service is best choice for a certain situation, so it is important to know each of them at a very high level
  • Basic networking: what is a VPC, subnet, firewall, route tables, etc.

Besides doing the exam preparation above, having certain working experience with certain technologies (not necessarily ones which are present on GCP) may help you tremendously. For example:

  • Kubernetes experience or having previously taken CKAD, CKA exams: a high number of questions are k8s related, so having exposure this technology can help you a lot;
  • Experience with other cloud providers such as AWS, and Azure: there is no standard that is followed by every cloud provider. Nevertheless, not every provider will try to reinvent the wheel. A lot of skills from having work experience with AWS or Azure can carry over the GCP as well;
  • General IT, administration, or network engineering experience: Associate Cloud Engineer exam is an operations exam. Having exposure to basic IT procedures can help you a lot. Again, cloud itself does not try to reinvent the wheel all the time, it just adjusts existing procedures to some fancy environments, ultimately calling it "cloud".

Online Proctoring is a Mess

As I stated in my introductory paragraphs, I took several exams before the Associate Cloud Engineering exam. All my exams were done through online proctoring, using mainly Pearson. While I had my fair share of problems with them, they do not even come close to the mess which is called Kryterion. It is a standard procedure, for now, that to take an online proctored exam, you have to download their software which essentially takes over your whole computer for the time of the exam. Whether we agree or not with this approach is beside the point, what is infuriating for me is that this tool will scan your PC/Mac and will tell you which processes you have to kill in order to proceed with the exam. This would be also fine if they could at least provide a list of these processes before the exam, but obviously, they don't. You have around 30 minutes to go and clean your task manager according to their wish. I might add, that some of the processes which need to be killed can not even be done by the task manager. For example, Windows 11 starts an Outlook process/service by default. To kill it, I had to search StackOverflow and SuperUser to get this CMD command which can kill it:

taskkill /F /IM HxOutlook.exe
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

Even after I managed to kill everything they requested, I was still struggling to start the damn exam. The tool was giving an "Invalid request" error and blocked my whole PC without being able to exit from the tool (remember, it takes your whole PC hostage). I had to manually reset my PC twice using the Power Button. While I was doing this, I had to contact support to ask them what the actual fuck is happening with their damn software. Ultimately, I think the issue was that I was using Chrome to start launching their proctoring tool, which on the other hand tried to kill Chrome but it couldn't (LOL). I managed to launch my exam at the last minute using Firefox. So yeah...no further comments are needed.

Everything Else

Other useful resources about the exam can be found in this GitHub repo: sathishvj/awesome-gcp-certifications

After finishing the exam, the proctoring tool gives you a PASS/FAILED result. This also will have to be confirmed by Google, which can take up to 7-10 days.

Update:

After 17 days (LOL) and a ticket to the support, Google confirmed my final results. For reference, for Microsoft usually it takes a few hours to confirm the final result. In case of AWS, for every exam I had, I got the confirmation mail the day after the exam (even if this day was a Monday). So probably Google should do some improvements in this area.

Links and References

  1. Associate Cloud Engineer: https://cloud.google.com/certification/cloud-engineer
  2. Cloud Engineer learning path: https://cloud.google.com/training/cloud-infrastructure#cloud-engineer-learning-path
  3. "Google Cloud Associate Cloud Engineer Course - Pass the Exam!" - by Antoni Tzavelas: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jpno8FSqpc8
  4. Sample Questions: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/.../viewform
  5. TutorialDojo - Google Certified Associate Cloud Engineer Practice Exams: https://portal.tutorialsdojo.com/courses/google-certified-associate-cloud-engineer-practice-exams/
  6. "Google Cloud Associate Cloud Engineer Practice Tests" by Dan Sullivan https://www.udemy.com/course/google-cloud-associate-cloud-engineer-practice-examspractice-exams
  7. sathishvj/awesome-gcp-certifications: https://github.com/sathishvj/awesome-gcp-certifications
  8. My GCP Associate Cloud Engineer Notes: https://github.com/Ernyoke/certified-gcp-cloud-engineer

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