Always going for the gold - kreuzwerker and AWS

The journey to 12 AWS certificates
Manuel Vogel

How did getting 12 AWS Certifications all begin?

I started my AWS journey in 2018 while finishing my master’s degree. Back then everything AWS overwhelmed me (we can all probably relate to this feeling from when we started out). We used to have to wait weeks for a database, and now we can have it in less than 10 minutes. Awesome 🚀 The starting point was a self-managed docker swarm cluster on EC2 with around 10 instances in production to over 1000 EC2 instances in multiple regions with self-managed Kubernetes. It was Tobias Schümann who inspired me in 2019. He was the first to acquire all AWS certifications in Germany and documented his journey.

So, now I’m sharing my journey, learning tricks, caveats I experienced, failures I had (yes, I failed twice, which was totally fine), and the unofficial challenge I got in March 2022 from my CTO. My goal for this blog post is to give the reader an overview of my journey, my struggles, insights and also my motivation and the benefits the achievement has given me.


Let’s jump to the roadmap of my journey. Visually, it looks as follows:

Manu-AWS-Certified Roadmap

The two exams that are struck through are the ones that I failed in my first attempt. Before I go into the details, I want to share the order I recommend.

My recommended order

When I look back on the journey now, I recommend the following order of the exams because some of them provide an excellent baseline for the others, such as the Security Specialty. Furthermore, my background is as a developer and solutions architect, so the following order is based on my background. Of course, if your focus is data engineering, then you might want to move exams 8-10 (DB, Data Analytics and ML) after the DevOps Professional (4).

From my perspective, to acquire the certifications:

  1. Start with Cloud Practitioner, which is evident as it gives you a perfect foundation.
  2. Then do all the associate certifications to get a feeling for the certificates. Depending on your background, start with the Developer or the SysOps, then proceed with the Solution Architect.
  3. Next would be the Security Specialty: security is a baseline for all following exams, and you start using IAM from the first moment in the AWS cloud.
  4. Then DevOps Professional, as you have the baseline already, and it is easier than the Solution Architect Professional.
  5. Next up will be Network Specialty, as Solution Architect Professional pro has a vast networking part, and for almost all services, you need a VPC and a clear separation of network segments.
  6. Solution Architect Professional is one of the hardest as you need a very broad and detailed knowledge of the AWS cloud.
  7. The SAP Specialty will be the next one, as it contains lots of Disaster Recovery (DR) strategy, migration, and networking knowledge.
  8. Then Database Specialty to wrap it up with your DevOps hands-on skills.
  9. Next one will be Data Analytics Specialty and
  10. Finally, Machine Learning Specialty as it has a massive percentage of analytics.

Now let’s talk about the details of the journey.

The journey

The beginning in 2020

Back then I was getting more hands-on experience in AWS, so I decided to start tackling exams for several reasons. My motivation was to get a broader knowledge of AWS to be able to connect more and more of the building blocks / services. My passion is lifelong learning, and this fits very well with the ever changing IT world. And to be honest, I like mastery.

I was lucky that back then and during the Associate exams, it was still allowed to drink something while taking the exams. This has since changed. There is no drinking, eating or leaving the laptop in a remote proctored exam at all levels. Because of this fact, I also had a routine to prepare physically for each exam, to be sure to be hydrated, not hungry and also empty.

However, I have to admit the are a bit far away to remember my experience in all details, this is why I give a broad insight to each one. You can find detailed insights in the study paths from tutorialsdojo.

  • AWS Certified Developer - Associate (18.07.2020): it was mostly about the Code* services, Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery on AWS, Microservices on AWS. However the understanding of core AWS services, such as S3, EC2 and VPC are crucial. Furthermore, you need to show proficiency in developing, deploying, and debugging cloud-based applications using AWS.
  • AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Associate (25.08.2020): I can remember it was tough, as I come from a developer background and diving into architecture was new to me. However, the content was about being well-versed with the different tools and services in order to satisfy customer requirements. There are different types of cloud architectures that you can design which perfectly suit a particular client use case. The challenge was to know the the necessary design principles in the AWS Cloud and its best practices to select the answer with the most suitable solution.
  • AWS Certified SysOps Administrator - Associate (08.10.2020): back then, it was still only theoretical, now it has practical test included as well. The content was mostly about deploying, managing, and operating scalable, highly available, and fault-tolerant systems on AWS. Furthermore, it was crucial to understand how to identify appropriate use of AWS operational best practices, estimate AWS usage costs and migrate on-premises workloads to AWS.
  • AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner (12.11.2020): This one I just wanted to get it done, to be honest, however you can find very good insights in the article from my colleague Lena in our blog posts section.

Learning a lot hands-on in 2021

After completing a client’s cloud migration project and several other AWS-related projects, it was time to move forward because I felt I wanted a proper foundation and dedicate my time to deepen my knowledge. We all might know this; if we set ourselves a goal, our brain tends to find a way to achieve that goal. So mine was to accomplish the Solution Architect Professional by the end of that year, which happened on 29.10.2021. The reason was that I felt I was lacking the skill to design architectures at scale according best practices. In detail

  • I focused on learning for one month
  • every day for 2 hours in the morning and repeating the content in the evening
  • altogether with the excellent course from Adrian Cantrill and exams from tutorialsdojo.

What helped a lot were the strategies from an AWS Skillbuilder course. I also added my personal notes in italics to them:

  • Thoroughly read the question and the answers at least one time: I even started reading the answers first.
  • Identify text in the question that implies certain AWS features - for example, "data retrieval times: so basically, it was a lot of pattern matching.
  • Identify the features mentioned in the answers: which were essentially the pattern matching.
  • Pay attention to qualifying clauses. For example, clauses like “in the most cost-effective way” and “will best fulfill” may eliminate specific answers: with those clauses, certain answers could already be eliminated, although they were technically correct.
  • Eliminate obviously wrong answers to narrow the selection of possible correct answers: at least one answer can already be eliminated because it simply did not make sense or was technically not possible.

I will go into more detail in a later section of this article when I share my studying technique. But first, let’s focus on the year 2022, which left me with seven remaining certifications.

Focusing on 2022 🎯

As mentioned above, I got this challenge from my CTO in March of that year. I needed to attain six certifications to complete the challenge/competition. And it was lots of fun, as you might see I got photoshopped into the picture:

Manuel Golden Jacket AWS

Let’s start it off chronologically. I also want to keep it short, as out there are many great blog posts (for example from Jayendra) that already explain in detail what the content is and how best to prepare for each exam. I want to focus on the personal experience I had with each one.

AWS Certified DevOps Engineer - Professional (09.02.2022) which my colleague Martin recently passed. So he adds his advice as well:

  • I felt confident as I had been into DevOps for over seven years. I prepared one week for this exam
  • and filled the gaps by doing hands-on labs and workshops.
  • There are many questions regarding the whole Code {Star, Commit, Build, Pipeline} services, how to configure them and glue them together
    • Questions are targeted into the "automate things but be cost efficient" category
    • I made sure to know also about Systems Manager Services, for example, the Patch Manager

AWS Certified Advanced Networking - Specialty (failed on 23.03.2022) 13.04.2022; I also posted on LinkedIn about it.

  • New was that I did the exam at a testing center, which allowed me to drink, snack and go to the restroom. In remotely proctored exams this is not possible, as I had experienced before.
  • It was the toughest for me so far, as I had to study the BGP protocol, hybrid network, Transit Gateway, Routing Tables, etc. which I only had a limited experience with.
  • And it was the first one I failed 🙁 It was hard, as I knew I had to wait two weeks to be allowed to re-do it. Sitting down, and finding the gaps was a more significant challenge then.

AWS Certified Security - Specialty (04.05.2022): very straightforward as my colleague Martin can also confirm

  • The most straightforward one, as we deal with IAM from day one on
  • The range of questions was:
    • How to securely deliver content and assets: e.g., placing Cloudfront in front of S3 and using OAI
    • How to secure your network and workloads: Security groups/NACLs, WAFs
    • How to protect your workloads in case of an attack and automate
    • remediation

AWS Certified Database - Specialty (08.06.2022): super interesting

  • and also very straightforward with a strong focus on all facets of DynamoDB, RDS, and Aurora.
  • The most exciting learning was Aurora and its clone feature for Load test environments.

AWS Certified SAP on AWS - Specialty (failed on 26.07.2022) 17.08.2022 :

  • To be honest, I had little clue about SAP before the exam, as the last time was during my studies in 2011.
  • No tests on tutorialsdojo, however an AWS skillbuilder course and 20 preparation exam questions
  • What helped a lot was the materials from the AWS Immersion day portal.

AWS Certified Data Analytics - Specialty (25.09.2022)

  • I love this topic, especially the workshop on Kinesis data ingestion and storing in different sinks

AWS Certified Machine Learning - Specialty (13.11.2022)

  • For the toughest, with lots of algorithms to understand, and 60% of the exam is about SageMaker.
  • What helped me a lot was drawing pictures, visualizing the algorithms, and understanding all the ML concepts from the background.

You may wonder how I structured myself to achieve this. Let me explain it to you in the next section.

My study technique

In the end, everyone has to find their study technique and structure. For me, a mix of theoretical and practical exercises felt best.

  • I start with getting an overview of the topic with the official exam guide and the cheat sheets from tutorialsdojo
  • First, I do a review-based exam (in which you get the answers and explanation of each directly after answering, so you stay in the context of the question), find out the gaps, and fill them with the solutions in my own words. This helps me a lot in memorizing the details and also staying in the context of the question when it not correctly answered 😃
  • Then, I do section-based questions, which also give me solutions right after answering them. So I still stay in even more context and can cluster more 🥳
  • Now, there comes hands-on, and I do an official AWS workshop for the practice experience 👨🏽‍💻
  • Back to a second or third review-based exam to identify and fill more gaps. I also support it with the official documentation 📄
  • 1 to 2 days before the exam, I only review my notes and do different ultra-learning memorizing techniques, such as repeating whole topics, and scenarios in my head (thank you, Scott H Young, for your great book Ultralearning 📚)

Don’t get me wrong; it is not about only memorizing, then forgetting, and only passing the exams. For me, it’s long-term learning, and very often, clients ask me questions in meetings that are very similar to the exam questions, which are part of my day-to-day work (… and I still need to look up things, but I know where and how to search quickly 😋) For me personally, train rides work best for studying, as I have a complete focus.


Let’s start it off with a quote

Failure is ok

To be honest, I was devastated when I failed the Networking Specialty. However, it’s a good sign there are still knowledge parts missing. And it was the first time I failed an IT exam in my whole study and working career. There is always a first time. Get up and try it again 💪🏾


As a company we gain credibility and visibility against AWS and our clients. For me besides learning tons of new things about AWS, I got perfectly trained from a technical perspective for client meetings, for example

  • asking the right questions: what are the pain points, and what is the real goal behind the technical challenge?
  • filtering out the noise around the accurate problem statement
  • getting a rapid overview of the scenario
  • being able to sketch solutions in a fast and precise way
  • switching contexts of technical problems.

The takeaways from my perspective are that the certifications give you a high to mid-deep overview. However, when it comes to details, you have to dig deep and re-read the docs, as many things might change. This is why re-certification is necessary every three years.

How to continue?

We all know the speed and density of news from the aws-feed. I’ll use it to stay up-to-date, and in addition, I’ll still be hand hands-on by regularly doing and conducting workshops.

What does this achievement mean for my future at kreuzwerker? I am a role model to inspire others, have office hours to answer questions, available on Slack, architecture reviews, enablement, and pre-sales calls. The next official, internal challenge is already underway for two colleagues who also want a golden jacket.

Let me finish this blog with a funny side note: when I asked AWS when I’d get my golden jacket, I was told I’d have to wait almost a year until October 2023. So, I ordered the golden jacket myself on amazon, but without the AWS certified emblem in it. I wish they’d be more agile in this regard 😉

Manuel Golden Jacket celebration

Thanks for reading, and on a side note, we are hiring. My colleagues and I would be more than happy to help you reach your next technical AWS level. Don’t shut off your senses, as my colleague Timo says in his blog. We’ll help you get there 💪🏾

Be curious and never stop learning.