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Becoming a Google Certified Professional Cloud Architect

·1097 words·6 mins

Intro #

It recently occurred to me that not having a role-based architect experience on my resume did little to convince someone looking at it about the software architecture skills I have accumulated over my decently long career. Setting out to do something about this I recalled the certifications Google had been sending me emails about. A little research later, I decided to become a Google Certified Professional Cloud Architect.

Google Certified Professional Cloud Architect
Google Certified Professional Cloud Architect

This blog is intended to help aspiring architects pass the Google Certified Professional Cloud Architect exam.

Past Experience #

Working with Google Cloud products for a little over four years does help one clear this exam. This is the single biggest thing that helped me pass mine. Hands-on experience with many of the cloud services helped me crack some of the most tricky and tough questions on the exam. Here are some of the core services that I had been working with before starting preparation exclusively for the exam:

  1. Cloud Dataflow
  2. Cloud Pub/Sub
  3. Google Kubernetes Engine
  4. Cloud Run
  5. Cloud Functions
  6. App Engine
  7. Google Compute Engine
  8. Cloud SQL
  9. Cloud Datastore
  10. BigQuery
  11. Cloud Storage
  12. Google IAM
  13. HTTP(s) Load Balancer
  14. Cloud DNS

Another PaaS that I have substantial command over is Firebase, but since it is a subset of Google Cloud and is rarely covered in the PCA exam, I chose to skip it here. There are other smaller components too, but these formed most of my experience on GCP. A further theoretical brush-up on the official documentation pages, keeping an eye on the boundaries & limits of these offerings and billing policies helped fortify a lot of known concepts.

Assessment Before Preparation #

Having said all that in the previous section, I would not appear for the exam without additional preparation. This became clear when I attempted the sample questionnaire. With four case studies, questions that covered tying business metrics to cloud changes, knowing specific boundaries of managed services and a broad range of networking concepts - the sample exam appeared quite daunting. It was also quite humbling when I couldn’t get passing numbers on this exam.

With an idea now about what type of questions to expect, and where I stood in the picture, I set out to fill the gap.

Cloud Architect Learning Path #

The first and obvious thing to do was to go into Google’s CloudSkillsBoost site and start the Cloud Architect Learning Path. Let’s call this CALP.

CALP is quite a journey with weeks’ worth of reading material, labs and quizzes. For someone just getting into GCP or Cloud Engineering, this could be especially useful as the courses in the journey take their time to impress upon one the concepts and ways of Google’s cloud. The CALP consists of nine courses and seven quests. The courses are decently long with the one on Logging, Monitoring & Observability having an expected completion time of 15 days. I skimmed through a lot of that. The quests are carefully designed and give a pretty good hands-on experience with temporary access to cloud resources in the labs. Some of the work I had done before - I skipped those parts. Others I did with some level of enthusiasm.

In the end, I was not sure if CALP had given me enough to tackle all the probabilistic questions that Google comes up with to stump people appearing for the exam. I decided to look beyond.

Beyond Official Content #

A first scan of YouTube was quite disappointing. There were a few lectures out there and people trying to slide in the exact Google content in their own way. Some went through the sample questions and how they would attempt them, but to be honest, it was just a lot of time for less actual value and a bunch of personal opinions.

I wanted crisp, to-the-point, yet depth-oriented content that was just right for the exam but didn’t cover the entirety of GCP in breadth - much of which I already had sufficient knowledge about. In this quest, I found Victor Dantas and his course on O’Reilly. A little over 10 hours, fast, bulleted - this was what I was looking for. The runtime is 10 hours, but one needs to pause the video at various points for either retention or understanding. However, the content is so targeted that this exercise is worthwhile. Victor stresses on a lot of external materials as well which are from Google’s official site and advises to memorize some of them. For instance - compute types. It is sound advice.

This course and the back and forth between a lot of pages inside the Cloud Architecture Center finally gave me the confidence to start attempting mock tests for the exam.

Practice - MCQ Mode #

Google’s own sample set of questions consists of twenty-six questions and I had already exhausted those for my initial assessment. I needed to get a few more mock sets, practice in the exam mode, and finish an unseen set of 50 questions in under 2 hours. For this. I chose the first Google search result for “Mock GCP PCA Exams” and attempted to solve a couple of sets online. This time, I was able to better understand the problems behind those questions and the reason for the choice of options provided. If you have the time and need more practice, it could also be beneficial to explore other mock test providers out there and attempt more sets to gain additional confidence. But here is my single takeaway from solving questions both before and during the exam:

Take time to read the question. And then read it again. Go through all the options and find what’s different in them. Usually, the answer can be simply derived from the words in the question. Other times, subtle keywords in the question will help you discard options that may seem right at first.

Onsite or At-Home Exam? #

I chose to appear for the exam at a proper test center rather than having it proctored online at my home. Although the official requirements document for an at-home test does make it sound like a simple thing, the requirements in the official YouTube video seemed quite fussy just to take the test at home. Furthermore, WebAccessor, the agency that conducts these tests for Google requires a bunch of stuff to be installed on your computer and browser, which did seem a bit intrusive.

But it is a choice and you could choose either one of the options without any significant impact on the outcome.

All the best for your exam!