Cloud Software Engineering Newsletter #21 (February Recap 2021)

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Well hello, all! It’s time for another month of understanding what’s been going on in the world of cloud software engineering. It feels almost like this month I was seeing fewer announcements; more memes and odd news articles. So for this month, enjoy the more meme-heavy edition.

Can You Learn AWS (And Get Certified) With No Experience? e.g. No IT background or degree

So you’re thinking about learning AWS and maybe even taking an AWS exam, but you’re worried about your job prospects because you don’t have a lot of experience in IT, or maybe you don’t have a degree. Sound about right?

AWS is daunting, I know—there are hundreds of AWS services and a lot to learn. I know that feeling of overwhelm you’re probably feeling right now! But I’m excited, because today, we’ll break down this big AWS topic, and you should leave today with a better sense of what to focus on.

Can you learn AWS without experience? Yes. It’s possible to learn AWS and get certified without an IT background or degree, provided the necessary training hours are completed. The most approachable AWS exams are the “cloud practitioner” or the “associate” exams. Landing an entry-level job using AWS with minimal experience can be challenging, but is possible.

Learn AWS Without Degree?

As we might not have met, let me introduce myself: I’m Lou, a professional software engineer who has worked with the cloud and AWS for nearly a decade. It’s my ambition to make the cloud easier to understand and break into.

I’ve written a lot on the topic of AWS careers and certifications, everything from How Much Do AWS Certifications Cost? Including All The Extras to Best Resources For AWS Certifications: An Extensive & Opinionated Guide (So You Pass The First Time!). An article I wrote last year: Where (And How) to Start Learning AWS as a Beginner was read by nearly 30,000 people so far.

But, that’s enough about me, let’s get back to the topic at hand, and let me answer your question about whether you can learn AWS without experience!

Learning AWS: How We’ll Break It Down

Todays TODO list

Since there’s a lot to cover today I think it’s best if I give you an overview of exactly how we’ll approach todays topic before get lost in the details.

Firstly, I’m guessing you want to learn AWS to land a job, right? If that’s the case, we’ll need to start by reviewing the different job roles that exist for people with AWS skills, and discuss which of those roles makes sense for someone without experience. We’ll get into this in just a moment.

After we’ve discussed about job roles and which might make sense for you, we’ll then turn our attention to AWS certifications, and how relevant certifications are to the job hunt, especially for a beginner. By the end of the article, you should have a clear idea of your direction for learning AWS.

If that sounds good, since there is a lot to cover, let’s get right into it.

How Long Will It Take To Learn AWS? And How To Speed The Process Up!

So, you’re thinking of learning AWS, but of course, you’ll need to know at least roughly how long it’s going to take you, right? AWS is huge, so finding an answer to how long it might take can be tricky. I remember logging into AWS for the first time (around 10 years ago now!) and being completely overwhelmed, so I understand how you may be feeling right about now.

How long will it take to learn the basics of AWS? You can start to understand AWS core services in a few days, gain practical knowledge with those core services in a few weeks, and in a month or two, you could expect to be undertaking professional work in AWS.

There’s two big questions I often get asked on the topic of how long to learn AWS, firstly that’s: what’s the relevancy of an IT background? And secondly: will I need to learn to code? Let’s discuss these topics first, then I’ll share some more general tips on structuring and speeding up your AWS learning.

There’s quite a lot to cover, so let’s get into it.

Cloud Software Engineering Newsletter #20 (January Re-Cap 2021)

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My promise to you: If you receive only one newsletter on cloud engineering, this should be it. You should never miss an important update, I prioritize the important things up top and read everything I share. If I’m not achieving my promise, hit reply and let me know how I can improve.

Hello friends! Gather around, it’s time for this month’s round-up of everything that’s happening in the world of the cloud. I really enjoy sitting down at the end of the month to put this newsletter together for you, as it also gives me the chance to slow down a little and take in the news myself!

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I’ve taken on-board some feedback and now the personal updates are at the bottom, so we get straight into the cloud stuff (after this brief how-do-you-do of course). So be sure to scroll all the way through if you want to know what I’ve been up to personally this month!

Anyway, let’s get into it — what’s been happening in January 2021?

This Month’s Top Cloud Pick(s) ⏫

If you only read one or two things this month, let it be this.

Best Resources For AWS Certifications: An Extensive & Opinionated Guide (So You Pass The First Time!) (Lou Bichard, Dev Coach) — Considering it took me an entire week and is currently the longest post I’ve ever written, I don’t feel so bad that I’m recommending my own post as a top pick to you. I spent hours trawling through many different posts, reddit threads, communities to try and find the best resources people were recommending. I then mushed that together with my own experience and voila, this article was born. If you’re thinking of taking an AWS exam I can guarantee you’ll pick up a tip, find out about a new community or podcast from the article.

Feature Releases & Announcements 📚

New stuff in the cloud, that you probably should know about.

AWS Lambda Security Whitepaper (AWS Whitepapers) — I’ll be sharing more updates on the AWS whitepapers as they are released and/or updated in future newsletters. Earlier this month, AWS updated their AWS Lambda security whitepaper. As AWS Lambda is getting more and more complicated (AWS Lambda layersAWS Lambda Extensions, etc), these new features introduce more security and attack vectors. Understanding how lambda works under the hood is therefore essential to secure it, for instance: you’ll need to grok things like how AWS Lambda re-uses containers between executions and passes memory. Also, reminds me of this article I wrote 5 things you thought AWS Lambda does, but it doesn’t.

AWS Workshops  (AWS) — Whilst not strictly an announcement, I felt compelled to share this find. AWS has recently published this portal of different workshops that go through patterns and exercises for AWS building. It seems that most of the workshops have been copied in from somewhere else, and the quality is lacking a bit right now, but I do think the site is still worth bookmarking and checking back in the future whether you’re looking to complete a workshop or searching for inspiration to give one.

How-To’s & Educational Pieces 🤓

Various articles on how to do various cloud things.

3-part series: Operating Lambda: Understanding event-drivenOperating Lambda: Design Principles in event-driven architecture & Operating Lambda: Anti-patterns  (James Beswick, AWS)— If serverless functions are the future (which they are) then event-driven is a partner in that future. In this series of articles, James digs into some intricacies of event-driven architectures, starting with the basics, then the principles, and finally some anti-patterns. There’s quite a wealth of information in these few articles, and it starts to dig into the real essence of the serverless world, which is event-driven, decoupled microservices. BUT use these “rules” with caution. I agree with a lot of what James says, and there’s plenty of best practice here, BUT sometimes breaking rules is the pragmatic choice, provided that you understand the trade-offs that you’re making.

Why are my tests so slow? A likely list of suspects, anti-patterns, and unresolved trauma (Charity Majors, Personal Blog) — I almost forgot about this one, since it was released in early January. In this post, Charity Majors talks about the idea that CI pipelines commit to deploy should run in under 15 minutes, and what the main culprits are that could be preventing you from reaching that milestone.

Delivering BBC online using Serverless (Johnathan Ishmael, Medium)— A while back, the BBC published moving BBC to the cloud, which was a high-level look at the BBC’s migration to the cloud. In this update, Johnathan takes us through some of the different choices and trade-offs the BBC had to make in order to meet the highly spiky workloads that the BBC was running.

How much do AWS Exams Cost? Including All The Extras! (Lou Bichard, Dev Coach) — I’m on a real careers/exams writing hype at the moment, going through lots of cloud questions about exams and career paths. In this article, I dig into the different costs associated with taking an AWS exam. I don’t mean just the cost of the exam itself, but also the cost of the different extra’s, membership courses, practice exams, etc. It’s a pretty lengthy rundown of your options and should give you a good overview of the costs.

Writing Runbook Documentation When You’re An SRE (Taylor Barnett, Transposit) — Runbooks are one of the many pieces in the puzzle of doing incident management and operations. But, runbooks can be a dance with the devil, as you want to capture things like easy to run queries, links to useful other docs, or infrastructure. But in reality, you also want to automate away any remediation so that manual intervention isn’t necessary.

Making retries safe with idempotent API’sFairness in multi-tenant systems & Avoiding overload in distributed systems (AWS Builders Library) — Whilst I’ve not had a personal chance to get through these (you need to read them with a pen in hand!) the newsletter would be amiss if I didn’t mention them, as the AWS builders’ library articles are always worth a read.

Opinion Pieces / Miscellaneous 💭

Cloud commentary and spicy takes!

The Career-Changing Art Of Reading The Docs (Forrest Brazeal, ACloudGuru) — Maybe the blog title doesn’t entice you straight away, but believe me, the topic is great. And as always, very engagingly presented by Forrest. If you’ve ever wanted to become, or wondered about how AWS heroes get to become AWS heroes this article might give away some insights. In the article Forrest Brazeal dives into his take on why RTFM is such an important but overlooked concept that you need to know and appreciate to help achieve your own career and tech aspirations. I really like the idea, despite how (almost hilariously) primitive it sounds, and it’s something I’ve now started doing myself. Just spending some time orienting yourself in the docs, seeing the patterns, understanding the layouts helps you to find things faster in the future. The timing for me was quite amusing, as I had already quoted Forrest’s previous thread on reading the docs in best resources for AWS certifications: an extensive & opinionated guide (so you pass the first time!).

Work On Your Lambda Functions, Live! (Frank Wang, DEV.TO) — Frank shared this article in the AWS community builders forum and it caught my eye. Whilst it’s very early days for the tool, I still thought it was unique enough to warrant sharing. The idea is simple: AWS Lambda development experience using the ideas of hot-reloading. Personally, I think coding against mocks is the best approach for developing software in the environment of integrated cloud, but I’m very open to the idea of different developer experiences, and this one could become another string in your bow for local development of serverless functions.

Why I’ve Been Merging Microservices Back Into A Monolith @ Invision (Ben Nadel, His Blog) — The explosion of microservices happened a few years back. Speaking out against microservices in many cases is deemed heresy. In this article, Ben talks about why he’s been busy merging some of their smaller services back into bigger ones.

Serverless Adoption: Is Cost Still The Main Factor? (Sheen Brisals, Medium) — Anyone who claims to do accurate cost-estimation of cloud services is (quite frankly) selling snake-oil. There’s just too many additional factors over time that come into play: cost of logging services, security services, networking costs, the cost of moving data. Yes, you can take precautions to your cloud cost, and do your research, but it’s also a lot like “test in production”, eventually it becomes about observability of your cloud cost, rather than upfront estimation.

RefinementCodeReview (Martin Fowler, Own Blog) — Anyone who knows me, or works with me, knows that I’m bullish (but not zealot-ish) on practices of continuous integration (in the pure sense of the word), test-driven development, mob programming, and generally most of the ideas that spawned out of XP. In this article, Martin talks about the pervasive nature of teams to center their refactoring efforts around code reviews themselves. The summary of the article is: “If I have a pristine mainline, and ensure that every commit merged into that mainline is pristine – can I be sure that the codebase is still pristine after six months? I’d argue that I can’t”. The answer? Periodic code review, mob programming, collective code ownership.

Errors Are Not Exceptions (Shaun Wang, DEV.TO) — I generally keep the newsletter on the cloud side of cloud software engineering. But for this article, I make an exception (pun intended). I know that Shawn is currently learning Go, and he has bumped into the opinionated nature of go’s error handling. This is an interesting read on the distinction between errors and exceptions, I won’t spoil it, you’ll have to read the article. The topic of errors is something near to my heart, and I’ve also dug into it in the past in: a philosophy for effective error handling.

8 DevOps YouTube Channels Worth Following (Sara Miteva, DEV.TO) — Keeping up-to-date can be a pain, switching the mediums in which you learn: reading, podcasts, videos, audiobooks, can help. In this article, Sara goes through 8 different YouTube channels that you might like. I got a few more on my list, so you might do too!

Outages / Breaches 💭

What went down or got hacked?

Robinhood — Unsurprisingly, Robinhood the trading app went down during the gamestonks madness of this month. Yet, with only minor hiccups, Reddit managed to stay up.

Personal Updates 🙍🏼‍♂️

What I’ve been up to over the past month.

I’ve recently been having a lot of fun posting over on Instagram. I’m sharing a lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff on there, such as how I write articles, how I drive traffic, where I syndicate content to, how I choose my articles, you name it, if I have a “secret” I’m giving it away on there. I’m also experimenting with YouTube, but I want to work out some kinks before I share things more widely.

See You Next Month 👋

And that’s all for this months newsletter, thanks for tuning in! If you could spare just a few moments to take this short survey you’ll help me out to understand more of what’s important to you.

Speak soon Cloud Engineering friends!

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Best Resources For AWS Certifications: An Extensive & Opinionated Guide (So You Pass The First Time!)

When it comes to passing your AWS certification, it’s one of those “1000 open chrome tab” type situations, right? There’s just so many different options available that it can make your head hurt: from books to Udemy courses.

I’ve been writing about cloud for years, and after taking and passing the exams myself—which also included searching the internet for hours!—I’ve compiled a complete yet opinionated list of resources to help you pass your AWS exam.

But, I’m not just going to throw links at you, I’ll take you through the different options, show you why they’re important, and at the end, I’ll make a recommendation on what I’d suggest you do for your next steps.

Sound good? Let’s get started.

Best Resources AWS Exam

How Much Do AWS Certifications Cost? Including All The Extras

If you’re looking to take an AWS exam, you’re going to want to know how much it’s going to cost, right? If you do, you’re in the right place. After spending a ton of time researching, and taking the exams myself, I’m going to talk you through not only what the exams cost, but what you can expect to pay for all the optional extras you can spend on to pass your AWS certification.

Let’s get straight to the point…

How much do AWS certifications cost? Sitting the AWS certification exam costs: $100USD for Cloud Practitioner, $150 for the Associate-level, and $300 for the Professional-level and Specialty. But, there are also hidden costs to be aware of: most spend an additional $20-$100, but on the extreme side, some spend $2000+.

How Much Do AWS Certifications Cost?

In Serverless, Who Sets Up The Environment? What You Do & Don’t Have Access To

If you’re coming into the world of Serverless, especially if you’ve worked in a server-based world, you can end up confused about who exactly “sets up the environment in serverless”, and how the environment in Serverless works.

The whole Serverless ecosystem can be daunting—it definitely was for me when I started. At the end of this article, you’ll have more understanding about serverless, specifically how the environments are setup and hopefully you’ll have some “aha!”  moments along the way!

In Serverless Who Sets Up The Environment

In Serverless Who Sets Up The Environment? In Serverless the environment is setup by the cloud provider. Many server-like access, such as process, log files, and SSH are unavailable to a Serverless user. However, different services and tools are available for serverless users to achieve similar behaviours to their server counterparts.

To understand Serverless, you need to approach the idea with a “fresh mind”. If you have any existing notions about how applications / servers work, try to disregard those ideas for today. Let’s try and get your mind into the “serverless” way of doing things. Between server and serverless architectures, some things are the same, but many things are not.

Let’s take a look…

Cloud Native Software Engineering Newsletter #18 (November 2020)

Hello my cloud engineering friends and welcome back!

It’s time for this months cloud software engineering newsletter, rounding up everything that’s being going on in cloud engineering for the last month.

I started writing this newsletter back in November, but SO many announcements have come out from AWS since then, that I really need to get this sent out to you. As each day goes by, new things come out, and the newsletter will never get sent.

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And since there’s quite a lot going on, let’s get into it.