If you're wondering about the Associate Cloud Engineer certification by Google, you've come to the right place. I'm here to tell you about my experience of becoming a Google Certified Associate Cloud Engineer and how getting the certification is going to help your career.
You might be wondering: "Why even bother getting Google Cloud certified when everyone knows that AWS is the indisputable leader in the cloud race?" That is true, however, I can give you a couple of reasons.
According to the RightScale 2019 State of the Cloud report, the picture of the cloud tech and providers looks like this:
As you can see, with AWS leading and Azure catching up pretty fast, GCP is now going through a maturing phase with the biggest percent of experiments conducted and plans for future usage.
There are several reasons for this interest.
First, Google offers the most customer-friendly prices for services compared to other cloud providers, meaning that you're paying less for the same features and benefits. And while this might not be a selling point for some businesses, if your cloud bills are expected to be huge, even a 15–20% saving is a lot of money that can be allocated elsewhere. Google also offers a handy Pricing Calculator that allows you to get a pretty accurate estimate of your future cloud expenses. It might be challenging to use for some products since you have to do a lot of estimating yourself, but for the most part, it's a useful tool.
On top of that, GCP is designed to be more friendly toward developers. When you're working with AWS, you might feel that you need more experience in systems administration, networking and infrastructure operations. Google is offering an easier way to bootstrap your environment and focus on your application, i.e., your business.
Lastly, big companies are looking into GCP as a potential candidate for their next project or even as a migration target. This creates a vast market GCP engineers will have to fill soon.
Your First Steps
Now, let's get down to business. To prove your knowledge and experience with a piece of technology, you obviously need some hands-on experience with it. And getting certified in the subject is an excellent way to get recognized for your knowledge and skills.
The entry point to the Google Cloud certifications is the Associate Cloud Engineer certification. Unlike AWS, this is Google's only associate-level certification, which means that the other ones are much harder to get as they require more in-depth knowledge and more extensive experience.
The exam I took tests your practical knowledge with GCP's main services and is focused on day-to-day operations. Its goal is to prove that each certified engineer is actually able to roll out a solution to the cloud and support it during its lifetime according to the recommended best practices.
The main question is: how can you get the required knowledge for the exam? Having taken it just recently, I can give you a few tips.
Step 1: Check out the exam scope
Take a good look at what Google is expecting from you to pass the certification. Their official Exam Guide describes the scope in much detail. Do note, though, that not all topics are examined equally: some appear more often in the questions than others. However, the guide serves as a great reference point or a checklist for your preparation.
Step 2: Take a relevant course
I took the CloudGuru course on the subject, and it helped me gain some initial understanding of what's what and where to look. The course is good, but honestly, a lot of information is missing, so you will need to read up on other services and get your hands dirty with them if you want to be 100% confident at the exam. For example, the test requires a profound knowledge of App Engine and at least understanding the use-cases for multiple storage options like Bigtable, BigQuery, Cloud Datastore, Cloud SQL, Spanner and Cloud Storage. Not all of these come up in a lot of details in the exam, but you do need to be familiar with them.
My tip is to log in to Cloud Console, open up the services list, go through each of them and try to understand and remember what problems they try to solve. After that, you can cross-reference the entire list with the scope from Step 1 and see which services have to be covered more thoroughly. When you see that something isn't clear for you, take a look into the official documentation for the service. Don't let it scare you: Google's docs are very well-written and are guaranteed to be up-to-date and correct.
Step 3: Get some practice
Google Cloud has an awesome Free Tier, especially compared to other cloud providers. They have the biggest Always Free offers and they give you free $300-worth credits you can use to try out virtually any service for 12 months. There are certain limits, but you're not likely to encounter them even when trying out the craziest stuff. More than that, if you go over the limit, Google will not charge you unless you explicitly turn on billing for your account. This might not seem like a problem, but I've known people who forgot to switch off their NAT Gateway on AWS and got charged for it.
What I do recommend focusing on is App Engine since it comes up a lot. Also, take a good look at GCE since it is the most basic compute option in GCP and VPC, which you can only really grasp while trying out a couple of networking scenarios in it.
Step 4: Take the practice exam
Google provides a practice exam for the certification, and it's very representative. The questions there are very similar to the actual ones you're going to be asked. For comparison, the AWS practice exams are nothing like it and they aren't… ahem… free. My colleague and I recently took the AWS Certified Solution Architect Associate exam and I tried out the practice beforehand. The actual exam questions were harder, so the experience with Google's practice exam was more positive. Do note, however, that the practice exam is a simple Google Form and the questions do not get rotated (at least at the time of writing).
Passing the Exam
As to the actual exam, it was much easier than I had expected. You have 2 hours to answer 50 questions. I finished it in about 70 minutes, which left me enough time to review the answers. I was preparing for some time before that, though, about an hour a day for 2–3 weeks.
Google tends to focus their questions on their flagship products. There are a lot of questions about App Engine and I do recommend trying it out in practice because there will be a lot of details. Questions related to Kubernetes, Cloud Storage and VPC are quite frequent too. It is a Cloud Engineer exam, so they require a lot of practical knowledge like working with gcloud SDK (you don't really need to remember all the commands, but you have to try it out a couple of times and understand the API to be able to tell the obviously wrong answers from the more realistic ones). GCP's Stackdriver also comes up quite a lot since it is a complex and handy tool that helps with monitoring, debugging and profiling your applications in production. As I said, GCP is made with engineers in mind, so Google wants to highlight the benefits for them in the exam.
If you are coming from other clouds, there is also a catch. Google does like to give you trick questions that are meant to test your knowledge of differences with other clouds, especially AWS. There is even a documentation chapter that describes those and also helps you understand GCP more quickly if you have AWS experience — GCP for AWS Professionals. GCP was built learning from AWS mistakes and based on the existing user feedback, so many things in Google Cloud are simpler and easier (sometimes just different). Be careful not to fall into the trap of your own knowledge!
And that's it. I hope my experience will help you pass the exam and become a Google Certified Associate Cloud Engineer. If you have any questions, just drop them down below, and I'll be happy to answer them.