Getting an Overview of AWS

So hopefully you’ve already got your training plan and are ready to tackle your first goal.

Goal 1 – Have an overview of AWS and Cloud Concepts

This will set the stage for later weeks so I’ll try and get across what’s important for you to realise early. The techniques will be built on week by week, as you’ll see.

Understanding what there is in AWS in the first place

The AWS ecosystem is pretty vast, and so in order to help you navigate the way, let’s take a quick look at the first task in the plan “Read AWS Overview to understand what AWS is”

This links you off to the big whitepaper giving an Overview of AWS services. Now whitepapers can be a bit of pain to read through but, there are useful when it comes to exam time. Whitepapers give best practices, and you are invariably asked about best practice in exam questions.

Fundamental Concepts to Learn

You may have heard me talk previously about a book called ‘Make it Stick’. It’s got some great strategies for going through reams of content and sifting out what matters.

One such strategy is “Start with Questions, Read for Answers”. The idea behind this is that we will look at the broader theme behind the text. If you can work that out, then you’re way to generating efficient test content for yourself.

As I had a bit of experience in cloud computing beforehand, I had some vague familiarity with concepts, and that allowed me to formulate the questions and answers that are included in the flashcard sets for the AWS Overview, for Best Practice and for fundamental concepts like Availability Zones and Regions.

Since you may not be overly familiar with the concepts of AWS. I’ll talk you through my thinking.

I (vaguely) knew the following to be themes of Cloud Computing:

  • Immutablity
  • Containerisation
  • Pay as you go models
  • Virtualization
  • Config as Code, and as a result repeatable builds
  • Failover/Redundnancy
  • Security

But I didn’t know how AWS would implement these practices. I also didn’t know what additional ‘paradigms’ AWS would throw at me.

However as I read through the content, I looked at points, and thought ‘would future me want to remember this?’. Then it became a case of re-phrasing the points into questions that would force me to remember them, and writing up the flashcard to accommodate this.

As an example, load balancing is a something we are all pretty familiar with these days and AWS is no exception since Failover and Redundancy are ‘first class citizens’ of Cloud Computing.

So I wrote the question:

What is ELB?

with the answer being:

Load balancing technology to ensure that underlying EC2 instances get hit evenly

I wrote the question in this way for several reasons

  • This was my first exposure to the term ELB, and it was going to be important to remember it right from the start, whilst we were still in the ‘overview’ stage.
  • I wanted to be explicit that ELB was about load balancing, because failover was a core concept I was aware of.
  • I also wanted a little cue that ELB related to EC2, in as much as they were sat behind the ELB.

Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t studiously categorise my question, as I went through the paper. The whole point is to be efficient after all. The setup of the question was done pretty quickly as I’m in the habit of writing my questions to push myself and link to other concepts.

To write a good question for your flashcard:

  • Has enough of a clue that will trigger your brain into remembering the concept
  • Will cause you initially to fail to recall it, but you’re ok that the answer logically belongs with the question.
  • If you’re forever trying to remember all the points of the answers, that’s a clue your question is too vague, or needs splitting out into multiple questions.

Your homework

I’ve given you 3 sets of flashcards around some core AWS concepts. So I want you to do things a bit differently.

  • Before you read each paper, look at its associated flashcard set. From the flashcard set, have you identified any ‘overarching’ themes that you might not have been aware of before?
  • In other words, what questions am I asking? Why might I be asking them? A bit ‘meta’ I know!
  • Read through the papers one by one now that you’ve primed your brain with these questions.
  • For each paper, add 10 new questions to its corresponding flashcard set (you can clone them in Cram, or setup an Anki Account and upload them).
  • Once you’ve added in your flashcards, try and do the whole set. How many can you remember? Try a few times to see if you can up your score.
  • Then test yourself again tomorrow, 3 days time, and finally 7 days time – how is your memory doing on these points?

Let me know how you get on, or if you’re stuck – as I said this is an interactive process.

I’ll be setting up Disqus or something similar in the coming weeks, but for now, you can just drop me an email with any questions or comments you have with your progress. You can even send me your updated flashcard set if you want me to comment on it.

Next week, we’ll go through S3 and interacting with the AWS CLI.