Monday, September 25, 2023

AWS Certified Database – Specialty Certification: Preparation & Resources, 2023

A bit about my personal experience

The AWS Certified Database Beta certification was the last one I took at a test centre, a few weeks before Covid hit Spain very hard and the whole country went into lockdown.

It was an intense experience; the certification was at the beta stage at the time – Jan 2020 – which meant 85 questions in 4 hours, with no breaks :(, so my mind went into lockdown too after 3 hours and a half; I passed nonetheless 🙂

As the test was in the beta stage, there was no available information, courses, test sets or anything, which is great because it forces you to prepare for your journey, depending on your experience with the subject matter. I created a “course” focused on architecture because that´s my interest and my bread and butter, but I was off target.

Well, the exam hasn´t changed; it´s focused on operations – backups, snapshots, migrations – optimization and troubleshooting, not that much on architecture or infrastructure – but there are a few questions. Also, RDS/Aurora and DynamoDB are the real stars of the test. Other products like Redshift, ElasticCache, DocumentDB, Athena, Neptune, TimeStream, QLDB and OpenSearch are present in the test in decreased order of importance – at least in my set of questions. Remember that AWS holds an extensive database of questions and updates them very often, so take this always with caution.

You should always maximize your investment in these certifications; they are expensive in terms of time and money, so tailor them to fit your needs, not only to get “the badge”. I took a deep dive into the databases I didn’t have commercial experience with, and it was worthwhile; it just wasn´t reflected on the test. But that keeps with me from now on.

Preparing for the Hero’s Journey

I took my notes from three years ago and created a new version of my “course”. As a base, I’ve used the guide “AWS Certified Database – Specialty Certification Guide” from Pack Publishing. It’s an excellent book to use as an intro to the subject matter and covers the test well, but you must go deeper in every section to pass it. BTW, a new official guide is coming in July from Sybex.

Remember, this is a speciality certification, which means that, at the very least, you should hold one certification at the associate level or the equivalent knowledge. And it pays off; several questions involve Networking, Security and IaC, and CloudFormation.

Coming Soon 🙂

I don´t really use video courses; I get bored watching hours of videos that often are rehearsing the official documentation – it is really a passive activity for me; I prefer to be in control of my learning and move between different activities. I watched a few videos this time, and I couldn´t take more after a few minutes, so I returned to the real thing and the reading material. If you like this kind of learning, pick one from your favourite provider, select the ones from active professionals that can add some real experience to the material, tailor it to your needs and further it.

Resources & Key Sites

AWS Certification Site: the primary site, but it contains some good resources for preparation, including sample questions, the official practice test and the interactive Readiness Course, which also includes additional questions:

A relevant question for the test: “choose the best database” for a specific workload.

AWS Database blog: excellent site to read about actual use cases, technical articles and new features.

Some nice posts:

– AWS Training and Certification Blog

A post from 2021 with valuable tips for preparing for the certification:

AWS Documentation: an obvious one, but still the best source of information

  • RDS/Aurora: everything. From the basics to the good practices. You will not pass this test without a deep understanding of RDS: architecture, authentication, global databases, HA, operations, migrations, disaster recovery, good practices, troubleshooting, monitoring and serverless.
  • DynamoDB: another star of the exam, not at the same level as RDS, but learn as much as you can, depending on your knowledge of the subject matter: architecture, tables design and provisioning, indexes, operations, migrations, disaster recovery, DAX, streaming, and good practices.
  • ElasticCache MemCache/Redis: you may expect a few questions at different difficulty levels, so learn as much as you can: architecture, authentication, HA, operations, clusters, disaster recovery, good practices and troubleshooting.
  • Redshift: This is covered entirely in the Analytics cert, but you may get some questions anyway. I can’t be particular about the questions, so you should get a similar roundup as the other databases, depending on your knowledge.
  • DocumentDB, Athena, Neptune, TimeStream, QLDB and OpenSearch: as I mentioned, you would get a few questions about the rest of the AWS databases. At a minimum, you should understand the Architecture and the different use cases for each of them and be able to select the best one for a specific workload. But you may get more complex questions, which I can’t be clear about. So, it’s up to you.
  • Other services: a lot of them, S3, Lambda, KMS, DataSync, Data Pipelines, DMS, Kinesis, …


This a challenging certification that you should prepare accordingly. Take your time and prepare for your journey, not just the destination.

Good Luck!

Adolfo Estevez
A Estevez
Cloud & Digital Evangelist | AWS x 13 Certified | GCP x 6 | Serverless | Machine Learning | Analytics |

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Latest Articles

%d bloggers like this: