During Covid, I let my Google Cloud certification lapse. Recently, Google Cloud offered me a free exam voucher and $500.00 in Google Cloud credits provided I pass. I accepted their challenge.

I have been working in Google Cloud for more than a decade and know the platform very well. So I schedule an exam for August 23, 2023. That gives me two weeks to prepare.

I take exams seriously. I have passed a lot of certification exams. I am guessing about 50 certifications. Even though I could pass the Professional Cloud Architect exam with zero preparation, I want to take this opportunity to review each Google Cloud service required for the exam plus improve my overall skills and knowledge.

I have only failed one certification exam and that was by one point. I thought I was an expert in the area the exam tested. I did not read the exam guide and took the exam blind. The exam was on a different specialty. If I had read the exam guide, I would have known I needed to prepare for areas I did not work in. Preparation is key even with extensive experience.

This article documents how I will prepare for the PCA certification.

Step 1 – Set the Goal

My first objective is to set the end goal. I registered with Webassessor and scheduled the exam for two weeks from today. Now that I know the finish line, I can divide my time into equal parts for self-study every day.

Step 2 – Organize Resources

Organize the resources that I will use:

Step 3 – Self Analysis

  • Which services should I invest more time with:
    • Cloud Bigtable – extra time required for this service
    • Kubernetes – extra time required for this service
    • Anthos
    • BigQuery
    • Vertex AI
    • Generative AI
    • Cloud Run Jobs
    • Cloud Tasks
    • Cloud Workflows
    • KMS
  • Which services should I invest some time with:
    • Machine Learning APIs
    • Cloud Data Fusion
    • Cloud Dataflow
    • Cloud Composer
    • Google Assistant
    • Google Workspace
    • Asylo
    • Healthcare API
    • Cloud Data Loss Prevention

An important item to remember is which services are critical for Google Cloud to be successful. To be a professional architect you must know those services well:

  • Compute – Google Compute Engine
  • Storage – Google Cloud Storage
  • Database – Google Cloud SQL, Google BigQuery, Google Bigtable
  • Networking – Google Cloud Networking
  • Collaboration – Google Workspace

Those are the items where Google Cloud makes most of its money. If you only know those services well, which includes the security of those services, you will be successful in your career. Everything else can be put into a specialization category. You can then decide which additional services to focus on to add to your skill set.

There are several more areas that you should be proficient with:

  • The Google Cloud CLI commands. The tools gcloud and gsutil are fundamental to managing services. Knowing how to use them to describe existing services is a great debugging and documentation tool.
  • Terraform. Know how to deploy services with Terraform. A fabulous tool to know well.
  • Google Cloud IAM. This is the area I see most experienced architects struggle with. Security is an art form that requires experience to understand and know well. Start by reading every page of the documentation for Cloud IAM and Google Authentication/Authorization.

Future tip: Google is investing heavily in AI/ML/DL. Those areas are so large that they require their own specialization. I recommend that all architects have a basic understanding of the Google Cloud services in this area.

Step 4 – Allocate Time and Resources

My two lists contain a lot of services. If I allocate two hours per item for the first list (20 hours) and one hour per item for the second list (9 hours), the total is 29 hours of study. That is a lot to do in two weeks. I know that for some items I will need to spend more than an hour or two. I will allocate three hours per day over 12 days, for a total of 36 hours.

I never study the day before or the day of an exam. I let my brain rest for at least one full day. I am concerned about quality sleep, hydration, and diet. No alcohol, desserts, fattening food, late nights out, etc during my training days.

On the morning of an exam, I review the case studies. Cramming at the last minute is not a good idea. Be consistent every day. If you are not ready, you can always reschedule.

Step 5 – Study and Practice

For the next two weeks, I will dedicate my free time to studying and practicing for the exam.

Google Exam Tips

  • Drink extra water three hours before and one hour before the exam. You want your brain hydrated. Eat a solid low-calorie meal at least one hour before the exam.
  • Arrive at the exam center early if you are doing an in-person exam. You need time to pass their identity and security requirements and still have time to relax.
  • If you are taking an online exam, clear the room of anything the exam requires. No notes, whiteboards, etc. Let everyone know you must not be interrupted during the exam.
  • Don’t bother memorizing answers you have seen elsewhere such as practice exams. Know the material because Google will use subtle changes in questions that you might not notice which will result in a wrong answer.
  • Google Cloud uses intelligence in its exams. Their exams tend to ask you more questions on areas you are the weakest. I helped Google create the Professional Security Engineer certification so I have experience in this area.
  • When reviewing a question, read it twice and pay attention to the key words and wording.
  • Remove the obvious wrong answers. That makes it easier to guess the right answer if you are not sure.
  • I never go back and review my answers. Usually, the first answer is the better choice.
  • If you are stuck on a question, make a note of the question number and move on. Do not run the clock down. Sometimes another question will trigger your memory and provide you with the other answer.
  • Go back and try to answer the questions you skipped.
  • The Professional Cloud Architect exam is 120 minutes. However, if you are well prepared, you can finish in 45 minutes. The exam consists of 50-60 multiple-choice and multiple-select questions. Personally, I hate the multiple-select questions unless they say N selections are required.

Post Exam

  • Have a notepad or recorder in your car.
  • Immediately record your thoughts about the exam. If you wait, your memory will decrease.
  • Make notes on services or areas you could have done better. Allocate time a week later to improve.
  • If you did well and are confident in your skills, congratulations. Your preparation was a good investment.
  • If you did not do well, even if you passed, hit the books. There is nothing like going to a job interview and not being able to demonstrate your knowledge because you are weak in certain areas.
  • If you failed, do not stress. Failure is one of the steps to success. Now you have more experience in taking exams and hopefully, you know more about your weak areas. Immediately schedule a new exam date and start studying again.

More Information

Other articles I have written on Google Cloud Certification