How I've Mastered Certifications and Time Management
Before I start I want to give a shout-out to my friend Ralph for asking me to write this blog post in regards to my studying habits!
A little bit about myself: I love to do 500 things at the same time! And I do not like to fail at any of them, so if you say "Wow Marilia! This is amazing, I need to do what you do" just know it involves not sleeping whatsoever.
I am a single mother, currently studying full-time at university, double majoring in Cybersecurity Technology and Management Information Systems. I am currently in between jobs, but when I was working, I was still kind of doing it all.
My current classes at university are Information Systems in Organizations, Introduction to Linux, and Academic Writing II. I have studied (and passed) Security+, CySA+, and Certified in Cybersecurity (CC). I am studying for the following certifications: AWS SysOps Administrator - Associate, Network+, Server+, CCSP (Certified Cloud Security Professional), LFCS (Linux Foundation Certified System Administrator), Pentest+, and last but not least CKA (Certified Kubernetes Administrator).
(I am disclosing all of this so you know the full scope of my studies and my duties).
If you notice, there is a running theme in all of these certifications, security and virtualization using Linux, specifically in the cloud. Many of these subjects relate to each other and often build upon each other.
Now, I don't want people to think that all I do is read a textbook, answer some questions, and pass the exam. I admit I have to get better at documentation, especially because I do a lot of labs. Doing labs is how I can retain the information I am learning. Labs are anything you want it to be!
Let's say, for example, you are reading about setting up a VPC and launching EC2 instances. You have another VPC in your same account, and you need to set up a peering connection to route traffic between the resources deployed on both VPCs. The only way you can remember the steps taken to complete this task is by taking the time to perform each step in the procedure. Don't make the mistake of going through the process just once, do it at least 2 times, so the concept is solidified in your memory. And, this is where I fail, make sure you document everything you did! And by documenting I mean taking screenshots, adding notes, and writing out the steps. If you encounter an error, make sure you write down as much detail as possible and keep the links to all the resources you used so you can reference them later. You can choose to publish your process in a GitHub repository, or a blog. Or just keep it to yourself, but the important thing is to document!
If you want to study for any Linux certification, or just to learn Linux in general, when you launch an EC2 instance in AWS, pick a Linux AMI. That way you are learning about virtualization, networking, how to securely connect two VPCs, and how to set up Linux servers. By blending these seemingly unrelated topics, you are cutting down the time needed to study for these certifications.
As the date for the exams gets closer, I start reading a lot of textbooks and taking many practice exams. Test-taking is a skill in and of itself, and you need to give yourself time to get familiar with the way the questions will be asked. The AWS exams are notorious for having very long questions, and answers that make you say "These all say the exact same thing" but all of them just have a certain phrase or even just a word that will make that answer the best answer for the scenario being asked. And don't just take 50 practice exams until you get a passing score. Make sure you review all the questions you may have answered wrong, and understand why the correct answer is the correct answer. Don't study just to pass the exam! Study to understand, to validate the knowledge you may already have, or knowledge you gained in your studies.
Doing all of this requires a lot of self-discipline and a lot of sacrifice. As I mentioned before I am a single mom. I have no time for myself. When my child is in daycare, I try to take advantage of the time I do have. If let's say, I have laundry to do, I also have to clean, and I have to make lunch/dinner, I have videos playing in the background that go over the subjects I am trying to study. I treat the videos as if I am listening to a podcast, and I just try to soak up the information.
Because everything I am studying for is related to computers, ironically, I love physical books! I tend to take a lot of notes because I get nervous and I think I have to write down everything I read. But with the books, I go over the summaries at the end of each chapter, answer any practice questions in the book, and review the material for the questions I got wrong. I can highlight/underline and write my notes right next to the material, and it forces me to focus on just what's in front of me!
If I only have 1 hour to study, I make sure I do just that! I try to set aside 6 hours of study per day, which seems crazy, I know, but as I've said I don't sleep! I try to wake up early in the morning before my child does, and I try to review anything I may have studied the night before. I study for 2-3 hours in the morning, and then 2-3 hours at night. Before I used to study more than 12 hours a day, and I realized that it made no difference. Because I have school work, and I am currently looking for jobs (which is a job itself!), my days are filled. After picking my child up from daycare, I of course spend time with him, play, watch TV, and eat dinner. After I put him to sleep, I go to my computer and I either do labs, watch a video, or read one of the textbooks, it all depends on my mood.
You would think that with all the exams I have coming up, I am studying around the clock, but I have found that combining many of the subjects cuts down how much time I spend reading. Because many of these certifications cover the same domains, but from different viewpoints, it is all just building upon each other and reinforcing the themes I have already learned. Now sometimes, there are days where I don't do anything at all! I just waste my time scrolling on Twitter or LinkedIn, but I've learned to give myself grace and make sure that every couple of days, I give myself a day off so I don't burn out or go crazy.
Most importantly, I've learned not to beat myself up if I don't pass the exam, because, at the end of the day, I have gained knowledge that I didn't possess beforehand. Yes I am a perfectionist, and I want to excel in everything I do, but I've learned to be kinder to myself and look at the positives.
Once I finish the Terraform bootcamp, I am going to focus on a personal project which will be a culmination of everything I am learning. Now that I have a better understanding of virtualization, security, networking, and other IT concepts, I want to combine all of that knowledge into a single project that will help me build solutions. I hope to successfully execute the project; I know it will take time, because as we all know in technology, everything that can break, will break!
I feel like this post has gone on long enough. Again thank you to Ralph for asking me to write this blog post. I hope that it is beneficial to anybody who reads it.
Until next time, happy learning!