A few months ago, I started a new job with Petabloc Cloud Consulting as a Senior Platform Engineer. I quickly saw how heavily they used Terraform to do the majority of the heavy lifting in their clients' cloud environments, and while I knew a bit about Terraform, I was certainly junior next to the majority of folks on the team in that regard. So I decided now was as good a time as any to study up, and get myself certified as a Hashicorp Terraform Associate. What follows then, is an account of my experience studying for and taking the HCTA exam.
Taking The Exam
The HCTA is a proctored, written exam, that costs ~$70USD. It's roughly 70-100 multiple choice questions, with a passing grade of 70%, and you have approximately two hours to complete it.
The proctors are curiously more strict than you might expect. Aside from the typical requirements for most online proctored exams (room check, no devices present, government-issued ID as proof of identity), they ask that you not talk during the exam (I was admonished by my proctor for idly reading a question back to myself), and no headwear is allowed either (I was wearing a hat and was asked to remove it during the exam). TL;DR: Do yourself a favour and give the exam rules a very careful read.
The Exam Platform
The exam platform asks that you use their "secure browser", however as a dyed-in-the-wool Firefox user, I had trouble getting the exam browser to launch. I ended up having to download and use Chrome to get it working.
Considering all the constraints and rules I've just mentioned, give yourself plenty of time ahead of the exam to prepare. If your exam is at 1PM, start getting set up at 10am. Take an hour to refresh your memory with a practice exam if you can, get your laptop set up, get some fresh air, drink some water/coffee, and log into the exam platform as early as they'll let you.
Studying/Preparing For The Exam
The online course I took was through A Cloud Guru, and I can't recommend them enough. Their courses are typically a good mix of videos and hands-on learning by industry professionals that are usually pretty easy to follow along with. Overall their platform is great, but their Terraform course is one of the best I've seen anywhere.
A Cloud Guru and platforms like them are great, but I personally have found that pairing courseware with a practice exam or two is always helpful. With that in mind, I used Udemy for this purpose. Here's the Udemy course I used. Why Udemy? Their courses are typically cheap, and this particular course offers five separate practice exams.
As great as doing courses and practice exams are, there's no better practice than just doing it yourself in a live environment. The offical Terraform docs from Hashicorp are pretty solid, so what I recommend is to just set up a "free-tier" AWS account, install Terraform, and go to town. Spin up some EC2 instances, create some S3 buckets, move your state file into said buckets, go nuts. Play. Experiment. Hell, pair your Terraform modules with an Ansible playbook or two and set up some simple web applications or something.
Overall, I had a pretty decent experience taking the HCTA. The exam platform itself is a little rough around the edges, and the proctors could stand to lighten up a touch, but otherwise, it's definitely a worthwhile cert to get. It's worth noting though that the certification itself is valid for two years, so you'll have to recertify every now and then, but at $70, it's not a bad way to stay current with your knowledge of Terraform.