My experience becoming a FinOps Certified Practitioner (FOCP)

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Recently, I sat down for the official FinOps Certified Practitioner exam. Now the experience is still fresh, I want to share my thoughts on getting this certification.

First a bit of background, I’m a software developer and architect working fulltime on cloud projects. I do not have much experience with the financial side of business but do have a healthy curiosity for things outside my direct line of work. In the Cloud, certifications are a well-established way to demonstrate proficiency. They are never proof of mastery, just evidence that you are familiar with the subject. For myself, I like certifications, they give you a tangible goal and something to show for your efforts. So, when I discovered the FinOps Certified Practitioner certification, a seed was planted.

When you embark on such an endeavor, it’s always good to start with the why. For me, one thing I always liked about the Cloud is that you have this extra dimension of cost, next to the usual suspects like compute, memory, storage, (and engineering effort of course). When you’re working on a solution you try to balance all these dimensions and try to come up with the most optimal outcome. And what really makes it interesting is that the flexibility and speed of the cloud put all these dimensions in overdrive. This balancing act can (and maybe even should) be done continuously.

What is FinOps?

The official website defines FinOps as follows:

FinOps is shorthand for “Cloud Financial Operations” or “Cloud Financial Management” or “Cloud Cost Management”. It is the practice of bringing financial accountability to the variable spend model of cloud, enabling distributed teams to make business trade-offs between speed, cost, and quality.

It’s an area where two worlds collide, the technical world of IT and Cloud, and the business world of Finance and accounting. The Cloud has brought with it an enormous boost both in speed and unpredictability of IT cost, one that every serious user must come to grips with sooner or later. FinOps is an answer that will help you deal with this. Not by trying to mold the Cloud in an old form, controlling it, choking it to death, but by embracing all its benefits and capabilities. Another quote that I really like is:

FinOps is not about saving money, it is about making money.

How? That’s where the FinOps framework comes into play and what the certification is all about. It consists of a set of principles, phases, capabilities, and domains, all worked out in detail. They have a nice poster on the official website that gives a clear overview of this framework.

Important as all these components of the framework are, it’s good to realize that at its core, FinOps is a cultural change. In that sense it is like the DevOps movement, which was probably a huge inspiration for the FinOps foundation. It’s not just about tools and processes, but also about collaboration and establishing a shared language.

FinOps Foundation

The FinOps movement is coordinated and organized by the FinOps Foundation, a program of the Linux Foundation. Their mission is to build and foster a community of people and companies practicing financial cloud management. Their members come with a wide variety of backgrounds, from technical, engineering type of backgrounds to finance or procurement professionals.

One way in which they share their knowledge is via training and certification. The best known and most achieved certification is the FinOps Certified Practitioner certification, and that is the one I had set my eyes on.

FinOps Certified Practitioner

The certification:

allows individuals in a large variety of cloud, finance and technology roles to validate their FinOps knowledge and enhance their professional credibility. The certification covers FinOps fundamentals and an overview of key concepts in each of the three sections of the FinOps lifecycle: Inform, Optimize and Operate.

It’s a foundational level course, meant to ensure a common grounding between practitioners and a good introduction to the FinOps practices. There is also a Professional level certification, targeted at experience FinOps practitioners.

Preparing for the exam

The most important source is the highly recommended Cloud FinOps book. This book covers all the material for the exam, and some more. It’s a good read for anybody interested in this area, not just for wannabe certified FinOps practitioners.

There’s also the official training from the FinOps foundation itself, either led by a virtual instructor, or in a self-paced format. Because I did not know what to expect from the exam, I decided to go for the self-paced training. It came with a hefty price of $499, which they bumped to $599 as of beginning this year. It includes the exam price (of $300), but even then, it’s very expensive for an online training course that takes less than 6 hours.

Was it worth the money? I’m inclined to say no. It’s basically a slimmed down version of the book, with an occasional quiz. If you’ve read the book, made some notes, thoroughly went through the website, you can save yourself 300$. But it might also depend on your learning preference, if you’re more a listener then a reader, it might make sense to splurge on the course. In that case I would recommend first investigating unofficial, third-party, online training courses which are usually a lot cheaper.

What I also recommend is some practical experience. What I mean is, really going through the cloud bill and cost reporting of you cloud provider, to get some real-life understanding of the theory.

The exam

The exam is pretty easy, provided you went through all the material. It’s only 60 minutes long, but you have plenty of time. It took me about 35 minutes and did not feel rushed in any way. It’s a remote exam, unproctored, meaning you can complete it in your own browser, without having to install special surveillance software or somebody watching remotely. If you’re familiar with the AWS certification space, it’s more like an accreditation as opposed to a certification, although the difficulty is similar to the AWS Cloud Practitioner certification. The questions, 50 in total, are all multiple-choice and do not involve extensive reading.

The good part is also that you get 3 attempts available out of the box, so you can try it out as soon as you think you have the material covered and see if you’re at the necessary level.

Normally, when I study for an examination, I like to do one or more practice exams, to ensure I’m at the required level. But with the 3 attempts available, I decided to first try one out before I’d purchased some kind of practice exam. Luckily for me, the first try was successful (with 84% score, where 75% is required for passing), so I didn’t have to go back to the drawing board and readjust my studies.

Final thoughts

I thought it was a nice and interesting experience that really gave me good introduction into the subject.

In the end, it was easier than I expected. Maybe it was that hefty price tag that subconsciously made it appear bigger than it was. And when you expect things to be difficult, they often turn out easier than you thought they would be. Not to say it’s a walk in the park, you do need to study and take it seriously.

Would I recommend going for the FOCP certification? Well, it depends, of course. It depends on what your goals are.

  • If you want a job in this area, then the cost if probably small compared to what you can get out of it, and it is well worth your time and money.
  • If you’re just interested in the field, then I would probably say no. The price/value ratio was not great. Reading the book is probably your best and most cost-effective approach.
  • If you don’t have to pay fully for the exam yourself, and certification aligns with your learning preferences, then the required time and effort make sense

Me personally, I fall into the last category and am happy with both the journey and the destination. It brought me practical tools for my day-to-day job and a stronger appreciation for the subject.

Are you curious or do you want to know more? Get in touch.