What is the Google Cloud Professional Cloud Architect certification?

Google Cloud’s Professional Cloud Architect (PCA) is one of Google’s most popular professional certifications. Google Cloud’s Professional certifications are role based certifications to measure an individual’s proficiency at performing a specific role using Google Cloud technology. As per Google’s definition:

Professional Cloud Architects enable organizations to leverage Google Cloud technologies. With a thorough understanding of cloud architecture and Google Cloud, they design, develop, and manage robust, secure, scalable, highly available, and dynamic solutions to drive business objectives.

The Professional Cloud Architect exam assesses an individuals ability to:

  • Design and plan a cloud solution architecture
  • Manage and provision the cloud solution infrastructure
  • Design for security and compliance
  • Analyse and optimize technical and business processes
  • Manage implementations of cloud architecture
  • Ensure solution and operations reliability

Google Cloud Professional Cloud Architect Badge

Google Cloud Professional Cloud Architect Badge

Who is the Google Cloud Professional Cloud Architect certification aimed at?

The Google Cloud Professional Cloud Architect certification is aimed at Cloud Architects and Solutions Architects, who are responsible for assessing business requirements and designing Google Cloud environments. Architects need to have a thorough understanding of all Google Cloud’s products including Compute, Storage, Networks, Data, Development and Security. They need to be able to assess business requirements, identifying both functional and non functional requirements and then design a secure, resilient, scalable architecture selecting the most appropriate Google Cloud services.

Whilst the primary roles targeted by this certification are architects, there are many certified people without an architecture background. Before the introduction of the Google Cloud Digital Leader certification, people looking to demonstrate their Google Cloud expertise had to choose between PCA and ACE. ACE has a more hands on delivery focus as a Cloud Engineer versus PCA.

For people new to Google Cloud, I recommend they initially pass the Google Cloud Digital Leader certification, then progress to the Google Cloud Associate Engineer certification before proceeding with the Google Cloud Professional Architect certification. I also suggest planning ACE and PCA in close succession as there is significant overlap in the content of each so it can save study time whilst the content of ACE is fresh in memory and you’re preparing for PCA.

How difficult is the Google Cloud Professional Cloud Architect certification?

Google Cloud has 3 levels of certifications starting at the entry level with Cloud Digital Leader, Associate Cloud Engineer, and a range of Professional level specialist certifications.

All Google Cloud Professional certifications are challenging. The PCA is challenging but compared to the other Professional certifications, I found it one of the easier certifications to achieve. Whilst Professional certifications like Data Engineer, Security Engineer and Network Engineer go in depth in a specialist area of Google Cloud, the Professional Cloud Architect certification covers the entire range of Google Cloud products and therefore doesn’t go into the same level of detail as the more specialist certifications.

That being said, the breadth of Google Cloud’s product offerings are vast and can be confusing to people just starting with Google Cloud. Similarly if you’re in a Kubernetes focussed role for instance, you may find the Professional Developer certification less challenging than the Cloud Architect certification given it is your area of expertise and you will already be familiar with a lot of the concepts vs learning about a wide range of services from scratch for the Professional Cloud Architect certification.

Comparing the PCA certification with Azure and AWS certification offerings, PCA aligns more closely with AWS Solutions Architect Professional certification and Azure Solutions Architect certifications.

How to prepare for and pass the Google Cloud Professional Cloud Architect exam

The Google Cloud Professional Cloud Architect exam is the first Google Cloud certification I passed back in 2019 and recertified in 2021. I’m due to recertify again in October 2023…

Google recommends candidates have 1+ years real experience working with Google Cloud before taking this certification. The first time I sat the certification I had done some work with GCP but it wasn’t my core role, and the work I had done didn’t cover half the Google products within the exam. That being said, I passed the PCA certification first time based on lab experience via Coursera and my own free Google Cloud trial! I also had many years experience working as a Cloud Architect which provided a good foundation for this exam.

When recertification came round 2 years later, having had a lot more experience working with Google Cloud definitely helped… I had also certified in the Associate Cloud Engineer and other professional certifications including Security and Network Engineer specialties by this point, so i was much more familiar with the majority of Google Cloud’s products and the certification process.

So, whilst Google recommends 1 or more years’ experience, the certification is still achievable without the experience if you’re prepared to put in your own effort. But if you’re working with GCP day in, day out it definitely helps!

Below are my recommendations on how best to prepare for the Professional Cloud Architect exam based on my experiences with this and other GCP certifications.

Read and become familiar with the exam guide

My first piece of advice is to review the Google Cloud Professional Cloud Architect exam guide to get an understanding of the topics in scope of the exam and the associated case studies.

The Professional Cloud Architect certification has 4 case studies (these had been updated between my first exam and recertification exam 2 years later with new case studies). The exam consists of 50-60 multiple choice questions, ~25% are focussed on the case studies (usually on 2 of 4 case studies) and the rest can be on anything else within scope of the exam guide.

Case Studies

It’s key to have a good understanding of each case study before going into the exam. You don’t want to be wasting time reading the case studies for each question.

When you’re studying the case studies start to identify what products match the requirements of each, and what constraints you have to work within.

I found drafting high level architecture diagrams and noting why certain products are better suited over others helped identifying the correct answers for some questions, or narrowing down the scope of possible answers to one or two. Whilst you can’t take any study notes with you for the exam, having already thought-out various architectures helps you recall them and identify correct answers more efficiently.

Recommended training material and courses for Google Cloud Professional Cloud Architect certification including practice exam question sources.

  • Google Cloud Skills Boost learning path for Cloud Architect
  • Coursera Preparing for Google Cloud Certification: Cloud Architect Professional Certificate training
  • ACloudGuru Google Certified Professional Cloud Architect training
  • Google Cloud Documentation
  • Google Cloud Solutions
  • Priyanka Vergadia aka The Cloud Girl

Google Cloud Skills Boost Learning Path: Cloud Architect

Google Cloud Skills Boost Cloud Architect Learning Path is an online self-paced training course. The content is presented in a series of eight courses covering the areas included within the exam guide, and a series of Quests providing lab scenarios for you to practice and gain hands-on experience. Each course has several modules consisting of a series of videos, labs and an end of module quiz to assess your understanding of the content covered.

The platform also enables you to play the videos at a faster speed, enabling you to reduce the time to complete the course and speed through areas you are already familiar with.

The learning path covers enough depth on each of the areas to prepare you for the exam- however if there are some areas or concepts that still don’t make sense, I recommend doing some further research on these areas until you feel comfortable with the material covered. Simply performing a Google search usually returns a plethora of YouTube videos or articles covering the topics in greater detail.

Whilst this learning path was all I used for preparation myself, I’ve also documented some other resources below that I have found useful in preparing for other Google Cloud certifications that may help you on your journey to Professional Cloud Architect certification.

Coursera Preparing for Google Cloud Certification: Cloud Architect Professional Certificate training

The Coursera platform offers a training course tailored to the Google Cloud Professional Cloud Architect certification. The first time I studied for the PCA certification in 2019, I used Coursera. However more recently, for recertification and for other exams I have been using the Google Cloud Skills Boost partner platform for studying and/or ACloudGuru due to subscriptions available via my employer. Having briefly scanned a few Coursera offerings vs the Cloud Skills Boost offering, it appears the content for Professional Cloud Architect looks to be the same as both are created by Google Cloud running on each platform. Coursera.

It’s worthwhile frequently checking these platforms as they often have promotions including free training materials for those who don’t already have access via employer or personal subscriptions.

ACloudGuru Google Cloud Professional Cloud Architect training

The ACloudGuru platform also offers a Google Cloud Professional Cloud Architect online training course.

Caution: ensure you use the updated course I’ve linked to above as ACloudGuru also has a legacy Professional Cloud Architect certification from 2020 that is no longer relevant.

I have completed many ACloudGuru training courses in the past and highly recommend them for their quality of content, depth of coverage, opportunities for hands-on practice labs and providing a wide range of practice test questions. For the Professional Cloud Architect, there is 23 hours of content, 14 hands on labs, 9 course quizzes and 3 practice exams for you to assess your preparedness for the exam. Furthermore, ACloudGuru also offer Cloud Playground/Sandboxes providing you with access to a GCP project for ~4 hours to gain real hands-on experience on Google Cloud Platform without the constraints associated with the lab environments covered in training courses.

ACloudGuru logo

ACloudGuru Google Professional Cloud Architect Course

Google Cloud Documentation

I’m a big fan of Google Cloud Documentation. There are documentation pages for each Google product, providing overviews, getting started guides, code samples, and the Cloud Architecture Framework and Cloud Architecture Center for further guidance and best practices. Reading the associated product documentation pages after completing training courses helps to further embed your knowledge and clarify any points you may still be struggling with.

Google Cloud Solutions

Google Cloud Solutions provides a vast range of QuickStart’s and tutorials to guide you through, and provide hands on experience with Google Cloud’s products and services. These tutorials prove invaluable providing additional experience working with some of the services you may be less familiar with.

Priyanka Vergadia aka The Cloud Girl

For those who benefit more from visual learning- Priyanka Vergadia aka The Cloud Girl has created an excellent collection of sketchnotes covering a wide range of Google Cloud products, services, and concepts in an easy to digest format.

Example sketchnote for Google Cloud compute options from Priyanka Vergadia

Example sketchnote for Google Cloud Compute Options from Priyanka Vergadia

The sketchnotes have been released as a book titled Visualising Google Cloud which is a handy reference for getting to grips with Google Cloud’s products and concepts for the Professional Cloud Architect and subsequent associate and professional exams. It is also a handy reference to have for day-to-day use as you are learning more about Google Cloud’s offerings.

Priyanka regularly posts videos on her social media channels including various Cloud Bytes videos covering Google Cloud products in under a minute, and has her own blogs on Medium.

Review the exam guide (yes, again!)

Once you have completed all the training materials, review the exam guide again. This time you should feel more confident in your level of knowledge for each topic. If there are still topics in the guide you don’t feel comfortable with, spend more time focussing on these, revisiting the content in the training courses, or researching the content in Google docs, and YouTube videos etc.

Take the Google Cloud Professional Cloud Architect practice exam

Once you are feeling confident you understand all the concepts covered in the exam guide, it’s time to do a practice test. Google provides a free practice test consisting of 15 questions to mimic the type of question you may see on the exam.

Complete the practice exam as a closed book exam- don’t allow yourself to search for answers, or review study material prior to answering. It’s key to see how well you are performing and highlight areas of weakness you may need to improve prior to booking the real exam.

At the end of the practice exam, review all the questions including those you have got right and read the feedback provided by Google for each answer. This feedback clarifies why a particular answer is correct, and why others are incorrect, further consolidating your understanding of the subject. For any answers you are still unclear about, or if you feel the feedback doesn’t help you to understand why a particular answer is correct, spend more time revisiting the associated topic on one of the available training platforms or YouTube videos.

Unfortunately, the Google Cloud practice exams only consist of 15 questions. ACloudGuru training courses usually have a good question bank for each certification, so it’s worthwhile going through these in a similar manner to measure your performance and assess readiness for the certification.

Google Cloud Professional Cloud Architect Exam Strategy and Tips

Perform the first iteration of the exam quickly, answering the questions you are confident you know the answer for. If you don’t know the answer to a question, mark it for review at the end and try to rule out any incorrect answers from those available. Typically, there are a couple of answers that may be correct, however a subtle word within the question usually makes one of the answers a better fit than the others.

Once you complete your first iteration, review your marked questions, and spend more time on them accordingly. By taking this approach you can determine how long you can spend your remaining time on these tougher questions as you know how many you marked for review. You may also get lucky and find a later question on the exam helps you to identify the answer to a previous question you were unsure on either directly or indirectly by triggering a memory of some detail that earlier escaped you!

Upon completion of the exam, a provisional pass or fail is displayed on the screen. Look out for it, if it’s your first Google Cloud certification you can quite easily miss it as for whatever reason, it’s not highlighted particularly well! Google subsequently confirms the pass/failure within 7-10 days’ time (although it’s often sooner!).

How to book the Google Cloud Professional Cloud Architect exam

The Google Cloud Professional Cloud Architect exam can be booked via Kryterion test centres on the webassessor website. The exam can be taken in a test centre, or via a remote proctored exam monitored via a web camera and microphone.

Kryterion logo

Kryterion Test Centres Logo

Since covid I have been taking advantage of the remote proctored exams for convenience. The nearest test centre to me was around 1 hour away. There are a various system requirements for online proctoring. This includes installing a secure browser application, and disabling various components that may interfere with the remote proctoring such as firewalls, anti-virus, pop up blockers etc. For this reason, Kryterion recommends you use a personal device for the exam. There is a system checker available to test internet speed, microphone, and webcam functionality here.

Kryterion requires you to enrol in biometrics and create a biometrics profile which is used to identify yourself digitally based on facial characteristics. Each time you launch an exam, a biometric check is performed to validate you match your biometric profile. You can launch the remote proctored exam 10 minutes before your scheduled exam time. However, during busy times you may find you are waiting around for up to 30 minutes for a proctor to join and ‘secure the testing environment.’ This consists of displaying your government issued ID to the proctor, and then providing a 360-degree view of the room, and your clear desk to the proctor.

Once they are happy the room is secure, your exam is started. The proctor monitors you via the webcam and microphone and will pause the exam if there are any issues and contact you via the secure browser chat functionality. This has happened to me once when the proctor advised my video stream had stopped working mid-exam. The exam was paused whilst my laptop restarted, and the proctor verified the stream was working again.

On a second occasion, the proctor advised my video stream wasn’t working before the exam had started- a reboot failed to resolve the issue and I was advised to contact Kryterion support. This wasn’t the greatest start to the exam, as I was now past my scheduled start time, however support were able to reschedule the exam to begin as soon a i had finished troubleshooting the issue with them, or I could book it for another day if it was no longer convenient.

It is best to book your exam ahead of time, as this gives you a date to work towards completing study and revision and helps ensure you get to choose a date/time that suits you best. If you leave booking the exam until after you finish your studying, you may find there aren’t as many convenient times available as you would like. If you find yourself in this position, check back regularly as I’ve seen a lot of times that were not available when checking the previous day, become available a day or two later. Provided you give at least 24 hours’ notice, you are free to reschedule your exam to another time if for any reason you are not ready.

How long is the Google Cloud Professional Cloud Architect exam?

The PCA exam is a two hour exam during which you will need to answer 50-60 multiple choice and multiple select questions. There are also four case studies included in the exam- typically two case studies are included within your questions. I find I typically go through the exam in just over an hour, before revisiting each question and those I have marked for review in the remaining 50 minutes or so. For this reason, it is beneficial to be familiar with the case studies and what products are best suited prior to sitting the exam to maximise the time you have answering questions vs reading and understanding long case studies.

How long is the Google Cloud Professional Cloud Architect certification valid?

The PCA certification is valid for 2 years. You can recertify 60 days prior to certification expiration.

How much does the Google Cloud Professional Cloud Architect exam cost?

The Google Cloud Professional Cloud Architect exam costs $200 USD.

Do I need to be able to code or script to pass the Professional Cloud Architect Exam?

There is no requirement to code or script to pass the Google Cloud Professional Cloud Architect exam, however I recommend you are familiar with the names of the Google Cloud command line tools available as part of the SDK including gcloud, gsutil, bq, kubectl etc. and the associated products they are used to configure etc.

Thanks for taking the time to read this blog, I hope you find it useful in preparing for the Google Cloud Professional Cloud Architect certification. Please feel free to share, subscribe to be alerted to future posts, follow me on LinkedIn, and react/comment below!

Do reach out if you would like me to cover any particular areas of Google Cloud products, concepts or certifications in future posts.