Azure certification: The view from the street

Stop Press – All change for Azure Certification

Azure Certification Badge

Azure Certification Badge

When the original Azure certification and training programme was released back in 2014, the cloud world was a very different place. Adoption was low, cloud skills were lower, and cloud job roles were as yet undefined. The landscape in 2018 is very different.

In 2014 the first Azure two courses and exams were released and focussed on developer and infrastructure skills. Early in 2015 Microsoft introduced the final part of its initial Azure trilogy, the architecture exam, and if you were lucky or clever enough to pass all three exams, then you achieved the heady heights of a Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer. Currently, pass two of the three, and you become a Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate. A single additional pass of an elective exam gains you the title of Microsoft Expert. All these exams sit within the Cloud Platform and Infrastructure track of the Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert. Finally, if any of these are the first time you’ve passed a Microsoft exam, you also add Microsoft Certified Professional to your list of certifications.

Confused? Stay with me.

This new job role–based programme should clear that up.

I have been a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) for longer than I care to remember, my first Microsoft certification being way back in 1998 when Windows NT4 Server was all the rage. In all that time, the one constant has been the rate of change and complexity in the certification programmes on offer.

Well, the time has come for another change. Stick with me! In mid-June this year Microsoft Principal Psychometrician Liberty Munson announced some radical changes to the Azure certification and training programme.

As an MCT Regional Lead for the UK, I can provide feedback directly to the MCT programme manager and the Microsoft Learning leadership team. Almost without exception, the Regional Leads pleaded for meaningful change rather than change for change’s sake.

At this point I need to come clean. I write exam items for Microsoft certifications and I write courseware for Microsoft Official Courses, I have taken well over 150 technical certification exams, and I regularly teach a wide range of Microsoft technologies. I thought it might be helpful to hear an overview of the new Azure certifications from someone who writes the exams, teaches the courses, and takes the exams (at least, the ones he doesn’t write). I ought to add that I am not a Microsoft employee and am free to pass on constructive criticism in public and private.

If you read the blog post from Liberty referenced above, you will know that there are currently three exams in wide-scale beta-test phase. All three of these exams relate to the newly announced Azure Administrator certification. (Note no MCSA, MCSE, or other titles.) The release of these exams heralds a complete change in the way Microsoft is offering certification and is definitely not change for the sake of change.

So, what, why, and how?

For several years it has been obvious to me that the content of all the Microsoft Azure certification exams does not reflect the actual job that any individual will be asked to perform. Even the new Azure Data Management and Analytics Exams have some pretty broad objective domain lists. The head honchos at Microsoft Learning have been building this new programme for many months and released the first job role certification path at the recent Inspire conference.

So I introduce to you the Azure Administrator certification. There are two exams required to get to this level of certification, if you have not already certified in Azure Infrastructure (Exam 70-533). These exams are AZ-100 and AZ-101. On successful completion of both exams, you will become a certified Azure Administrator.

Azure 100 Certification

Azure 100 Certification

If you have already passed Exam 70-533, you can take a transition exam (AZ-102), but not for much longer—only for a three- or four-month period, after which you would need to start again with AZ-100 and AZ-101.

To get to this point, there have been many sessions to identify what exactly an Azure Administrator should do in their day-to-day job. The results are a much more refined and narrow exam objective domain.

I was involved in the authoring of Exam AZ-101, so I haven’t taken that one, but I did take AZ-100 and AZ-102 a couple of days after they were released. I won’t know my results for a few weeks but that wasn’t why I took them.

Prior to taking these new exams, I retook 70-533 and 70-535 to recertify. (After four years, the new Azure looks and works nothing like the old one.) Retaking these exams also helped me to identify the differences in the two new exams.

When I take a certification exam, I always take advantage of the online proctored version. This means I can sit at home and take the exam when and where I want (for the same price).

AZ-100: Microsoft Azure Infrastructure and Deployment focusses on the following major objectives:

  • Manage Azure subscriptions and resources (15-20%)
  • Implement and manage storage (20-25%)
  • Deploy and manage virtual machines (VMs) (20-25%)
  • Configure and manage virtual networks (20-25%)
  • Manage identities (15-20%)

Note how much slimmer this exam is. It drills down into specific, basic tasks necessary to deploy infrastructure in Azure. In addition, the deep dive on Azure AD and how to manage subscriptions and resources provides a rounded set of jobs that an administrator needs to know.

AZ-101: Microsoft Azure Integration and Security covers a number of different technologies and concepts:

  • Evaluate and perform server migration to Azure (15-20%)
  • Implement and manage application services (20-25%)
  • Implement advanced virtual networking (30-35%)
  • Secure identities (25-30%)

When added together, these sets of skills enable the successful candidate to declare himself or herself a certified Azure Administrator. The difficulty with all cloud-based technologies though is that two days after qualifying, things will have changed. It is a constant quest for current knowledge.

I cannot comment on Exam AZ-101, as I authored some of it, but I can comment on the other two and I found them to be a much more sensible, balanced, and focussed set of questions that have real-world application in a specific job role.

I am looking forward to teaching the AZ-100 syllabus when the courses are released in the autumn (which is “UK-speak” for fall). This change of focus from technology to job role means that it is much easier to decide which course to attend. I have often found the need to customise courses, since a lot of delegates used to say they would never need technology X but hoped to instead cover technology Y.

I look forward to hearing much more about the new certifications and processes at Ignite this year. If you are attending, come and see me at one of my sessions. This year I am speaking on Windows Server 2016 and how to stay relevant in a cloud-based world.

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