Over the past year I’ve been buried in Amazon Web Services (AWS), learning the platform, and working through the certification paths. As part of my new role at Microsoft, I’ve been given the opportunity to pursue the Microsoft Certified: Azure Solutions Architect Expert. In the world of multi-cloud who doesn’t want to learn multiple platforms? 🙂
The Microsoft Certified: Azure Solutions Architect Expert certification is part of Microsoft’s new set of certifications. If you’re already familiar with the AWS Certification track, the new Microsoft track is very similar in that it has three paths. These paths are Developer, Administrator, and Architect. Each path consists of two exams, again similar to AWS’s structure of Associate and Professional.
Even though the paths are similar the focus and structure of the first tier of exams for the Microsoft exams differ greatly from the AWS Associate exams. The AWS exams are primarily multiple choice while the Microsoft first level of exams consists of multiple choice, drag and drop, fill in the blank, case studies, and emulated labs. Another difference between the two is the AWS exams focus greatly on how the products work and when and where to use each product. The Microsoft first level exams focus on those topics too, but additionally test your ability to implement the technologies.
When I started studying for the AZ-300 – Microsoft Azure Architect Technologies two weeks I had a difficult time finding good study materials because the exam is so new and has changed a few times since Microsoft released it last year. Google searches brought up a lot of illegitimate study materials (brain dumps) but not much in the way of helpful materials beyond the official Azure documentation. After passing the exam this week, I wanted to give back to the community and provide some tips, links, and the study guide I put together to help prepare for the exam.
To prepare for an exam I have a standard routine.
- I first start with referencing the official exam requirements.
- From there, I take one or two on-demand training classes. I watch each lesson in a module at 1.2x speed (1x always seems to slow which I think is largely due to living in Boston where we tend to talk very quickly). I then go back through each module at 1.5x to 2.0x taking notes on paper. I then type up the notes and organize them into topics.
- Once I’m done with the training I’ll usually dive deep into the official documentation on the subjects I’m weak on or that I find interesting.
- During the entirety of the learning process I will build out labs to get a feel for implementation and operation of the products.
- I wrap it up by adding the additional learnings from the public documentation and labs into my digital notes. I then pull out the key concepts from the digital notes and write up flash cards to study.
- Practice makes perfect and for that I will leverage legitimate practice exams (braindumps make the entire exercise a pointless waste of time and degrade the value of the certification) like those offered from MeasureUp.
Yes, I’m a bit nuts about my studying process but I can assure you it works and you will really learn the content and not just memorize it.
From a baseline perspective, my experience with Microsoft’s cloud services were primarily in Azure Active Directory and Azure Information Protection. For Azure I had built some virtual networks with virtual machines in the past, but nothing more than that. I have a pretty solid foundation in AWS and cloud architectural patterns which definitely came in handy since the base offerings of each of the cloud providers are fairly similar.
For on-demand training A Cloud Guru has always been my go to. Unfortunately, their Azure training options aren’t as robust as the AWS offerings, but Nick Coyler’s AZ-300 course is solid. It CANNOT be your sole source of material but as with most training from the site, it will give you the 10,000 ft view. Once I finished with A Cloud Guru, I moved on to Udemy. Scott Duffy’s AZ-300 course does not have close to the detail of Nick’s course, but provides a lot more hands-on activities that will get you working with the platform via the GUI and the CLI. Add both courses together and you’ll cover a good chunk of the exam.
The courses themselves are not sufficient to pass the exam. They will give you the framework, but docs.microsoft.com is your best friend. There is the risk you can dive more deep into the product than you need to, but reference back to the exam outline to keep yourself honest. Hell, worst case scenario is you learn more than you need to learn. 🙂 Gregor Suttie put together a wonderful course outline with links to the official documentation that will help you target key areas of the public documentation.
Perhaps most importantly, you need to lab. Then lab again. Lab once more, and then another time. Run through the Quickstarts and Tutorials on docs.microsoft.com. Get your hands dirty with the CLI, PowerShell, and the Portal. You don’t have to be an expert, but you’ll want to understand the basics and the general syntax of both the CLI and PowerShell. You will have fully interactive labs where you’ll need to implement the products given a set of requirements.
Finally, I’ve added the study guides I put together to my github. I make no guarantees that the data is up to date or even that there aren’t mistakes in some of the content. Use it as an artifact to supplement your studies as you prepare your own study guide.
Summing it up, don’t just look at the exam as a piece of virtual paper. Look at it as an opportunity to learn and grow your skill set. Take the time to not just memorize, but understand and apply what you learn. Be thankful you work an industry where things change and provides you with the opportunity to learn something new and exercise that big brain of yours.
I wish you the best of luck in your studies and if you have additional materials or a website you’ve found helpful, please comment below.