Passing the AZ-300

Hello all!

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.

  1. I first start with referencing the official exam requirements.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. During the entirety of the learning process I will build out labs to get a feel for implementation and operation of the products.
  5. 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.
  6. 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 UdemyScott 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.

Thanks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Experience Passing AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner Exam

Welcome back my fellow geeks!

Today I’m going to interrupt the series on AWS Managed Microsoft AD   For the past few weeks, in between writing the entries for the recent deep dive series, I’ve been preparing for the AWS Cloud Practitioner exam.  I thought it would be helpful to share my experience prepping for and passing the exam.

If you’re not familiar with the AWS Certificated Cloud Practitioner exam, it’s very much an introductory exam into the Amazon Web Services’ overarching architecture and products.  Amazon’s intended audience for the certification are your C-levels, sales people, and technical people who are new to the AWS stack and potentially cloud in general.  It’s very much an inch deep and mile wide.  For those of you who have passed your CISSP, the experience studying for it similar (although greatly scaled down content-wise) in that you need to be able to navigate the shallow end of many pools.

Some of you may be asking yourselves why I invested my time in getting an introductory certificate rather than just going for the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate.  The reason is my personal belief that establishing a solid foundation in a technology or product is a must.  I’ve encountered too many IT professionals with a decade more of experience and a hundred certificates to their name who can’t explain the basics of the OSI model or the difference in process between digitally signing something versus encrypting it.  The sign of a stellar IT professional is one who can start at the business justification for an application and walk you right down through the stack to speak to the technology standards being leveraged within the application to deliver its value.  This importance in foundation is one reason I recommend every new engineer start out by taking the CompTIA A+, Network+, and Security+ exams.  You won’t find exams out there that better focus on foundational concepts than CompTIA exams.

The other selling point of this exam to me was the audience it’s intended for.  Who wouldn’t want to know the contents and messaging in an exam intended for the C-level?  Nothing is more effective influencing the C-level than speaking the language they’re familiar with and pushing the messaging you know they’ve been exposed to.

Let me step off this soapbox and get back to my experience with the exam.  🙂

As I mentioned above I spent about two weeks preparing for the exam.  My experience with the AWS stack was pretty minimal prior to that restricted to experience for my prior blogs on Azure AD and AWS integration for SSO and provisioning and Microsoft Cloud App Security integration with AWS.  As you can tell from the blog, I’ve done a fair amount of public cloud solutions over the past few years, just very minimally AWS.  The experience in other public cloud solutions such as Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform (GCP) proved hugely helpful because the core offerings are leveraging similar modern concepts (i.e. all selling computer, network, and storage).  Additionally, the experiences I’ve had over my career with lots of different infrastructure gave me the core foundation I needed to get up and running.  The biggest challenge for me was really learning the names of all the different offerings, their use cases, and their capabilities that set them apart from the other vendors.

For studying materials I followed most of the recommendations from Amazon which included reviews of a number of whitepapers.  I had started the official Amazon Cloud Practitioner Essentials course (which is free by the way) but didn’t find the instructors engaging enough to keep my attention.  I ended up purchasing a monthly subscription to courses offered by A Cloud Guru which were absolutely stellar and engaging at a very affordable monthly price (something like $29/month).  In addition to the courses I read each of the recommended whitepapers (ended reading a bunch of others as well) a few times each taking notes of key concepts and terminology.  While I was studying for this exam, I also was working on my AWS deep dive which helped to reinforce the concepts by actually building out the services for my own use.

I spent a lot of time diving into the rabbit whole of products I found really interesting (RedShift) as well as reading up on concepts I’m weaker on (big data analytics, modern nosql databases, etc).  That rabbit hole consisted of reading blogs, Wikipedia, and standards to better understand the technical concepts.  Anything I felt would be worthwhile I captured in my notes.  Once I had a good 15-20 pages of notes (sorry all paper this time around), I grabbed the key concepts I wanted to focus on and created flash cards.  I studying the deck of 200 or so flash cards each night as well as re-reading sections of the whitepapers I wanted to familiarize myself with.

For practice exams I used the practice questions Amazon provides as well as the quizzes from A Cloud Guru.  I found the questions on the actual exam more challenging, but the practice question and quizzes were helpful to getting into the right mindset.  The A Cloud Guru courses probably covered a good 85-90% of the material, but I wouldn’t recommend using it was a sole source of study, you need to read those whitepapers multiple times over.  You also need to do some serious hands on because some of the questions do ask you very basic questions about how you do things in the AWS Management Console.

Overall it was a well done exam.  I learned a bunch about the AWS product offerings, the capabilities that set AWS apart from the rest of the industry, and gained a ton of good insight into general cloud architecture and design from the whitepapers (which are really well done).  I’d highly recommend the exam to anyone who has anything to do with the cloud, whether you’re using AWS or not.  You’ll gain some great insight into cloud architecture best practices as well seeing modern technology concepts put in action.

I’ll be back with the next entry in my AWS Managed Microsoft AD series later this week.  Have a great week and thanks for reading!