Azure Certifications & Microsoft Learn

This post is broken down into 2 sections, first a little story of certification journey and next how I got most value out of Microsoft Learn to do my certifications. If stories bore you, jump right down to the “How to..”

Story

I started my certification journey back in September 2019 with Azure Fundamentals and as of today I have 4 Azure certifications.

Azure Fundamentals (AZ 900) : Sep 2019

Azure Data Engineer (DP 200 & DP 201) : March 2020

Azure Data Analyst (DA 100) : Sep 2020

Azure Solution Architect (AZ 303 & AZ 304) : February 2021

For all the certifications my main learning source (99%) is Microsoft Learn (MS Learn — https://docs.microsoft.com/ ) and 1% Linux Academy for simulated exams.

Lets start with a little step into, why & how this journey begun.

First the why, I guess this would a common denominator for most of us in IT sector, our organizations wanted us to be cloud educated, to help accelerate the cloud migration and building initiative. That was the simple reason why I looked at Azure certifications.

Now moving on to how the MS Learn journey started, let me start with the problem description, and then rest of the blog will be the solution :). Problem statement(s), “#1 I grasp knowledge better with structured reading than listening to videos, and given these days most of the education parting happens through recorded/live videos, I was struggling with my certification exams preparations. #2 Also, when I started preparing for the exams, I did not have much hands on cloud experience, so the study material was of utmost importance for me to gather this knowledge.”

Now that I have set problem statement, lets dive into how MS Learn helped me solve this.

When I first thought of taking the Azure Fundamentals certification, I looked up the certification page, and as I was trying to understand what do I need to get the AZ 900 certification. As I kept scrolling down the page, there was a neat downloadable “Skills Measured”, [Skills Measured will be a valuable source, so do recommend downloading it]. I must mention, prior to this I had not pursued any MS certifications, so the MS Learn site & MS certification process was all new to me.

Then next, there was a section “Two Ways to Prepare”, where we had “Online — Free” & “Instructor-led — Paid”. Well, we all know how beautiful the word “Free” sounds.

Next, there are labs embedded within several of the lessons. So, I was getting hands on cloud experience [Problem Statement 2] . Several labs don’t even need you to have an Azure subscription and give you a sandbox to work with. Few others, need you to bring your own subscription. For first timers, Microsoft gives $200 credit and 12 months free on several services. If you end up getting to excited with playing with cloud or making some of the novice cloud usage mistakes, the $200 credit is gone in no time :) . Wish MS would have a few more options for the personal cloud subscriptions credit, something like few dollars credit/quarter or bi-annual.

Few others, need you to bring your own subscription. For first timers, Microsoft gives $200 credit and 12 months free on several services. If you end up getting to excited with playing with cloud or making some of the novice cloud usage mistakes, the $200 credit is gone in no time :) . Wish MS would have a few more options for the personal cloud subscriptions credit, something like few dollars credit/quarter or bi-annual.

So, to conclude my story , I have used MS Learn for all my certifications, as 99% of my study and lab practice material. Once I ran out of the free credit, I have been using the Linux Academy playground sandboxes to complete the labs. With all the problem statements addressed, my smooth sailing cloud journey began and is continuing …

This is where the “How to.. “ starts .. [For those who skipped my story]

Step 1 : How to approach “What do I study” question ?

MS Learn site (https://docs.microsoft.com/) can be used for certification learning or even general learning. For certifications, do download the “Skills Measured” [Image 1] and make it your go to reference guide. That has helped me tremendously to stay focused and not go on a tangential path. As the MS Learn site offers so many learning modules and curiosity leads from one module to the other and so, one could easily lose track of what’s actually required.

Next, all the learning paths & modules you need to study for the certification are listed under the “Two Ways to Prepare” -> “Online — Free” section. Each learning path has several modules and under each module are the individual lessons/labs to complete and a short quiz at the end of each module. Each of these lessons and labs give some XP points. From what I understand the XP is just bragging points for achievement, I haven’t been able to figure out any other use for it.

Step 2 : Compiling all the study material

Now that you know what you want to study, you can use the “Collections” feature on MS Learn. On the select learning path, bottom right corner there is plus sign inside a circle [Image above]. With this you can add a learning path or a module to a collection. I like the “Collection” feature, as it lets me compile all the modules I want complete and create like a virtual textbook. I also use this feature to plan & compile what I want to learn next.

Step 3 : Planning time & effort required

Once we have compiled all we need to study in one place, clicking into the collection shows you how much total time you would need to complete these modules and your progress %. [There is some serious satisfaction in reaching 100% :) ] . This information can be used to build a schedule/plan on how to tackle studying with everything else have going on.

Step 4 : Revise

Once all modules are completed, revisit the downloaded “Skills measured” pdf and use that as guide line to revise the topics again from the modules/learning path. This time covering at a faster pace than before. Below is what my timeline looked like for each of the certification looked like. Duration = time window between start studying to giving the exam

AZ 900 ~> 2 weeks

DP 200 & 201 ~> 3 months [The learning module/path covers DP 200 & 201 at the same time, so recommend giving both exams with little gap in between]

DA 100 ~> 2 months

AZ 303 & 304 ~> 4 months

All the hard work put in resulting in a certification definitely feels like nice accomplishment. Some lessons learnt from the certification exam experience :

  1. Do recommend taking the exam patiently and not rushing through the questions. I made this mistake and failed on one of the exam attempts and gave the exam again in 3 days and passed [As I had prepared well and practiced]. Just not reading the questions carefully can make you select a wrong or less suitable solution.
  2. Data Engineer & Data Analyst certification heavily benefitted from my background in working in that space for past 15+ years. The exams test you on Azure knowledge for sure, but the implement/design knowledge surely needs to come from your experience in working in that space. AZ 303 & 304 were very difficult for me and I failed 1 attempt on AZ 303 given I had minimal networking experience, so re-reading the questions and trying to understand the ask clearly, really helped in this case.

The exams are definitely not easy, but if the effort and interest is there, nothing is unachievable.

Good Luck!

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