Mark Patton

#Microsoft #Azure

Microsoft Certified Azure Solutions Architect Expert

It was just a few weeks ago when I successfully achieved my Azure Solutions Architect Expert certification. This was two exams in length, notably:

  • Microsoft Azure Architect Technologies (AZ-300); and,
  • Microsoft Azure Architect Design (AZ-301).

From late March / early April, AZ-300 will become AZ-303; and, AZ-301 will become AZ-304

These weren’t the first Microsoft exams I had taken and hopefully not the last. The maturity of the these exams, compared with many moons ago, is simply remarkable. The most impressive part came in the final exam, AZ-301. I wasn’t asked to define or build any Azure resources, like with AZ-103, but was asked to determine the answer to a number of questions (18 in fact – 2 labs) based on my ability to understand various Resource Types and Services native to Azure.

A basic example: you might be given a depicted architecture and asked to determine the minimum recovery-point of data for a given resource, say a VM data disk, or Azure Database for MySql. This requires you to understand, not how to navigate the portal, but the type of services and resources by which you start to investigate and determine the answer based on evidence, just like you would with a customer. This example focuses on your knowledge of Azure and how NFR’s are, and can be, achieved.

The reason I like this, is that, no one can simply memorise dumps for these exams… and pass! At least not without hands-on experience of Azure. This brings real value and credibility to the certification and those who have earned it.

One of the many stand-out questions I have received is what preparation did I make prior to sitting the exams. It’s with this in mind I would like to address those who have asked this question and give what I would hope is a sense of proportion and realism to those who are looking to obtain the certification.

…Expert level certification

Microsoft have their certifications aligned in three levels:

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  • Fundamentals – entry-level covering basic concepts
  • Associate – more technical, mid-level
  • Expert – aimed at experienced professionals

As you can see, if you are aiming to obtain an Expert certification it’s highly recommended that you have had significant Azure experience. This can be demonstrated by obtaining the Associate level exam, however, it’s not a prerequisite to obtain an Associate exam prior to taking the Azure Solutions Architect Expert exams. For sure, without exposure to Azure, this will be a difficult certification to achieve.

Who should take the exam?

Microsoft advise that this certification is designed for individuals “who advise stakeholders and translates business requirements into secure, scalable, and reliable solutions“.

Candidates taking the exams should have advanced knowledge in a range of areas within IT, not just in Azure. Some examples include networking, virtualization, identity, security, business continuity, disaster recovery, data management, budgeting, and governance. As an Architect you will be expected to manage how decisions in each area affect an overall solution.

Microsoft go on to state, “Candidates must be proficient in Azure administration, Azure development, and DevOps, and have expert-level skills in at least one of those domains“.

Skills tested in the exams

Rather than list each area that the certification covers, here are a couple of links to the Skills Outline for the two exams.

Firstly, AZ-300:

AZ-301:

How to Prepare…

This was probably the biggest area of conversation within my LinkedIn chat since my original post.

Q: “What videos did you watch?”

A: None

Q: “What!? So how did you prepare?”

The reality is that there are very few videos that will be fit to prepare you for this exam. Most are too light-weight. They aren’t detailed enough. Going back to the audience of this exam, most of your learning will have already occurred – from experience. However, to supplement this, study is necessary but you do not have to pay for online videos. Below is what I would count among some of the best materials available – the ‘Learning Paths’ – these are free resources following the Skills Outline, produced directly from Microsoft:

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Each of these sections will take you through the areas you need to prepare for the exam. Additionally, most modules will have some degree of a hands on lab (this opens a Sandbox subscription) which takes you through various Azure native resource and services – you are guided through these via a series of scenarios which an Architect would find applicable, followed a few questions to test knowledge.

The link below will take you to the ‘Learning Paths’:

To give you a flavour of what the modules contain, below is an example which focuses on building a WebApp based on a Docker image:

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These materials, coupled with experience of Azure, will go a long way to preparing to take these exams.

If you would like to know more about this or other Microsoft exams and certifications, please feel free to get in touch via LinkedIn chat.

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