The cloud as we know it today is well over a decade old. It's everywhere. It's a part of and powers many (if not most of or all) services we use today. It's not going away any time soon.
Where and How Did I Get Started?
My journey began five years ago when my employer at the time announced a large resource action across the entire IT organization. I was working on the Digital Workplace team supporting SharePoint and Yammer on the company’s Microsoft 365 environment.
As that resource action moved forward, I was informed that my role in the organization was changing. I would be moved to a Senior Cloud Engineer role on the newly formed Cloud Hosting Team. To be completely honest, I was pissed. I enjoyed the area I was working in and had great relationships with everyone on my team. I was also given no information on or expectations of what the new team would be responsible for.
Looking back, I can now say that this “unfortunate” event was the best thing that could have happened to my career. It allowed me to take a completely different path, gain knowledge in the cloud space and set me up for future success.
Why Microsoft Azure?
The answer is quite simple. My employer at the time decided to use Azure as their primary cloud provider. We set out to build a replacement for an on-premises data center that the company had decided to shut down. Six hundred applications and five thousand virtual machine migrations later we were well on our way to being a “Cloud First Organization”.
Why Get Certified?
I’d been working in the IT industry for a little over 20 years and working in the cloud for over three when I decided it was time to get certified. Honestly, I never put much stock in certifications. The fiasco that was the MCSE rush in the early 2000’s turned me off. My experience with MCSE’s was that many could study and memorize enough to pass an exam but had little knowledge of how to perform the tasks required for their jobs.
What changed my mind? I heard from trusted colleagues that had taken the exams – Microsoft was focusing on real world knowledge rather than just expecting memorized answers. Four passed exams later, I believe that certification will help:
Challenge Yourself: Passing an exam and receiving a certification provides a sense of achievement. You can build skills within an organization, but industry-recognized certification provides confidence that your skills are aligned with industry best practice. Certification gives permission to genuinely regard yourself as an expert (or at least on your way).
Prove Your Knowledge: Your coworkers should know your skills and know that you’re good at what you do. Recognition from your peers is important but you also need your skills to be visible to those that don’t know you yet. Imagine you’re about to start working on a project for a client or with a partner company. It’s important that they see you as a recognized expert. Certification from a recognized and respected external source helps you establish credibility and sends a message to your future partners (and employers) that they can trust your skills and opinion.
Get Recognized as a Pro: Everyone I know says they take their careers seriously, but when push comes to shove many make excuses when it comes to taking time to achieve a certification. Certification proves your knowledge and your commitment. You put yourself forward as ambitious and driven to become the best you can be in a specific domain. Certification can also open the door to opportunities that you never knew existed (e.g., communities, speaking opportunities, job opportunities, etc.).
For the last two years, I have spent my days as a Cloud Solution Architect. This made the decision on what path to take obvious:
AZ-900 > AZ-104 > AZ-303 > AZ-304
AZ-900 – Microsoft Azure Fundamentals
Many would say that I wasted my time taking the AZ-900 exam given my five years of Azure experience. I completely disagree. I wanted to get a feel for how Microsoft certification exams were set up. I wanted to get actual experience taking an exam (especially because I would be taking the exam remotely). I wanted a quick win and did not want to spend weeks on end studying. Taking this exam was well worth the experience. Passing provided me with the push I needed to start my Azure Certification Journey.
AZ-104 – Microsoft Azure Administrator
I spent my first two years working in Azure as a Cloud Engineer and wanted to continue to build my certification momentum. I wanted to have another exam taking experience and figured that this exam would also not require me to study for more than a week or two. I spent an hour or two studying and doing labs in the evenings every other day for about two weeks. I found the exam to be tougher than expected due to the number of Azure AD and Identity questions that I was given. Passing provided me with even more confidence to continue.
AZ-303 – Microsoft Azure Architect Technologies
My day job for the past two years has been as a Cloud Solution Architect. When I decided to prepare for this exam, I figured that my experience would provide a good base of knowledge to build on. I spent an hour or two studying and doing labs in the evenings every other day for about a month. By all measures, this was a tough exam. My nemesis topic – Azure AD & Identity – tried to bring me down once again. Another passed exam down and one away from the end goal.
AZ-304 – Microsoft Azure Architect Design
I started to prepare for this exam the week after I passed the AZ-303 exam looking to capitalize on my previous studying and passed exam momentum. Once again, for a month I spent an hour or two studying and doing labs in the evenings every other day. I found this exam to be a bit easier than the architect technologies exam (which seems to go against the prevailing opinion).
How to Prepare?
I had all intentions of writing about how I prepared for each exam in this post. What resources I used to study, where I found relevant labs, etc. I very quickly realized that this is simply too much information for a single post. Keep an eye out for additional posts on this topic.
I’m already looking to continue with additional certifications. Next on the list:
- AZ-500: Microsoft Azure Security Technologies
- AZ-400: Designing and Implementing Microsoft DevOps Solutions
I would encourage anyone working in Azure to pursue certification. It is a fantastic way to gain new knowledge, build confidence and open doors for future opportunities.