Where Do I Start with the Cloud? Part 1 - Microsoft Azure

If you are looking to gain focus on cloud technologies, the first step and question that you must ask yourself if “Where do I Start?”

There are different avenues that you can take to become

Generalist: with the foundational understanding in multiple clouds Fundamentals/Practitioners: where you get the base level certification available for the cloud providers Associate: the first level technical certification. Expert/Professional: the highest level technical certification Specialty: take a path specific to the technology area that you are generally focused.

This article will provide some thoughts around each of these areas for each of the cloud providers. This insight will hopefully assist you in carving your own path and focus on growth in the cloud. In later posts, I will provide my thoughts around certifications, the “what’s in it for me” and “do organizations value them”.

For now, we will focus on each of the providers options for gaining knowledge and certifications. This post will focus on Microsoft Azure.

Microsoft Azure

I have written primarily about Azure on this site. The reason for this is that I have focused a good portion of my professional development on Azure for the past year+. I have provided detailed information on this site of my certification journey (part 1 and part 2), how it shaped 2019 for me, and how it is shaping my plans for 2020. I will keep this section brief, but there are some specific areas of focus to the 5 points above.

Azure Generalist: If you want to simply learn cloud basics, Azure basics, and Azure services in an overview format, then Microsoft Learn provides some great free materials here. There are learning paths on just about every service area, focused role, and technology, including Azure, M365, and D365. ALL FREE!!!! Azure Fundamentals will provide you with the general background of all Azure services as well as the basis of cloud technologies and terminology. These resources can also be used for preparation for exams, but if you are just wanting to learn new technologies, this is the place to go first in Microsoft. Azure Fundamentals: Once you have gone through the wealth of free resources on Microsoft Learn, you may be feeling ambitious about sitting for your Azure Fundamentals exam. This is the first certification along the Azure Apps and Infrastructure path (the full diagram of certification paths is below and also available here). The Azure Fundamental certification exam tests you on your understanding of cloud technologies and the use/benefits of the various Azure services. When you review the path diagram, you will notice that this exam is listed as “optional” for all of the learning paths. It is not required to pass this exam if you are planning to go on to Associate, Expert, or Specialty paths, but it is a good start to become familiar with the Microsoft exam format and show that you have a strong foundation to discuss Azure services.

Azure Associate: Here is where you begin to get serious. The Associate certifications for Azure are Role-based certifications. You may find that some of these fit better into the “Specialty” category, especially if you are more familiar with AWS certification paths. Microsoft has instead categorized these exams into the functional areas of Apps and Infrastructure, Data and AI, Modern Workplace, and Business Applications. Azure services all fall into the Apps and Infrastructure, and Data and AI areas. There are six certifications within these Associate areas: Azure Administrator, Azure Developer, Azure Security Engineer, Azure Data Scientist, Azure Data Engineer (only Associate certification that requires two exams), and Azure AI Engineer. Preparing for these exams can be accomplished by using Microsoft Learn resources, along with other third party training resources from Microsoft, Skylines Academy, Opsgility/SkillMeUp, Software Architects, A Cloud Guru/Linux Academy, Udemy, and many others.

Azure Expert: You may decide that you want to go beyond Associate certifications and become an Azure Expert. There are two Azure Expert paths: DevOps and Solutions Architect. Both of these paths require the passing of two exams. However, the Solutions Architect is a stand-alone certification without an Associate exam prerequisite. DevOps requires you to have passed the Azure Administrator OR the Azure Developer Associate exams.

Azure Specialty: When we talk about AWS, this section is going to look much different. Azure has just started to launch what they call Specialty certifications. The two that are currently available are Azure for SAP Workloads, and Azure IoT Developer. At the time of this post, both of these are still in their beta release or close to being released. The IoT Developer can be taken with a discounted beta exam rate until Feb 23, 2020. SAP Workloads beta testing window has closed and the exam should be available at standard exam rates.

No matter what path you choose to take in Azure, make sure that you take advantage of the free resources of Microsoft Learn. There are also many lab exercises available in the Microsoft Learning GitHub. Third party training resources also help to provide a guided learning path for these exams. Some of the recommended ones (as mentioned previously) are: Skylines Academy, Opsgility/SkillMeUp, Software Architects, A Cloud Guru/Linux Academy, Udemy, and many others.

You may have noticed in this article that I did not utilize any exam numbers in this article, only certification names. As you may have seen recently, Microsoft has announced some changes in their exams coming over the next quarter of 2020. The information around this was provided in my post on January 24, 2020. Even though the exam numbers are changing, there is NO affect on the Associate or Expert certifications. One exam number will be transitioned out for the other 90 days after beta release of the new exam. If you are preparing now to take one of these exams, continue to do so. The new exams have not been released into beta. If you obtain a certification now, you will not be required to retake or re-certify until two years from your pass date. Whether they change the exam number or not.

My next article will focus on AWS certification paths. The complete series can be viewed using these links: Where to Start with Azure, AWS, and GCP certifications. Good luck on your cloud certification journey.