The cloud. It’s everywhere and isn’t disappearing any time soon. Regardless of whether you’re a business analyst, enterprise architect, project manager or developer, knowing about cloud will be important to your career. That’s what I observed at ITMAGINATION and it’s what sparked me to embark upon my learning journey with Microsoft Azure at the end of 2018. In this blog post I share my experience.
It might be cliché to say, but cloud is everywhere these days. If it isn’t already the industry standard for creating modern applications (I think it is), then it soon will be. At ITIMAGINATION, we’re seeing many of our clients reap the benefits of going ‘cloud native’ (i.e. building apps directly in the cloud). As a developer of mobile apps using Xamarin (a technology that uses C# and .NET), the topic of cloud had been hovering around my radar for some time. It’s clearly no longer just a technology topic and, today, it’s changing the ways companies do business. Seeing all of this in my day-to-day work at ITMAGINATION, I felt compelled to learn more.
Why Microsoft Azure? Well, as I wrote above, I’m a developer and I make heavy use of the .NET software framework, which was developed by Microsoft. As such, it made sense for me to learn about a cloud platform that is provided by a technology vendor that I’m already familiar with. Also, despite the rise of AWS and Google, and the emergence of ‘cloud native’ services providers like Salesforce, Microsoft remains deeply engrained in the technology ecosystems of the majority of companies. For many of those companies, including the ones that I work with at ITMAGINATION, Azure is a natural choice for cloud. And so it was for me.
Where and how to start with Azure certification
My journey started at the end of November 2018, when I visited the Azure Portal for the first time. If you’re not already aware, there are a lot of Azure services, so it might be a little difficult to know where to start. I spent some time navigating aimlessly around the Azure portal and all the different documentation, before realizing that I would first need a learning plan in order to be efficient in a new, thus-far unknown environment. I eventually landed on Azure certifications, where I found the entry-level exam AZ-900 Microsoft Azure Fundamentals. It felt like the perfect place for me to start.
Why get certified?
Before getting certified, I considered myself to be successful in my career. My developer skills were improving with each project and my career was far from stagnating, yet I felt that certification would provide me with an extra boost. Here’s how I think certification can help you:
- Challenge yourself. Passing the exam and achieving certification provides you with a big confidence boost. One can develop skills within an organization, but industry-recognized certification provides you with reassurance that your skills are aligned to industry best practice. In many ways, certification provides you with the license to genuinely regard yourself as an expert (or at least be on your way to this status).
- Consolidate your knowledge. During your daily work as a developer, you generally learn and use the skills that you need to complete the projects that you’re working on. In this way, your skillset will broaden, and you’ll become better at what you do. But you might not pick up some of the foundational skills, knowledge and theory that might help you become more efficient in your job or help you to understand the technologies that you are using and why things are done in a certain way. This foundational knowledge contributes to you becoming a more-rounded professional.
- Prove your knowledge. The people around you probably know your skills and they know that you’re good at what you do. Recognition from your immediate circle of peers is important but you also need for your skills to be visible to people 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 that you are a recognized expert in a specific domain. Certification from a recognized and respected external source helps you establish credibility and sends a message to your future partners that they can trust your skills and opinion.
- Be recognized as a pro (and all the benefits that come with it) – Most of us say that we take our profession seriously. But certification proves your knowledge and your commitment. You also put yourself forward as ambitious and driven to become the best that you can be in a specific domain. Certification can also open the door to opportunities that you never knew existed (e.g. communities, invitations to participate on projects, or simply being more visible on LinkedIn because you appeared in more search criteria). In a world of ‘fake news’ and ‘creative’ resumé writing, a certification is as solid as it comes.
How to pass AZ-900 Microsoft Azure fundamentals
These days, there are a lot of learning resources that can be used to learn about Azure and prepare yourself for exams. I’ve selected some of the resources (online and offline) that I found most useful when working towards my Azure certification.
Online resources to help you prepare:
- Azure fundamentals learning path on Microsoft Learn. In my opinion, this is the best learning resource of all. It takes you from “I have zero knowledge about cloud and Azure” to “I can work with Azure”. There are also several other Azure-specific topics on Microsoft Learn.
- AZ-900 Azure Exam Prep: Understanding Cloud Concepts and AZ-900 Azure Exam Prep: Understanding Core Azure Services (video courses on Udemy by Thomas Mitchell). These video courses were a nice way to refresh my knowledge after the Azure fundamentals learning path.
- AZ-900: Azure Fundamentals Exam Preparation (blog post by Taygan Rifat). This blog post has nice study notes and is perfect to read just before you sit the exam.
- Certification training session (slides by Daniel Baker, who has a great website). These slides are also perfect to read just before the exam.
- Microsoft Events. Here, you’ll find online and offline events about Microsoft technologies. This link will show you all the online events about Microsoft and cloud happening in the next 30 days. Before I sat my exam, I attended several such events.
Offline resources to help you prepare:
It’s also a good idea to attend local Azure meetups, even if you don’t yet know much or anything about Azure. Personally, I felt like a kid in Poland in the early 90s watching the Cartoon Network in English – I didn’t understand much at the start, but what I saw and heard was cool and made me want to understand more. Meetups will provide you with an opportunity to learn key phrases and find out which topics are ‘hot’. You don’t have to understand them all there, but you can then research independently. Once you know a little more and feel a bit more comfortable in the environment, meetups are a great place to pick the brains of experts and learn more about topics you might be struggling with or that are particularly relevant to your role.
Here are some local meetups in Poland that I recommend:
- Microsoft Azure User Group Poland – this group organizes meetings and workshops in different cities in Poland.
- Stacja IT Warszawa – this group organizes workshops for different technologies.
- Azuronet .NET & Azure Meetup – this group organizes meetings in different cities in Poland.
But perhaps the most important lesson I learned is that you need to use a variety of different learning resources – I don’t think I would have passed AZ-900 Microsoft Azure Fundamentals if I relied on just one source of knowledge.
Preparing for and sitting the AZ-900 Azure Fundamentals exam
Microsoft provides you with details of the knowledge you need to have in order to pass AZ-900. I don’t want to include the complete list in this post because it’s simply too long. The list looks scary at the beginning but the key to success (at least mine) was to study regularly. I devoted 1-2 hours per study session. In my opinion, it’s counter-productive to try to spend more than this much time studying, especially if you are also working during the day and have an active home life. I’m enough of a realist to know that there’s a limit to what can be learned in a short period of time. It’s a marathon, not a sprint – there’s no point overcooking your brain too early in the process.
I decided to sit the exam from my home. To do this, you need to have a microphone and camera and it’s worth being aware that you’ll be watched throughout the duration of the exam. Furthermore, you need to make sure your desk is clean and free from clutter. Also, your entire room will be scanned using your webcam, and you’ll need to show the floor and the ceiling. This might seem draconian, but it shows you that the certification process is taken seriously and that those people that pass the exam and obtain certification do so through a commitment to learning (and not by other means). It’s useful to prepare your space well ahead of your exam so that you can use the last remaining time before the exam to prepare mentally.
Microsoft also provides you with information about the type of questions you can be asked during the exam for AZ-900 (check out the ‘Exam formats and question types’ section). It’s definitely useful to check this out and get familiar with the exam format and question style.
What was my total investment?
I summed up everything – time invested, meetings attended, and costs incurred. In short, my journey to AZ-900 certification looked like this:
- I started at the end of November 2018
- I spent about 100 hours studying
- I attended 4 meetups and 3 workshops
- I paid PLN 281.92 (approximately EUR 65) to sit the exam
- I sat the exam 09 March 2019.
Certification is just the start
For me, achieving certification in AZ-900 Microsoft Azure Fundamentals is just the start of my learning journey. I’m currently now considering a variety of different Microsoft role-based certifications. Having AZ-900 certification isn’t a pre-requisite for me to pursue more certifications, but I definitely feel that having this first certification provides me with the confidence and the right foundation from which to continue my learning and development journey with Azure.
Also, it’s important to recognize that I haven’t suddenly become a world-beating pro, and that there’s still so much more that I can learn. But, thanks to this first step, I’m now so much more familiar and comfortable with concepts like IaaS, PaaS and SaaS, which are important topics to the clients that I work with at ITMAGINATION and to my colleagues. With my new level of familiarity and comfort with these topics, I feel empowered to contribute to the conversation and to add a potentially new perspective.
I have the certificate. Now what?
I think it’s important to take a moment to reflect on what you’ve done and to be proud of yourself. Certification is not supposed to be easy, so if you’ve taken on the challenge and passed, it’s definitely worth celebrating. Once you’ve done that, it’s a great idea to let others know via social media, update your CV and LinkedIn profile. I show off my badge and diploma with pride. Besides, AZ-900 has no expiration date.
I encourage you to pursue certification, because it is an effective and useful way to gain new knowledge, consolidate the knowledge you already have, build your confidence and open the door to more possibilities in the future.
I wish you happy studying and success with your own learning journey. If you’re looking for any further advice, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn.
Author: Damian Antonowicz
Learn it. Know it. Done.