Pleased to renew my Microsoft 365 Expert Certification

I’ve been Microsoft Certified for a long time, over 25 years and I’m used to going round certain certification cycles several times. With recent developments in IT my certification has been rotating around Microsoft cloud. Despite years of SharePoint my first introduction to cloud was via Microsoft Azure and with the first round of that I earned an MCSE : Cloud Platform and Infrastructure back in 2018.

When I joined my current employer in 2018 they were keen for me to demonstrate my skills across Microsoft cloud (at the time – before PowerPlatform grew like it did) and I followed with MCSE : Productivity Solutions Expert in 2018. (At the time there was an annual renewal process that stamped the year so I followed in 2019).

Fast forward to this year and I just completed the two exams to “renew” my cloud certification and gained Microsoft 365 Certified: Enterprise Administrator Expert. I put this off for a while as my comfort zone is more on the Microsoft Azure side of things but it is handy to know how the so-called “Modern Desktop” side of things works!

https://www.credly.com/badges/b804db41-a19e-4146-96c9-060c5e75f24e/public_url

Passed SC-300: Microsoft Identity and Access Administrator

I’m pleased to say that I recently passed Microsoft Exam SC-300 : Microsoft Identity and Access Administrator and as a result gained Microsoft Certified: Identity and Access Administrator Associate. I think this might be my first single-exam associate certification as all of the rest (including data platform last month) have all been the older style two exam format.

Badge describing Microsoft Certified Identity and Access Administrator
Microsoft Certified Identity and Access Administrator Badge

If this exam is anything to go by then the new set of Security and Compliance Microsoft Exams are a good move to recognise that Microsoft Cloud Architecture needs an understanding of how Azure and Microsoft 365 work together. Unfortunately I still see Enterprises having to remediate choices that came about as a result of Identity being implemented for a workload, then being overtaken as accidental conflicts come about due to narrow assumptions. That said, cloud has a habit of compressing things together as the Cloud Service Provider takes over the roles that had to be undertaken for on-premises!

Passed DP-900: Microsoft Azure Fundamentals

I’m pleased to say that I recently passed DP-900: Microsoft Azure Fundamentals. If you’ve come to this post via the home page then you’ll see that I recently passed DP-200 and DP-201 to achieve the Certified Data Engineer certification and as I had a discount voucher with 50% off an exam I decided to do another fundamentals exam.

Microsoft Certified: Azure Data Fundamentals
DP-900 Badge

Although my employer hadn’t asked, I decided to go for the set as a qualification for the Microsoft Partner Data Platform Competency. It appears that Microsoft are shifting away from the technical assessments that were delivered through partner university. This makes a bit of sense now that there are obvious public certifications available and while being a little more difficult, the fundamentals is more of a useful achievement.

From a personal milestone this is my 40th Microsoft Exam pass; way back before OneNote was a thing I started an exam ritual of creating a folder for the next exam I was targeting. In the small development company that was the first Microsoft Partner I worked at we used presentation binders for training packs – basically a ring binder with pockets in the front and spine for labelling. I would go through the ritual of creating a front cover for the binder, with my name, exam and “volume” number. I still go through this exercise and they have slowly counted up over the last year and a bit. Now my “exam process” tends to focus around OneNote but I still have a set of pipeline folders which have files related to an exam prep.

Microsoft Certification as a thing has ebbed and flowed through the years. Like a lot of things early in my career I just simply something because my employer asked me to. They wanted to get Microsoft Gold Partner and needed employees who had certifications. Thus started my journey with my first exam pass on April 19th 1996 which at the time of me writing this post is 25 years ago. That was also just under a year before I got married, so my long suffering wife has been with me for my entire certification journey!

Passed DP-201 Designing an Azure Data Solution

I’m pleased to say that I recently passed DP-201: Designing an Azure Data Solution. I did this a week after the DP-200 exam and gained my Microsoft Certified: Azure Data Engineer Associate Certification as a result.

As I mentioned in my post about DP-200 the learning paths are identical on the exam pages for DP-200 and DP-201 but one thing I discovered after DP-200 is that the certification page has additional learning paths which were helpful in augmenting my knowledge.

I found the exam slightly easier going and the score (which means little) was higher than I received for my DP-200 pass. I think this is fair on a number of levels, I don’t work with Azure Data every day so implementation was always going to be tougher.

Passed DP-200 Implementing an Azure Data Solution

I’m pleased to say that I recently passed Microsoft Exam DP-200: Implementing an Azure Data Solution. Although a new single exam is in the wings, I was ready to progress and had read that one benefit of the “current” Data Engineering Associate exams was that the renewal would still be 2 years rather than the new style of one.

As you’ll read on I sat DP-201 the week after this exam. Having reviewed the material available it was the same on Microsoft Learn so there was little more to be gained in the time.

For DP-200 I used Scott Duffy’s course on udemy and the learning paths featured on the exam page.

I found the exam fairly tough and of the three I did together it was the hardest, fairly I think.

Passed AZ-400 Designing and Implementing Microsoft DevOps Solutions

I’m delighted to say that I passed AZ-400 Designing and Implementing Microsoft DevOps Solutions on Monday November 23rd 2020. After MS-500 this was “fun” if such a thing can be said about a Microsoft Exam.

To prepare I did things quite informally in that I didn’t spend any money on courses or test exams but spent the time to do every learning path from the list on the syllabus page and the additional learning paths from the featured training for AZ-400 on the Microsoft Partner training page.

My method is to create a OneNote section for each exam I target and then I create lists of links to training along with an estimate of how long the training says it will take. The handy thing about the learning paths and profile page is that it counts down as you complete sections, meaning that it feels like you are making progress. When I feel I am on the home stretch I book the exam with however long I feel like I need. With this exam I’ve had the benefit this year of supporting an iOS mobile application development project on the Microsoft Platform which really helped me to understand the build and distribution aspects of that.

I make sure that I do every exercise I can and it was excellent to see how good GitHub is – I’m quite old and have worked with Microsoft technologies since Visual SourceSafe and before the Microsoft acquisition of GitHub. The training that the latter offers is really really good for a free to use resource.

Other than that my take on the exam is that it is a wide ranging topic so the exam is basically DevOps where one part of the solution is a Microsoft product. This means it pivots – you won’t necessarily be using a “Microsoft” build solution like Azure DevOps or GitHub to build your solution if you are developing in Visual Studio and so on.

I enjoyed the training for this exam as it is heavy on automation but also straight forward to follow along with the setup I have. I’m fortunate to have an Visual Studio subscription allocated to me as part of working for a Microsoft Partner and the tooling and Azure Subscription that come with this was essential in completing a number of the exercises on Microsoft Learn as you follow along in VS Code, GitHub, Azure DevOps and Azure in building solutions.

Certification Badge for Microsoft Certified DevOps Engineer Expert
Microsoft Certified DevOps Engineer Expert

I’m up to date with my other Azure Exams so I also achieved an Expert Certification with this pass which is a nice feeling!

Microsoft Security Exam Passes

I’m delighted to say I just passed Exam MS-500: Microsoft 365 Security Administration in my first exam since Covid-19 lockdown in the UK and my first “online” exam that I sat at home. This was my 36th Microsoft Exam pass and all of the other 40odd attempts I’ve had (mostly passes) sitting exams have been in a variety of test centres around Edinburgh and the Central belt of Scotland.

I think I also forgot to mention my pass of Exam AZ-500: Microsoft Azure Security Technologies in February 2020 too. At work we had a push for the security competency and even after the requisite number of other folks had the pass I stuck at it.

Passed Exam AZ-500: Microsoft Azure Security Technologies

I’m very happy to share that I passed Microsoft Exam AZ-500: Microsoft Azure Security Technologies yesterday.

Azure Security Engineer Associate Badge

Although I expected a decent result, I had the usual trepidation before the exam and woke up really early on the day. This started building up naturally as the date approached, but in the days leading up to the exam I noticed that the length of the exam was the longest I have seen at 210 minutes. (Part of my preparation methods is to put an appointment in my diary for the exam and location – I’ll write this up as part of my exam prep post one day!). The length got me thinking about labs and things and confirmed when I got the announcement at the beginning of the sitting that it included 1 lab.

A “lab” is a practical test of your skills on a particular subject and although it’s getting on for a year or so that Microsoft Azure exams have included labs, so far I’ve not had any and I was a bit nervous.

I progressed through the various sections steadily and I kept an eye on the clock. I’d read a few horror stories of candidate’s time keeping going awry and them running out of time. As it was I didn’t get too bogged down and proceeding at my usual pace. The curve of dread was quite amusing (in hindsight) and peaked about a third of the way in to the exam as I got a bit stressed at what I didn’t know. Then as I progressed through the questions it settled down as I encountered elements that I was confident in.

The practical test came at the end and I had over 2 hours left and actually began to enjoy that part. I’ll admit that I just used the portal to complete my activities but was reassured that the direction giving acknowledged that certain parts would take time to complete and that I could progress with the tasks as needed while it waited. I’m fortunate that my “day job” has a lot of hands-on work and I’m logged in to an azure subscription almost every day (after elevating my permissions through privileged identity management!). I applied the same deliberate pace and double checked each setting and user. If I was to build a test system against a live portal then I could imagine the type of process that I would interrogate the Azure Resource Model to check that configuration had been carried out correctly. This is just the same as naming conventions and azure policy checking so at each pivotal point I paused and made sure that I was reading things correctly – just like following a technical design. In a real life situation I would also use scripting as a confirmation step but took a pragmatic approach with the tools I had.

I was ambivalent at the end and it doesn’t do to be overconfident, and the lab introduced another twist at the end. I clicked the Finish Exam button and the response came back almost immediately:

‘Thank you for taking this Microsoft Certification exam. Your test results will be available once scoring is complete. You may exit the exam now without affecting the scoring process by clicking the “End” button. Your score report will be available online in your Microsoft Learning dashboard at www.microsoft.com/learning/dashboard

Talk about an anti-climax and it even sent it to the printer (the chap at the test centre asked if I really wanted to keep it!). So I was a little high and dry and while in limbo decided to get the bus back to the office while I waited and then I collected my stuff from the locker and fired up my work phone for the colleague support network on Microsoft Teams!

Anyway to wind forward I was about 10 minutes in to my bus journey when the congratulatory email came through on my phone and I was able to see my score report. Although it doesn’t really matter, the score was a good 100 points over the pass mark which I’m happy about as it’s content I should know in my day job.

My thoughts on the exam – here’s a summary without any NDA busting:

  • Like the admin exam the exam outline calls out the Azure services that will be included and these will be in the exam. Inevitably this is not everything that the extensive platform provides and this is a relief!
  • The exam has good coverage of the built in protection in Virtual Networks and Azure AD. Unlike the real world where you might have federation or Network Virtual Appliances in the mix, this exam rightly focuses on the “out of box” provision.
  • Time management is crucial in giving yourself space to address the lab. That said my first lab was a really good experience – it was actually the easiest part of the whole exam to understand and answer as it covered things I do almost every day. The flip side was that it took me as long to do the single lab I had as it did to answer the other sections.

And finally, as well as building on the other hands-on work (and exams) the preparation material I used for this exam was:

  • Featured training for exam AZ-500 – as a certification that counts towards a Microsoft Partner Competency, it is called out by Microsoft.
  • Skylines Academy AZ-500 Course – Nick Colyer’s course on udemy has a good step by step coverage of most of the content. As ever remember to follow along in your own portal. I bought it months ago during one of the regular sales on the platform.
  • Skylines Academy AZ-500 Practice Questions – this came through as I was in my latter stages of preparation. About 60 odd questions and a good way to poke me out of exam fatigue. Not a huge number but again so cheap that it was a no brainer to further my learning.
  • Pixel Robots bunch of links for AZ-500 – this saved a bunch of time looking for references but compared to some of Richard’s other blog posts is a little out of date at the time of writing.

Of course you should spend lots of time in the Azure Documentation as this is an awesome reference and gets lots of feedback through GitHub. I also found a pluralsight path for AZ-500 but at a total of 42 Hours when I looked there was no time I would be able to cover it all in the time I wanted to spend.

My year in Microsoft exams 2019

I completed my last Microsoft exam of 2019 a week ago with a successful attempt at MS-900. With December approaching and a two week vacation approaching I’m taking a little rest before diving in to preparation for my next exam. I have AZ-500 booked for the earliest opportunity at a local test centre which turned out to be February.

A year is a long time and with a couple of significant personal events in 2019 I’d forgotten how much I’d achieved.

Azure Architecture AZ-30x exams

I began the year with Exam AZ-300: Microsoft Azure Architect Technologies as my second iteration of Azure Architecture exams (having done 70-534: Architecting Microsoft Azure Solutions in my first iteration). That was followed just over a month later with Exam AZ-301: Exam AZ-301: Microsoft Azure Architect Design.

I’ll be honest and say I don’t remember a huge amount about the exams (a family bereavement in April being the probable reason) but historically I’ve enjoyed them as they really make you think about how to use Azure technology.

Passing these two exams obtained Microsoft Certified: Azure Solutions Architect Expert.

Managing SharePoint 2016 Server

I started the year with hopes to get another year for my MCSE Productivity but personal events somewhat got in the way and I struggled with this one, mainly due to it being outside of my current core working set and because the real world needed attention at the time.

I’ve got a post dedicated to this one but needless to say, my repeated attempts reduced my run rate somewhat.

Everything is an experience and I really benefit from an understanding employer who doesn’t add to the pressure I put on myself. The last time I had a challenge like this was with 70-532: Developing Microsoft Azure Solutions which was my last exam nemesis!

The low run rate meant that I missed a mini goal of grabbing the transition exam for the new MS pieces but to be honest I just had to let it go. Sometimes the pace of the transition exams doesn’t allow enough time between personal life and exam centre availability.

Passing this exam refreshed for 2019 my Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert: Productivity.

Microsoft Cloud Fundamentals

So I found myself in November and with life settling down I decided to hit two of the fundamentals exams as my employer had an initiative to get everyone through AZ-900: Microsoft Azure Fundamentals and was paying a one-off bonus for this and the other cloud fundamentals exam MS-900: Microsoft 365 Fundamentals.

The first gave me a bit of a jolt as I didn’t sail it like I thought I would, so I worked harder and got a bit more of a respectable pass in the latter. (See – technically a pass is a pass but I still measure based on score!?)

Passing these exams got me certifications for Azure Fundamentals and Microsoft 365 Fundamentals.

2019 my exam year

  • Number of exams passed in 2019 : 5.
  • Number of exams sat in 2019 : 7.
  • Certifications Gained / Refreshed in 2019 : 4.

Passed AZ-900

I’m happy to say that I’ve passed AZ-900 as part of my employer’s initiative to have everyone go through the Azure Fundamentals exam. This is a recognition that cloud is a core part of their business.

My thoughts? I perhaps underestimated the exam and although I passed well I didn’t ace it. I’ve scored more in other “harder” exams so I’d recommend what I try to tell myself – look through the actual product being tested (Azure Portal Features) and if you want to score more you’ll have to remember some of the detail of features and charging structures. I think the classic learning tips of What? How? When? for each exam objective will serve you well.

I’m beginning to realise that all of the exams are treated seriously and a pass (even for fundamentals) actually means something. Respect to my non technical colleagues and a little nudge to myself to treat things seriously!