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!
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:
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.
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.
I got a slightly higher score than I got for AZ-900 which either means nothing (question pools and all that) or that you can take the person out of SharePoint but not the Office 365 out of …
Again it is impressive to see that Fundamentals is a proper exam and even if Azure is a bit more interesting for an old (ex) developer like me, Microsoft 365 components are used by almost everyone on a day to day basis.
It also played to themes that I’ve seen with Microsoft 365 projects in real life – customers have a whole bunch of questions to answer about their IT basics i.e. where do my emails go, where do my files go and can you reset my password for me ?
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!