I recently passed the 3rd and final exam in the Microsoft Azure Solutions Architect certification program. Here are some thoughts and tips, which may make the road easier for anyone who wishes to follow the same path.

Introduction
When completing this certification program, you will earn an MCSD – Azure Cloud Architect title. Note that this title will retire March 31st 2017, and is replaced by MCSE – Cloud Platform and Infrastructure. If you pass before this date, you will earn both (which I did). To read more details about this, please see Microsoft Learning.

The program is made up of 3 separate exams. By passing one of these, you will earn a Microsoft Specialist title. The 3 exams are:

Required Skills
To read what Microsoft expects to pass an exam, please see the respective links above. Generally, the candidate is required to have at least a couple of years experience with the applicable topics. Although there are 3 separate exams, the objectives are pretty much the same for all of them. Note that these exams are updated frequently. The last update was in November 2016. Make sure you are not preparing for outdated exam objectives!

Basically, you need to have a working knowledge of most Azure offerings. Some questions are very detailed, others high-level. You don’t need to be a Machine Learning expert, for instance, but knowing what it does can help you eliminate some incorrect options on the exam. To pass all 3, you need to understand C# programming using Azure SDK, PowerShell, Xplat-CLI, JSON, XML, ARM templates, security, networking, high availability/redundancy, disaster recovery, Azure Active Directory, Web Apps, Mobile Services, Virtual Machines, API Management, storage options and much much more.

Some things should be memorized, like details of each App Service Plan. Based on some criteria, you should be able to choose the appropriate plan (Free, Shared, Basic, Standard, Premium). This also applies to VM sizes and series, for example.

Test Day
Time alotted is 2 hours for native English speakers, and 2.5 hours for others. There are between 45 and 65 questions. A score of 700 is required to pass. No aids are allowed. There are several question types:

  • Multiple choice – 4-8 options with 1 correct answer
  • Multiple choice – 4-8 options with more than one correct answer
  • Case Study – 4-8 questions regarding one case. Lots of information, business/technical requirements and some unfinished code examples
  • Drag and Drop – each option can be used 0, 1 or multiple times. Typical example is code questions
  • Instructions in correct order – select the appropriate options, and arrange them in the correct order
  • Yes/No questions – 3 identical questions, with a minor solution difference. After submitting your answer to one, you cannot navigate between them
  • Clickable screenshots – select correct configuration option(s) on the given screenshot
  • Dropdown – select the correct option from a dropdown menu

You can navigate between most of these questions. The exceptions are the mentioned Yes/No questions, and the Case Studies. You can mark questions for review, and return to them later. Sometimes more than one option seems correct. In that case, choose the best answer. If you have no clue what the correct answer is, make a guess and move on. Time is a factor.

Learning Resources
I used the following learning resources:

There is also classroom training available, if you prefer that. The most important learning resource, though, is to play with it yourself. Try everything you read about, experiment with the technology, use PowerShell scripts and the Azure Portal, create C# projects using the Azure SDK, and try to use what you learn in real projects. If you don’t have an MSDN subscription, you can create a free Azure trial account.

Final Thoughts
Passing these exams requires a lot of knowledge, time and effort. To be honest – they are not easy. If you have limited experience or not taken any exams yet, I highly recommend going for the Microsoft Technology Associate – Cloud Fundamentals certification first. When you decide to go for it, look for exam offers. Exam Replay gives you two attempts to pass an exam. Booster Packs include 4 retries and training questions. Failing an exam is no big deal, you just try again. Not trying, however, is bad. With a free retry available, use the first one to see what you need to learn. Force yourself to take the exam by registering a month or so in advance.

Failing an exam is no big deal, you just try again. Not trying, however, is bad.

With cloud technology being more popular than ever, Azure skills in particular is in high demand. By earning certifications you prove to employers and customers that you have this knowledge. This can advance your career and provide exciting opportunities. If this isn’t motivation enough, have a look at these shiny certificates signed by Satya Nadella 🙂

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