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Updated Microsoft Azure certifications emphasize IT roles

Microsoft revamped its public cloud certifications in a move away from holistic skill sets. Review the newly tailored exams you'll need to take to get the Azure seal of approval.

Microsoft recently modified its Azure certifications, as it tailors its cloud credentials to specific roles and skill levels.

The software giant made most of the changes in late 2018 but also made a few tweaks to its exams and requirements in the early part of 2019. Here's a breakdown of what has changed, along with answers to some of the most common questions in the field.

Role-focused certifications

The biggest departure from the previous exam format is that Azure certifications are now role-focused. Prior versions covered a wider range of services and required candidates to learn technologies that they may never use in the real world.

The role-based Azure certifications are more practical than their predecessors and more limited in scope. Under the new format, there are specific certification tracks for systems administrators, software developers, architects and operations engineers. In addition, candidates are recognized for different levels of knowledge, with fundamental-, associate- and expert-level options.

Fundamental-level certification

Those who are completely new to Azure can start with the Microsoft Certified Azure Fundamentals certification. It's a good option for IT professionals who need to prove they understand general cloud concepts and the core components of Azure. It also measures expertise on fundamental security, privacy and compliance best practices, along with knowledge of Azure pricing and support. Candidates can achieve this certification by passing the AZ-900 exam.

It's also a great option for those in nontechnical roles who want to better understand the platform. Candidates who want to dive straight into associate- or expert-level certifications are not required to take this exam.

Associate-level certification

The Microsoft Certified: Azure Administrator Associate certification validates an admin's ability to implement and maintain workloads on the Azure platform. This includes working with core services related to compute, storage, networking, security and monitoring.

This certification is a bit confusing, as it currently requires that candidates pass two exams -- AZ-100 and AZ-101. These replace the administrative skills validated in the previous 70-533 Azure certification exam. However, Microsoft said this will change soon, in an effort to simplify the process based on customer feedback.

The current exams for this certification will be retired in May 2019. At that point, exam takers will be certified through a new exam, the AZ-103. In the interim, keep this in mind as you are navigating the study materials, taking practice exams and scheduling certification tests.

In either case, those who passed the 70-533 exam can achieve this new role-based certification by passing a single AZ-102 transition exam.

The Microsoft Certified: Azure Developer Associate certification is designed for software developers who want to prove they understand how to design, test and manage applications and services that run on the Azure cloud.

Candidates initially had to pass two exams to achieve this certification during the beta test, but Microsoft decided, based on feedback, that the scope of the exam needed to be adjusted. At this stage, developers can take one exam, the AZ-203, to achieve this certification. Anyone who passed a previous exam, the 70-532, for the Azure developer certification can achieve this new associate-level certification by taking the AZ-202 transition exam.

Microsoft added a few more associate-level certifications in early 2019. These exams validate the skills required to work with AI and data science services, as well as data engineering competency around relational databases, NoSQL and big data services:

  • Microsoft Certified: Azure AI Engineer Associate (one exam: AI-100);
  • Microsoft Certified: Azure Data Scientist Associate (one exam: DP-100); and
  • Microsoft Certified: Azure Data Engineer Associate (two exams: DP-200, DP-201).

Expert-level certifications

The Microsoft Certified: Azure Solutions Architect Expert certification covers a lot of ground and is considered by many to be the flagship Azure certification. Candidates are required to have design and implementation expertise with Azure compute, networking, storage and security.

IT professionals should ensure their certifications are up to date so it's easier to transition to new versions in the future.

This certification replaces the architectural component of the previous 70-533 exam and requires those who are new to pass the AZ-300 and AZ-301 exams. Those who passed the previous 70-533 exam can upgrade their certification status by passing the AZ-302 transition exam.

The Microsoft Certified: Azure DevOps Engineer Expert certification evaluates a candidate's ability to work collaboratively across teams and processes, in addition to measuring technical skills for DevOps tasks, such as version control and configuration management. This certification requires an individual to pass just one exam, AZ-400. However, to earn the certification, candidates must have previously completed the Azure Administrator Associate or Azure Developer Associate certification.

Where to go from here

Keep in mind that Azure role-based certifications expire in two years. However, a certification will always appear on your official Microsoft transcript.

We've seen a number of changes to Azure certifications over the past couple of years, and the cloud platform itself will remain a moving target for technologists, as Microsoft continues to keep pace with other providers. IT professionals should ensure their certifications are up to date so it's easier to transition to new versions in the future.

Finally, although my company is a Microsoft Certified Partner and despite the fact that I am a Microsoft Azure MVP, I have no details about the future status of the Azure Certified Solutions Architect Expert certification.

Again, the architect certification requires two exams, and based on recent history, it's quite possible that could change again. However, there is no guarantee. I recommend you move forward with plans to obtain any Azure certification that makes sense for you, based on current requirements. Don't wait to see if things change; sit for your exams as soon as you feel ready.

This was last published in March 2019

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