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Certification Paths for Microsoft Azure

In LinuxAcademy.com’s community, we’re periodically asked questions about how best to get certified in Microsoft Azure. Those questions range from what exams are needed and the steps to get certified, through which order the exams should be taken and what students should expect from the exams.

So let’s tackle all those questions here, starting with an overview of the core Azure certification exams.

At this writing, there are three central Azure certification exams. Each of them measures your understanding of Azure from a different viewpoint.

Exam 70-532, Developing Microsoft Azure Solutions, tests your understanding of Azure from the viewpoint of a software developer. That is, if you are looking to write code that works in Azure, how would you write it? How do you use the features of Azure, such as message queues, databases, compute and storage, in your solutions?

Exam 70-533, Implementing Microsoft Azure Solutions, tests your understanding of Azure from the viewpoint of DevOps. For example, how do you provision virtual machines? How do you control network traffic to and from those machines? How do you ensure high availability in storage, or continuously deploy code to a Web App?

Exam 70-534, Architecting Microsoft Azure Solutions, tests your understanding of Azure from the viewpoint of a systems architect. For example, if you need to create a highly available microservice, what Azure resources would you need, and how would you configure them? If you have a price-sensitive customer that needs a disaster recovery solution, what’s the most cost-effective option that protects against a regional outage?

(There are more exams that have Azure as part of their content or that focus on Azure, but as of this writing, they aren’t used to earn an Azure certification badge, so I am not mentioning them here.)

Students commonly ask what order they should take these exams in. And the answer is, take the exams in the order that most closely matches how you are working with Azure.

If you are doing Azure DevOps, it is probably wise to start with Exam 70-533. If you are an experienced .NET developer, start with Exam 70-532. If you have been building things in Azure for a while, maybe you want to start with Exam 70-534; that’s the first exam I took.

For most people, I think it makes sense to start with Exam 70-533. That exam is the one that tests your practical ability to work with provisioning and configuring Azure services. And that kind of knowledge is essential to doing well on the other two tests.

We built our Azure prep courses around the Exam 70-533 prep course; that is, it’s the first course we made, and our other courses point to its lessons. So it makes a lot of sense since you’re using our courses to help you achieve certification, to start with that course.

Whether you take Exam 70-532 or Exam 70-534 second is a harder call to make. If you have zero practical computer programming experience, you are probably not going to do well on Exam 70-532, so that means 70-534 is probably the right choice for your second exam, then bone up on .NET coding and take 70-532. But if you do have some computer programming experience, you might want to take Exam 70-532 second, since it tests knowledge that is also covered in Exam 70-533.

I consider Exam 70-534 the more difficult of the three exams because it expects you to have a very broad knowledge of how Azure works, as well as the pricing tiers and features of each service. It does ask some questions about how to do things, but mostly it asks you questions about what to do in a given situation, and that is usually a more difficult question to answer than how to do something.

So, in summary: For the average student with a generalist background, I think the exam order that makes the most sense is, 70-533, then 70-532, then 70-534. But if you don’t have much experience with programming, it may make more sense to go with 70-533, then 70-534, then 70-532.

MTA: IT Infrastructure

lrn_mcc-MTA-Infrastructure2xThere are a few ways to get certified in Microsoft Azure, and all of them begin by earning the Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA): IT Infrastructure badge. You can earn this by passing one of five exams:

  • Exam 98-365, Windows Server Administration Fundamentals. This exam focuses on configuring and managing bare-metal and virtualized Windows Server instances, as well as its common roles, such as Active Directory, Internet Information Server, print and file services and the like.
  • Exam 98-366, Networking Fundamentals. As the name implies, you will be expected to understand how to configure a network and its subnets, including how and when to use network appliances like routers, switches, load balancers and firewalls. This isn’t specific to Microsoft, so if you have a solid background in networking, this might be the way to go.
  • Exam 98-367, Security Fundamentals. This exam tests your understanding of security layers, procedures, and tools. This exam requires some knowledge of Microsoft technologies, especially Windows Server, but if you’ve spent time as a systems administrator, you may find you possess enoughof this knowledge to pass.
  • Exam 98-368, Mobility and Devices Fundamentals. This centers around using and configuring Microsoft services, such as OneDrive and Office 365, on portable devices, as well as using Windows on such devices. If you have experience as a help desk technician in a Microsoft environment, you may already have much of the knowledge tested here.
  • Exam 98-369, Cloud Fundamentals. This is not really about the cloud; it’s about Office 365 and Intune, which is Microsoft’s mobile device management solution. With some Sharepoint, Exchange and Skype thrown in for good measure. If you have experience administering a corporate Office 365 subscription, you probably know much of what is tested here.

The MTA certification is a prerequisite of other, more advanced certifications. On its own, it’s not much of a certification. It demonstrates you know the basics of a topic, and I would consider anyone with an MTA badge to be competent in that subject area, but I don’t think hiring managers are going to get in a bidding war over you because you are sporting an MTA badge.

MCSA: Cloud Platform/MCSA: Linux on Azure

lrn_mcc-MCSA-Cloud_Platform2xlrn_mcc-MCSA-Linux_on_Aure2x
The next step up from MTA is MCSA, or Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate. There are two MCSA certifications for Azure: Cloud Platform and Linux on Azure.

For experienced Linux professionals, probably the easiest MCSA badge to earn is MCSA: Linux on Azure. This is especially true if you have already passed the Linux Foundation Certified System Administrator (LFCSA) exam, which is a requirement for earning that badge

The MCSA: Linux on Azure certification begins by earning the MTA: IT Infrastructure badge, noted above. Then, you need to pass both Exam 70-533 and the LFCSA exam.

If you are an experienced .NET developer and have practical experience working with Azure, the MCSA: Cloud Platform certification is the next step up from MTA.

This certification also begins by earning the MTA: IT Infrastructure badge. Once you have that in hand, you need to pass both Exam 70-532, Developing Microsoft Azure Solutions, and Exam 70-533, Implementing Microsoft Azure Infrastructure Solutions.

Note that the MTA: IT Infrastructure badge is the prerequisite for these certifications. You can’t substitute an alternative MTA badge. Only a badge earned by taking Exam 98-365, Exam 98-366, Exam 98-367, Exam 98-368 or Exam 98-369 is acceptable as a prerequisite.

An MCSA badge is a strong certification. It should help you find jobs, and it demonstrates you know your way around a subject area. I consider an MCSA badge proof that if I gave you an objective within that expertise, you have the skills and knowledge to accomplish that objective.

MCSE: Cloud Platform and Infrastructure

lrn_mcc-MCSE-Cloud_Platform_and_Infrastructure2xThe highest-level Azure certification is Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert: Cloud Platform and Infrastructure.

To earn this badge, you first must earn one of four eligible MCSA badges: MCSA: Cloud Platform, MCSA: Linux on Azure, MCSA: Windows Server 2012 or MCSA: Windows Server 2016.

Once you have that badge, you must pass one of the following exams, which you have not yet passed:

  • Exam 70-532, Developing Microsoft Azure Solutions
  • Exam 70-533, Implementing Microsoft Azure Solutions
  • Exam 70-534, Architecting Microsoft Azure Solutions
  • Exam 70-473, Designing and Implementing Cloud Data Platform Solutions
  • Exam 70-475, Designing and Implementing Big Data Analytics Solutions
  • Exam 70-744, Securing Windows Server 2016
  • Exam 70-413, Designing and Implementing a Server Infrastructure
  • Exam 70-414, Implementing an Advanced Server Infrastructure
  • Exam 70-246, Monitoring and Operating a Private Cloud
  • Exam 70-247, Configuring and Deploying a Private Cloud

Again: If you took one of these exams to earn your MCSA badge, you can’t use that exam to get the MCSE badge. You have to pass another exam you have not already passed in order to earn your MCSE badge.

For example, if you earned the MCSA: Linux on Azure badge, you have already taken Exam 70-533 and therefore, will not be able to apply that exam to an MCSE certification. Or, if you earned the MCSA: Cloud Platform badge, you have already taken Exam 70-532 and Exam 70-533, and cannot apply those exams to your MCSE certification.

Maybe I’m biased, but I consider anyone with the MCSE: Cloud Platform and Infrastructure badge to be expert in several Azure core services and knowledgeable about them all. That is, someone with an MCSE definitely knows the ins and outs of the technologies and services they work with daily. And they can probably figure out just about everything else with a couple of quick glances at the documentation and Stack Overflow.

Odds and Ends

Some notes about Azure certification:

  • The MTA: IT Infrastructure, MCSA: Cloud Platform, MCSA: Linux on Azure and MCSE: Cloud Platform and Infrastructure badges never expire. Once you earn those certifications, they stay on your certification record forever. However, in the case of the MCSE certification, you are encouraged to renew the badge by passing one exam from its exam list, that you have not previously passed, each year.
  • Once you pass an exam, you can never take it again, even if the exam objectives change. For example, Microsoft revised the objectives for exams 70-532, 70-533 and 70-534 in November; but I couldn’t take those exams again, even though they tested large swaths of new skills. Update: As of March 17, 2017, you can retake a certification exam once per year, and it can be used to refresh your certification.
  • The Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer: Azure Solutions Architect certification is being retired on March 31. You can, in theory, earn that certification before then, by passing 70-532, 70-533 and 70-534. However, I wouldn’t. In addition to needing to recertify it every two years; eventually, Microsoft will make that certification defunct.

Summary

So, to recap:

  • The exam order that I think is advisable for most students is Exam 70-533, then Exam 70-532, then Exam 70-534. But you should take the exams in the order you are most knowledgeable.
  • You start your Azure certification journey by earning an MTA: IT Infrastructure badge, by passing one of five approved exams.
  • The next step is MCSA: Cloud Platform or MCSA: Linux on Azure.
  • The final step is the MCSE: Cloud Platform and Infrastructure badge, which requires you to have one of four MCSA badges and to pass a test you haven’t previously passed.

Doug Vanderweide

Here to teach you all things Azure. MCSE: Cloud Platform and Infrastructure, MCSD: Azure Solutions Architect and Microsoft Certified Trainer. I'm a .NET and LAMP stack developer with 20+ years' experience. Follow me on Twitter @dougvdotcom

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