In late 2018, Microsoft began a shift in their certification program as it pertained to cloud. The change moved the cloud certifications from the traditional Microsoft MCP, MCSA, and MCSE paths into their own “role based” paths. https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/learning/certification-overview.aspx
Three’s a charm when coordinating these certifications. There are three key areas of focus: Azure, Microsoft 365, and Dynamics 365. Within these areas of focus, there are three certification levels: Fundamentals, Associate, and Expert. The complete list can be found here and filtered based on your chosen direction. https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/learning/browse-all-certifications.aspx?certificationtype=role-based
Once you have selected a path, what should you do next? My recommendation to everyone, no matter what role, is to start with the Fundamentals certification. You will note when determining a path to take, that each of the Fundamentals certifications are noted as “optional”. (https://query.prod.cms.rt.microsoft.com/cms/api/am/binary/RE2PjDI ). Though none of the Fundamentals exams are required, having and proving this base knowledge is important as you continue through your chosen role. Whether you are in a sales, architect, engineer, account manager, or support position, these exams are broad and build the foundation for the technology. Fundamental certifications do not currently expire.
Associate level certifications take you to the next step and are focused on a particular area of focus, such as Security, Development, AI, Data Science, Data Engineering, and Administration. Most of these certifications can be obtained through Microsoft by passing a single exam, with the only exception being the Data Engineer Associate at the time of this writing. These exams have been evolving and changing throughout the year. For example, at the beginning of the year, the Azure Administrator Associate WAS two exams. This changed in May 2019, combining 100 and 101 into 103, and those that passed both exams to obtain the certification were given a voucher to use toward any other exam. Currently, Microsoft has the AZ-104 exam in beta for Administrator and AZ-204 for Developer. As of the time of this writing, only the Developer and Administrator Associate exams are steps to an Expert certification, but as this program evolves, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are additional Expert certifications built off of some of these Associate certifications. Microsoft currently has placed expire/recertification dates on some, but not all, of these Associate certifications. The Security Engineer Associate initially did not have an expiration date, but one was added in August. So, I would recommend that you expect these to expire in two years, as the Administrator, Developer, and Security certifications currently do.
The final level of Role-based certifications is the Expert certifications. This of these as the MCSE equivalent of an on-premises hardware/software certification in a cloud certification. These are going to be the most in-depth certifications and may require an Associate certification to obtain the Expert certification badge. This is the case with the DevOps Expert, which requires that you have either the Developer Associate or Administrator Associate AND pass the AZ-400 exam. However, there are Expert certifications that stand on their own. The Azure Solutions Architect Expert does not have an Associate pre-requisite, but it DOES require that you pass two exams to obtain the badge (AZ-300 and AZ-301). These exams will be changing in 2020 to AZ-303 and AZ-304, respectively.
Microsoft has built their role-based exams as stand-alone exams and it is not required to take these exams in steps. You can take any exam in any order depending on your level of expertise and comfort on the subject matter. However, you will not receive the certification badge until you have passed all exams required in that particular certification path.
For more information on the different certification paths for Azure, M365, and Dynamics, you can review this document: https://query.prod.cms.rt.microsoft.com/cms/api/am/binary/RWtQJJ
If you are preparing for the Azure role based path, a great resource for training content to prepare for the exams is Skylines Academy. You can usually find a promotional discount on Twitter or Facebook to become a member, and membership has its privileges. Currently, they have courses for the Fundamentals, Administrator Associate, Architect Expert, and Security Engineer Associate. Membership will provide you access to these courses, guides, labs, and practice questions, as well as any updates to existing courses or new courses that are added. Udemy, ACloudGuru, Linux Academy, and other training sites also provide some great courses to learn about Microsoft and other hyper-scaler technologies.
For some free resources, the is a github site with some recommended labs for many of the certification exams: https://github.com/MicrosoftLearning. Microsoft has information and training on services, including how to deploy, code, and price on https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/. Free training and courses here: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/learn/ and guided labs here: https://www.microsoft.com/handsonlabs/SelfPacedLabs
Other great resources and follows for information on Azure and certifications have been mentioned in a couple of great lists recently, the links are included here: https://buildazure.com/buildazure-com-ranked-top-microsoft-azure-blog-follow-2019/
The people on both of these lists are great follows in social media and provide great resources for preparation for certification. Many of them are MVPs, and/or MCTs with Microsoft and are very helpful and responsive when asked for guidance (and moral/positive support, if that is what you need) regarding their paths to getting certified. The community for Microsoft and Azure is a powerful one with great people involved.
I want to end this post by thanking all of them for being such a positive influence in pushing me to share my experiences and knowledge, as they have done. In my next post, I will share my journey to obtaining Azure role-based certifications.
Feel free to reach out to me at anytime with your questions or comments. Have a great day!