08-04-16

Zero to Azure MCSD in a month (or so)

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Today I passed the 70-532 exam to complete my MCSD so I thought I would give some feedback for anyone else going down that road. I’ve only been hands on with Azure for about three months, so to get here from a standing start has been a major accomplishment for me. That being said, I think that with hard work and a bit of study dedication, it’s well within reach for most experienced IT pros.

Firstly, get them done as quickly as you can and don’t space them too far apart. I think from start to finish it’s taken me just over a month. I started with the 533, then the following week the 534 and then today the 532. I’d have done it sooner but I spent some time recently on a non-Azure project which meant I lost a bit of momentum. Depending on your experience, confidence and availability, I’d suggest between 1 or 2 weeks apart, certainly no more than that.

In terms of difficulty, 534 was one of the easiest exams I’ve ever sat and the result bore this out. It’s very high level and quite a few of the questions were what I would call “gimmes”. As it’s an architecture exam, you need to have a good understanding of the core Azure constructs and use cases for where they fit best.

533 was a bit harder but still well within my compass – this exam is more for people in an operational role I’d say. Lots of knowledge required about where to find knobs and things in both portals (ASM/ARM), service tiers and also plenty of PowerShell. Latterly you don’t need to be a PS guru, just understand which command to use and when and what switches are appropriate. Also differences between VM quick create and normal, for example. 

532 today was absolutely brutal and frankly I’m still amazed I managed to pass it. You need to be a hardcore developer to even know what they’re asking you. I basically read and re-read the questions and tried to apply some logic to my guesses, obviously that paid off. Not only was the content more gruelling, but there were a lot more questions than I was expecting, meaning it’s a pretty thorough test of your skills. Tip – know Visual Studio and debugging/logging well.

Another tip is do it online from home, don’t go to a test centre if you can help it. I’ve found it a lot easier to relax and focus in my home surroundings. When I did the AWS exam at my local centre it was very noisy and in some small part didn’t aid me in passing it (which I didn’t).

Which order to take them? Depends – if you’re a Visual Studio propeller head, 532 first. If you’re coming from VMware like me, either 534 or 533. There is a huge amount of overlap between the questions in each exam, so loads on networking, VMs, storage, instance sizing, IaaS and PaaS tiers, the usual stuff. When you have the essentials down pat, you can apply this knowledge across all three exams. I’d say about 60/70% of each exam used common themes, with an additional 30% relative to that specific exam.

If you’re not confident in your Azure skills, buy one of the Microsoft exam Booster Packs from here and basically brute force your way through it. 532 would have been a good use case for this tactic in my case. It also takes the pressure off, especially if you’re funding it yourself to know that you’ve got the ability to resit a few times “for free”. They’re only $200 (£141 at today’s prices), so not much more expensive than a one off exam which costs around £118 in the UK.

In terms of training, generally the CBT Nuggets were very good and concise but woeful for 532. I know they will have updated the exams since those were recorded, but there’s little in the way of actual coding explanations (though to be fair I didn’t get to the end in those videos).

I also used the official MS Press guides for each exam (532, 533 and 534), but they’re exceptionally dry and an excellent cure for insomnia. Only you know what works best for you, but I’d go for a hybrid approach of MS Press study guides, CBT Nuggets and Pluralsight, labbing stuff in Azure using your MSDN entitlement (if you have one, or get a free trial) and watch Channel9 or MVA videos on topics you’re not sure of.

Don’t also forget that the Azure exam blueprints were recently updated (March 10th), so some training guides may not include items you may be tested on, such as OMS for example. The excellent BuildAzure website has a good, concise article on what those changes are, for reference.

Do I feel like an Azure expert? Not really, no. But I’ve got a decent grasp of the concepts now and it’s up to me to build on those with some upcoming projects I have. One of the biggest challenges for cloud and especially studying for the cloud is the fact that everything moves along so quickly. One day you login to Azure and there are two new services. The following day, pricing has changed or functionality has been added to Traffic Manager, for example. It must be a major headache for the folks who write the exams!

What’s next for me is a VCAP6-DTM Design beta next week and then I’ll probably circle back for another crack at the AWS Certified Solutions Architect Pro.

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