Zero to Azure MCSD in a month (or so)
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.
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 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.
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.