Getting Azure Certified

The other day I got into a squabble with a colleague about some obscure detail of Azure storage. I knew I was right as I experienced a “unique” behavior of Azure Page Blobs just a few days earlier, but nooo, I absolutely cannot be correct as I do not have any Azure certifications! Therefore that makes me a total cloud idiot and an incompetent door knob when it comes to Azure and I should shut-up and listen to the wisdom of anointed Azure elite that can pass the oh-so-hard Microsoft MCP certifications!

After I demonstrated in no uncertain terms that I am right (and you have to believe me that I can be very thorough when I need to show someone that I am right), I then decided to look into this fabled Microsoft Azure certification process. So, my friend, you really think that I am not capable of getting Azure certified? That I don’t have what it takes to pass few more MCP exams like I did routinely just couple of decades ago? Game on, baby!

My target was to go all the way to the top and get the full MCSE certification related to Azure. After putting it all together, I got a sticker shock — this ego-boosting fun is not going to be cheap! How much do you think Microsoft will fleece you to go through the full MCSE process in their infamous certification program? The shortest path to the master-level MCSE status requires minimum four exams total, costing you a bawling $622:

  1. 98–369: Cloud Fundamentals ($127)

You don’t want to know how cheap MCP exams were back in 1998 when I was still young and stupid, when we had to code in C (yes, C without pluses is an actual coding language, you younglings!) and Windows NT 3.51 32-bit kernel was all the rave! So, let us look at MCP exams in 2017, in the order I took them, with my mindless ramblings, musings and commentary.

Step 1: Becoming an MTA: Infrastructure

Becoming an MTA requires that you pass one inky-dinky exam from a selection of five exam options. I picked the Cloud Fundamentals, because I am lazy and this one looked like an easy target to crush. Exam 98–369 is made for newbies in IT industry that stumbled upon Microsoft cloud services just a couple of weeks ago and now demand a participation award in a form of fancy certificate. To be fair, Microsoft does position their MTA-level exams as a foundational knowledge, very lightly testing the rudimentary understanding of cloud concepts and technologies.

This test has about 60 trivia cloud questions, with 90 minutes time limit. The passing bar is 85% and — frankly — I didn’t prepare for it at all. If you do not pass this one with flying colors on the first try, I am surprised that you managed to navigate to this blog post without adult supervision. Microsoft does have some very hard exams (spoiler alert), but 98–369 is definitely not one of them.

If you are not familiar with Microsoft’s cloud services, you should spend few minutes before this exam to make yourself familiar with Office 365, Intune, Exchange Online and SharePoint Online. There might be some questions related to Skype for Business and OneDrive, but if you use these services as part of your daily productivity toolset, there should be nothing surprising.

For IT illiterate leaders, there are couple more areas I would recommend a quick refresh in: DNS services, directory synchronization, differences between IaaS, PaaS and SaaS delivery models (and what Microsoft service fits into which model), and basics of cloud security.

This exam didn’t take more than 15 minutes to complete; I actually played a rapid-response answering game, giving myself a 10-seconds limit per question before forcing a choice and zooming through the test. Once done, I clicked the Submit and waited for the big machine to perform its magic.

Congratulations! You have passed this Microsoft Certification exam.

Microsoft then awarded me with a glorious new title: I am now a Microsoft Technology Associate. Yay.

Step 2: Upgrading to MCSA: Cloud Platform

Now there were two exams ahead of me that I needed to pass to become a MCSA; I chose to take the Implementing Azure Solutions (70–533) first, followed by Architecting Azure Solutions (70–534). Upfront I have to admit that I underestimated the level of knowledge expectations for these exams; the 70–53* family of MCP exams does require quite more rigor than 98-* exams, but Microsoft lowered the passing bar down to 70%, to make it fair.

I faced about 45 questions in 120 minutes when I sat the exam 70–533; some questions came as a stand-alone traditional “stump the chump” multi-choice queries, others were bundled inside case studies. Also, a couple of questions at the beginning of the test were irreversible — I couldn’t go back and correct the answer after I submitted my choice. Doh! Apparently, the testing software decides what question to serve me next, based on my previous (stupid) selection.

Case studies are a unique form of torture: you get served unnecessarily excessive walls of text, describing the situation, business and technical requirements in excruciating minutiae, offering rambling perspectives on various roles in the organization, providing detailed (and often irrelevant) configuration scripts, listing technical issues, and describing various deployment concerns. Then you are presented with a sweet bunch of questions — and a clue to each question is hidden somewhere deep in the river of text within the case study. Time to go hunting!

I developed a proven technique to address these pesky exam use cases. Yes I will share my winning strategy with you! Here it is, are you ready? I stopped reading any of the case study material. Yes, I simply skipped over all of that convoluted garbabel, and rather dived straight into the use case questions. I found that over 80% of use case material is not relevant and is purposefully confusing and unnecessary — so why would I waste my time, patience and brain cells? Here is my sophisticated case study solving algorithm: skip the explanation. Read the question. Deduct what information you need to decide on the answer. Jump back to the case study text that should contain the clue and find & read just that one single paragraph that actually matters for this question. Rinse and repeat.

In case you did not notice, I am not a native English speaker — and am therefore extra sensitive when I see unnecessary toil imposed on foreigners that weren’t blessed with 15+ years of English grammar and syntax lectures throughout the schooling years. These case studies in all of 70–53* exams are absolutely brutal to non-native speakers — and I am surprised that Microsoft’s psychometrician team did not catch that flaw. Making a correlation between test results and the native language of the tester should be a simple and straightforward exercise. Yo, @LibertyMunson, do you want some help here?

To give kudos where kudos are due: Microsoft actually has their own resident team of psychometricians that validate all of their exam questions, and they really do care about the statistical validity of exam results. I will let you find out for yourself how much other tech vendors care about psychometry of their exams…

OK, back to 70–533. I stumbled through the exam questions, page after page, clicked Submit on the last page, and…

Congratulations! You have passed this Microsoft Certification exam.

Fine, time to move on to 70–534 — the Azure architecture exam! Honestly, 533 and 534 exams are very similar, and it helps if you take them close together — I spaced them three days apart. 70–534 grants you beefy150 minutes to complete the test, with no more than 45 questions; easy peasy lemon squeezy! Except it was not easy. Darn, it was not easy! You heard me, this was not an easy exam and I hated it!

Here is my recommendation if you are preparing for 70–534: you should be fluent in both PowerShell Azure Cmdlets and ARM templates. Most of the questions are related to either PowerShell syntax or ARM template structure somehow. And you should know Azure service limits too, for all Azure services. And pricing plans. And instance sizes. OK, OK, you also have to know all the details of Azure mobile apps, Web apps, Azure SQL, Azure AD, ServiceBus, networking, storage plans, queues, blobs… Darn it; you do need to know just about everything that smells, looks or feels like Azure, ok?

Remember how I was complaining about the unnecessary linguistic complexity of AWS SA Pro exam last year? This one is worse. Ooooh baby! So. Much. Worse. Melting-your-brain worse. If I was lamenting before that questions were super-unfriendly for non-native English speakers, this exam is unfriendly to all cognitive lifeforms. Frankly, this exam is not testing your architectural knowledge of Azure; it is primarily testing your ability of deductive parsing, cognitive comprehension, and epistemic reductionism. (You have no clue what I just said? That is exactly how I felt during this exam!)

OK, let me share my infallible belief: this exam was written by a bunch of sadistic psychopaths that want to melt our brains and corrupt our souls. Prove me wrong! Practically the whole test is comprised of convoluted cryptic case studies, never-ending walls of incomprehensible and unintelligible dar̷̎k in̴cant̶ations̵, w̵eir̴d̴ ś̸e̷mi-a̴r̴ch̴it̸ec̶͐t̶ur̴al̵ d̷ia̶gr̸am̸͆s̸ f̷u̵l̴̛l̵̾ ̴o̸f̵ ̶a̶n̸c̷i̷e̸n̶t̷ ̸s̸̀y̸̒m̷̛b̸̅ó̷l̶͊s̴̎, q̸u̴e̸s̷t̸i̵o̸n̵s̷ ̷l̶̏o̶̓o̶̎k̴̶͐ l̷i̷k̶e̸ ̴d̷̔ĕ̶m̴̍o̵̓n̸̄ĩ̷c̸̵͘ c̴͛͂ĥ̴̓a̶̎͠ń̶͂ẗ̶́̆s̸̈́̀ ̶͗ a̵̡n̵͈d̶̘ ̶͙d̶̢e̴͉d̷̲u̷̙c̶̗t̸̟i̵͍n̷̻g̵͓ ̵̝c̴̦o̷̝r̵ͅr̵͍e̴̤c̵͍t̸͚ ̸͕a̵̗n̵̩s̸̡w̷̭e̶̡r̴̡ș̵ f̴͈̲e̷̤̙e̴̙̩l̴̰͈s̴̪̙ ̴̡̗l̸̖̞i̴͎͓k̴̭̝e̷͍͇ ̶̗̤y̵̤̟o̷̤ͅų̴͍r̵͇̩ ̵̘͖b̵̜̙r̶̼̠a̷̟͍i̸̘͈n̴̦̘ ̶̱̟ị̴̼s̸̹̤ ̶̗̯g̵̹̫o̴̢̰i̷̞̦n̷͇͖g̷̪͉ ̵͙̪ţ̵͚o̵̧̺ ̴͙̤e̴̗̘x̷̠ͅp̴̗ͅl̶̪̗o̸̰̗d̴̻̫e̶̥̖ w̵̡̦̩h̶̦̞͎i̴̩̝͖l̵̻̘̣e̵̡̻͚ ̴̙̲̦i̸̗͍̮t̴̡̤͜ ̸̱̩̳c̶̨̺̬o̶̭̻̱n̵͚̦̭s̶̫̣͖ṵ̷̧̮m̷̞͚̫e̸͙̲ͅs̸̝̩͙ ̷̥͓͇a̶̢͔̲n̶̰̱̰ ̶̡̪͔e̷͔͕̟x̶̫̹ͅo̵̲̲̤r̶͓̭̝b̸̡̻̲i̸͕̳͇ţ̶͚̫a̷̪̤̺n̷͎̟͈t̶͍̫͎ ̶̟̯̖a̵͙͜ͅm̶͓͎͇o̷̭̤̦ṵ̷̰ͅn̴̰͚̣t̴̹̖̖ o̶̫͖͜f̵̯̬͙ ̸̢̩͕ṱ̴͍͍e̴͇͚͕m̶̘̣̤p̴̥̥̫o̴̤̼̩r̵̳̤̳a̶͖̼͈ḽ̸̯͚ ̵͖̼̝a̴̗̙̻n̸̢̠̟d̵̰̞̘ ̴͕̲̲c̸̰̩͍ę̴̡̫ŗ̵͉̖e̴̟̟͎b̵̲͈̦r̶̠͖̠a̷͚͖̼l̷͕̼͈ ̶̲͓̹e̶̗̤͉n̵̡̗͓e̸͇̤̖r̴̩̘̠g̴̨̬̜i̴̪͙̲e̶̙͔ͅs̸̹̺̦.̶̣͖̙ O̵͔͇̤̤h̵̟͖̠̰ ̵͉̬͎̯n̶̙̥͔͜o̴̺̜͍͍,̵͇̬̤͉ ̵̨̨͍̖ẖ̸̢̭̩e̵͔̣̥̻r̴̫͙̬̗ȩ̵̩͔͖ ̵̡̟̪͈i̶̼̖̻̦ṱ̴̼͔͕ ̴̨̜͎͉c̴͉͚͎̤ọ̵̳̪ͅm̴͉̥͔̖e̴̱̻̼̺s̸͈̦͉͎!̶̨͇̱̮ W̷̵̗̲̣̭̪̤̭͙̠̙̗͈͘̕̕h̵̷̢̧͕͎̤͍̰͔̜̻͉̗a̵̰̘̺̳̤̤̪t̴̵͏͖̜̥͍̮̙ ̷̡͓̥͙̪͔͎͔͖̰̼͟͡i̶̷̟̗̞̭̰͚͝͝s̶̨̲̙̰͕̫̤͇̼̤̖͔͔͎͠͠ ̨̥̬̰̩͉̖̫̟̰̻̪̘̦̣̘̘͜͝͡h̵̷̢̧͕͎̤͍̰͔̜̻͉̗a̵̰̘̺̳̤̤̪p̴̡̢̨͍̥̬͓͝p̧̛͓͖͙̻̱̪͍͈͟͠e̸̴͔̗͉̱̗̼͢͝͝ͅn͍̬͓̖̻̹̥̬̤̟͠͝͠i̵̶̼̼̟͖͇̪̰̭͍̪͍͎̙͠ǹ̶͎͎͙͓̻͔͍̫̳̜͚̭͞g̷̡̝͕̪̘̹͕̰̙̘͈̥̩̰͕̣͠?̸̶̛̗̝̖̘͇̕?̢ ¿̜̝̮̼͉͎̘̳͈̥̭͓̫̥͓?̢͕̹̫̮̘̱͖̻̜͔̦̖̞̞ƃ̺̱̞̙̰̣̱͉͇̦̗̜̱̻̞u̫͇̬͔̫͎͓̰̜̮̥͉͎̼ͅı̧͉̠̙̪̲̞̫̩̫̪͎͜͜ͅu̡̠̳̫̜̭̰͍̫̺͍̠̳̯ͅǝ̧̡̨̹͔̗̪̘̮̫͈͇̝̯ͅp̧̢̧̫̰̗̘̯̹̣̤̜̹̰ͅp̤͈̬͙̻̹͉̠̗̜̝̻̩̣ͅɐ̢̙͙̝̭͔̙̥̫̯̞̝̳̝͜ɥ̢̢̲̣̦̙̺̫͙̗̫̥̮̳͜ ̧̨̡̹̗̮͖̦͇͕̮̦̦͜ͅs̢̞͚̹̠̜̝͚͚̦̜̞͔̦ͅı̧̰͎̟̭̗̱͕̪̬̣̳͎̗ͅ ̧̻̬̹̘̤̖͖͉͔̻̠͕̭ͅʇ͔̝̹͉̳̺͓͇͖̞͕̯̘͜ͅɐ̝͖͕̞̘̥̙̳̬͖̪̖͍̩͉ɥ̦̤̜̮̰̤͓͉̻̤̥͎̫̩̺ʍ̢̡̦͔̜̣̩̮̫̳͇̣̥̺̣?̻̣͍̠̺̰̱͖̙͎̲̘̮̞̪¿̡̥͉̦̳͚̻͖͚̞͔̖͖̹̠

I hated this exam. Hated it. I had nightmares weeks after this exam! I was crushed and defeated, I totally thought that I am about to fail my first exam ever, fair and square. In resignation, I pressed the final Submit button and expected the rough verdict. Grumble grumble… Hey, what???

Congratulations! You have passed this Microsoft Certification exam.

There was no joy. No happiness. No elation. Just a mad hot burning desire to drive over to Redmond, find responsible necromancers in LeX team that owned this demonic torturing over-engineered exam and yell at them in an enraged frustration. You know, that deep desire to be Vlad the Impaler just for one day, following the alluring call of my screaming Balkan genes demanding revenge and savagery!

Oh, on the way home, after my rage seceded, I realized that I just became Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate. Congrats to me, I guess?

Step 3: Reaching the MCSE: Cloud Platform and Infrastructure

People that were unlucky enough to read my pathetic programming code in the past will confirm: I am not a good developer. Still, I decided to go after a development exam 70–532 in this process so I could wrap this (rather expensive) journey and prove to my colleague that I still have the technical chops despite my age.

By now I knew the drill; 120 minutes, 45 questions, bunch of case studies. And tons of coding questions. I never cared about Azure .NET SDK — and I probably never will — but I had to deduct the correct SDK calls in several questions. Also, my choice of the coding language these days is Python — yet Microsoft still wants me to know C# syntax to address and control Azure services. A couple of questions probed my CLI knowledge too, showing Microsoft’s dedication to equality: they made sure that both Linux and Windows experts hate this exam equally — Linux admins throw profanities all PowerShell questions while Windows gurus cuss the CLI. A turd for everyone, isn’t that nice?

Honestly, you do not need to be a good coder to pass this exam. 70–532 has a massive overlap with the other two exams (that I already passed), and it was clear that it wants to be “DevOps-ish” hybrid rather than a real developer exam. Yes, there were some real dev questions with coding snippets that I needed to read, parse and decide what snippet to insert where. But then there were questions about operations, security, infrastructure and networking. In a development exam. Because we are all DevOps now, right?

Some things that didn’t appear in other two exams and are worth mentioning here: deployment slots, Web jobs, programmatic access to Azure Storage, Redis, Azure AD Graph API, reading and writing to logs. All of that was — of course — nicely wrapped into excessively verbose case studies that drove me nuts trying to parse through walls of text in the search for clues. I think you realized by now that I have an obsessive compulsive relationship with Microsoft’s case studies!

After my raging emotional episode with the Architecting exam (70–534) few days before, this last test wasn’t bad at all. It was an unusually smooth ride and almost a routine clickety-click through screens. Sooner than expected I came to an end of the exam, with a solid feeling that I didn’t do too bad. Aaaaand, let’s Submit.

Congratulations! You have passed this Microsoft Certification exam.

And with this milestone, I became a Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert. Woohoo! Here we go! I grabbed my glorious certificate, ran over to my colleague and restarted the unfinished debate from a couple of weeks ago, rubbing the certificate right up his nose: sooo, who is a total cloud idiot now? Look here! Who is an incompetent door knob now? Read here! Read it! Aloud!

Trust me, totally worth the two weeks of time and $622!

Except I don’t sleep anymore. Be̴c̸au̸s̵e̴ e̸̻x̵͔a̴͔m̴͎ ̶̱͂7̷͇̌0̸̙̊-5̶͙̈́3̴͚͒4̵͓̏ ̸̠̀ s̶̤̓t̷̜̄ḯ̴͕l̸͎̉ĺ̴̦ ̸̩͝ ḩ̷̋͊͜a̶̛͈̗͌ú̴̟͙͝n̷̡̤̽̕t̶͎̜̉͘s̵̭̝̓͂ ̴̻̙͑͂m̸̮͔̲̒̑̄è̸͔̣̝̀̈́ ̷͉͔̖͌͂͆i̵̞̪̺͑̄̚n̵̩͙͇̋̔͝ ̸̭̯̓̔̑͜m̸̬̖̮̄͗̽ẙ̵̢̩͉̈́̊ ̷̡̭͌̂͝ͅ d̴͈̻̰͔̃̑͊̈́r̸̨̮̙͓͗̀̉͐e̴̙̭̻̺͋̑̎̑ã̵̢̗̺̯̽̚͝m̶̙̹̟͍̈̈̒͛s̶̨͔̞̥͆͋̑͝.

A cloud computing nerd, an expert in IT paleontology, purveyor of all geeky things. A very “ethical” advisor who is the first in line for any free food or swag.