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My Journey to Microsoft Certified Azure DevOps Engineer Expert

James Cook
Over 10 years of career experience in IT, currently focusing on improving my cloud and coding skills. I have setup this blog to share my knowledge, experience and hopefully to inspire others.
Originally published at jamescook.dev ・5 min read

Before I tell you my journey, I want to let you know this is not my first Microsoft certification. The last Microsoft certification I took was in 2014 and since then changed technology specialism between Apple and Google where I became certified. My experience with exams isn't new to me, I’ve done many, so my journey may come off differently to others who explain their experience.

It started in December 2019 where the interest to skill up took me to the Microsoft Certification Poster. I’ve been using Azure in drips and drabs over the year and wanted to learn more about the service range and felt it was best to start with Azure Fundamentals.

Microsoft Certified Azure Fundamentals (AZ 900) 🏁

I first went to the certification page to look at the learning content Microsoft recommends. The page listed all the learning modules from the Microsoft Learn site that is related to the exam topics. To make it convenient for myself, I created a Collection (select the plus symbol next to the module) within my MS Learn profile so I can collate them in one place to access later. Once I done this, I started working through the material which includes scenario driven examples, video tutorials and hands on labs. I allowed 2 hours a day to work through the material (with the casual day off), using the Collection progress bar to monitor how far I was from completing all the modules.

Once I completed all the modules, I went back to the certification page to review the exam skills outline document. I used this to cross off anything I felt confident I understood and covered as part of the MS Learn material. By doing this, I was happy that the content I covered from Microsoft Learn prepared me for the exam which I then booked and passed. This preparation took a month but felt both my existing knowledge and the MS Learn content helped with the fast turnaround.

Microsoft Certified Azure Administrator Associate (AZ 103 / 104) 📚

After passing the fundamentals exam (in January), I set a target for myself to be prepared for the Azure Administrator exam in five months (June). This target was based on a slow paced learning, dedicated to reading material, hands on labs and deploying my own resources. This target was derailed after I found a new interest in learning how to manage Azure resources using HashiCorp Terraform. This put an extra two months (August) onto my planned target, but I did come out learning an IaC (Infrastructure as Code) product and certified in it.

Over the course of seven months I referred to the Microsoft Learn content listed on the Certification page. While working through this content I was also deploying resources in my own subscription by using the trial service Microsoft offers. Even though Microsoft provides hands on labs in their learning material, using Azure outside of the learning content was necessary in my opinion to familiarise with the service settings and to get a feel of the services working with each other. When reviewing the exam skills outline document, my confidence on some subject areas was not great as I felt I was missing some topics that need clarification. After some thought I decided to go ahead and search for an instructor led video course that included video tutorials and the information I was missing. There is many courses out there, and there is a lot of decent instructors who create them so it was hard to choose. I came across Scott Duffy’s course and felt his way of teaching suited me, and yes everything I watched helped with explaining what I felt was missing from my learning and made other knowledge I had stronger. Once completing the course, I went ahead and scheduled the exam and passed in August.

Designing and Implementing Microsoft DevOps Solutions (AZ 400) 🏆

I now have Fundamentals and Administrator Associate exams passed on first attempts within eight months. I wasn’t planning on taking any other exams in 2020, I was going to focus more on the Azure Architect content but from attending a Microsoft Ignite event in January I had a free exam voucher that was expiring at the end of the year. As stated in the last section I started learning IaC where I was using services like GitHub and Azure DevOps. I felt taking the DevOps exam might be beneficial both to my current understanding of DevOps practices and to the work I was doing with IaC. I did some research on the exam and found even passing the Designing and Implementing Microsoft DevOps Solutions exam, there was a prerequisite of passing one of two exam before earning Microsoft Certified Azure DevOps Engineer Expert (AZ-400). The two exams are Azure Developer Associate (AZ-204) and Azure Administrator Associate (AZ-103/104), one of which I've passed as part of my journey, making me eligible to earn DevOps Engineer Expert status if I pass the AZ-400 exam.

Again, I started with the Microsoft Learn content but felt from reading the exam skills outline document that there was huge gaps in my knowledge around development tools (possibly AZ-204 could of helped me). At the time Pluralsight was partnered with Microsoft to provide free content on certifications (this ended in January 2021), the material included information around development skills needed for the exam. I used this to fill in the missing knowledge I had, implementing what I learnt in some of my own DevOps practices, leaving me feeling prepared for the exam. In December I took the exam and passed, completing my twelve month journey to skill up.

Takeaways and What’s Next ⏭️

I learnt during those twelve months that even though the Microsoft Learn material is great in detail and content, there is additional work on your behalf to build on the information they provide. Don’t just read, actually complete the hands on labs and tutorials that’s provided. I also learnt that time commitment is necessary and must be regular so you retain the information.

Now does this mean I can relax with three Microsoft certifications under my belt? Am I skilled up to where I want to be? The answer to both is no, Cloud and DevOps are both constantly changing. I must stay in the loop with advancements in technology and practices as well as renewing my certification yearly so they stay valid. I have started writing blog posts to share my experience and knowledge as well as trying to contribute to both Cloud and DevOps communities, in return I am receiving advice, support and information that is helping me to grow.

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