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On the joys of passing the Microsoft Azure Architect Technologies exam

The why and the how

The Why?

Let us start with the why – thank you Simon Sinek – why would a CTO need to sit for a vendor exam? There is no good reason why I or someone else doing a similar role should sit for a vendor exam. But, there are many reasons why we need to be aware of Microsoft’s (and all the other big players’) capabilities and offerings. If you are not across their technology and Azure, in particular, you are doing yourself and your organisation a disservice. That is, of course, irrespective of whether you have a cloud-first, cloud-right or even a cloud-avoidance strategy. The first why aside, there is a second; As CTOs or leaders in the technology space, we all need to be passionate about technology. This passion should go above and beyond just words on your CV. You need to show commitment to it, nurture it, develop it, water and feed it. What better way to do so than learn something new?

Any Prerequisites?

Microsoft suggests you need to have ‘advanced experience and knowledge across various aspects of IT operations, including networking, virtualisation, identity, security, business continuity, disaster recovery, data management, budgeting, and governance ‘. Thank you Microsoft for scaring off half the people who would have liked to do your training! Having been through the course material myself, I disagree with the above statement. You do need to be aware of all those technologies, but an advanced level of knowledge is certainly not required. Another great news is, you do not need to be an expert on anything Microsoft. I do however suggest you go through Microsoft Azure Fundamental course before you attempt this training.

What to Study?

We no longer need to attend an Instructor led training and that is great for us all. Sitting in a classroom 9-5 and taking 3-5 full days out of our busy days is just not practical anymore. Lucky for us all, there are tons of online offerings which provide the same level of knowledge and hands-on experience. I personally went through LinuxAcadamy – yes, I did not link them because I am not endorsing any vendors – and found their resources to be excellent. They also provide hands on labs on Azure – not simulated! – which is essential if you are thinking of doing the exam. There are also courses available through ACloudGuru, Udemy and Whizlabs. I must mention that I used Whizlabs exam and found it to be an excellent source.

The study and all the labs and hands-on will require between 40 to 60 hours of your time. It is time well spent however as you will get to play on Azure (free account available) and for once actually do things as opposed to having your people do things for you 😉

How Is the Exam?

A quick way to say goodbye to $165USD is to do the exam. The idea of spending money to be put under pressure and stress for over three hours may sound ridiculous to you, and it is. Then again, what better way to have engaging meetings with your engineering team than to walk in with an exam scorecard in hand?
The test combines multiple-choice questions with two online labs on Azure. I mean Azure, not a simulation and not screen captures. You log on to Azure portal and configure real resources. My exam was divided into five sections;
• 20 or so multiple-choice questions
• LAB
• Another 10 or so multiple-choice questions
• Another Lab
• Eight multiple-choice scenario-based questions

Lesson number 1: Manage your time upfront

The unfortunate thing is, you are allocated a time-slot for the entire exam and not individual sections. That means if you are bad at time management, you will simply run out of time. This is of particular importance when you do the labs. So, lesson number 1, have a strategy in place to not spend more than x minutes per multiple-choice question.

Lesson number 2: If you have not been on the Azure portal, do not do the exam
The two labs that I had, included 17 tasks combined. You may ask what is a task? I cannot give you my exam questions, but I can give you examples of what a task may look like. Go to this site and check out the bullet points under each major heading in each of the ‘Skills measured’ category. You can consider each bullet point to be a ‘task’. For example, under the “deploy and configure infrastructure” category, “Create Connectivity between virtual networks” heading, there is “create and configure VNET peering”. That right there, is a task. The lab includes 17 such tasks. If you are unable to address (configure, deploy, etc) every bullet point listed on the site, do not attempt the exam. You will fail.

Lesson number 3: Read the task carefully and do not over provision things
The task may present you with a scenario, but the actual task you need to perform may only be a subset of that scenario. For example, a task may talk about an organisation that wishes to have four virtual machines and then have those VMs behind a load balancer that will allow them to inspect at layer 7. The task, however, may be to configure a load balancer that can provide the required feature. In this instance, you do not need to configure four VMs or configure firewall rules, etc. All you need to configure is a load balancer that can perform that task. Had I known this before I attempted the first 6 or so tasks, I would have had more than 2 minutes to spare at the end of the exam!

Lesson number 4: Do not panic about the ‘unanswered questions’ at the end of your exam.

Since we are on the topic of Labs, the exam conclusion provides you with a little unwanted heart-attack. How so you may ask. Once you select End Exam – i.e. no turning back – you are presented with a little screen that shows how many questions you have answered, how many you have not and how many you marked for comments. I was terrified to see I had 17 unanswered questions. I was unsure about a couple of my lab tasks, but I was certain I had completed at least ten or more. I had also answered every multiple-choice question! I recalled a little warning window after each lab saying that once I submit all results will be lost (or along those lines) and so I thought perhaps there was another button I should have clicked on after completing the labs. To make matters worse, my portal froze straight after I submitted it. I sat on my chair staring at the screen thinking not only I have failed this exam but also all my scores and everything else is now lost and I may be flagged as non-compliant. 15 minutes later, I decided to pick up my mobile phone and noticed a call from a +1 number. Long story short, results were in and I had passed. All lab tasks are marked as ‘unanswered’ irrespective. Thank you Microsoft for the unnecessary heart-attack!

And Now What?

Well, if you are still keen to do the training, spend time on Azure and spend a few dollars here and there and then do the exam and pass it, then you can go through it all over again and look at the AZ-301 Microsoft Azure Architect Design exam. Once you pass both, you will be an “Azure Solutions Architect Expert

Will I do it? I do not know!