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On the joys of  becoming a Microsoft Certified Azure Solutions Architect Expert

The why and the how

The Why?

Following the glorious success of my AZ-300 exam and the mini-heart attack I suffered as a result, I thought to myself what better way to test the old ticker than to do another Microsoft Exam. Which exam I hear you ask. I did – at the comfort of my own home – the Microsoft Azure Architect Design exam and passed without putting much stress on the heart.

Why the AZ-301 Microsoft Azure Architect Design exam?

Four reasons;

  1. If you are thinking of becoming a Microsoft Certified Azure Solutions Architect Expert, this is one of the two exams you need to pass
  2. If you’ve already done AZ-300, you will need minimal studies to sit for this exam
  3. As I always tell my fellow leaders, how do you expect to lead a team of technical experts if you cannot speak their language? Or worse still, if you do not earn their respect?
  4. As with learning anything new, why not?

How did I prepare for the Exam?

I revisited my AZ-300 course material and signed up to a monthly subscription of ACloudGuru. I also had a look through Microsoft’s own training material online (free). I spent two weeks on and off reading and I think that’s more than enough time for this exam.

I do however wish I had spent a little bit more time understanding the API management capabilities of Azure.

What about the exam?

I found the two exams to be complementary and it made sense to me to do one after the other. The AZ-300 covers the how, while the AZ-301 covers the why. There are no labs in AZ-301. I had 49 multiple choice questions which included 3 scenario-based ones. The exam also included one annoying semi-scenario-based set of questions which once you answered one, you could not go back and change your mind.

I found the multiple-choice questions to be reasonably easy and straight forward. There is a lot of focus on WebApps, identity, databases and API management. The scenario-based questions were long and perhaps a little confusing as you may find couple of contradictory statements with regards to client requirements. Funnily enough, that is always the case with clients’ requirements. They want the best solution at the cheapest price and with minimum ongoing management effort while having maximum control over everything. My recommended approach to answering those questions is;

  1. Read the question first and understand what they are asking for. When you read the question, you should immediately be able to have a few potential answers in mind. As an example, if the question asks for secure connectivity between on-premise and cloud resources, you should be thinking either some sort of a VPN and or an Express route solution. Then read the client’s requirements and narrow down the potential solutions to 1. As an example, if the client thinks the internet is not reliable enough, then your only option is Express Route.
  2. Look for the answer in a different section! But what do I mean with this statement, I hear you ask. Let’s assume the question is about a database solution. The scenario may have a section that is specifically titled “Database” and so the tendency is to go straight there, where the client talks about least management effort. But you may find a little statement somewhere else – let’s say under the current environment section where the client has a lot of SQL licenses and absolutely wishes to protect their investment. The solution will now change to perhaps a different type of licensing 😉
  3. Take your time. You have plenty of time in this exam and so do not feel rushed.

I finished the last point with a comment about time so let’s talk about time. Unlike the AZ-300 where I completely mismanaged my time allocation and spent way too much effort in the labs section, I was well and truly in control of the clock. From the moment I logged onto the Microsoft’s learning site to the moment I closed off the laptop, I had used up 90 minutes all up. Time is something you have plenty of in this exam and so I would suggest you to not panic, read every question carefully, evaluate all the options, mark the questions you are unsure about and then go back to them.

When was I notified about the result?

Straight away a happy little screen pops up that says congratulations you have passed, and it also gives you a breakdown of your performance.

The certificate gets uploaded to your Microsoft learning Dashboard within an hour.

What is next?

I do not know. A friend suggested ISC2 CISM… what do you think?