Episode 039: Azure Fundamentals Certification (AZ-900)

Mike Pfeiffer on September, 09, 2019

In this episode I talk to fellow Microsoft MVP Tim Warner about how to prepare for the Azure Fundamentals (AZ-900) Certification exam.

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Full Transcript:

Mike Pfeiffer:
All right, so here I am with Tim Warner, good friend of mine, Microsoft MVP. If you’re following anything Azure related, you know Tim. Super pumped to have him here. He’s going to be taking us through some content today. Tim, what’s up, man? How are you?

Tim Warner:
I’m feeling inspired, Mike. Thanks. How about you?

Mike Pfeiffer:
Doing good, man. I’m happy to have you here because I think that you’re the best person to deliver this type of content for getting started with Azure. What are we going to look at today?

Tim Warner:
Thank you. Yeah, what we’ve got on the docket is a deep dive into exactly what is exam AZ-900 and what is its associated certification? It’s called Microsoft Azure Fundamentals. It’s got a unique place in the Microsoft Azure certification portfolio. I just thought we would go through everything that it consists of, and I did take the exam and I earned the badge so I can speak with some experience and authority. I think that this will be really useful.

Mike Pfeiffer:
You worked your way backwards there, right? You did the heart felt first and then did the easy one [crosstalk 00:02:09].

Tim Warner:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mike Pfeiffer:
But this is going to be a good session for anybody that’s brand new to Azure, right? They don’t have to know anything about this, is that right?

Tim Warner:
Yeah, in fact, what I find, another thing, I find that’s interesting about the Fundamentals badge is that it’s not wholly focused on technical people necessarily. If you could be a salesperson, let’s say, who wants to work as a technical account manager for a cloud solution provider or just, in general, an IT shop. The idea with Fundamentals is that you’re coming in with zero pre-knowledge on the Azure Cloud and you come out with a really nice, well rounded basis of what Azure is and how it works and its major services.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah, I love that man. This is the type of content I give to people on my team as well. Like you mentioned, floor managers, anybody needs to understand the general business and why are we doing all this stuff. Great content in here, so I’m looking forward to it, man.

Tim Warner:
Yeah, for sure. Well, let’s take a look at the agenda here. I wanted to spend just a moment explaining how these role based certifications came to be, then we’ll take a look at the exam page. We’re not going to be looking at slides, we’ll be talking, I know, and I’ll take you out onto the internet in just a second. We’ll look at the blueprint of the exam. I want to just quickly address exam registration questions that you might have. If folks have not taken a Microsoft exam before, and then, of course, the strategy questions. I can’t overstate how important it is, and I’ll bet your experience is similar, Mike, of people who go into a Microsoft exam maybe with lots of industry, hands on experience, and maybe even they’ve read a bunch of books so they know why they’re doing it. But because they’ve never sat for a computer based exam, they’re just totally blown out of the water without these interactive items.

Tim Warner:
They wind up getting sidetracked to the point where they might run out of time, or otherwise, not pass. Have you heard that from learners?

Mike Pfeiffer:
I’ve seen that, yeah. Definitely, I’ve seen people go in there with their very first time and get knocked off off course a little bit because they’re not expecting to have to answer the questions that way. I love that you’re going to be speaking to some of those things. I think about it a lot.

Tim Warner:
Yeah, definitely, for sure. Let’s pop right into this first piece on role based certifications. Historically, and again, I know with you, Mike, I’m preaching to the proverbial choir. But certifications have been monolithic and aligned to particular Microsoft products. The way that cadence used to be is that you’d get a new window server version every three, five years, and you would expect that Microsoft would revise their certification for that new version. The last MCSE for Cloud Platform is the badge you’re looking at on the screen right now. It’s called Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert. Back in our day, Mike, you remember Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah, and for people that actually got engineering degrees were mad [crosstalk 00:05:05]-

Tim Warner:
For sure. Where’s your license? Exactly, right. This MCSE and cloud platform, it was cool. But the problem with it is that it required broad knowledge of just about everything in Azure. The idea that I think we all agree is that Azure is a big enough ecosystem, just like Amazon or Google Cloud, any public cloud platform, where you can shape your entire career just in a job role. Developer, administrator, architect, Dev Ops, and then from there, there’s this slide is only showing four. I think, Microsoft has a couple dozen of these Cloud Platform role based certifications. We’re able to more granularly document our expertise instead of that old MCSE, which is now officially retired and gone. If you’re wondering, “Do I still need to think about that?” The answer to that is absolutely not.

Tim Warner:
I mentioned that the Azure Fundamentals badge and the exam is a little bit placed in a little bit strange of a place. Strange may not be the best word, but this slide that I’m about to show you, it comes from the Microsoft literature and I want to clear up a potential point of confusion. We’ve got three levels, let me just bring out everything here, the Fundamentals level, the Associate level, and the Expert level. The Azure Fundamentals is Fundamentals level, and notice that this slide says optional. Although, you might see a diagram or an infographic that seems to connect the Fundamentals to some of the other levels, there’s no dependency. The Azure Fundamentals badge stands completely alone. You can earn it and just stay there, you can earn it and then move to the Associate level. There’s no dependency in either way. That is to earn an Associate or Expert does not require that you do Fundamentals.

Tim Warner:
Of course, that might lead a learner to think then what’s the business proposition here? What do I get out of learning the Fundamentals? I think that’s a good question, I’ll address that in just a moment as a matter of fact. But to complete my thought here, if you do want to qualify at the Fundamentals level and move on, the Associate level, or the mid-tiers you see you get your specific job roles like administrator, developer, and so forth. Then some job roles Microsoft considers to be at a higher level of abstraction or complexity like DevOps and Azure Solutions, architecture, and those are expert. Then it just depends on the badge, whether there’s a dependency. I believe that DevOps may require you to have either or both the administrator or developer associate. I don’t know, we would have to check that on the website. That’s-

Mike Pfeiffer:
I think you’re right on that one. I think that there’s a prerequisite for either developer admin, I believe. The other thing that I was going to call out here that I think is kind of interesting is that Microsoft doesn’t necessarily think that you’re going to go down every one of these role based paths, but I know a lot of people that are trying to do that. They’re like, “Oh, there’s the same stuff showing up in any administrator path.” It’s like, “Yeah, because you have to know certain things to do both those roles.” Sometimes things overlap. I think it’s important for people to know if you’re going to go down that road of doing multiple role based certs, you might do some duplication of content. Because it’s designed because you might just be on one role forever, right?

Tim Warner:
Yes, absolutely. I’ve taken the administrator and developer and fundamentals and architecture. I can verify, yeah, there is overlap. I think from a learner’s perspective, I don’t know why that would be bad news, it would be good news because it allows you to leverage your pre-existing knowledge and map it into your next certification. I’m a big believer in that, so let me go out and find my Firefox browser here. There’s a couple sites that every learner should be aware of. First of all, if you just do a Google or Bing search for exam AZ-900, you’ll come to this page at the Microsoft learning website. This I always suggest should be the learner’s base of operations because, among other things, you can schedule your exam from this engine here. You sign in with your Microsoft account and then you get federated over to Pearson VUE, which is Microsoft’s partner that does the registration and the exam delivery.

Tim Warner:
Now, the exam pricing here, if you’ve taken associate level exams or expert level exams, you can see that there’s a difference. At least, in our currency USD, it’s 99 bucks for Fundamentals and for the Associates and Experts, it’s 165 bucks as of this conversation in summer 2019. I think Microsoft intentionally lowered the price point. They want to just make this exam, in general, have a lower barrier to entry, and to be a more approachable certification than the higher order ones. Another thing that’s not on this page, and I’m quite sure it’s not NDA protected, but the time limit for this exam is much less than the associate or expert level tests. It’s like half the amount of time, so it’s a shorter, simpler, structured exam as well. All in keeping with the idea that we’re not getting into the weeds of code, you’re not going to have to worry on the Fundamentals exam to do JSON or Azure PowerShell or Azure CLI.

Tim Warner:
You might see a reference to those languages and that data format and the exam but the skill set and the job role is about general understanding. Speaking of which, you see down here under skills measured, there’s five, one, two, three, four, I guess, objective domains as Microsoft calls them. I just what I recommend learners do here from a strategic standpoint is copy out every single bit of this outline. Since Microsoft Learning revamped the page structure, it’s a little more awkward to do. But I would suggest that they make an outline in say Word or Excel or I forgot what the Mac OS app is for that. There’s keynote and pages and numbers, I think, is the Mac iOS app.

Mike Pfeiffer:
I always use the Google stuff like Google [crosstalk 00:11:09]-

Tim Warner:
Do you?

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah.

Tim Warner:
Okay, there you go, that’ll work. Make a multi-level outline where the first level would be the objective domains, the second would be these headings, and then third put each one of these on a separate row. Because you really do need to in your preparation account for every single bullet point because you will see either an entire item, one or more items that focus on one of these. But at the least you’ll see every one of these words appear somewhere, maybe in a distractor, in an incorrect answer choice or in an item stem, it might be a one off statement. It’s really crucial, and I think going further, once you have your outline set up, you can map that alongside a calendar, think about what your timeframe is, your goal for taking the exam, and then plan it out. By the time you’re ready to sit for the exam, you’ve covered the entire blueprint.

Tim Warner:
Okay, and along those lines as far as registrations, I always have this tip as well to find the Microsoft Learning special offers page. This is cool because, if I can scroll down a bit, their Microsoft is almost always running some promotion or another where you get something like an extra voucher. Microsoft used to call it the second shot promotion, now it’s called exam replay. Here you’re paying a bit more than the list price for the exam, but you get an extra voucher to use if you don’t pass the first time. You have to wait 24 hours to take the exam again, but it’s essentially the exam replay winds up potentially lowering your investment 50% because the second try would be a free voucher. This particular bundle, exam replay and practice test, is compelling because it hits not only for the extra voucher.

Tim Warner:
Whoa, what’s this showing? But it also gives you a practice exam for MeasureUp. Here we go, North America, US. Yeah, so in this case, I don’t know how well this particular bundle would work for Fundamentals because the list price is only $99 instead of 165. But bottom line, I just always want to make sure learners are aware that it is possible to find a discount and to not underestimate the importance of getting a legitimate practice test product. It’s hard for all businesses, I submit, to keep up with Azure’s rate of change. What I’ve seen, boy, I need to install AdBlock.

Mike Pfeiffer:
[crosstalk 00:13:43] popups on this website.

Tim Warner:
This is crazy. But I think MeasureUp is about the only test provider that’s current. Let’s just quickly live take a quick look here for AZ-900. Yeah, there we go, Fundamentals. Yeah, so the practice test is going to give you those test taking skills, or at least it’s going to minimize any surprise that you don’t want to have when you’re sitting for your live exam and you see say a case study. I don’t think that the Fundamentals has any wacky interactive items. Again, maybe the suggestion may not be as appropriate for the Fundamentals level as for the associate or expert. But I think my advice still stands, don’t neglect getting a legitimate practice test.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah, I would agree with that because all the times that I’ve ever done exams, doing the practice tests really got my mind in that way of thinking that get eliminate the wrong answers. It just really helps. Going back to your point earlier, if you walk in without any kind of thought process around what you’re going to expect to see on the exam. It can be pretty challenging, so the practice test I think fixes up for you.

Tim Warner:
Yeah, for sure. Because how is Microsoft going to validate that you know your stuff? Well, it’s a computer based exam so you might think somewhat naively but correctly, “Well, I’m going to probably see a bunch of multiple choice items.” And that’s true. But they go beyond that on most of their exams into various interactive items, and actually have some slides prepared to show that to our learners as well. But just to take a look, a closer look for a moment at the actual content of AZ-900, specifically, how deep do they get with the technology? Let’s just take a quick look here. It looks like the first skills measured domain is cloud concepts. This is a lot of vocabulary, and Microsoft Learning does, I think, I admire them quite a bit. I think they did a lot of clever writing in terms of writing questions that require you to know the difference, for example, between public, private, and hybrid clouds to understand the cloud computing characteristics like scalability, agility, fault tolerance.

Tim Warner:
You will literally have to know what those mean to pass the exam but it’s not going to just be a simple of matching words and definitions. So item writers at Microsoft did a really nice job of accessing your higher order thinking because they’ve told me specifically, Liberating Months and at Microsoft told me specifically that they never write to the low levels of Bloom’s taxonomy, their learning model. They intentionally go up higher, which requires you to go beyond just recalling facts, and actually put concepts together in a meaningful way. Yeah, this is a lot of cloud computing terminology, for sure, but you’ve got to know it, you got to have your basis. Then we start to get into the core Azure services, there’s core Azure services that regions, availability zones. Again, that’s largely terminology but this time, it’s Azure specific. What does Azure call these different elements or resources that make up your different kind of deployments?

Tim Warner:
You have to know the major categories of products, compute, data, networking, Internet of Things, big data, and the major products under each of those categories as you can see on the screen here. The security, privacy, compliance, and trust is pretty interesting. Again, it requires some feature recognition as your firewall DDoS protection, what a network security group is. But it also interestingly requires that you spend some time in some of the Para Azure websites. What do I mean by that? Well, there’s something called the Microsoft Trust Center, which is where you can read about all of Azure’s compliance at a stations with different governmental, regulatory bodies, this whole section under here. They also have a bunch of tools and white papers and stuff regarding data sovereignty and privacy policies and how they validate in their data centers that they comply with GDPR for instance, or PCI, or whatever it is that your industry subject to.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah, that’s an important conversation for a lot of businesses. A lot of people don’t go into the cloud because they erroneously think that it’s not going to comply with something when it does. So you got to check that stuff.

Tim Warner:
Yeah, I’m legit a big fan and evangelist of this skill set because I submit, anybody who works with Azure in any capacity needs to have all these skills. I think Microsoft did an awesome job of taking a body of skills that you should have coming into Azure. There’s some other portals that as you study, you’re going to come across. The Service Trust portal, they have a really cool online tool called Compliance Manager where you can actually work with… you can save your compliance department a lot of work because there’s literally the check box pretty much right there where they can do their out-of-stations right from within that portal. Very cool, understanding about Azure government, China, Germany, US government, clouds, that kind of stuff. Then, lastly, this bit on pricing and support. This is pretty heavily covered on the exam as well.

Tim Warner:
Understanding the different Azure subscriptions, the free tier and what’s available there, pay as you go, Enterprise Agreement. Let’s see, what else? Zones, pricing calculator, yeah, for sure. You need to know how to use both the pricing calculator as well as the total cost of ownership calculator. To what you said just a moment ago, Mike, I submit that this exam is particularly relevant. I’ve heard in years past, and I think in years past it was a more legit argument, that Microsoft wants us to know all this minutia that we don’t even see in our day to day work as developers or systems administrators or database administrators. But I submit that this stuff here and the Azure Fundamental skill set is legitimately stuff that’s going to help you every day in your live work with Azure.

Mike Pfeiffer:
I agree. I think it’s super important because to be able to work in any role in any part of your business, whether you’re a manager or say a pre-sales, sales, you’re an Azure coach, whatever it is in the IT organization or project manager and all this stuff. If your business is going to Azure, you need to know this stuff. I totally agree 100%.

Tim Warner:
Yeah, right. Yeah, and stuff like this, service level agreements and this is so key. I don’t know how many professionals I’ve spoken with in a consulting capacity or outside of that, who weren’t aware of exactly what goes into the different service lifecycle levels. In other words, I would say, “Do you know that when you’re in the Azure portal and a feature has public in parentheses next to it, that there’s no SLA on that unless Microsoft explicitly gives you one.” There’s no SLA and it’s not part of your support plan and they’re like, “I thought because it’s in the portal, it’s in scope for support.” No, if you go to the page, Microsoft has a page where they described their preview policies. No, the public preview stuff is for test dev only. You see, so it’s legit good stuff to know, public preview, private preview, general availability.

Mike Pfeiffer:
There’s always tons of stuff in there too that’s in public preview, it seems like-

Tim Warner:
Right.

Mike Pfeiffer:
… constantly because they’re always iterating.

Tim Warner:
Always. Yeah, that’s right. You’ve got to keep up-to-date, because like I said, I have seen some features that are in public preview, where Microsoft does allow you to use it in production. Azure Migrate, for instance, is an example, where if memory serves, they’re supporting Hyper-V now is a migration path, they should. But it’s in their blog post for that they say that they’ll support you in a production capacity. That brings up the question this monitor feature updates, where do you go to keep abreast of new announcements from the Azure team, you see? What happens when you pass your AZ-900 exam? Well, if you’ve never passed a Microsoft exam before, it’ll be a new experience because you’ll be assigned an ID, it’s called an MCID, it used to be called an MCPID. You’ll carry that number with you throughout your career. I’ve had mine since 1997.

Tim Warner:
You’ll also be given a login to your own little learning portal in the Microsoft learning website, which we’re looking at right now. Where you’ll see your dashboard, your most recent accomplishment, there’ll be a congratulations message. If you’ve scheduled an upcoming exam appointment, that will show up here as a reminder. Speaking of which, you may, if you’re like me and you work well under pressure, you might invest and schedule your exam now to give yourself added incentive to stay on track with your scheduling. If you’ve taken my advice and built a blueprint of the exam and aligned it to your calendar, so you know I’m studying this on this day and this on the other, you could have your terminal day being where your actual registration is to help you keep inspired and on track.

Tim Warner:
But once you pass, you can always fetch your badge from this tool here. On the right, you’ve got your Microsoft official transcript that gives you a history of every exam you’ve passed. If you don’t pass the test, it won’t show on the transcript. Only exams that you’ve passed. These role based exams in general have a… well, we’ll learn in just a second, I think it’s two or three years. There is an expiration on them, that’s the news. But the other bit of news, I was shocked to learn that Microsoft learning, as of now, to as of today, hasn’t yet published any guidance as to what renewal requirements are. That’s literally to be determined. This is also new, I guess, you could cut Microsoft some slack in that regard. But let’s take a look and see what the badge is and why it’s worth you’re getting and different things that you can do with it in the real world.

Tim Warner:
I think Microsoft’s done some really good stuff by moving to this credential, this badge credential system. We’ve got Azure Fundamentals, and to your point, Mike, there’s a gamification aspect I’ve found to these badges. Because the idea now is instead of certifying and getting a printout, an eight and a half by 11 certificate that you put on your wall, that was how we always used to do it. Now with these badges, these are meant for sharing in a social media and/or a professional context. It’s kind of, at least, I’m a gamer so I’m subject to this, I want to keep on collecting badges. There’s a gamification aspect. It actually I find it inspiring actually, so let’s go to this Azure Fundamentals. One. You can download and that just pulls down a ping version, a 600 by 600 fairly high resolution ping that you can pop in a website or whatever.

Tim Warner:
But the magic comes in when you go to share here, this is going to click us out to another company called Acclaim. It’s that you’re federated through, actually I take that back, the first time you do this, you’ll have to create an Acclaim account. Then from then on, you’ll just come into your acclaim.com. Once you’re in there, you’ve got your Acclaim badges. Acclaim is that’s their whole business, it’s a software, it’s a service company that does digital credentials. Not only for IT, but for a number of other industries. Comp T, as you can see here, they use these Acclaim badges, Microsoft uses them as well. If we come into our Azure Fundamentals, yeah, so this is what the sharing web page looks like. The idea here is that you’ve got validation of your achievement.

Tim Warner:
Okay, so let me just cut to the chase. Let me jump to the share page where you’ve got little embed codes here for sharing your credential on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook. Let me quickly show some of the different item types. Not that we’ll necessarily see these on the Fundamentals exam, besides this one. By the way, these screenshots are public, they’re not from any live exam, of course. They come from Microsoft Learning’s YouTube channel. If you look up Microsoft Learning on YouTube, they have a number of videos where they just spend a minute or two minutes walking through how these items work. But for somebody who hasn’t yet taken a Microsoft exam, they should be aware of this stuff. First of all, in the upper right, you’ll see a time remaining. You have a single countdown clock for your exam. Most of the exams are broken into sections where there might be a case study that focuses on a fictional business, or on some of the exams, performance based items where you actually are taken out into the Azure portal and have to complete honest to goodness tasks.

Tim Warner:
But those subsections are not individually timed. The Fundamentals exam largely will consist of your traditional single answer multiple choice questions that use the radio button control, the multiple answer multiple choice which the screenshot’s not updating but the control would be the checkbox as opposed to the radio button. I always like to let learners know that if it’s a multiple answer multiple choice and it says which tools should you select. If you only select one and then click the Next button, the exam will stop you. Likewise, if you connect, if you select rather more than what’s required to answer the question, there’s validation built into the exam engine that way. I can also verify that you do get partial credit. If you were doing a multiple answer, multiple choice question that had two correct answers and one of the two you answered correctly, you will receive credit for the one that you answered correctly.

Tim Warner:
This is what I call a repeated scenario kind of item. Again, I don’t know if you’ll see this particular item type on the Fundamentals exam. I don’t remember, and frankly, that would be NDA violation if I mentioned anyway. What’s that all saw? If I told you I’d have to kill you? The repeated scenario is where you get maybe two, three, four items that have the same STEM, the same scenario but they differ in their solution. You simply need to respond as the solution meet the goal. In this example, you need to move a VM to another host, you redeploy the VM, does the solution meet the goal? These are interesting because you can’t go back and forth. That’s because you could potentially realize what the correct answer is after seeing the second one. Maybe the second one would have, again, the same solution, need to move an Azure VM solution, you restore a VM using a recovery services vault.

Tim Warner:
You might realize, “Wait a minute, that doesn’t meet the goal, but the one I was just in, that was the correct answer.” They won’t let you go back. The general exam strategy I like to give in summary is don’t use parlor tricks thinking that you’ll outsmart the item writers. They know all the tricks. They all saw about, “Well, these answer choices, one looks a lot longer than the other so that must be right.” All of those tricks, they’re not going to work. Instead, I would suggest just focus on your skills and what they’re asking because every single word in these items mean something. The exams, the questions go under multiple reviews, where they literally scrutinize every single word to make sure that there’s no ambiguity and the correct answers are 100% correct and incorrect answers are 100% incorrect.

Mike Pfeiffer:
That’s pretty interesting because I know in an older days, they would do that, right? That sounds like they fix that.

Tim Warner:
Yes, I think they did fix that. Thinking back of the AZ exams that I’ve taken, there was one exam, I don’t remember which one, that had one item that I thought was vague. It might have just been a typo, or I don’t remember exactly, but that leads to the fact that you can, in fact, mark items for review. And you have a review period after you submit your exam that is timed separately from the main exam. You can give Microsoft Learning feedback, you can also file an exam challenge if you feel that a question was unfair, or it contained a typo. I want to quickly jump back out onto the internet and show where to go for that. You want to look for in your search, say, Microsoft learning exam policies, that should get us to the page. Yeah, certification exam policies and FAQs.

Tim Warner:
This is a really nice document to bookmark anyway for your certification study because they actually show you the full non-disclosure agreement, and there’s a section here called Challenging a Microsoft Certification Exam Item. There’s also importantly information on retakes, like I said, the first time, if you don’t pass your exam, you have to wait 24 hours. Let me see where that is. Yeah, it’s in there somewhere, but then if you take it the third time, the fourth time, it’s a staggered amount of time. I think you can only retake an exam up to four additional times in a calendar year. But all of that is on this page, exam policies and FAQs. So that I think is certainly worth our learner’s bookmarking and referring to.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah, that’s a good resource because you never know what the fine print is going to be, right? If you have questions and that stuff, you could always just find the answer in here.

Tim Warner:
Right. Yeah, and I don’t think it’s worth going into all the interactive items because that’s not in scope here. Like I said, the Azure Fundamentals is not about coding a C-Sharp module, and it’s not about deploying a storage account. It’s about, as we saw, the Fundamentals of Azure.

Mike Pfeiffer:
What do you think for somebody who’s studying for this, do you think they even need a whole lot of hands on practice or none at all? What are your thoughts there?

Tim Warner:
Yeah, excellent question, excellent question. The learning model that I’ve developed uses a pyramid as a metaphor. Where on one side of the pyramid is the theory of the content, and you can get that largely through the documentation. Actually, the Azure docs are really good, or Microsoft Learn, which will go to next. Second part of the triangle would be hands on, which is exactly what you’re talking about. If we’re dealing with the Fundamentals, I mean, there’s hands on in terms of a lot of the stuff that’s in these, this blueprint requires you to go out to public pages at azure.com and get hands on there. Like you do need to have some road miles on you understanding, say, the Microsoft Azure pricing calculator. I’m glad Google can understand my poor typing, by the way.

Mike Pfeiffer:
[crosstalk 00:32:59].

Tim Warner:
From on a hands on perspective, absolutely, every time the AZ-900 blueprint mentioned something like a tool, like the pricing calculator, that means you do need to go there and you need to work through it. It’s a good exercise, anyway, because it gives you a good experience putting together a quote. If you’re pricing out a virtual machine, you can go through and fill out and build an estimate here. I’d have to read the fine print that estimate Microsoft has given you their best possible information based on your currency, and then based on your region, because little known fact, Azure pricing actually varies by region. Your operating system, your discs, there’s a lot of metrics that would go into using the calculator to develop an estimate but, again, you have to know how to use the tool.

Tim Warner:
Yes, to hands on for these public pages, the trust portal, the compliance stuff. You need to go to those websites and actually click through. You’re not going to have to worry on your exam about on which page do you find this option? No, you just need to know the purpose of the tool, and a little bit about how it works. I mentioned Microsoft Learn, I don’t know which of these tabs that’s on. Let me just clean everything up here by closing everything and just going to microsoft.com/learn. This is an extraordinarily useful free resource directly from Microsoft, and their course called Azure Fundamentals. It’s actually a 12 module learning path. It’s right here on their front page. This is great. I think that this was developed right in line parallel with the exam objectives. Because everything we’ve mentioned thus far, let’s see, what is cloud computing? Compliance terms, all of the vocabulary, the cloud deployment models and service models, the difference between IAS and SAS and PAS.

Tim Warner:
It’s all there for you. The core services, understanding specifically what are Microsoft data platform products, for instance? It’s all there, and they even get into, if I scroll down towards the bottom, yeah, the pricing calculator, the compliance stuff, the spending, the understanding the different subscriptions. Yeah, I would say make sure that you’ve gone through the Azure Fundamentals learning path at Microsoft Learn. Because it looks to have been written specifically in accordance with the exam objectives.

Mike Pfeiffer:
This is fantastic content. I’ve been recommending this site to people as well for months, and if you look at the top of the screen there, it’s like eight hours of training. It’s not like they’re holding back. Like you said, they’re talking about the stuff that’s on the objectives, and if you study this resource right after you watch this webinar with us, so this webcast, go to Microsoft Learn and run through this, you’re way ahead of the game in terms of sitting down for the certification, right?

Tim Warner:
Oh, yeah. Yeah, for sure. Hey, and it’s not relevant for Fundamentals but the higher order exams, the Associate and Expert, they’ve got learning paths for those. Let’s go to administrators for a second, and most… well, I don’t know about most, but at least a lot of these learning paths and modules will actually have hands on labs inside them, and you can click into a sandbox environment and work and the Azure CLI and Azure command line interface. Or even in some labs, the Azure portal but you’re using Microsoft subscriptions and Microsoft’s resources. For free, you’re getting honest to goodness hands on experience in the real Azure Cloud working with real Azure resources.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Fascinating. I saw the embedded CLI in somebody’s web pages but I haven’t seen them giving people actual Azure portal access and that’s really cool, man.

Tim Warner:
Yeah, there are labs in here, creating a VM might be one to look at, for instance. Where you can actually click into the Azure portal and do the work in the portal with no investment, with no monetary obligation on your part. That’s awesome.

Mike Pfeiffer:
It’s good too because if you’re new to this, you’re worried about leaving something running and paying more than because you don’t understand all the charges and the potential costs. So that’s an awesome way to get some hands on without worrying about, “Oh, I’m going to run up a huge bill.”

Tim Warner:
Yeah, agreed. Definitely.

Mike Pfeiffer:
I still leave stuff running sometimes on accident and realize that I got to go turn it off because I didn’t set up the notifications and stuff.

Tim Warner:
Right, same here and then that’s another thing that I like, personally, about the Azure platform. The mobile apps are really very usable. The iOS Azure app, the Android app, so if you leave something running, you could stop the VM, for instance, or do we what you need to do from your Smartphone in all likelihood. Just again to sum up in summary, this study pyramid I found over the years serves as a good global model. Just always keeping in mind the interdependence that to be successful on your Microsoft certification exams and beyond is keeping in mind the theoretical information, the content knowledge. Which, again, Microsoft Learn that course we just looked at hits not only that, but the practical application which is taking the theory and turning it into practice.

Tim Warner:
Then, finally, the test taking skills that allow you to leverage your theoretical knowledge and your hands on skills in a way where you’ll be prepared to demonstrate to Microsoft that you know your stuff.

Mike Pfeiffer:
That makes a lot of sense. I think that if everybody hits all three of those, man, that’s really going to give them a lot of clarity when it comes to working with this stuff.

Tim Warner:
Yeah, and I think the interdependence I’ve seen, unfortunately, when an individual has a failure in any one of these sides, they’re severely handicapped. If they go into the exam, with not enough theory, maybe lots of hands on, but they don’t really have a good knowledge of why they’ve done it, they just know how to click, click, click and get the job done, they wind up not passing because they don’t have the theoretical basis. By contrast, if they’ve got all the theory, they’ve taken classes, but they’re weak with hands on, they’re going to go in and get a performance based lab and just tank. Then we’ve already talked about if you’re missing the test taking skills.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah, I think that that goes back to the point you made earlier about having written the questions in a way that it requires you to solve the problem in your head. Just knowing how to do the steps isn’t enough, you got to be able to think through and solve the problem almost in your mind based on the content, the practical application, maybe you played around with some stuff a little bit, I think that’s important.

Tim Warner:
Yeah, for sure. When Microsoft developed these AZ exams, and even beyond the Azure platform, all of their cloud products, now they’ve gone into Dynamics 365 and Microsoft 365, and so forth. They conducted JTAs, job task analysis and Redmond where they got their subject matter experts together with product team members, with industry people. They invited them to campus to brainstorm to define these job roles. Again, they’re very much live in person and in color in terms of what you see in the real world with Azure, so I’m stoked.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah, I like that model and the nice thing is the other cloud platforms are doing the same thing. Everybody’s kind of following the same process, so once you get comfortable with this, and the inevitable happens, which will be your boss is going to want you to learn another Cloud Platform later, you’ll already understand the game because AWS does their stuff the same exact way. It’s a little focused, so you’ve got an essentials path, which is, essentially, the Fundamentals path. Then they’ve got administrator type stuff, developer, DevOps type stuff, in terms of roles. This is a great way to start if you’re Microsoft focused, and then it cues and sets you up really for success and the other ones later down the road. Because they’re so familiar, like similar in a lot of ways.

Tim Warner:
Yeah, they are, for sure. There is an element of a snowball rolling and gaining momentum, and I found even though, as you said, Mike, I actually took the Fundamentals exam after I took the associate and expert level tests. But I still felt a significant sense of accomplishment and happiness and gratitude when I passed AZ-900. It was a really unique experience, and they are additive in terms of their content and certainly the structure of the exams is all consistent. You definitely can take advantage of momentum, momentum of confidence, momentum of skills, if you do decide to go further beyond the Fundamentals.

Mike Pfeiffer:
The aggregation of marginal gains stretched out over a long period of time really is really powerful and it’s sometimes underestimated.

Tim Warner:
Yep, yep, nicely stated, and Liberty from Microsoft Learning told me that Microsoft Learning revisits the exams every two months, because as we talked about, public preview, general availability, the platform changes every day. You can expect that the items are going to evolve in their content as Azure features evolve. To that point, there’s an important example here that I want to close with really, and that is, in your preparation, stick to what’s on that exam blueprint that we looked at earlier. You might see features, maybe the exams having you learn about virtual machines. And you’re in the Azure portal and you’re looking at virtual machines, don’t look at preview stuff, public preview stuff.

Tim Warner:
Liberty confirmed to me that the exams will focus 100% only on generally available products and features, not public preview. Maybe in six months, you’ll see an update on the exam blueprint page because such and so feature now is GA and now is in scope for the exam. But, no, public preview is not on the exams.

Mike Pfeiffer:
That’s good to know because there’s a lot of public preview stuff like we had talked about. That’s good to know. Well, Tim, that was awesome, man. I really, really appreciate you coming on. I was actually just about to ask you about this, this is where we can find you?

Tim Warner:
Yeah, exactly. Well, first of all, you’re welcome and thanks for having me. My contact info is as follows, my Twitter handle is TechTrainerTim, and as you can see, I’ve kind of used that in other contexts. My website is also techtrainertim.com. My work catalog can be found at Pluralsight website, just simply look for my name. I think the Twitter is particularly important to follow because I post on certification stuff just about every day, whether it’s a quiz question or a pointer to an exam objective and a docs article. There’ll be some good resources for you going forward, I think.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah, your Twitter stream is a great resource for people that are looking for Microsoft certifications because it keeps… even for me, I’m like, “Oh, yeah, that’s a really good thing to study because you forget and you take your eye off a little bit so you’re reminding people I love that.”

Tim Warner:
Got to keep it green, thank you.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah, man. Well, thanks so much for doing this, it was really fun. I think it’s going to help a lot of people that are getting into this, whether they’re in a technical role or not and I’m excited to see what happens. Thanks so much, Tim Warner, Microsoft MVP. Want to keep up with what’s going on in cloud computing? If so, subscribe to my weekly newsletter and get my top five tips every week for staying on top of Azure, AWS, and Google Cloud. Just go to askmike.io/subscribe to join today. Every week I’ll send out information about cloud architecture and developments, containerized applications with Docker and Kubernetes, DevOps and automation, and strategies for getting the latest cloud computing certifications. If that sounds awesome to you, go to askmike.io/subscribe to join the list today.

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