Episode 080: Do Certifications Really Matter? | CloudSkills.fm

In this episode I catch up with Josh Duffney to discuss the value of technical certifications. Tons of tips and insights from Q&A with a live audience.

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Full Transcript:

Mike Pfeiffer:
Alright folks, so let’s talk about this. Josh, you had a really polarizing blog post a couple weeks ago about certifications don’t matter but they absolutely do matter, and I’d love to talk to you about it because here’s the thing. For me certifications were a game changer early in my career, and I’ve been repeating that pattern consistently ever since. I know that you’ve got some experience as well so I’ll share a little bit of the things that I’ve gone through in the past, and why I think certifications are so important. But I’d love to hear about the article and the conversations that you’re having around this topic.

Josh Duffney:
Yeah, so I wrote this article because I had just like over the last… Well, December I took the AZ-103 and passed that and then I believe it was February I took the AZ-400 and passed but back last May I took the AWS CCP and passed that exam. So I needed a way to kind of on ramp myself in the cloud and I didn’t have any structured learning, there wasn’t a lot of fantastic opportunities at my job to get foundational knowledge that I needed there and so I use certification to do that. I wrote this article because I’ve been on both sides of the fence. To go way back I passed the CCNA in 2013 after three failed attempts. So at that point I pretty much hated certifications and I also realized that like all these peers of mine that were CCIE level didn’t really have any certifications and it didn’t mean that they were competent, or just because I had a certification didn’t mean I was competent or had mastery in that but they do have value.

Josh Duffney:
So there’s this middle ground that a lot of the people that responded so adamantly or passionately to my article, they kind of found a middle ground and that were given the context of the situation they do matter but they don’t. They don’t because they don’t mean experience… they don’t mean that you’re experienced or that you have mastery or your competent but they do matter and that they can give you a way to on ramp into the next new technology. I think they’re critical in today’s environment because the industry is rebase lining on foundational knowledge, and that foundational knowledge is the cloud and that is why I think cloud certifications in particular are super hot.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah, you nailed it because that’s my big thing, right? I talk to a lot of people coming out of school and I have some opinions there, but the thing is if you go get a computer science degree you’re set up for certain jobs in tech but not necessarily the ones right now that we need the most, right? There’s so many IT teams in the enterprise space that are desperate, like absolutely desperate for talent and it’s just hard to find. It’s just one of those things like you can’t really keep up with the bleeding edge of technology in a traditional long term for your program. So vocational things, the training and certifications are massively beneficial.

Mike Pfeiffer:
I wanted to bring up Karthik’s question here, do employers recruit based on certifications? They absolutely do these days. If you look at the job postings this is different, it used to not be like this in the early days when I started. They’re all looking for certifications and I know that you’ve been pretty active Josh, you’ve worked at several different places over the years and you’ve been in the job market. Do you see that out there? Like people needing certified practitioners?

Josh Duffney:
One quantitative thing I can say is that when you start putting certifications on your profile, you’ll get hit up a lot more.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah, yeah.

Josh Duffney:
So I mean it opens opportunities.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah, I mean I think that… I think those of us that are probably on the live stream get it, right? If you’re watching everybody that’s in… especially in cloud kind of has gotten a message. All right, the certifications are important and I think really the biggest thing right now is because there’s so much to learn, it’s the best way to get in the game, right? Because you did that with Azure, you were… you weren’t really doing much Azure stuff even though you’re a traditional… I think Microsoft background is that right? With your IT [inaudible 00:05:24]

Josh Duffney:
Yeah, almost… Well, a decade now and Windows environments mostly.

Mike Pfeiffer:
So what was the kind of resistance for you? I mean you mentioned going through the process of failing a CCNA and stuff like that. Was it just like oh, this seems insurmountable or?

Josh Duffney:
Yeah, I pretty much thought every certification was going to take the same level of like… I think I’ve put over 300 hours into studying for the CCNA and part of that was it was just… it wasn’t the right field for me as I found out later on in my career, and that’s why it took me so long. It just wasn’t… I didn’t enjoy the process of studying for the CCNA in retrospect but yeah, that’s absolutely true I spent a lot of my career on-prem with Windows stack and for whatever reason I just couldn’t bring my… there’s a few lies that I told myself in the very beginning to be honest, like one was I wasn’t a developer. One was… and this is an arrogant thing to say, was like why would I put VMs in Azure? I look at that now I’m like, “Did I really think that I could manage virtual machines better than Microsoft?”

Mike Pfeiffer:
Right.

Josh Duffney:
But for whatever reason I just didn’t see my place in the cloud and that’s why I just… I use the scapegoat of I’m not a developer and I can’t create all these past services so I’m just not going to learn it, and to my own detriment did I do that?

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah.

Josh Duffney:
But then I dove in with AZ-103 targeted towards administrators my background, and from there once you see the way you see the way in all things. So I started to find all sorts of ways that I could apply the knowledge that I gained in Azure.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah, I definitely could relate to that and I’d love to follow up on that. I wanted to bring up a Peter’s comment here, he said… or his question, would you agree that certifications if nothing else provide good direction for focused study? The certs are almost a byproduct and absolutely 100%. Honestly, the all the value that I’ve gotten out of the certification process has been not the paper at the end. That’s helped, right? Start conversations and things like that but it’s been the byproduct of going into darker corners of technologies that probably would have never gotten into, and I think that is a good tactic just to study just based on that. But one of the other things you said Josh that I relate to is… and this was for me several years ago probably a decade ago in my career of having a feeling of being drawn towards some software development things.

Mike Pfeiffer:
I’d done a couple years as a .Net web developer in early days of .Net and 10 years ago it was just deep into scripting, but there was part of me that was like, “Man, I really want to do more development stuff, but I’m not a developer.” So we tend to kind of label ourselves or feel like once we’ve been on this path or whatever we got to stick to it, and I think certifications are a good way to break out of that, right? That’s one of the things that I used it for, so when I wanted to do more conversations with software teams and start doing more with development, I went and I got… I guess what is it now? They used to call it the… it was one of the certifications for the developers, the MCSD. I don’t know if it’s even still there anymore, but I went and got that in 2008 or nine just because I wanted to get into the conversation. So sometimes it’s just like a foot in the door, right? Have you had that experience with some of your certs?

Josh Duffney:
Yeah, absolutely. So I can give some context to why I chose certifications. So to take a step back right about the beginning of December of last year, I knew I needed to get into Cloud and I wanted to go with the Azure route and I had just made that decision, but I didn’t know where to start. I looked around and I could log into Azure I created my own account, I poked around I just didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have any structured learning, learning paths in there is… there’s so many resources out there like I could start all these quick start guides and stuff like that [inaudible 00:09:01] of architecture but I didn’t have like an end, right? So what certifications gave me was a path that had an end to it, that allowed me the freedom to learn and experiment but within a set of framework that I didn’t have to spend all my energy deciding what that learning path would be.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Right. Yeah, so I’d the title of the article and for the live stream I just put Certifications Don’t Matter Or Do They? Because I think the… I mean Peter kind of made the point, the cert… that’s not really the important part it’s the byproduct and the forcing yourself to focus and learning and building that muscle, that’s an important thing that a lot of people don’t even think about, right? Once, you start knocking down some of these certs it starts getting easier and you start getting more data, you start understanding, “oh, this is much easier than it was the last two or three.” One of the questions that David said in the comments I wanted to bring it up real quick… Sorry to cut you off there but it was a good one because he says, “Hey, guys and what’s up Dave? Good to see you man.” Now he’s saying, “What’s your best ideas about other ways besides certs that people can prove their skills to employers or clients?”

Mike Pfeiffer:
So for me I know that you’ve probably got a couple queued up Josh, but I think open source projects even as small as they… as far as like even just a script and a Markdown file that teaches somebody what to do, creating some kind of solution that others can use for me is a… is my primary way, what about you?

Josh Duffney:
I 100% agree, that’s exactly… Well, it’s either that or teach. So what I did is I didn’t really create an open source project but I created a five series article on Dev that I also posted on CloudSkills or on Dev under CloudSkills about Ansible and Azure. So what I did was I had this… I had two years… well, more now of Ansible experience and I figured out now that I understand Azure a little bit I can mix the two, and so I solidified that knowledge by practicing and teaching.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah.

Josh Duffney:
So I created that series and that would be another way, so teach or open source project.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah, I’m huge on that too obviously, I’m always… and if you guys listen to the CloudSkills, FM podcast I’m constantly ranting about turn around and teach what you’ve learned, and Josh has done an amazing job of that over the years. You’ve done several PluralSight courses and stuffs so you’ve… and you’ve spoken at conferences, so you’ve always utilized that. One of the things that I’ve started to pick up on is not everybody’s super pumped about doing that, which is awesome because everybody should have their own modality. Maybe you want to write, maybe you want to do audio only, maybe you want to just do some screen cast videos and not be on camera like this. There’s so many different ways where you could kind of get into the concept of teaching, but even to your point like you were just teaching almost sometimes in a very focused way, sometimes it doesn’t have to be a full blown article maybe, maybe it could just be a quick post, right? Or a quick something else, quick repo, quick open source projects stuff like that.

Josh Duffney:
If nothing else… So a good example of what I started to do, there’s a GitHub repo under my account just Azure and as I learned about different things in Azure, I learned Azure actually through PowerShell because I have such a deep experience in PowerShell. As I learned I just figured out how to do things and I wanted to keep track of the commands, so I created a repository and just started putting the commands in there. If you read it, it probably doesn’t make any sense.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah.

Josh Duffney:
But it was an artifact of my learning and so at least do that, because there’s some kind of an artifact that you can go back to and look upon.

Mike Pfeiffer:
I know, and then always go back to stuff like that and I’m like, “Holy cow, I can’t believe I wrote that, I don’t remember writing that.” I want to bring up Mo’s comment from YouTube. Mo said, I recently got my CCNA and have been wondering if I should go for an IT degree instead of aiming for Azure certs. Anyone have thoughts on this? I have some thoughts that I’ll share. Don’t do it, no I’m just joking. I’m not a huge fan of traditional University if you’re going to be a practitioner in this space, like if you’re going to be in the trenches like IT person, I think there’s better ways to spend your money and your time. I know that I’ll probably get you know total backlash for saying that but this is coming from somebody whose wife works in higher education. She’s got tons of two college degrees so I’m not anti-college, but I’m pro being practical with your time and your energy and what it is you want to do long term.

Mike Pfeiffer:
If you’re thinking long term, if you want to ascend into the highest ranks of management that the biggest companies in the world then yeah, maybe doing the associate degree and getting your MBA at some point would be something that would give you some leverage. I think right now the biggest challenge is… I mean Associate degree is going to be cheap, but once you get into the bachelor and beyond most institutions are going to overcharge you and then they’re going to turn around and give you a bad product. As somebody who considers themselves a businessman basically, I’m not a big fan of selling somebody a crap product basically, right? And I feel like a lot of institutions do that. They overcharged you thousands and thousands of dollars, so it’s sometimes like $1,000 a credit hour and then they teach you… they give you a delivery that’s not really that great.

Mike Pfeiffer:
So I would weigh those factors like what are you doing long term in your career? To me when I had to make that decision, I tried a couple times like Oh, I’ll go back to school but it was just like it was way more practical for me to go get a cert. I mean I went from… I was making like 20K a year and then I got my MCSE and NT4 and I immediately went up to like 30 or 40. I almost doubled my salary within like a year and this is 20 plus years ago, and certifications are way harder than they are now. But what do you think about that Josh? Should Mo go back to school or what do you think?

Josh Duffney:
I think the assumption that you have to have a degree is a lie. I’ve actually used that as a way to judge employers, and if you required me to have a bachelor’s degree then I didn’t want to work for you. Just because NIT I can learn so much more quickly on my own through online training and teaching online training, than I ever could hope to imagine in a traditional education track. I mean I have my associate’s degree and I’m grateful for that because it gave me… it allowed me to hit the ground running in the industry but I had no prior experience. Certifications will let you do that same thing, you already have your CCNA you can already speak to routing and switches and the OSI model and all that good stuff. Honestly, that’s probably… that would have probably been… I think in my associate’s degree it was a whole semester on just that one thing.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Right.

Josh Duffney:
So I don’t think it’s necessary.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah, I agree and that’s another cool thing about certs even when you’re doing stuff that may be a little bit out of your comfort zone, and then you realize oh, I’m never going to use this again but the CCNA stuff is going to probably serve you in a lot of ways that you didn’t even realize, because when I’m talking to people in the cloud stuff these days networking is always, always, always one of the friction points for most people. Even people that do networking because they’re coming into the cloud and it violates every rule they’ve ever learned about networking in the physical world. But anyways I got a question from [Rahul 00:16:01] that’s specifically for Josh. Rahul said, a question to Josh coming from a system support background how do you think you can showcase CloudSkills… Just CloudSkills in general not that company CloudSkills, to prospective employers with certification? So how can you showcase those skills coming from a support or a systems background? If you don’t really have any DevChops maybe or scripting CHOPs I guess is maybe what he’s getting at.

Josh Duffney:
That is a good question without any… you can still talk about it. So I would still write about what you’re learning, you can include screenshots. You don’t have to abstract everything into a code… coding language, I would highly recommend that you invest in learning some kind of automation if it’s Azure, PowerShell is the natural fit there. But teaching about it or writing about is going to do that, but then also passing the certifications and putting them on your profile is probably the best indicator from like a keyword perspective, but once… that’s going to get the recruiter to notice you, and then the recruiter to put you in front of an employer. From that point on the employer is going to look you up and they’re going to find your profile. So maybe some badges and things that you’ve accomplished through the Microsoft Learning Center, or certification through other online training or blog posts or anything like that.

Josh Duffney:
If you don’t want to start a blog there’re other mediums, there’s Dev that you can use that will host the blog posts for you. You can write all in Markdown, but generating some kind of public artifact that shows that you’re learning about it you don’t have to be an expert to do it. Showing any kind of interest and self motivation to publish those public artifacts puts you so many more rings ahead of the people that don’t want to do it.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah. I think one of the big things that you should watch out for there Rahul, is think like waiting, right? Like I’m not ready yet. Most people aren’t ready for the cloud stuff so don’t like think that just because you’re only doing systems or support doesn’t mean that there’s a spot right now, don’t use it as an excuse not to start. Get in there now, you don’t have to be a Dev you could focus on other things. I mean there’s still system support and there’s a lot of legacy and Workloads that’s being migrated in on VMs, and it’s going to be that way for a long time. But to Josh’s point you want to start getting some legs under you with scripting and that kind of stuff, but don’t let it stop you from starting today. I mean you could do lot with system support and even security and just the core things, right? Networking, virtualization, identity. So yeah there’s plenty of traction there for you to get started.

Josh Duffney:
Think of it as a different platform. So you got your on-premise that you’re probably familiar with, and you have a technology stack there. It’s just a different platform and technology stack that you have to learn how to operate in.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative) Let’s see what Michael Mendoza has to say here, he’s got a nice punch list from LinkedIn. He says in my opinion certification benefits the vendor, ensure support for product service. Yeah, so that’s another reason like you might work for a partner that needs certified people for their partnership, right? I’ve had to play that game with Microsoft partners a lot. Employer gains confidence that the engineer has product knowledge, absolutely 100% engineer is forced to learn product aspects behind empirical and becomes more marketable. What do you think?

Josh Duffney:
Yeah, I agree with that.

Mike Pfeiffer:
It goes back to one of the things that we were talking with Peter that last point there, getting into the weeds of some of these technologies that you think you may never use may end being a conversation piece later. I actually talked about this a while back you guys probably missed it, but when I very first started my career when I got my MCSE I was on the support desk, and I got an MCSE and NT4 and then I wanted to be a consultant because that’s where everybody was making all the money back during the dotcom explosion, right? So, my first consulting job I only got it because I had started working on NT5, which had Active Directory in it.

Mike Pfeiffer:
NT5 was later called Windows 2000 when it was released, but that being able to just speak to it and I had zero, absolutely 100% zero experience with it in the real world but I’d set it up, and when I was talking to the guy in the interview he could pick up on that. He was like, “Oh man, you know a lot about Active Directory.” And that got me my very first consulting job, that’s what got me off the help desk into the consulting game. I don’t think that I would have gotten that gig without being able to speak to that. Have you ever had that kind of experience Josh? Where you get into a technology that you weren’t expecting to be kind of a catalyst for you?

Josh Duffney:
Yeah, well the Azure certs kind of did that for me, so I can speak to some of the outcomes from that. I’m now referred to as to Azure guy, so I’m the one that people come to you for questions not because I have all the knowledge of Azure it’s because the certifications gave me enough confidence to start building experience, and now it’s kind of acted as like a magnet for that experience because I have confidence, people come to me with questions and then I further my experience.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Josh Duffney:
So really the big takeaway that I got from the certifications was not the paper or not… the learning was actually just the confidence to explore the technology, and then that exploration feeding into my experience.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah, yeah that’s a great message man and it’s so true. Let’s see what Sean says. Sean said, what’s up Sean? It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you man. He says, “I can say they count plus experience, it’s part of the reason I’m working where I am.” I think Sean works for a big cloud provider if I’m not mistaken, that’s awesome. Let’s see Lee Smith says, “Traditional education route struggled to stay on the bleeding edge of technology.” How can I like amplify that even more? Can I like to retweet this or share this comment 100 times? I believe that too. I think its traditional computer science programs are super important but not everybody is going to be a low level programmer. We need people doing that but we also need people that understand how to work on network infrastructure.

Mike Pfeiffer:
One of the things that… there was a big kind of backlash a couple… I don’t know a month or two ago, when Microsoft announced that they were going to continue the MCSE and there was a big petition and bunch of people went crazy, because right now they’re really pumping up the role based search, right? For all the Azure stuff which they should be but I think they’re… one of the things that there’s a concern is that people are going to be lacking system skills, right? We all know that the traditional way of doing systems is changing and we’re going to end up being supporting [inaudible 00:22:09] probably someday and building apps and all that fun stuff more than just doing VMs but anyways that’s awesome.

Mike Pfeiffer:
So let’s keep going and take a couple other questions. Let’s see what Joe has to say from YouTube. Joe Fox says, “Depends on where you are in your career, just started or haven’t started yet. I’d suggest an associates to help you get a good base and also help build your network.” Yeah, so Joe is answering I believe the question from before about should you get it, and it’s true. Your variables are the dictating… the driving kind of factors, right? Everybody’s got their own backstory and background and needs and wants and all that kind of stuff.

Mike Pfeiffer:
So I’ve got my own take on it but I’m certainly not going to be right for every person, and that’s another thing that’s kind of driving me nuts lately. I saw this in a comment today on another posts from the CloudSkills page where people were like, “Oh, AWS is better than Azure. Azure is better than AWS.” I’m like, “Who are you to judge?” Right? What’s your background? Where do you work? What’s your strengths? Of course, if your strengths are AWS you’re going to say AWS is better, and I think we all need to do a better job of recognizing other people have their own background. Thanks for bringing that up Joe.

Josh Duffney:
I can add some context to that. So as I mentioned last May I took the CCP and I passed it I did really well. I actually really struggled to grab a hold of AWS from the beginning, like just the console and the way that it was used it’s like it gravitates more towards Linux, and especially as you look out across the market AWS companies are more Linux based companies. So they’re… for someone that has a background in Microsoft technologies, on paper it doesn’t look like a good fit.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Josh Duffney:
So you have to adjust all those other factors in there of where you’re going to miss your time. So I didn’t really choose to pivot to Azure because of that, I chose to invest in Azure because it had a lot of PowerShell support and I actually just wanted another excuse to use PowerShell if I’m honest. Lo and behold that whole framework and mental model I had built up of almost a decade… well, decade now and Windows systems engineering transferred so much easier to Azure because it was built by Microsoft, and all my mental model stayed. [inaudible 00:24:12] were kind of the same flow, there was resource groups in the organization of all the resources made sense to me from a very heavily mimicking Active Directory, and everything can be done through PowerShell.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Josh Duffney:
So I hit the ground running there. So use your background and experience to select where your path is going to go, otherwise it’s going to create friction. But the interesting thing is now that I’ve passed those Azure certs I’ve jumped over to AWS as I’ve started to write a book, using Ansible against both of them.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Josh Duffney:
And now that I have more experience in Azure, AWS is making a lot more sense.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah. Well, that’s that’s the beauty of doing one cloud and getting into it in a really deep way is because then the other ones start to become less… You start to see the patterns, right? And we do that by programming. I wanted to bring up Mark Ingram’s comment from LinkedIn. So congrats Mark because he says, “Very happy to have completed my Bachelor’s of Science in IT at WGU.” Lots of prior credit from Ms certs and so happy that he continued on and finish his MBA in December. So this is my take, if you’re going to do college then do it at a place like that, WGU where they’re not going to rake you over the coals. That’s a place where they’ll… you spend I think… I’m actually not 100% sure on like the pricing and stuff, but it’s like you pay 5, 6, 7 grand a year, and you can take as many classes as you want and then it’s like performance-based.

Mike Pfeiffer:
So you don’t have to sit there and listen to some Professor lecture on and on, you can go in and basically if you’re proficient and you’ve got previous experience you can bring all that in, and you can work through a degree without getting ripped off by people charging 100K. So congrats to Mark and that’s what I was going to say if you’re going to be an IT game, do something like that unless you’re coming right out of a high school then you want to have the fun college experience I understand that. But if you’re kind of continuing education a university like WGU or I think Capella does that now where it’s just like you pay one fee, and then you can take as many things as you want for the year.

Mike Pfeiffer:
That’s how education needs to evolve and I have a funny feeling that we’re on that road already. What do you think, Josh? With all of this remote work now and everything, do you think that’s where it’s going to have to go? How can they compete going forward if they don’t change what they’re doing? So it’s not going to work forever don’t you think?

Josh Duffney:
It’s not especially now in their current and the climate environment, because the world’s proving that remote works.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah.

Josh Duffney:
And it’s more effective, and it’s more cost effective and it’s better for people’s lives more generally, where you want to travel and have all that commute. It can be done remotely and it can be done well remotely. So that right there being proved true is going to force them to have to change because there’s going to be a lot of innovation, I foresee in the next several months, years on education.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah, and just to the folks in the comments that getting mad at me it’s all good. We just said a minute ago that everybody’s got their own variables. So I already said I got my own opinion you’re welcome to have yours and I’ve also said already that certs and university makes sense in the right circumstances, so don’t get offended too much thanks guys. All right, so let’s take another couple questions here. Let’s take some folks that we haven’t talked to in the past, so hey, what’s up [inaudible 00:27:24] in the house, good to see you man. Let’s ask… let’s have Colin ask a question. So Colin says, "Will the Server+ cert still be worth getting today? I think so because I’ve actually… my very first certification ever was A+ and the A+ taught me hardware and software, and that got me going in my very first thing doing tech support The Server+ stuff is good because it teaches you a lot of the same things but it teaches you about virtualization, it teaches you about networking and stuff like that.

Mike Pfeiffer:
I think Server+ is a great place to start for people that don’t have a lot of systems experience. Have you looked at any of the CompTIA stuff Josh?

Josh Duffney:
I think I took the N+ the last month that it was a lifetime membership so I still have it. I don’t have to renew it but yeah I have the A+ and N+ certifications and that’s where I started.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah, those are a great way to start. If you’re completely brand new and you want to get into the cloud stuff, and you’ve got zero background Server+ is a good place to start. CompTIA also has a Cloud+ which might skip some of the networking stuff so like Network+ isn’t around anymore Josh, is that what you’re saying there?

Josh Duffney:
I think you have to renew it that’s all.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Okay, but you got a lifetime special time certificate?

Josh Duffney:
Yeah, yeah.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Got it. Yeah, I did the Network+ too back in the day. So I did A+ and the Network+ and then I don’t think I did ever again CompTIA but I’d like CompTIA stuff because it’s vendor neutral and it teaches you core skills that the cloud flavored certs aren’t going to teach you about generally, unless you’re doing a specialty cert. AWS has some good specialty certs for like networking and security and stuff, and I know that Azure has got a few too I’m hoping that the Microsoft folks do more specialty certs as well, will have to see what happens.

Josh Duffney:
Yeah, their certs assume the knowledge of the CompTIA from my experience.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative) Yeah, yeah.

Josh Duffney:
They assume that you know what a subnet is and a netmask.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah, man they’re pretty much just assuming that you have the Server+ knowledge already.

Josh Duffney:
Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Mike Pfeiffer:
Alright, cool. So let’s see… I’m taking a few other questions here, lets take a question or comment from Lee, “Just starting the Azure cert path, brand new to IT. At what point do I need to diverge and learn programming or scripting languages, or will that be integrated into the Azure cert training?” That’s a great question. I think going back to the other thing you were just saying Josh about the system stuff, there’s a lot of assuming you’re already there, right? For most of these, is it true?

Josh Duffney:
Yep. Yeah, a lot of the questions on the exams will ask you exact syntax of a question. So through the study you’re going to pick up some of it, but hopefully through as you practice… there’re several phases when you study for a certification, part of it’s the learning, part of it’s applying but then there’s that practice piece that you try to replicate what you learned independent of the knowledge, and that’s where the value is. So if you were to take what you’ve learned and what you’ve kind of followed along with and you try to practice yourself, use that as your way to get into the automation, the scripting and all that good stuff.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Nice. Yeah, I agree with that. Let’s see what Mike said here. Mike says, "Next big cloud cert is Oracle Cloud now that it’s public knowledge Zoom uses Oracle… That’s actually a very smart move Mike way to go man I like that. By the way they are getting absolutely hammered right now. I’ve been on a zoom call every day probably for the last month and a half and I’ve noticed like some of the recordings are being a little slow and I’ve been talking to their support this week, they’re getting hammered. I wish I would have bought stock when they IPO’d.

Josh Duffney:
As long as you bought the right one, I’ve seen a lot of-

Mike Pfeiffer:
At the right timing is worth everything right?

Josh Duffney:
Well, there’s a big confusion with the… there’s another Zoom company, I think I saw a lot of tweets about it where people were buying the wrong Zoom stock.

Mike Pfeiffer:
That’s funny you say that because I actually was looking at that a couple weeks ago. It was probably a month and a half ago or something but I Googled Zoom stock or whatever I saw that other company and it’s like super low, I’m like, “Oh, I should buy now.” But it was a different company called Zoom and they had number one spot in Google. But Karthik had a good question, what about DevOps certification in capitals? In all caps. Its hard man, it’s an insanely complicated… I was just looking at the new AZ-400 skills measurement document for the Azure DevOps certification. I mean the other one was hard too but I’m like, “Man, I’m reading through this because we got to do a bunch of updates on our courses and stuff.” And I’m like, “Wow, that’s a lot.” And the AWS ones a lot too. So I think that they’re super important obviously, I’ve double down on it in the many ways but I think it’s also underestimated and how difficult it is, it’s expecting a lot.

Mike Pfeiffer:
So you need to work your way up to it and I don’t think that you should stop trying to learn DevOps stuff, but just… I wouldn’t say don’t start if you’re new like start paying attention to it and get into it, but be advised that it’s going to take some time for this stuff to sink in. I think Josh and I are in a good spot in that Microsoft world because PowerShell is so automatic for us. But I often think to myself, “Man, if I was just starting now and I didn’t know PowerShell and I had to learn all this stuff, or I had to learn Bash or Python and then learn all this infrastructure stuff, it’d be tough man.” So I have a lot of empathy for people that are new, because I’ll get the piggyback up some of my previous experience but man it’s a lot. What do you think about DevOps certs Josh, do you think that’s kind of true, and what are your other thoughts about that?

Josh Duffney:
I think they’re… so after passing the AZ-400 they did a really great job of the broad spectrum. So you’re right, like it does include a lot of concepts and stuff. But say you’re a system administrator or you’re a developer and you’re coming to that, it does a really great job of introducing you to the key concepts and the way that a team would work in more of a DevOps model versus a traditional model, where they talk about the Azure boards. It’s always specific obviously to the Azure technology, but the concepts inside that, that the technology is using are applied universally. It might be Azure boards or might be Jira, it might be [inaudible 00:33:09] but source control is kind of the concept in there that you’re learning. I think they’re really valuable and they do a great job of introducing you to foundation, be patient with yourself because-

Mike Pfeiffer:
Patience.

Josh Duffney:
It has a very broad spectrum and you’re going to learn a ton.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah, it’s not going to happen overnight for most people. Over the last couple years I’ve really realized that and it’s okay, everybody’s got their own ramp up, right? So let it happen and just don’t sweat that, “Oh, I can’t get the DevOps cert just yet.” Just chip, chip a way at it and you’ll be good.

Josh Duffney:
We’ll, take a step back to and so this advice that you gave me is enjoy the process of the learning and not so much fantasize and idolize the outcome of that certification. That will make the long journey that much more enjoyable as if you can just do it because you enjoy it, not because you want that end goal. Now I get it like it’s relieving to have passed a certification but keep that in much… as much in mind as you can.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah, I’m glad that you’ve mentioned that because that is important and the hardest part with that is loving it when it sucks too, and you got to love that process man. The good parts, the parts that aren’t good because as soon as it gets tough most people will bail, but if you’re loving the game and being in it that’s how you do it. So you got to find out what it is for you, but also realize that it’s not always going to be like a joy ride 100% of time, there’s going to be times where you want to give up and quit and it sucks but-

Josh Duffney:
I can tell you when I wanted to give up and quit on AZ-103 was after my first practice test when I got 20%. That’s when the self doubt came in and I was like, “Oh, should I stay with AWS? Should I be doing something else? Should I learn Kubernetes? Or should I just stick with something with PowerShell that I can do that I’m familiar with?” All that self doubt crept in right after that first horribly failed practice test.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah.

Josh Duffney:
I’m glad that I pushed through it though, and stuck with it and came out the other side.

Mike Pfeiffer:
I used to beat myself up pretty hard and I used to be freaked out paranoid, what if somebody finds out that I failed the test? So I would study way hard. I would study way more than I needed to and then I always pass because I was so prepared, but it was like actually what was making me successful part of it was my insecurity about being exposed for failing and it’s funny because now I don’t really care, I’ll just go take it and let the chips fall where they may.

Mike Pfeiffer:
It takes time and practice and kind of being in it for you get to that point, but if you’re new think about that you don’t have to get a perfect score. Nobody really cares what you got on your score anyways, like if you’re taking the Azure cert it’s 700 out of 1000 to pass, right? And if you only got a 700 who cares? You passed, go to the next exam or move on and go to the next thing. So I would just throw that out there as advice, don’t overthink it you just want to get some experience under your belt. A Pass is Pass.

Josh Duffney:
If you get a 900 my opinion is that you’ve spent too much time, and that you wasted some valuable time that you could have been towards the next one or your next venture.

Mike Pfeiffer:
I have a question I was going to bring up here, but I just want to on that point real quick. The only time I ever got a perfect score on a Microsoft test was the Windows 2000, a 2003 MCSE upgrade and I was just doing tons of stuff that in that era, and I knew my way around Windows Server really well, right? So I got 1000 out of 1000 and I walked out of the thing, and the lady that like checks you in… this is before remote proctoring she was like 1000 out of 1000 she’s like, “Did you cheat on this?” She was convinced that I cheated on it, and I was like sweating bullets. I was like, “Oh my god, are they going to revoke all my certs?” But yeah getting 1000 out of 1000 is not going to happen. That was lucky for me, but I wanted to bring up this question here and I think I already know what you’re going to say Josh, but does automation matter as a systems admin now like Ansible, Chef, Puppet does that matter? I have a feeling it’s a yes.

Josh Duffney:
Critical? So I would separate the two, right? So it’s Chef Ansible that good stuff is more of a configuration management tool where… and does automation so it can be on there, but there’s imperative and declarative. So imperative is like a scripting language where you write one task it does one thing, and then declarative it kind of figures it out and it usually has three metrics like a get set and test, but all of them are critical. Your first step at least for me was the imperative. So learning a scripting language and it doesn’t have to be fully scripting but like Python, Bash, PowerShell. That way you have an interactive shell that you can automate tasks, that will greatly help you when you go to a declarative model where you’re defining everything as basically a document, a code document for the way your infrastructure will look, because there’s going to be a lot of gluing that you have to do to get it to do what you want, and that glue is going to be that scripting language that you learned but I think it’s absolutely critical.

Mike Pfeiffer:
That’s right, I agree. Let’s bring up another one, [Hansey 00:37:58] was saying, “If somebody has two years of experience in IT supports, what do you think Josh are the three top skills necessary to get their first cloud job like a cloud support engineer or something like that?”

Josh Duffney:
Probably some level… Well, if it’s like a cloud they’re going to have some familiar with the framework, right? Like of the platform. Server knowledge is going to be pretty key, because a lot of stuff’s going to be running on VM so virtualization. So virtualization, networking to a degree like knowing what IP addresses are, how to connect them if it’s in the wrong subnet or whatever that may be, how routing works in general. The very basics you don’t have to get the CCNA to know that and then beginning learning scripting.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative) Yeah, and I would say to that if you’ve got two years and you’re an IT support, and you’re picking three… with a top three skills for your first cloud job, I would echo what Josh said, but just to give you a different take on it I would focus on number one, take the fundamental’s certification for whatever vendor or cloud you’re going after and honestly you could probably do a couple, right? You could do like the AWS Cloud Practitioner which is aimed complete entry level, and then Azure fundamentals which will let you speak the language of the platforms. I’m not purposefully leaving Google out it’s just I don’t know if they have a junior level kind of certification and I’m not really having a lot of conversations about them with anybody, customers or anything. So I would get like a foundational training or cert in things like AZ-900 for Azure fundamentals, or AWS cloud practitioner and then core infrastructure.

Mike Pfeiffer:
So one is going to be fundamentals two core infrastructure, VMs and storage and networking like Josh said, and then maybe some identity stuff. So you kind of understand… or maybe understanding cost because where you’re at as a cloud engineer… as a cloud support engineer, you could be tasked by doing and supporting a certain area of the cloud. So that third piece could be something for you to think about there as well, which might be interesting. All right, cool Josh so we got still tons of questions but what else have you been working on? In terms of you wrote that blog post and shared a ton of resources and I think you’re working on like a… don’t you have a guy like a tutorial guy to help people study for tests and stuff like that?

Josh Duffney:
Yeah, absolutely. So this blog post got a lot of attention and it kind of took me by surprise, and the most common question I got was how did you study? It’s pretty easy to determine what you need to study by the exam topics, but what’s missing is how do you study? So I put together my first ever digital product that you can get and it’s basically the method that I used to pass all three certifications. How I broke it down, how I planned out my study, how I established habits for study in the morning, you could do it at night too.

Josh Duffney:
So, that’s available on Gumroad we’ll put links in here and 50% off, so it’s only $10 you’ll get it for five if you want it, and if you really don’t want to spend any money you can sift through my Twitter profile and find a tweet thread that basically has a lot of the stuff in there. But if you want to be lazy there’s the option of paying for it for me and then all that money I’m going to use for a book that I’m writing right now. My hope is the profit from this will cover the editing costs for the book that I’m writing.

Mike Pfeiffer:
That’s a smart way to go about it, let’s talk about the book man what’s interesting. What is the book and what is it about, and where can we get it?

Josh Duffney:
Sure. So the book is called become Ansible, becomeansible.com you can sign up and get the first chapter free, I’m probably going to be putting it on Lean Publishing on Gumroad, I’ll be Lean Publishing it on Gumroad. So you can get the first whole part of the book for full price, and then as I make updates I’ll send out emails and notify you that new version is there. But the book is really a distillment of all the lessons that I’ve learned on the team that I’m on right now, as we’ve learned, implemented and then advocated for Ansible with inside an organization. So, really the first part of the book walks you through your development environment. So I really struggle in the beginning like I don’t know how to use Ansible I need some kind of environment that I’m safe with that I can run automation on. After having learned the cloud, I was like this is perfect I can have Ansible create the cloud environment, and so that’s what part one does. It sets you up a local environment and a cloud environment to test, part two is a crash course if I could condense…

Josh Duffney:
Basically, I wrote it as if you were joining my team, and I wanted to get you skilled up in Ansible as quickly as possible. So, that’s the Ansible Crash Course part two and then part three is in draft right now which is really more of the design patterns and practices that have evolved as we’ve started to use it inside a larger organization.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Nice, that’s awesome man. So becomeansible.com?

Josh Duffney:
Yep. It’s a play on words and syntax, because in an Ansible the way that you elevate permissions is to use the become.

Mike Pfeiffer:
I love that dude.

Josh Duffney:
I thought it was clever.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah, it’s very cool. That’s awesome. So you mentioned Lean Publishing that’s kind of interesting. How’s that? You just like write the book in Markdown?

Josh Duffney:
Yeah, it’s all in Markdown. Ascii doc is what I’m using right now but it’s a flavor of Markdown, and Lean Publishing model really came from LeanPub. I’m using Gumroad to publish it but really it’s just get the book out there and then as you write it you add more to it, but allow the people to buy it at whatever percent done it is.

Mike Pfeiffer:
That’s cool. Yeah, I’m jealous because I’m working on a chapter right now for a major publisher, and I have to do a Word template and I would love to do it in Markdown [inaudible 00:43:20] word templates from like 20 years ago.

Josh Duffney:
I couldn’t do that.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Let’s get a question from Joyce. Hey, what’s up Joyce? Good to see you. She was saying so which path to go AZ-900 or AZ-103, and that’s a good question. So I think if you’re completely brand new AZ-900 will be a good kind of like keyed up. It kind of depends on how much experience you’ve had already, right? So the 900 is geared to kind of anybody in the IT organization it could be sales, pre-sales, product manager things like that. But the 103 is no joke, right? The 103/104. In fact, we were live streaming last week with Tim Warner and then this past Monday through Wednesday, Tim and I did a three day AZ-104 workshop, it was awesome but it was insanely deep and we had a lot of people kind of celebrating afterwards like, “Yeah, that was awesome but man you guys that was like a fire hose, because we did all the content in an accelerated format for three days.” But even when you’re just doing it over five or two weeks man it’s a lot, it is a lot of content. Don’t you think that 103 is kind of steep if you’re just jumping, and even you had to study pretty hard for it and you’ve got a lot of experience, right?

Josh Duffney:
Yeah, I’ve got an extensive background in system administration, I had to study pretty hard for it. I had to study for four weeks and then I took it on the fifth week. So yeah I would… if you’re new to it, it kind of depends on what you want to do. Do you want to… do you have a background in administration and do you want to go into Azure? But then I would say 103. If you don’t have quite that background in system administration take the 900. The 900 is also useful if you’re just wanting to become more aware of the offerings that Azure has. So it’s going to talk more about the services, a lot of them that aren’t even mentioned on the AZ-103.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah, that’s a good point. So anyways going back to the previous conversation about the book, I already know people are wondering do I do Ansible? Or Terraform? [inaudible 00:45:10] what’s the difference? Why would I use one over the other?

Josh Duffney:
Every time I say anything about Ansible I get that the Terraform mob to come after me.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Well, it’s just like the last thing, right? It’s like you pick certs or you pick college somebody will come after you, right? So again it comes back to the right tool for the right person for the right job, but what do you think on that note like Ansible versus Terraform? Or to that conversation?

Josh Duffney:
Sure, I mean a lot of people when they compare the two they think about deploying VMs, cause that’s what Terraform is really known for. I’ll be honest Terraform is a better suit for deploying VMs declaratively into the cloud platforms, and it’s agnostic and has better support in my opinion. But what they’re missing is the value… they can be used together and so the value of Ansible is as a configuration management tool. So after that machines built what do you do with it? So it’s a VM and you need to update your chocolaty license or you need to update .Net Core on there. How’s that going to happen? Or is everything immutable? Then stick with Terraform but if everything is mutable Ansible might be a good fit. The other value that Ansible brings is orchestrated automation, so you have this repeated tasks that you need to do that has 20 steps it’s not going to be well suited for Terraform, perfectly suited for Ansible.

Mike Pfeiffer:
I have a feeling though, probably for a lot of people that, that we just mentioned might be foreign concepts, mutable versus immutable. Can you kind of unpack that for people listening right now? Because it’s probably not something… unless you’re already in this conversation it’s something that’s going to be… and that’s a key distinction, right? For you doing Terraform or Ansible or you’re thinking about this?

Josh Duffney:
Absolutely, so immutable means when you would introduce a change or a version you would destroy what exists and recreate that’s what containers are really used for, but you can also do the same thing with Azure, you could choose to delete the VM and recreate it or create an entire new environment and deploy to it. So if that’s the environment that you’re in, where when you introduce a change you actually replace the underlying infrastructure that would be immutable, and that’s where Terraform will be really, really good.

Josh Duffney:
When you’re talking about mutable infrastructure on-prem or in the cloud, that means that you’re going to build it and it’s going to stay there, and you’re going to continually make changes to that system and that’s the traditional model which is mutable. Then it goes into the whole discussion of the [inaudible 00:47:25] kind of thing, but you can still have a good system with immutable infrastructure if you have automation to do the changes. It takes a lot of work and it’s not clean, right? Like you’re not getting a fresh environment every time but it works, and that’s my opinion the majority of what enterprises have. So learning how to operate in that model at the most efficient level you can is definitely worth your time.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah, it’s a good breakdown. It’s an important message people need to know about that, right? I mean the cloud a lot of the services especially the newer cloud native type of services, they’re really going to bust with a mutable patterns a lot of times, right? So some of us are kind of coming from the infrastructure world of hey, you spin up a server and you babysit it for the next three years, and that unlearning process is a tough thing for a lot of us that have been doing this and coming to the cloud. So if you’re not new and you’re just coming in… like you’re not new to IT but you’re coming in from an existing IT background and coming into Cloud that can be a weird kind of thing to pick up, not only the infrastructure as code concepts but blowing away stuff instead of babysitting and fixing it.

Josh Duffney:
Also, what are the capabilities of your team, right? What’s the background? What’s the knowledge base there? For Ansible it runs on Linux and so if you have a Linux background and a scripting background it’s going to work, because it can run PowerShell, it can run Bash, it can run Python and so you have to assess the skill sets and capabilities of your team to really answer that question. One tool is not better than the other, it’s all evaluated through the context of your situation and your team and organization.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah, and I’ve seen a lot of teams get into trouble and hot water, by trying to go too fast and not knowing who they are as a team, that’s important stuff. Somebody else echoed taking the 900 would be a great… he said he would have struggled without it, so that’s again a good reminder. So a couple things, so if you’re thinking about 103 or 104 the workshop that we did myself and Tim Warner this week is available on demand. So I’ll drop the link in the comments later but you can go to cloudskills.io/az-104 and… Do I have that on here? I don’t, but I’ll put it in the comments and you guys can go grab it. Also, people Josh were asking about how to follow you online and take a look at your certification guide. So somebody was asking for your Twitter handle, they were asking for the links, so maybe you could drop that in the comments after this live stream. Does that sound good?

Josh Duffney:
You bet. Yeah, absolutely.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Cool, man. Well, it’s good catch it out dude. It’s always good to see you and chat and love to do it again sometime.

Josh Duffney:
Likewise, I appreciate you having me on. Thank you.

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