Episode 081: Microsoft Certified DevOps Engineer (AZ-400) | CloudSkills.fm

In this episode I talk about the recent changes to the AZ-400 exam and provide some tips and resources you can use to start studying right away.

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Full Transcript:

Mike Pfeiffer:
Hey, what’s up everybody. It’s Mike Pfeiffer and you’re listening to the CloudSkills.FM podcast.

Mike Pfeiffer:
All right. Welcome back to another episode of CloudSkills.FM. In this episode, I’m going to answer a burning question. I’ve been getting hit up, like crazy about the changes for the AZ-400 certification exam. That’s what’s going to be the focus of this episode and hopefully get you guys oriented and understand what’s new on the test, things like that. If you’re not a hundred percent tuned in to what’s going on with Microsoft’s role-based certifications, the AZ-400 is the final test to get you dev ops certified. It is an expert level cert though, so you have a prerequisite. You have to get an associate level cert first, either Microsoft certified administrator or Microsoft certified developer.

Mike Pfeiffer:
What’s interesting about this is, here just a couple of days ago, June 15th, here in 2020, Microsoft updated this exam and there’s a bunch of new stuff on it and I’ll cover that here. They also rebranded the exam, which I didn’t really see anybody talking about, but I think it’s kind of interesting. If you look at the information on Microsoft’s website and things like that or you’re seeing some of the people that are getting certified and sharing their badges online and stuff, you can see that they changed the name of the cert. Now when you pass the AZ-400 and you get your prerequisites all set up and completed, you become a Microsoft certified DevOps engineer, not an Azure certified DevOps engineer. I believe that one of the reasons Microsoft made this change was because of the GitHub acquisition and all the work that they’re doing in terms of automated build tests and release from GitHub actions, which is going to be something I’ll talk about today.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Like I said, been getting tons of DMs and emails about this topic. It’s been a big topic inside the CloudSkills community and in this episode, I wanted to answer those questions. I also sent out a tweet yesterday asking the community to text me their specific questions about this topic, because I’m experimenting with a new text messaging option here and building a text messaging community, if you will. Just like my weekly email newsletter that I send out on Fridays, I’m going to try this out because let’s face it, most of us are on our phone, 24/7. I know I am and I’m not always looking at my DMs on LinkedIn and Twitter and stuff, but I am on my phone on meetings and stuff and so I think this will be kind of a cool way to interact with you guys. Maybe share some things that I don’t normally share on social media and you can feel free to text me anytime and I’ll weave those questions into different content that we’re producing.

Mike Pfeiffer:
You can hit me up at 480-530-8694. Remember I’m in the US, so the country code, there is one. 1-480-530-8694. This isn’t automated. I mean, when you text me, you’ll get a response that’s automated, but from there, if you’re interacting with me, it’s really me. 480-530-8694. Shoot me a text anytime. Maybe I’ll reply directly. Maybe I’ll take your question and answer it on a podcast or a live stream. I’m also going to use this to send out notifications because I do random live streams, I do stuff. If you want to stay in the loop, that’s probably the fastest way to hear from me what’s going on. 480-530-8694. Shoot me a text right now.

Mike Pfeiffer:
With that, let’s go ahead and jump into this episode and really what you need to think about in terms of what’s new on the AZ-400 exam. One of the things I would do and you can check the show notes or just Google AZ-400. Go find the official exam page and download the skills measured outline, right? There’s basically a document that shows you all the stuff that’s on the exam that you need to be studying for and that you’re expected to know the answers for. The thing that was kind of funny about this one, because Microsoft’s been doing this right. They’ve been updating all their exams. They come out with a new skills measured where specifically, if you’re thinking about the administrator tests, they did a good job of showing you what was on the old one and what’s on the new one. Kind of like a line by line comparison.

Mike Pfeiffer:
If you look at the skills measured for AZ-400, they show you the new outline and the old one and then at the very bottom of the document, there’s a table that tries to explain what’s changed, but it doesn’t do a very good job. It pretty much says nothing at the bottom. You’re pretty much left on your own to go out and figure out what’s changed. All it really says is, these sections are similar to the old ones. There’s really nothing there. It’s almost like somebody who was responsible for updating that document just kind of did that on a Friday afternoon. Anybody at Microsoft that might be listening, I think you guys could do a little bit of a better job of helping us understand what is actually on the test, but the good news is there’s lots of similarities.

Mike Pfeiffer:
All the suite of services and Azure DevOps, like Azure DevOps pipelines and artifacts, Azure repos, Azure test plans and things like that, all that stuff still basically on the agenda, but there’s specific new things that are super important. Number one, the very first thing that I would get some awareness around is GitHub actions. GitHub actions is essentially the software workflow CICD solution. You can build, test, deploy your code right out of GitHub. I’ve got to admit, I’m pretty excited about it. I think it’s actually really cool. In the beginning, when I first started hearing about this about a year ago, I wasn’t sure how this was going to play out, but I really like what Microsoft’s doing with GitHub actions. If you’ve been paying attention to the Microsoft build conference that just took place not too long ago, the annual developer conference, Microsoft really talked about this a lot. There’s rumors in the community that this is going to replace Azure DevOps and things like that.

Mike Pfeiffer:
From what I’ve heard, that’s not the case. New innovations will be brought into GitHub actions, but there’s still going to be support and there’s still going to be people using Azure DevOps, suite of services, all the different stuff in there. The reality is there’s tons of companies, especially the customers that I work with that are really in their big time, right? They’ve done a lot of investment. They got tons of stuff running and tons of things automated and lots of customers doing tons of work in there, so it’s going to be very hard for them to move off that. Azure DevOps definitely not going anywhere, but for new things going forward, there’s going to be lots of stuff happening in GitHub actions. I think you guys will really appreciate it because it’s very similar to Azure pipelines.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Just like in Azure pipelines, you can go into GitHub actions. You can create a workflow, which is essentially the same idea as a pipeline and you can build, test and publish basically location. There’s runners that actually take care of these things for you like Linux, Mac OS and windows based runners. In the world of Azure pipelines we call those hosted agents or self hosted agents. Just like Azure pipelines, we’ve got these runners in GitHub and when we kick off an automated workflow from some kind of trigger, like committing code to our repository or some other external events, then these runners can go off and then handle all the tasks in the workflow. That’s kind of the big idea. Tons of parallels between GitHub actions and Azure pipelines.

Mike Pfeiffer:
I’ll leave the link in the show notes, but I would go in there. Microsoft’s done a great job of documenting this and giving the community tons of sample code. Again, check the show notes here, but there was a bunch of stuff that came out of the build conference where if you wanted to deploy something to Azure using GitHub actions and setting up a workflow, the deployment targets support and the examples, everything you can pretty much think of. They have sample workflows for app service and AKS. Serverless functions and Azure functions and the list goes on and on. Really a great job by Microsoft there and I think that if you run through some of those demos, you’ll get the gist of it, especially if you’ve been working in Azure pipelines and understand that service. Just like with Azure pipelines you’ve got that concept of tasks inside your pipelines that do the meat of the work. That’s what GitHub actions really are. The actions themselves are specific tasks that do something like deploy an Azure web app or get you logged into the Azure platform, run CLI commands, run PowerShell commands, deploy code to Kubernetes clusters, all kinds of stuff like that.

Mike Pfeiffer:
I was looking at this yesterday, I think right now there’s about 70 actions that are specific to Azure, but keep in mind, GitHub actions is actually not squarely aimed at the Microsoft ecosystem. Obviously GitHub is a huge brand and people are going to use GitHub actions to deploy to kinds of platforms, onprem, different cloud platforms. There’s going to be tons of actions for all kinds of different stuff out there. In the show notes check for a couple of different links. One is going to be core concepts for GitHub actions. It’s really just the vocabulary of GitHub action. I believe that will really help you in the AZ-400 exam because a lot of this is going to be terminology, right? Check out the core concepts for GitHub actions and then there’s also going to be a link right into the GitHub documentation that compares GitHub actions and Azure pipelines. That will walk you through the big differences. When you think of GitHub actions and you think of workflows, just think a pipeline, an actual workflow file is written in YAML, just like YAML based pipelines and Azure pipelines.

Mike Pfeiffer:
One of the big differences there though is there’s no legacy graphical experience. You may have noticed in Azure pipelines, you could go and do a classic build and release experience where the build and release definitions are all done graphically in the portal, but that is not going to be something you can do in GitHub actions. You’re going to be writing YAML to define these workflow configurations. Inside those workflows though, very similar to Azure pipelines. You’ll have jobs. Those jobs will include one or more steps, which are basically individual commands or GitHub actions. There’s going to be a huge ecosystem of new actions coming out. People can develop their own and all that kind of fun stuff. As you’re prepping for this new version of the AZ-400 exam, definitely spend some time on GitHub actions. Go through the show notes and I think that’ll help you out for getting started there. You’ll see this in the new skills measured document for the AZ-400 exam. Go check that out.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Now, another huge change to the AZ-400, one of the objective domains is develop a site reliability engineering strategy. Develop a S-R-E strategy. This is completely brand new. This whole section was not in the previous version of the exam and I suspect that this is probably going to be the biggest wild card for people that have been studying up to this point and now have to add this new set of content onto the table. Now I can’t say for sure, because I haven’t taken the new AZ-400 tests just yet. I’m going to try to do that next week, so I actually know what I’m talking about when I’m explaining things to you guys, even though I’ve already passed the previous one, I want to take the new one to see what’s on it, but in terms of understanding site reliability engineering, you have to have some perspective on developing an actionable, a learning strategy. That’s one of the things that you’ll see in the skills measured.

Mike Pfeiffer:
They talk about implementing alerts, using the right metrics, alerting on log messages, alerting on health checks, all that kind of stuff and then designing a failure prediction strategy, analyzing the behavior of systems, trying to calculate when a system is going to fail under certain conditions, measuring baseline metrics for a system. A lot of stuff in here that’s going to be new. Luckily Microsoft does have some content here in the Microsoft learn documentation. They have a mini course on site reliability engineering. That would probably be my primary resource for you and I’ll leave a link to that in the show notes.

Mike Pfeiffer:
We’ve done a couple episodes in the past on this show about site reliability, engineering and SRE. If you’re not familiar with it, basically this was born out of Google in the early 2000’s. When you’re talking about a big web scale type of platform, something that was supporting thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of users, the whole concept here is being able to keep the platform up and running. It’s beyond just doing build and test and release automation, but also really being able to run a very active platform. These SRE practices are used inside Google, biggest companies in the world like Amazon and Netflix and so anybody that’s going for a job at a big platform, it could be any large platform these days online, the site reliability engineering skillset is going to be important and right now it’s an emerging thing. Anybody that’s looking for an edge right now in the industry, this might be it because here’s the thing, most people in the job market aren’t going to have this skillset. You could double down on this right now and this might be a great way to get your foot in the door somewhere if you just build some awareness around this.

Mike Pfeiffer:
There are books out there. There’s a book called site reliability engineering, how Google runs production systems. I’ll leave a link in the show notes. The DevOps Institute, which I am a global DevOps ambassador for, has an SRE certification, so they’ve got content for that and there’s tons of articles online and things like that. We’ll have to see exactly what’s on the tests. I’ll do another update after I take the new exam and let you guys know what I think about that.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Then from there probably the last really big thing that I think is a big difference in this new version is there’s a section in the test now called develop an instrumentation strategy. It’s only five to 10% of the questions, just like that SRE stuff, but it’s really going into monitoring in more depth than what I remember from the last tests and what I’ve noticed. It’s all about designing and implementing logging. Designing and implementing telemetry for applications, so distributed tracing, collecting metrics and all that kind of stuff. Integrating crash analytics for like mobile apps. Tons of monitoring stuff. One of the themes that you’ll see in the skills measured for this new AZ-400 exam is there’s lots of integration with third party components and tools and services that they mentioned. For example, under this instrumentation strategy section, they talk about logging and monitoring, just the basics with Azure monitor, but they also call out Prometheus, which obviously is an open source monitoring system. It’s not Microsoft specific.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Same thing goes with application performance monitoring. They do say, hey, Azure monitor and application insights, but they’re also calling out Dynatrace New Relic, Nagios, Zabbix, again, all third party platforms. Now I wouldn’t panic too much about being an expert with all these third party products, but you want to understand the integration points. Microsoft documentation explains this stuff pretty well, but I would be comfortable of understanding how do I integrate not only the monitoring stuff with all these third party things that are listed in the skills measured, but also the integration for things like Slack, things like third party CI systems like Jenkins and so on and so forth. All that stuff is well documented in the Azure DevOps documentation. What you really need to do is go to the skills measured, look at the things that are in here, the line items and then find those items in the Azure documentation and then do your homework.

Mike Pfeiffer:
In addition to all those new things, then you’ve got all the other stuff that’s been on there all along, right? Understanding basic project management and doing things with Azure boards, being extremely knowledgeable when it comes to working with Azure repos, understanding gets and team foundation version control from a high level, understanding how to create, build and release pipelines and understand both the classic and the new gamble based pipeline experience. Then also things like facilitating communication and collaboration, continuous integration, continuous delivery, all that stuff. This is a major exam. This is hardcore and it’s not easy, right? Kind of intimidating, but definitely worth the pursuit, for sure. 100%.

Mike Pfeiffer:
To close things out, I will mention just a few things here. We’ve got a community over at CloudSkills, hundreds of people. I don’t even know at this point how many people are crushed to the AZ-400 exam, coming out of that program. It’s dozens and dozens and every day people are sharing their successes. It’s been really fun to watch. I’ll just share the framework that works for us. It’s nothing crazy. It’s pretty much, probably intuitive for the most part. The big thing is honing in on the skills measured to understand what’s on the test. We’ve talked about that, but also the hands on stuff. If you listened to this show, you’ve heard me rant about this a lot, that hands on is absolutely critical and a good resource to get more hands on if you’re completely brand new to this stuff is go to AzureDevOpsLabs.com. I’ll leave it in the show notes, but Microsoft supports that website and it’s almost kind of like a Microsoft learn for Azure DevOps.

Mike Pfeiffer:
There’s tons and tons of tutorials and basically hands on labs. They’ll spin up projects for you in Azure DevOps. A bunch of boilerplate code so you can go off and test things. You will need your own Azure subscription of course, but tons of inspiration in there. Hands on it’s huge. Then finally, one of the things that works for us over at the CloudSkills community is social learning. Actually talking to other people about what you’re doing, what you’re struggling with, what is confusing, how you got past different issues. All that stuff’s important. You don’t have to join our community for that. I mean, we’d love to have you, but if you think about it, there’s a lot of people out there that are working on the same stuff. Maybe you could go into GitHub and collaborate somehow or share what you’re doing on social media. Start a conversation would be my recommendation because sometimes the conversations are things that help more than anything else. The context, the truth and the perspective from other people can be an amazing benefit.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Now, you know from experience if you listen to the show, I don’t run ads on this show. I don’t want to make this a big commercial, but I will throw it out there. If you want to join us in the CloudSkills community, we’re not slowing anything down. We’re continuing to build content. Right now our Azure DevOps course has, I think over 28 tactical hands on labs. There’s hours of lecture on all kinds of different things, scripting and containers and Kubernetes, but we’re also covering the stuff that’s in the exam and I’m starting to build up some new content for all these things that are coming out and some of the stuff I’ll be putting out for free. Keep an eye on our YouTube channel starting next Friday, that’s going to be Friday, June 26th, 2020, I’m starting a new series on GitHub actions. Every Friday I’ll be releasing a video, so keep an eye on that. After a few GitHub actions focused videos, we’ll switch into something else, but also if you want to join us, if you want to take the shortest path possible to getting your expert certification as a DevOps engineer and keep up to date, I would highly recommend checking out the CloudSkills community. Just go to CloudSkills.io. Go to courses at the top of the page, you’ll see the AZ-400 course.

Mike Pfeiffer:
We’re actually going to be doing a live delivery of that. Right now that course is a hybrid thing, right? There’s recorded videos in the portal. There’s a live aspects where we meet every Wednesday night, 5:00 PM Pacific, to cover different things, but we’re going to be doing a live class version of this later this summer and getting in right now will be the better way to go trust me. If you can’t join us, no worries. I’ll be putting stuff out on YouTube. Make sure you’re subscribed to my newsletter, go to CloudSkills.io/subscribe, to get on the email newsletter. Like I said before, at the beginning of the show, if you want to shoot me a text message so I can answer your question on the live stream or podcast episode or you just want to kind of shoot the breeze, hit me up at 480 530-8694. All right, everybody. That’s it for me today. See you guys on the next episode of CloudSkills.FM.

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