The question of “Where to start with Microsoft Azure Certification?” is a common one. Navigating the gauntlet of certification paths and exams can seem a bit daunting at first. This article is specially written to help ease the pain involved, so you can save time searching and find some useful information right here. Now, let’s discuss the topics of “Where do I start?” in regards to Microsoft Azure certifications.

Technical Role-based Certification

Microsoft offers several Technical Role-based certifications that can be used to test and validate your job skills and experience. This means there are certifications that are geared towards many of the various technical roles of IT professionals.

Instead of focusing on getting certified in a specific technology, Microsoft has started reshaping the certifications offered to be job-role focused. This offers certification paths that are much more closely aligned with job duties, and better suited for individuals looking to prove and validate their expertise with the job duties they perform on a daily basis.

These are the primary technical job roles that Microsoft has used to break out all the different certification offerings:

  • Developer – design, build, test, and maintain cloud solutions
  • Administrator – implement, monitor, and maintain Microsoft solutions
  • Solution Architect – architecting solutions in compute, network, storage, and security
  • Data Engineer – design and implement the management, monitoring, security, and privacy of data using the full stack of data services
  • Data Scientist – apply machine learning techniques to train, evaluate, and deploy models that solve business problems
  • AI Engineer – architect and implement Microsoft AI solutions using Cognitive Services, Machine Learning, and Knowledge Mining
  • DevOps Engineer – combine people, process, and technologies to continuously deliver valuable products and services that meet end user needs and business objectives
  • Security Engineer – implement security controls and threat protection, manage identity and access, and protect data, applications, and networks
  • Functional Consultant – leverage Microsoft Dynamics 365 and Microsoft Power Platform to anticipate and plan customer needs

The new job-role focused certifications are structured into 3 expertise levels as well: Fundamentals, Associate, and Expert.

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Fundamentals Certification

The Fundamentals certification level is targeted towards those either just starting out with the technologies covered, or have zero to 2 years of experience. These are also helpful certifications for those looking to change careers too.

The Fundamentals certifications will require you to pass a single certification exam for the particular Fundamentals certification path you choose.

  • Microsoft Certified: Azure Fundamentals
  • Microsoft 365 Certified: Fundamentals
  • Microsoft Certified: Azure Data Fundamentals
  • Microsoft Certified: Azure AI Fundamentals
  • Microsoft Certified: Power Platform Fundamentals
  • Microsoft Certified: Dynamics 365 Fundamentals (CRM)
  • Microsoft Certified: Security, Compliance, and Identity Fundamentals

Associate Certification

The Associate certification level is targeted towards those professionals that already have 2 or more years of experience with the technologies covered. These are for mild to moderate experience professionals looking to learn, validate and prove their expertise with the technologies.

While you may choose to start off with a Fundamentals certifications, it is not a prerequisite for the Associate level certifications. You can start with exams at the Associate level if you wish, and it fits your level of expertise and career goals.

The Associate certifications will require you to pass either 1 or 2 certification exams, depending on the specific Associate certification path chosen.

There are over 70 associate level certifications to choose from for your technical job role. Here’s a list of some of the most popular associate level certifications:

Expert Certification

The Expert certification level is targeted towards those professionals that have more advanced levels of expertise and skills working with the technologies covered. These professionals typically have at least 2 to 5 years of experience.

Since the Expert level certifications are a step beyond the Associate level, many of then require you to earn an Associate certification prior to being eligible to earn the Expert certification. However, not all the Expert level certifications require an Associate level to be earned first.

Overall, the Expert level certifications will require you to pass either 2 or 3 exams to earn. it’s important that if you choose to earn an Expert level certification that you verify what the prerequisite Associate level certifications, if any, are needed first.

There are over 20 expert level technical role based certifications to choose from. Here’s a list of some of the most popular:

Where are Study Materials?

There are many videos, articles, books and other resources available to use for studying for certification exams. The details page for the specific exam you are looking to take contains a full outline of the exam objectives covered. It’s best to not rely too much on any single study resource, and to additionally go over each exam objective in detail.

On-Demand Training Courses

On-demand training video courses are a great tool to use when studying for certifications. These allow you to have an expert explain all the details to you in an easy to follow manner; plus you can pause and rewind as necessary to repeat things to better understand them.

Practice Exams

In addition to videos, articles, books, etc., it can be very useful to utilize Practice Exams. There are a couple different practice exam vendors that offer these. Personally, I’ve used MeasureUp, but I’ve seen MindHub linked to from the Microsoft Certification site as well. These can be really great aides to help you study and ultimately pass the certification exams.

It’s VERY important to stay away from using “brain dumps” while studying. Brain dumps are cheating and violate the terms you agree to in order to take a Microsoft Certification exam. Braindumps are essentially notes that someone made or compiled after they sat the exam, and may contain actual questions from the exam itself. Not only are these against the terms of use for the certification exams, but they are often riddled with bad questions and incorrect answers (so I’ve heard), so it’s best to steer clear of them on your study journey.

Free Resources

In addition to all the free resources available, and the exam reference books, there are many Azure training courses from on-demand course providers. If you do a quick search you’ll find a few of the popular ones many others are using.

Free Exam Self-Assessment Tools

Knowing what to study and where to focus your efforts is a critical aspect to training for a certification exam. You’ll want to focus on covering all the objective areas of the exam you’re studying to make sure you cover every area the best you can. To help with this, Dan Patrick and Chris Pietschmann have been putting together Free, Open Source Self-Assessment Tools to help with Microsoft Certification exam study.

These Free, self-assessment tools will help ensure you study for all the different objective domains and areas under each. It will also help you gauge you’re studying to keep track of your progress, and even offer you an estimated confidence level that represents your level of preparedness for taking the exam(s) you’re studying for. There are several Free, self-assessment tools available for the different Microsoft Azure certification exams.

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Screenshot of the AZ-103 Certification Exam Free, Self-Assessment Tool

We HIGHLY recommend you download the Free, self-assessment tool for the exam(s) you’re studying, and keep tabs on your own study progress and preparedness!

You can download them here: https://build5nines.com/free-oss-exam-self-assessment-tool/

There are many more vendors and resources available for studying!

How to take an exam?

So, now you’ve studied, and feel ready to sit the exam? First, you need to register for the exam. The official exam information pages on Microsoft site contain a “Schedule Exam” button that will take you through the process of registering with a testing center, and picking a date and time to sit the exam.

Currently, the majority of Microsoft Certification exams cost $165 USD to take. Each time you take an exam, you’ll need to pay the exam fee. This means that if you fail, you will need to pay again on the next attempt to pass.

There are 2 options for taking Microsoft certification exams:

  • Physical Testing Center – This is the standard method of registering for the exam and then going down to your local testing center to sit the exam.
  • Online Proctored – This is where you take a certification exam from the comfort of your own home or office online using your own computer. There are some requirements to be met, but it’s fairly easy as long as you have a decent space to seclude yourself to for the duration of the exam.

The online proctored delivery method of taking Microsoft Certification exams may not be available for all exams offered. When available it can offer a much higher level of convenience; especially if you live a considerable distance from the closest testing center. The below link contains requirements and other information necessary about the online proctored exam deliver option:


Landing Your First Technology or Programming Job

Many people (possibly you included) are searching how to get Microsoft Certified as they are looking to land their first technology and/or programming job. Certifications can be a really great credential to add to your resume that you know what you claim to know. The initial start can be a bit intimidating some times, but it’s important to just take it one step at a time.

If you’re looking to get started with Microsoft Azure and the cloud, then the Microsoft Certified: Azure Fundamentals certification is a really great start. it will prep you for understanding cloud concepts, Azure services at a high-level, and what’s available in the cloud. It will also give. you a really great starting point to take your certifications further towards the Azure Administrator, Azure Developer, or other Azure certifications.

If you are unsure on what technologies to learn first, then it can be really useful to check out the job boards to see what technologies are in-demand by employers. You can look in your geographic region, or even across the country if you are looking for a remote job. Beware that remote technology jobs do tend to favor more experienced candidates over entry-level; as least from what I’ve seen.

In addition to certifications, it can be extremely helpful to build up a portfolio of what you know and have built. You can do this by starting a blog and posting something at least once per month. You can also do this by creating a GitHub account and posting source code for projects you work on through your studies. You could even do both! These activities will really help add more substance to your resume and will help put you ahead of other candidates when applying for that first technology or programming job!

Happy Studying, and I wish you the best throughout your career!

Microsoft MVP

Chris Pietschmann is a Microsoft MVP, HashiCorp Ambassador, and Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) with 20+ years of experience designing and building Cloud & Enterprise systems. He has worked with companies of all sizes from startups to large enterprises. He has a passion for technology and sharing what he learns with others to help enable them to learn faster and be more productive.
HashiCorp Ambassador Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) Microsoft Certified: Azure Solutions Architect