There’s been a huge increase in the need to get trained in Microsoft Azure, and as a result the interest / need to get certified in Azure has been increasing as well. The only difficulty with the certification is there are 3 primary Microsoft certification exams on Azure and it can be a little unclear which exam is right for “You.” In this article I will outline the differences between the different Azure certification exams / certifications, and hopefully I’ll help you decide which is best for you to start with.

Update 9/30/2016: This week Microsoft announced some really big and amazing changes to the Microsoft Certification program and how the Azure certification exams fit in with MCSD and MCSE certifications. As a result, you want to reference the 2016 Edition of Where to start with Azure Certification article instead.

What Exams / Certs Are Offered?

The overall Microsoft Platform is really big with a ton of features; plus, Microsoft releases additional new features every couple months. As a result the Azure landscape is ever evolving, however, the Azure certification exams help you hone in on specific feature sets that build up the core of the overall platform. These features include Web Apps, Cloud Services, Storage, Messaging, Virtual Machines, and many, many more.

Rather than create a certification exam for each specific set of Azure features, Microsoft has larger, more encompassing exams that target a specific work role. The 3 targeted roles are IT Pro, Developer and Architect. As a result, the material covered on these exams do overlap quite a bit with each one honing in on that specific work role.

For the IT Pro

Microsoft offers the Implementing Microsoft Azure Infrastructure Solutions (70-533) exam that specifically targets IT Pros. Upon passing this exam you will earn the Microsoft Specialist: Implementing Microsoft Azure Infrastructure Solutions certification.

Being targeted towards IT Pros, this exam has a greater focus on things like Virtual Machines, Networking and other Azure Infrastructure functionality than the other exams. It’s also the exam that requires the knowledge of PowerShell and the Azure PowerShell SDK, as well as the Cross-Platform Command-line Interface (X-plat CLI) for Azure.

This exam is a perfect starting point for IT Pros and System Administrators; with it’s focus on Infrastructure and PowerShell.

Here’s an overview of the materials I used to pass the 70-533 Infrastructure exam myself:

Preparing for 70-533 Implementing Microsoft Azure Infrastructure Solutions Exam

For the Developer

Targeted specifically towards developers, Microsoft offers the Developing Microsoft Azure Solutions (70-532) exam that when passed earns you the Microsoft Specialist: Developing Microsoft Azure Solutions certification.

This exam targets Developers, so naturally it focuses on the .NET Azure SDK and writing code that consumes and integrates with the different platform features available in the Microsoft Azure platform. However, this exam does cover a lot of material surrounding how to setup and manage the different Azure Infrastructure features developers will need to use. Because of the Infrastructure coverage, there is a lot of overlap between this exam and the others.

This exam is a perfect starting point for Software Developers; with it’s focus on .NET code.

Here’s an overview of the materials I used to pass the 70-532 Developer exam myself:

How I passed the 70-532 Developing Microsoft Azure Solutions certification exam

For the Architect

The Architecting Microsoft Azure Solutions (70-534) exam is unique in respect to the Developer and Infrastructure exams. This exam targets Solution Architects that will be designing solutions built on top of the Microsoft Azure platform. Passing this exam earns you the Microsoft Specialist: Architecting Microsoft Azure Solutions certification.

The uniqueness of this exam comes from its focus towards Architecting Microsoft Azure Solutions. There’s not a heavy focus on .NET code or PowerShell on this exam. The primary focus on this exam is how all the Azure features work, why you would use them, and which ones you would use together when building certain solutions. Basically, the main focus of this exam is the What, How and Why while not getting into the nitty gritty of the actual implementation.

This exam has a bit of similarity to the old Analyzing Requirements and Defining .NET Solution Architectures (now deprecated) exam. As a result this exam does make a good starting point for someone in an Architecture role, who may or may not be involved with the actual implementations, but definitely interacts with customers / business owners defining solutions for their needs.

Here’s an overview of the materials I used to pass the 70-534 Architecture exam myself:

Preparing for 70-534 Architecting Microsoft Azure Solutions Exam

What if I take all 3 exams?

While taking each individual certification exam earns you an Azure Specialist certification, there is an incentive to taking all three. Taking all 3 Azure certification exams will not just earn you all 3 Azure Specialist certifications, but it will also earn you the much larger Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD) Azure Solutions Architect.

The MCSD Azure Solutions Architect certification show that you have expertise in all areas covered by the 3 exams that range from developing software solutions, implementing infrastructure, as well as designing / architecting Azure based solutions using recommended best practices.

The new (just introduced in early 2015) Azure MCSD certification represents a big change in how MCSD certifications have traditionally been. Previously the MCSD certifications were for developers, and as such required passing exams that were very code focused. This can be seen by looking at the requirements for the MCSD Web Developer and SharePoint certifications. With the MCSD Azure Solutions Architect, Microsoft has broken away and now provides a fully encompassing Architect certification that includes all aspects of software architecture.

Azure + Linux

In addition to the MCSD Azure Solutions Architect that requires passing multiple exams to obtain, Microsoft also has the Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) Linux on Azure certification available.

The MCSA Linux on Azure certification requires passing both the Azure Infrastructure (70-533) exam as well as the obtaining the Linux Foundation Certified System Administrator (non-Microsoft) certification.

Microsoft fully supports Linux on the Microsoft Azure platform, and the MCSA Linux on Azure certification really shows their commitment to it.

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