MJFChat: What’s New With Azure Certifications

We’re doing a twice-monthly interview show on Petri.com that is dedicated to covering topics of interest to our tech-professional audience. We have branded this show “MJFChat.”

In my role as Petri’s Community Magnate, I will be interviewing a variety of IT-savvy technology folks. Some of these will be Petri contributors; some will be tech-company employees; some will be IT pros. We will be tackling various subject areas in the form of 30-minute audio interviews. I will be asking the questions, the bulk of which we’re hoping will come from you, our Petri.com community of readers.

We will ask for questions a week ahead of each chat. Readers can submit questions via Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and/or LinkedIn using the #AskMJF hashtag. Once the interviews are completed, we will post the audio and associated transcript in the forums for readers to digest at their leisure. (By the way, did you know MJFChats are now available in podcast form? Go here for MJF Chat on Spotify; here for Apple Podcasts on iTunes; and here for Google Play.)

Our next MJFChat, scheduled for June 22, is all about Azure certifications. My special guest is Chris Pietschmann, founder at Build5Nines and a Microsoft MVP. We want you to submit your best questions for Chris ahead of our chat.

A lot has been changing lately in the Microsoft certification world. The familiar MCSA, MCSD and MCSE certifications are going away as of June 30, 2020, and are being replaced with new “role-based” certifications. With more people looking to learn new skills during the current COVID-19 pandemic, it’s a good time to check in regarding what’s changing on the certification front. Chris has been following this area closely and is ready for any and all Microsoft certification questions.

If you know someone you’d like to see interviewed on the MJFChat show, including yourself, send me a note at [email protected] (Let me know why you think this person would be an awesome guest and what topics you’d like to see covered.) We’ll take things from there….


Mary Jo Foley (00:01):
Hi, you’re listening to the Petri.com MJF Chat show. I am Mary Jo Foley, AKA your Petri.com community magnate.. And I am here to interview tech industry experts about various topics that you, our readers and listeners want to know about. Today’s MJF Chat is going to be all about Microsoft certifications and in particular Azure certifications. My special guest today is Chris Pietschmann. He is the founder of Build5Nines and a Microsoft MVP. Welcome Chris. And thank you so much for doing this chat.

Chris Pietschmann (00:41):
Yes, thanks Mary Jo for having me.

Mary Jo Foley (00:45):
Yeah, I’m excited about this.

Chris Pietschmann (00:45):
Yeah, I was in Dubai, helping people with their certification journey, something I’ve done for a number of years now.

Mary Jo Foley (00:51):
That’s great. I just found out which I should have put in my intro, but I just found this out recently. You also are the author of something called the “Ultimate Guide to Microsoft Certification”, which I assume must be like the Bible about this topic, right?

Chris Pietschmann (01:07):
Yeah. So the title I admit is a little click baity. I self published that out on Amazon. It’s available in print, but mostly like Kindle is what people are consuming it in.

Mary Jo Foley (01:18):
No, that’s great. It’s great. Cause I feel like right now given what’s going on in the world with COVID-19 and people needing to upskill and re-skill and having time to kind of think about, you know, what do I want to do next? This is a topic that really resonates with a lot of people. I think.

Chris Pietschmann (01:38):
Yes it is. And with all of the changes with Azure and the technology landscape in the Microsoft space, it’s definitely a topic of interest by many.

Mary Jo Foley (01:48):
Definitely. So I just want to start with a super broad question because I actually saw somebody ask this on Twitter and I said, you know what? This is a good jumping off point for this chat. The person said, where do I even start when I’m thinking about Azure certification? Like, if somebody comes to you and says, I don’t even know where to begin at all, like I just feel overwhelmed by what’s out there right now. What do you suggest for them as kind of like their way they map out their plan of attack in terms of getting certified?

Chris Pietschmann (02:22):
Yeah. So the certifications that are out there now are all role-based. So the idea is if you’re a system administrator and you need to manage Azure services or workloads running in Azure, the Microsoft certified Azure systems, or excuse me, Azure administrator associate the certification would be the one that kind of fits that role. And there’s also an Azure developer associate for more of the developer focused side.

Chris Pietschmann (02:51):
And those are going to expect you to know how the cloud works. Are you familiar with things that way and then get diving into the Azure specifics, right?

Mary Jo Foley (03:03):

Chris Pietschmann (03:03):
If you’re new to the cloud, which a lot of people are there’s also the fundamentals level certification. So the Azure Fundamentals certification is a great way to start if you’re new to the cloud, if you’re new to Azure, maybe new to both. So it’s more of that fundamentals kind of entry level type certification, to get familiar with like what the capabilities are in the cloud and kind of how the cloud works, how Azure works. Whereas the Associate level certifications with the Azure admin or developer certs really dig in deeper to more specifics of managing things from an administrator perspective or developer building code, deploying applications out there. And there’s also other associate level certifications too, for security data scientists, data engineering, AI, Microsoft 365, Power Platform. So on.

Mary Jo Foley (03:56):
Yeah. Okay. I feel like maybe we should take a step back because this is another question. I get a lot myself, which is, when I say, you know, now they’re doing role-based certifications in Microsoft land. Right. And people are like, what does that even mean? role-based? Right. Like they’re like what kind of roles? And so I feel like even the terminology, even though it dates back to Microsoft communicating this change, I think all the way back to 2018, I don’t think people still understand what Microsoft means when they say role-based.

Chris Pietschmann (04:29):
Yeah. So previously the certifications were all what’d we say technology based or technology focused. Where you would, if you want to get certified in Windows Server, there was Windows Server certification. So the path was kind of logical that way from a technology perspective with the Azure certifications and as they’ve been transitioning all of the certifications that Microsoft has. So this role-based method, it’s more identifying a specific job role. And then what are the tasks that, that job role encompasses? What are the things that, that person’s going to be doing on the job? And then tailoring a certification that matches those specific job role tasks or job duties that you would be doing. So an Azure administrator would be, you know, setting up virtual networks and virtual machines and configuring networking and configuring and managing, you know, pass services or even SAS services, identity. And like, they have very different role tasks, like role-based tasks that they would be performing as an admin versus like an Azure developer. So it’s kind of tailored more for that. More for the role that you play on the job rather than being, you know, getting certified in everything about Windows Server, because you may not need everything in that technology as, you know, an administrator versus a developer versus a data engineer, needing to know different things.

Mary Jo Foley (05:53):
Okay. I’ve also seen some people describe it as role-based means it’s more focused around a career path instead of a product or a set of products. I don’t know if that’s a good description too?

Chris Pietschmann (06:06):
That’s a pretty accurate description.

Mary Jo Foley (06:11):
Yeah. Cause when you go to Microsoft’s website about this, you see a whole list of suggested steps, right? Like here are the things that we think you need, if you want to be Azure administrator or Azure developer or whatever the role is that you’re looking at. Right.

Chris Pietschmann (06:29):
Yeah. It is. It’s a common theme being role-based in the cloud space, just certifications from other vendors as well. Yeah. Like other vendors do more role-based as well. So there’s kind of an alignment in the cloud space, with certification that way for the messaging. But yeah, it is different from what, you know, myself and many others are familiar with, with the older Microsoft certifications being technology based and kind of trying to understand where to start. Cause you know, a data engineer, I want to get certified with Azure SQL Database, but I have different features, different functionality, different ways of interacting with the service that I need to know if I’m a data engineer versus if I’m an administrator who needs to manage that service.

Mary Jo Foley (07:16):
Okay. Speaking of older certifications this year, Microsoft started talking publicly about the retirement of some of those most famous certifications that they’ve had forever, which is like MCSA and MCSE and MCSD that they’re retiring, both the certifications and the exams that people did get a little reprieve because of COVID I guess now the certifications won’t be retired till January of next year. But, what would you say to people who are either very familiar with this path and they already have these certifications or people who are kind of like midway through getting certified on this path? What do you tell them? Because now it’s like, here’s your official date when this goes away? Right?

Chris Pietschmann (08:02):
Yeah. There’s definitely a lot of questions around that that I’ve seen from the community. A lot of hands thrown up in the air of what do I do now when they first announced it. It’s a pretty, pretty big reaction. Originally they announced it. I think it was beginning of February ish, if I remember correctly.

Mary Jo Foley (08:22):
It was.

Chris Pietschmann (08:22):
And they originally were going to just all of the old certs, so MCSE, MCSD, MCSA, were getting retired June 30th of this year. And with all of the backlash with that, and then also the COVID concerns and things going on in the world. They’ve backed off a little bit, but now they’re going to be going away January 31st of ’21.

Mary Jo Foley (08:45):

Chris Pietschmann (08:45):
So I guess a six month extension on when they’ll be retired, giving people closer to a year’s notice rather than like five months notice, I think it was originally.

Mary Jo Foley (08:59):
Yeah. I wasn’t sure if people were like completely caught off guard, which is what it seemed like from reactions, or if they kind of thought this was where Microsoft was going, when they said we’re going to move to the role-based model, like kind of paving the path for this to happen. What do you think? Do you think it was like a complete surprise? Were you surprised?

Chris Pietschmann (09:19):
So, it was a transition that I knew was coming, being, you know, following the certification space and helping people with certifications to help their careers and things over the years. But I wasn’t expecting myself, for them to retire all of them at once without like equal replacements for everything. I think one of the most surprising pieces of it is there’s not going to be Windows Server certification anymore. Not going to be like C# programming language certification anymore.

Mary Jo Foley (09:53):
Yeah. In fact, we have a question from one of our listeners specific to Windows Server @blarkon on Twitter said you know, Microsoft’s making all these changes. There’s IOT on Azure certifications. There used to be Linux on Azure, but there’s nothing about Windows Server or even Azure and hybrid. So what is up with that?

Chris Pietschmann (10:19):
Yeah, so the Linux on Azure was an interesting one. I think it combined two certifications to earn the full Linux on Azure certification, which, one was, you had to earn the Azure administrator cert and then you got the Linux foundation system admin certification. So it combined a third party Linux certification with the Microsoft one to create that overall Linux on Azure one, which is interesting. The certification that they used for the Azure admin for that one was retired. So then that certification was kind of retired because the exam that qualified for it was retired and they didn’t continue forward on that path. With the, Windows Server is, is a bit more shocking, that there’s not going to be a Windows Server certification anymore. Like if I’m an admin and I have to administer, you know, Windows Server machines, what do I do?

Chris Pietschmann (11:14):
The official message that Microsoft has given in response to this is, the things that you need to know about Windows Server for being, you know, insert the role here that you’re pursuing will be embedded within the context of the exam that you take. So as an Azure administrator, their answer is the content that you’re being tested on for an Azure administrator certification exam is going to include the Windows Server stuff that you would need as an Azure administrator.

Mary Jo Foley (11:46):

Chris Pietschmann (11:46):
It’s a little vague, I don’t know that the community really likes that answer either. I can see some holes in it myself.

Mary Jo Foley (11:53):
Yeah. Well, in fact, @blarkon, asks, he said, there’s not even a mention of Windows IaaS VMs. So it’s not just Windows Server. It’s like even running Windows in a VM on Azure that the certification doesn’t specifically call out, I guess. So that, kind of makes me wonder if, part of this move that Microsoft’s making is to try to push people more towards pure cloud, like even more towards paths and IaaS, right? Like, are they kind of guiding you along the path and saying, you know what, we know you can put Windows Server on Azure and we know people are doing hybrid, but you know what you should kind of go all in on cloud. Do you think that’s part of what’s going on here too?

Chris Pietschmann (12:37):
Yeah, I think it’s, I mean, Azure, the cloud, it’s the future of Microsoft’s enterprise business.

Mary Jo Foley (12:41):

Chris Pietschmann (12:42):
I could definitely see that direction coming, you know, a few years back already, the way they were aligning themselves earlier on in the growth of Azure. But definitely more so now with, what it appears, with the certification space, but then also the adoption of open-source and Linux and all of that going on as well. Like the Azure administrator certification is more of an OS agnostic. Like it’s talking about deploying and managing VMs and you need to know how the services would relate to either using Windows or Linux VMs. So you’re not, it’s not a Windows on Azure administrator’s certification. It’s an Azure cloud administrator certification. And with enterprises moving more and more towards using Linux servers and Windows servers and everything. It’s seeming to be a good direction for them, for the adoption of the broader industry to be able to accept using Azure and adopt Azure more.

Mary Jo Foley (13:47):
Yep. Okay. Is there, now that you’re talking about, you know, Linux and Windows and kind of the whole, almost like an agnostic take on that, do you think the whole idea of multicloud, whether you believe that’s a real concept or not, do you think that kind of is also something that Microsoft’s guiding people to be more ready for with some of these new certifications?

Chris Pietschmann (14:15):
The multi-cloud, it’s hard to say, there is a lot of like hybrid cloud going on and that’s because, the space the customers are coming from, they have on prem servers, they want to adopt Azure. The early times of Azure, Microsoft learned that customers, aren’t just going to throw away their systems and move all into Azure and be cloud native from day one. It’s just not feasible financially. You know, timelines, everything. And so they backed off on that and started embracing more of the hybrid model. And there’s a bit of that. Like as an Azure administrator, you have to know how to set hybrid networking to connect on prem into Azure. And it was part of the certifications it’s embedded in there. The multi-cloud, I don’t know, like the Azure Arc stuff is definitely interesting. I mean, personally, over the years with consulting and with training, I’ve worked with a number of customers who use Azure, but they also use say AWS or Google, you know, they use other clouds as well, maybe not for the same application or workload, but different applications and workloads within the same organization, they might be utilizing multiple clouds and it’s a very common thing.

Mary Jo Foley (15:23):
Right, right. Okay. so overall, I’m going to ask an opinion question of you here. Do you think, I can see how this whole role-based move is good for Microsoft? Because it’s kind of guiding people towards where they want them to be in terms of matching up with their product strategy and their product emphasis. But do you think this is also good for individuals? Like if you said to somebody, yeah, they didn’t retire the, you know, the one to one product mapping and some of the things like Windows Server, but what would you say to someone who’s thinking about getting certified in Microsoft technology right now that you think this is a good direction for them as well? Like, does it make them a stronger candidate for a job or a new role inside of a company?

Chris Pietschmann (16:15):
I think it more closely aligns to the job role expectations. You know, if you’re a developer and you want to get a certification with like .net. Well, a technology based certification may make sense still.

Mary Jo Foley (16:29):

Chris Pietschmann (16:30):
So retiring the C# certification in that case may not be a great benefit for individuals. But if you’re like a solution architect needing to design solutions using Azure services, the Azure solution architect certification being role-based is a really good fit because a solution architect doesn’t necessarily need to know how to use the programming SDKs to build code that runs out there, they don’t necessarily need to know the inner workings of how to specifically configure things, as well as what an administrator would, but they need to know how things work, how they work together, how they relate, you know, some of that other higher level stuff, maybe not so high level stuff as well. So it is being tailored to that role level, I think does help give a little bit better indication to a hiring manager kind of what that person knows in that area. But I mean, we all know, you know, job experience is more important than the certifications anyway.

Mary Jo Foley (17:32):
Right? Yep. That’s a good reminder. Definitely. Okay. Now, I’ve got a very specific question for you from one of our listeners Khalid on Twitter asked when is the pesky AZ-303 and 304 exam going to be out, I’m waiting to sit the exams as I don’t want to do the current ones. I don’t even know what those numbers mean. So you can answer this how you want to.

Chris Pietschmann (18:03):
So the Azure solutions architect certification is comprised of two certification exams. So the 303 and the 304, are the two exams that you would take for that certification. I don’t really know what the release plan is myself on those ones at the moment. It shows, actually I was looking up while talking. It does show available on or around June 30th. I guess you do have a day, they’ll be soon. And it’s yeah, with like these exams, the 303 and the 304, and the confusion with that of, should I do the old exams or should I do the new ones? What should I do? Is the same question for the Azure administrator and the Azure developer certifications cause the older exams are being retired and replaced with new exams. And there’s a three month window where you can take either the old or the new to earn the certification.

Chris Pietschmann (19:04):
And in the past, Microsoft would overwrite the exam with the new content. They’d be like on this date, we’re replacing it with these updated objectives. And with this latest batch of updates, they decided to change the exam number and replace them with new exams because of the need to make much larger changes to the exams. So if you’ve been working with Azure a lot, if you’ve been studying for the older exam numbers for the solution architect, the Azure administrator or Azure developers certifications, I would say, continue to study for and get those older exams passed. Make sure you do it before they’re fully retired and not available. If you’re just recently getting started or maybe, you know, you recently got started, or just getting started now or you’re thinking about it definitely look at the new objectives and go for the new exams.

Chris Pietschmann (20:00):
Most people, it does take at least a couple of months, if not more to go through and achieve these certifications, especially ones like solution architect, where there’s two exams in that one. So, you know, plan accordingly, if the exams are getting replaced this year and there’s a three month overlap window, like the solution architect ones where that three month countdown starts June 29th. I would say if you’re starting the certification now probably go for the new exam content. If you’ve been studying already, or you’re very familiar with Azure, cause you’ve been working with it a lot already, maybe taking the old exams would be appropriate because the things that are added to the new exams, you may not be familiar with if you’re already working with things, but if it’s all new to you or you’re currently studying, then you’ll study that anyway.

Mary Jo Foley (20:48):
That’s true. Okay. So my last question for you is very much related to what you were just talking about now. If somebody says, what should I do to prepare? Like where are the best materials and courses? What’s the best study plan for me? Are self assessment tools worth it? Are they necessary? What’s your general guidance to people who are thinking about, okay, I want to do this, but I just need to kind of get my arms around what my plan should be.

Chris Pietschmann (21:19):
Yeah. That’s a very common question that I see. I have a few articles, a couple of articles that are written on Build5Nines.com relating to that area. It’s kind of the inspiration of why I put together the “Ultimate Guide to Microsoft Certification” book consolidating the certification info that Microsoft has published into something that’s a little more easily consumable. And the shorter answer than a book, would be, you know, the Microsoft learn site has tons of labs that let you get hands-on without spending any money. They give you lab environments to use, great learning resources there. There’s also some hands-on labs that Microsoft has that are hosted on the lab guides on GitHub. You can find, I have an article that talks about those on Build5Nines as well which are the actual labs that are used for the Microsoft official curriculum courses that you would pay for instructor-led delivery of, are free on GitHub as well.

Chris Pietschmann (22:25):
So those you’d have to provide your own Azure subscription to do the labs for, but additional lab guides. So using those resources, maybe other ones from other, you know, learning providers and things to get hands-on is definitely, I think one of the biggest things to do. The documentation teams at Microsoft have done a really great job over the years of authoring the Azure docs. It’s definitely some great resources. There’s a lot of how-to guides and tutorials and things in there that you can leverage. And those are all kind of free content to read, to get hands-on experience and things which are great. And then for paid content, there are video courses that you can consume from various learning providers and there’s books that you can purchase. My recommendation with using all of those different resources would be try to use two, if not even three different sources for your learning. The repetition of going over things is going to help you remember it. And you’re not just reading about it, but you’re doing hands on labs. You know, obviously, hands-on practical experience is one of the greatest ways to learn and actually retain things.

Mary Jo Foley (23:46):

Chris Pietschmann (23:48):
And then another thing that myself and Dan Patrick, who also writes on Build5Nines put together is some self-assessment tools that you can find out on Build5Nines.com. We have them hosted in a GitHub repo as well to download. And those are actually Excel spreadsheets that list out the exam objective areas. So all of the skills, just like what the PDF is, you can download from Microsoft. But it allows you to mark them as you know, I know this well, I kind of know this, or I don’t know this at all, of all of the different skill areas. And then it breaks out a percentage of a confidence level for you, of your self-assessment. So as you go through and study, of your different sources that you’re using you can mark each skill area. Like when you start go through and mark them all and see all of the red areas that you need to study, cause you don’t know them.

Chris Pietschmann (24:45):
And then study until you can get those up to, I kind of know them as a yellow or green that I really know them. And then you get your confidence level up to, you know, higher than 80 or 90% where your self assessment shows, I feel like I really know this content on the exam. It helps give you a little bit more confidence to take the exam. Cause I know a lot of people have that anxiety with testing,

Mary Jo Foley (25:08):

Chris Pietschmann (25:09):
And it also will help, you know, not just confidence to pass the exam, but help, you know, like kind of when you’re starting to get ready to be able to take that exam. And then as you’re planning on it, definitely recommend scheduling that exam out on a date. So you have a deadline. Cause if you don’t have it scheduled, you’re like, I’ll take it when I’m ready.

Chris Pietschmann (25:31):
You may drag out your studies, you know, months longer, or maybe not even take the exam. But if you go and schedule it a month out or two months out, then you have a deadline that you’re holding yourself accountable to. Cause you don’t want to lose the money that you spent on that.

Mary Jo Foley (25:49):
Yeah, definitely.

Chris Pietschmann (25:49):
Or have the disappointment of your manager who might be paying for it for you as well. You know, and then you go and you sit the exam. And something that I always tell people too, is everyone fails exams. You can fail and take it again. So, when you take the exam, it gives you a report on like the percentage of how well you did in each of the main objective areas. And you can take that back after you failed the exam on your first attempt or second attempt even, and you know what areas to study more.

Mary Jo Foley (26:26):

Chris Pietschmann (26:26):
So go and schedule that exam again for one or two weeks later and then just really study the areas that you didn’t do well on and maybe stay up to speed on the ones you do know well and take it again and keep up that momentum and go after it right away. Cause if you stop and you delay, then you’ll start forgetting stuff. And then it’s going to be that much harder to try to pass it again.

Mary Jo Foley (26:50):
Kind of like your driving test. I’m not saying I had to repeat it multiple times, but maybe I did.

Chris Pietschmann (26:56):
Yes. I almost had to repeat mine.

Mary Jo Foley (27:02):
Did you? Yeah. It’s like get back on the horse if you fall off. Right. I mean, don’t just say, Oh, I can’t do it. I’m not going to do it now anymore. I give up, yeah.

Chris Pietschmann (27:11):
Yeah. And keep up the momentum because you’re studying all this stuff. And if you’re not using it everyday on the job, because you’re maybe trying to use this certification to get a new job, get promoted, or it’s just not part of your specific role at the company you work at, you’re going to start forgetting things and then you have to learn them again in order to pass the exam. So if you keep up that momentum, you’ll be able to push through it and then you can be happy you passed and not have to study for a while and take a break afterwards.

Mary Jo Foley (27:39):
Yeah, exactly. Give yourself a reward, right?

Chris Pietschmann (27:43):

Mary Jo Foley (27:43):
Nice. Well, cool. Lots of great tips and tricks. I like it. I think it’ll help a lot of people who are interested in doing certifications or who thought maybe I will, maybe I won’t, but I think this will give them a nice confidence boost. So thanks for sharing all that information.

Chris Pietschmann (28:02):
Yes. Thank you. People can always reach out to me on different forms of social media or on Build5Nines.com with questions or,

Mary Jo Foley (28:10):
Oh good.

Chris Pietschmann (28:10):
Let me know if some of my tips helped you pass. I’d like to hear.

Mary Jo Foley (28:14):
You’re very active on Twitter also. So I see you answering a lot of things there too. So if somebody wants to ask you something definitely tweet, Chris, he’ll answer you.

Chris Pietschmann (28:26):
Yes, I will answer. I’m pretty responsive generally to those questions.

Mary Jo Foley (28:29):
Nice, great. And so for everyone else, who’s listening to this chat right now. I will be posting more information soon on Petri about who my next guest is going to be. Once you see that you can submit questions directly on Twitter for the guest. In the meantime, if you know of anyone else or even yourself who might make a good guest for one of these MJF Chats, please do not hesitate to drop me a note. Thank you very much.