Many in the IT industry will argue certifications are of no real benefit and that is the deciding factor in determining the potential value of a skilled resource. Although this may seem like a valid argument, IT certifications do have some value in determining an individual’s level of technical expertise.
Certifications show that the individual is capable of taking a complex task, understanding what needs to be done to achieve specific objectives and then accomplishing set goals. Certifications also ensure the certified individual is current on the latest technical knowledge available, a necessity in a world where technology is continually changing.
In the Microsoft world certifications are essential. Microsoft certifications not only benefit the individual who has done the necessary preparation and written and passed the exam, but they also benefit the global Microsoft partner ecosystem. Every organization participating in the Microsoft Partner Network requires a certain number of certified professionals to attain a superior partner status level.
If you as a Microsoft Partner have no certified resources, you cannot claim Silver or Gold status. This provides customers with a level of comfort knowing they are dealing with a partner who is technically competent and has the necessary Microsoft skills in their organization.
Azure, like many other Microsoft platforms, has a set of certifications IT professionals can successfully achieve by writing and passing a set of exams. However, unlike other industry standard certifications which have been around for decades, Azure certifications provide IT professionals with the resources they need to learn and understand brand new technologies which did not exist a few years ago.
In fact, Azure certifications are often the only learning resources available for professionals who need the knowledge to build solutions on this platform.
Exploring Azure Certifications
There are three primary levels of certification within Microsoft Azure starting with the Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) and culminating in the Microsoft Certified Solution Expert (MCSE). The only difference between an MTA and an MCSE is the number of exams the certified professional has successfully passed.
The Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) Certification
The Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) certification is an entry-level certification which validates fundamental technical knowledge on the Microsoft platform. To attain an MTA, an individual only needs to pass one exam. The specific exam is up to the individual but to obtain certification as an Azure MTA, the individual needs to pass one of the Azure exams.
The Microsoft Certified Solution Associate (MCSA) Certification
A step up from the MTA is the Microsoft Certified Solution Associate (MCSA). An individual who has attained an MCSA certification should be able to competently manage and administer an Azure cloud environment. To achieve this certification, an individual must write and pass four specific Microsoft Azure exams which range from developing Microsoft Azure solutions to configuring and operating a hybrid cloud with Microsoft Azure Stack. An individual could also attain an MCSA: Linux on Azure certification. In that instance, the candidate would need to write and pass one Microsoft Azure exam and attain a Linux Foundation Certified System Administrator (LFCS) certification.
The Microsoft Certified Solution Expert (MCSE) Certification
The Microsoft Certified Solution Expert (MCSE) certification is the highest standard Azure certification one can attain. Microsoft does have other programs such as the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) which is achieved by excelling and being recognised by the Microsoft community, but the MCSE is the gold standard certification for anything on Azure. A certified MCSE is expected to be able to run a highly efficient and modern data center, with expertise in cloud technologies, identity management, systems management, virtualization, storage, and networking. To attain an MCSE an individual would first need to attain their MCSA and then write and pass an additional six exams.
An Overview of Azure Certification Exams
As part of the MTA, MCSA or MCSE certification track, an individual must write an Azure specific exam to be deemed Azure certified. There are currently ten Microsoft Azure specific exams available covering topics ranging from data to infrastructure and machine learning.
Developing Microsoft Azure Solutions
This exam is built to test an individual’s ability to design, program, implement, automate, and monitor Microsoft Azure solutions. Topics tested include creating and managing virtual machines, designing and implementing a storage strategy, managing identity, and implementing Azure compute, web, and mobile services.
Implementing Microsoft Azure Infrastructure Solutions
The implementing Microsoft Azure infrastructure solutions exam is designed to ascertain an individual’s knowledge and experience in implementing an infrastructure solution on Microsoft Azure. The exam is similar in content to Azure solutions but tests additional infrastructure-related concepts such as implementing Azure Active Directory and even covers Microsoft Operations Manager Suite.
Architecting Microsoft Azure Solutions
This exam was created to test an individual’s Microsoft Azure solution design skills. It covers a wide range of Azure related topics which include the networking, security, storage, and data platforms as well as knowledge about designing advanced applications and building business continuity into solutions design.
Configuring and Operating a Hybrid Cloud with Microsoft Azure Stack
Microsoft Azure Stack gives organizations the ability to provide cloud services to their end users or customers from within their data center. This exam tests an individual’s ability to plan, deploy, package, update, and maintain the Azure Stack infrastructure. Also, the individual is also expected to understand the concept of a hybrid cloud and demonstrate their ability to offer hybrid cloud resources and requested services through implementing Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS) solutions.
Designing and Implementing Cloud Data Platform Solutions
This exam validates an individual’s skills in designing and implementing Microsoft data platform solutions both on-premise and in the cloud. Topics tested include designing and implementing database solutions for SQL Server, managing database management systems security, and monitoring and managing database implementations on Azure.
Designing and Implementing Big Data Analytics Solutions
Even though this exam targets data management professionals, individuals who wish to attain an MCSE: Cloud Platform and Infrastructure need to write and pass this exam. It covers topics such as designing big data real-time processing and operationalizing end-to-end cloud analytics solutions.
Developing Microsoft Azure and Web Services.
This is a development exam that tests proficiency in developing Web Services. A good understanding of development tools, techniques, and approaches to building scalable and resilient solutions is also needed. Topics covered include manipulating data by using Entity Framework, designing and implementing WCF Services, and creating and consuming Web APIs.
Perform Cloud Data Science with Azure Machine Learning
Perform Cloud Data Science with Azure Machine Learning is a new exam created to test an individual’s competence in the art of data science and tests concepts such as filtering and transforming data sets, model estimation, and model evaluation. Azure technical topics covered by the exam include developing machine learning models as well as operationalizing and managing Azure Machine Learning.
Perform Data Engineering on Microsoft HDInsight
This exam, like Machine Learning, is another new exam created to test data engineers, data architects, data scientists, and data developers on implementing big data engineering workflows on HDInsight. Individuals who take this exam should understand big data analytics and concepts such as batch data, real-time, and interactive processing. Azure topics tested include administering and provisioning HDlnsight clusters and implementing big data batch processing solutions.
Engineering Data with Microsoft Cloud Service
Engineering Data with Microsoft Cloud Service covers the knowledge needed by individuals who design analytics solutions and build these on Azure. Relevant technologies which a candidate is expected to comprehend include Azure SQL Data Warehouse, Azure Data Lake, Azure Data Factory, and Azure Stream Analytics. This exam tests the individual’s ability to design and implement analytics solutions for these services.
Certifications Provide Peace of Mind
From the list of certifications available, as well as the exams an individual needs to pass to attain these certifications, you can see that Microsoft takes their certification program very seriously. The primary purpose of a certification is to provide a baseline measure for demonstrating an individual’s skill and knowledge in a particular technology sphere. When dealing with a Microsoft certified professional and by extension, a Silver or Gold Microsoft partner, your organization can rest assured you’ll be dealing with professionals who understand Microsoft technologies and can deliver world-class solutions on Azure.