There are a lot of Microsoft exams available and it can be quite a daunting task trying to figure out which one is the best for you and our goals. What I would like to do in this post is try and explain what things mean and help you with your certification path.
Each Microsoft exam has a code in front of it, if we focus on the Azure track exams we have, AZ, DP and AI codes.
AZ stands for Azure, DP stands for Data and AI stands for Artificial Intelligence.
If you look beyond those first letters there are numbers for each exam, those numbers are not in relation to the skill level, or "hardness" of the exam. They relate to the "series" that they are in.
Let's take a look at each of the paths and explain what the numbers mean for them.
AZ-1XX exams are focussing on those System Administrator type activities, storage, networking, identity, monitoring, security etc.
AZ-2XX exams are focussing on Developer type activities, PaaS, security, coding, 3rd party integrations, etc
AZ-3xx exams are the architecture series of exams. Which test your knowledge on implementation of environment, platform management, this would be considered quite an experienced path.
AZ-4xx exams are those reserved for DevOps topics, such as Site Reliability Engineering (SRE), compliance, security, source control, code deployment.
AZ-5xx exams are focussed solely on security. Secret management, user access, securing apps and data, protecting the infrastructure.
AZ-9xx exams are the fundamental exams, looking at the basics around Azure and are aimed at technical and non-technical people.
It's worth nothing that even though there is a dedicated security exam track there is security throughout the exams, I personally think everyone has to have some kind of security knowledge these days due to the way cybersecurity threats are so prevalent.
DP-1XX exams are classed as the data science exams looking at topics such as machine learning and data models.
DP-2XX exams are data engineer exams focussing on topics such as data processing and data storage solutions.
DP-3XX exams are database admin exams looking at storing data correctly.
DP-9xx exams again this is the fundamentals path looking to give people a good grounding for their data knowledge.
AI-1XX exams are focussed on the AI solutions within Azure and designing them.
AI-9XX exams like the other paths this is the fundamental exam section.
There are some exams that sit outside of those paths and are focussed on a particular technology.
AZ-120 is the SAP exam looking at planning and administering Azure for SAP workloads.
AZ-140 is the Windows Virtual Desktop exam focussed on configuring and operating WVD within Azure.
AZ-220 is the Azure IoT Developer exam for those that are developing cloud and edge components on the Azure IoT solution.
What is the purpose of the fundamental exams?
Lots of people have asked me whether or not the fundamental exams are worth sitting or if they are required to go further with their certification journey.
They aren't a requirement or a pre-requisite for sitting any of the other exams, they are there for those looking to start their Azure journey or start to learn a new skill. I've sat both the Data and AI fundamental exams to expand my knowledge a little and have an understanding of what is available.
These exams are optional, but for those starting out they are a great way of starting your journey.
Becoming an Azure Architect
Another question I often get asked is how to become an Azure Architect? What exams do I need to sit? For me becoming an Azure Architect isn't just about exams though, it takes experience and knowledge of how end users think and their needs, have an idea how business stakeholders operate, etc
For me personally I don't think becoming an Azure Architect is something you would undertake as your first role within IT, it's something you work up to, gaining experience and qualifications.
If I was to pick an exam path though I would recommend the following:
Starting off with the Azure Fundamentals exam and then either looking at AZ-104 in your interests are more towards the system administration side of IT or AZ-204 if you are more interested by the developer side of things.
Then I'd focus on the AZ-500 exam, and build up experience around security and understand the concerns and solutions that are available to help mitigate those threats. Security is something that every organisation is concerned with and as an Architect you need to be aware of that when you are designing systems and understand the implications of that within the environment. You don't need to make it your specialist area but having a good grounding will help you.
For me this path would give you a good grounding and demonstrate your expertise. It is just my opinion and I'm sure lots of people have different opinions. 😁