Step-by-Step: Unpacking the Ideal Order of Azure Certifications

The right Azure certifications can boost IT earning potential and allow technology professionals the freedom to carve out their unique career paths. But with a growing roster of Microsoft cloud computing designations, how do IT experts choose which to tackle first, which ones can wait, and which ones require knowledge from previous cloud courses to complete?

In this piece, we'll offer insight into Azure certifications' ideal order and their impact on technology career trajectories.

Two Paths Diverged in an Azure Wood

In reality, "two" doesn't even come close. Under Microsoft's new Azure training paradigm, there are many potential certification paths for IT experts considering a cloud career. Previous iterations of the company's cloud computing qualification framework focused on the traditional X → Y → Z model, which required specific certifications as prerequisites for more advanced training. Microsoft has reworked the model of role-based training rather than on rigid qualification structures.

As a result, IT professionals can now choose the role that suits them best — from Azure Developer or Administrator to Azure Security Engineer or Architect — with certifications aligned to specific career objectives. Here's how it works.

The Generalist: AZ-900 Microsoft Azure Fundamentals

For most IT experts, Azure certification starts with AZ-900. This entry-level designation focuses on the fundamentals of Azure operations, deployment, and management in enterprise cloud environments and tests key platform knowledge, such as:

  • Understanding of key Azure features such as high availability, elasticity, agility, scalability, fault tolerance, and disaster recovery
  • Management of core Azure services for enterprise IT ecosystems
  • Deployment of security, compliance, and trust controls within Azure

Worth noting? For all role-based Azure career paths, AZ-900 is optional. While more advanced certifications are required to earn specific qualifications, IT pros are not obligated to complete this course and earn this designation. For most technology staff, however, AZ-900 is worth the time and effort since it streamlines the process of earning more advanced certifications and — even without more in-depth training — makes the list of the top-paying IT qualifications 2020.

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The Architect: AZ-300 Microsoft Azure Architect Technologies and AZ-301

As of September 30, 2020, the AZ-300 and AZ-301 certifications have been replaced with AZ-303 and AZ-304. While these new designations are part of Microsoft's ongoing innovation around Azure deployments, the content and examinations are virtually identical to their 300 and 301 counterparts.

In both past and present iterations, these certifications are required to earn the Microsoft Certified Azure Architect Expert designation. AZ-300 focuses on the technology side of designing Azure environments, while AZ-301 tackles the more conceptual architecture and implementation elements of successful Azure deployment.

Certified Azure architects are now in demand as companies look to scale up their Microsoft cloud environments, with experts enjoying both increased job security and average salaries of just over $130,000.

The Security Expert: AZ-500 Microsoft Azure Security Technologies

As cloud security threats evolve, enterprises are looking to hire skilled and certified information security professionals. The Azure cloud security pathway typically starts with AZ-900 (optional), followed by AZ-500 to earn the Microsoft Certified Azure Security Engineer Associate designation.

Designed for IT pros with practical and theoretical knowledge of the Azure cloud environment, the AZ-500 exam includes a multiple-choice, case study, and practical lab questions to ensure candidates have the depth of experience and expertise necessary to manage Azure clouds at scale securely. IT pros can expect the exam to address four key topic areas:

  • Identity and access management (30-35%)
  • Implementing platform protection (15-20%)
  • Managing security operations (25-30%)
  • Securing data and applications (20-25%)

With cloud security professionals now in high demand, this role-based certification pathway offers a wide variety of potential career paths.

The DevOps Engineer: AZ-103 Microsoft Azure Administrator and AZ-400

Much like AZ-300 and AZ-301, AZ-103 was recently replaced with a new certification, AZ-104. Again, content and certification exam requirements are almost identical and offer a great opportunity for IT pros interested in Azure cloud deployments' development and operations side.

To earn the Microsoft Certified DevOps Engineer designation, technology staff must complete AZ-104 Microsoft Azure Administrator, followed by the AZ-400 Microsoft Azure DevOps solution exam. Together these qualifications demonstrate that IT professionals can implement solutions on the Azure platform, analyze resource use and consumption and manage these resources at scale to design and deploy custom Azure cloud architectures capable of meeting specific business objectives.

Choose Your Adventure

When it comes to Azure certification, there's no single "correct" path — while AZ-900 is recommended to gain a basic understanding of the Azure environment, it's no longer a requirement for any career track. Instead, IT pros can choose the role-based qualification roadmap that best aligns with their current career goals. They can then supplement these certifications with additional knowledge and expert, associate, or engineer designations if they decide to branch out and enhance their cloud career potential.

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