which azure cert is right for me
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Which Azure certification is right for me?

Lars Klint
Lars Klint

Which Azure certifications and career path are right for you? Sadly, I can’t tell you what to do with your life. (If you insist, I’d say it’d be pretty cool if you got really good at parkour or formed an electric scooter demolition derby league.) But if you’re thinking of moving into or up in the world of cloud, I can offer an overview to help with plotting your path and picking the Azure certs that may get you where you’re looking to go.

So you’re thinking of getting certified…

OK. So you’re thinking of snagging some cloud certifications? Excellent! If you were looking to get pants altered, I couldn’t help… But if it’s certs you seek, you’ve come to the right place!

There’s no single path for everyone, and getting started in the cloud can be overwhelming. Should you go with AWS, Azure, or Google Cloud? Whether you’re looking to move into a high-paying cloud career or just looking to declare your existing cloud skills, Microsoft Azure certifications are a great choice. Besides the value they’ll bring to your employer and your career, all the Azure certs can be obtained remotely, meaning you can get certified while working from home.

Once you’ve decided which cloud provider path is right for you, figuring out your next steps isn’t exactly a walk in the park either. (None of this is helped by the fact that certification exam names can seem unnecessarily complex.) So let’s take a deep breath and take an explain-it-like-I’m-five (but-for-some-reason-I’m-a-five-year-old-who-is-super-interested-in-cloud) look at Azure’s cert selection.

Want to learn more about AWS certifications? Check out our overview of all AWS has to offer.

Which Azure certification path is right for me?

Microsoft offers a smorgasbord of certifications and — as of April 2020 — 11 Azure-related certifications (with a 12th, the Azure Database Administrator Associate, set to debut any day now). Where should you begin? First off, you should make sure you understand what a certification is and what it isn’t. Got it? Great! Next up, let’s look at three possible scenarios that may help you when deciding where to begin.

  1. “I’m new to tech. I know almost nothing about this ‘cloud’ you speak of.”
    If you’re the type of person who lists “Microsoft Word” as experience with technology on your resume, you too can learn to cloud. If you’re getting started, an entry-level certification will give you the vocab and understanding needed to better assess where you might want to go next. The first stop on the Azure path for you is the Azure Fundamentals certification. The cloud can be intimidating, but what you learn to earn this certification will break it down in a way that even a total newcomer can understand — especially if you have the right training. (Call me biased, but I think our Azure Fundamentals course is pretty awesome.)
  2. “I know a little bit about the cloud.”
    Maybe you’ve got some IT experience. Maybe you’ve poked around with AWS, GCP, or Azure. Think you’re ready to jump in the deep end? Tap the brakes. You too should probably start with the Azure Fundamentals certification. Best-case scenario, it’s a breeze for you. But however high you ascend in Azure, this cert will set the foundation for future success. The next certification on the ladder (the Azure Administrator Associate) can be a serious challenge. You’ll need all the knowledge of the Fundamentals cert and whole lot of hands-on time with Azure before attempting it.
  3. “I work with the cloud, I’m familiar with Azure, and I’m looking to level up.”
    Microsoft’s Azure certifications are mostly role-based. See a job title you have or would like to have? That’s the certification for you. Of course, those certifications don’t always 100% align with what every employer might ask of a person with that title. Check job postings for the name of the cert you’re considering and see if the role and responsibilities sound like something you’d be interested in.

Cloud learning made easy (and awesome)

Looking to level up or change your career? Our accessible, explain-it-like-I’m-five approach will help you hone your skills and go from a cloud novice to a cloud guru.

Level select: Cert levels and what they mean

Microsoft certifications are organized into four levels: Fundamentals, Associate, Expert, and Specialty. What do those mean for you and your cloud certification quest? Not too much. With one exception, you don’t necessarily need to clear one level to move up to the next level.

  • Fundamentals Certifications: The Azure Fundamentals certification is currently the only one at this level. This isn’t required to move up, but it is the best starting point for anyone who’s pursuing Azure certs.
  • Associate Certifications: If you already know your way around Azure well, you may feel comfortable starting here. There are currently six Associate certifications: Azure Security Engineer Associate, Azure Administrator Associate, Azure AI Engineer Associate, Azure Data Engineer Associate, Azure Data Scientist Associate, and Azure Developer Associate.
  • Expert Certifications: If you’ve got serious tech chops, you may be ready for these. An Associate certification (either the Azure Developer Associate or Azure Administrator Associate) is required for the Azure DevOps Engineer Expert, but the Azure Solutions Architect Expert has no prerequisite certs.
  • Specialty Certifications: There are currently two of these — the Azure for SAP Workloads Specialty and Azure IoT Developer Specialty certifications. And there are no certs required before earning either of them.

What are the Azure certifications and what do they mean? 

First, a quick side note: Microsoft is (always) making updates to exams — including a batch of updates done or underway in the first half of 2020. So exam details and requirements are subject to change. The good news, is once new exams go up, old exams will remain accessible for 90 days. So plan (and study) accordingly!

With all that out of the way, let’s dig in to the bounty of Azure certifications available from Microsoft.

Azure Fundamentals

TL;DR? This is the go-to starting point for anyone new to cloud or Azure. If exam-naming made more sense, this one would be Azure 101.

Requirements: AZ-900 exam ($99 USD)

Prerequisites: None

Who’s it for? New or aspiring developers or IT pros, or anyone with a cloud-adjacent job could benefit from understanding what the heck the cloud actually is and isn’t. The knowledge needed to pass this exam is essential for anyone who wants to understand the Azure ecosystem.

Why should you get it? This cert isn’t mandatory for those looking to continue up the Azure ladder, but what you’ll learn to earn it will prove a solid first step. If the cloud plays or will play a big role in your organization — and signs indicate it will — this exam (or the equivalent from AWS) should be a requirement for nearly everyone on staff. Even non-technical people like managers, marketers, and salespeople can benefit from learning the fundamentals.

What’s this certification mean? You can talk semi-intelligently about Azure without embarrassing yourself. This cert proves you have an understanding of basic cloud concepts and security, privacy, compliance, services, pricing, and support in Azure.

What’s it mean for your career? Real talk: Cloud-embracing companies aren’t going to be beating down your door just because you have this certification. But the basics you’ll learn here are a foundation for cloud understanding. If you’re an aspiring Azure guru, this is a great place to get your feet wet before jumping into a full-on career change.

Ready to take your first step into the wild world of Azure? We make it simple (and fun) with our Azure Fundamentals course. (I hear the instructor is AMAZING.)

Azure Administrator Associate

TL;DR? This is Azure management basics for the IT crowd. This takes you from knowing a bit about the cloud to being able to do cloud things (and get paid to do them).

Requirements: AZ-103 exam ($165 USD) — or the AZ-104, which is now in beta

Prerequisites: None officially, but candidates should ideally have a minimum of six months’ worth of Azure hands-on experience. A basic understanding of Azure, cloud, PowerShell, the Azure portal, and the command-line interface will be needed.

Who’s it for? IT pros and administrators who keep tabs on cloud assets and resources and manage cloud infrastructure should seek this cert. This exam gets (mistakenly) gets regarded as an entry-level exam, but there’s a monster-truckload of assumed knowledge you’ll need to know to pass and not get your AZ handed to you.

Why should you get it? If you’re wanting to get into the Azure management game, it’s a no-brainer. This builds on a basic cloud knowledge foundation and puts theoretical concepts into real-world practice, ensuring you can keep Azure apps and services up and running (and running well). Bonus: This certification (or the Azure Developer Associate cert) is required to continue your climb up the Azure skill tree and snag the Azure DevOps Engineer Expert certification.

What’s this certification mean? Having your Azure Administrator Associate certification means you have a solid grasp on the basics of cloud storage, security, networking, and compute. You’re also proficient in the basics of PowerShell, Azure’s portal, and command-line interface.

What’s it mean for your career? You’ll be equipped with the Azure understanding needed to help organizations get more out of their cloud investments — advising on, evaluating, managing, and optimizing Azure apps and services. Mix in a little bit of experience and you may find yourself a good fit for roles like Azure Administrator, Systems Administrator, or Database Administrator. From there, some further grinding and training can propel you into the world of some of the most sought-after cloud gigs (with the six-figure salaries that often come with them).

Get ready for your exam (and your dream job) with our Azure Administrator Associate course.

Azure Developer Associate 

TL;DR? This certification proves you know the basics of developing apps and services for Azure, with the skills needed to design, build, test, and maintain cloud solutions.

Requirements: The AZ-204 exam ($165 USD) — previously the AZ-203, which will be retired this fall

Prerequisites: Development on Azure is as much about the services on the platform and how you integrate them in your application as it is about actual syntax and programming languages. That’s why the new AZ-204 exam requires candidates to have at least 1–2 years’ experience with development and Azure development. Granted, they’re not going to ask your boss to sign a permission form before you sit the exam, but you’ll ideally want to have that under your belt (so the exam doesn’t catch you with your pants down). You’ll also need know an Azure supported language: C#, PHP, Java, Python, or JavaScript.

Who’s it for? This certification is for developers who want to flex their Azure skills. You’ll need to learn Azure and get up to speed on development before taking a swing at this exam. The ideal candidates have proven development experience and familiarity with Azure command-line interface, PowerShell, C#, Azure SQL, and the Azure portal. Sound like you? Note that even though this is an Associate-level certification, many find this exam to be especially tricky. Approach it with patience, and don’t feel discouraged or overwhelmed if you don’t ace it on your first try.

Why should you get it? Azure can feel more intuitive for developers with experience with Microsoft, and the integrations available in Microsoft-based enterprise environments can simplify development.

What’s this certification mean? You’re an Azure developer capable of designing and building cloud-native apps from start to finish — having a hand in every step from design to deployment to testing and maintenance.

What’s it mean for your career? Proving your prowess at developing in Azure is another feather in your cloud cap. (Stylish!) The more platforms you can develop for, the more you set yourself apart from the competition.

Azure Security Engineer Associate

TL;DR? Security in the cloud is massive and growing. This newer Azure certification shows you know how to help an organization keep its networks, data, and applications secure in a cloud world.

Requirements: AZ-500 ($165 USD)

Prerequisites: None officially, but strong scripting and automation chops plus familiarity with networking, virtualization, and cloud are needed for the exam.

Who’s it for? This cert is for security engineers who design, configure, and implement security tools and controls in Azure.

Why should you get it? Cloud security is a highly sought-after skill. As more organizations do hyper-critical things in the cloud, people who can ensure those things stay safe will continue to see their stock (and salaries) soaring.

What’s this certification mean? You have the security skills to keep data in the cloud locked down and ensure cloud and hybrid environments are secure. You also have the know-how needed to school users — those lovably unavoidable soft spots in cybersecurity — on security best practices.

What’s it mean for your career? Cloud security equals job security. These jobs pay well and pay off even more after a few years of experience. Whatever wild innovations come next, you can rest assured that security will continue to be a top priority.

Lockdown the security engineer gig of your dreams. Get ready for the AZ-500 with our Azure Security Engineer Associate certification training.

Azure Data Scientist Associate

TL;DR? Big Data isn’t a giant version of the Enterprise’s most lovable android (sadly). But you probably already know that if you’re eyeing this certification. This cert proves your data and machine learning skills are up to warp speed on Azure, and that you can help turn data into those oh-so-sweet actionable insights businesses love.

Requirements: DP-100 exam ($165 USD)

Prerequisites: None, but test-takers typically have a history with computer science, math, and statistics.

Who’s it for? This is for data scientists — current and aspiring.

Why should you get it? 5G and the Internet of Things (an awesome band name you’re free to use, by the way) mean more data flying back and forth from more sources. The stats around data growth we always see bandied about are mind-boggling, but it’s clear jobs wrangling data and making sense of it will be a hot gig for the foreseeable future.

What’s this certification mean? You can drink from the data firehose and spit out insights. This cert says you know how to use machine learning to train, test, and deploy models in Azure to build business-assisting tools. You can use apps involving language processing, computer vision, and predictive analytics, and you’re able to help visualize data for colleagues and leadership.

What’s it mean for your career? Big Data can be a capital-B BIG deal for your career. Someone has to dig into the data and pry out all those next-step nuggets. Data scientist salaries are nothing to sneeze at, and the insights you bring to the table can give you some serious job security.

Azure Data Engineer Associate

TL;DR? Data is valuable. Someone needs to protect it and help ensure (the right) access to it. That’s where an Azure data engineer comes in. They’re responsible for managing, monitoring, and securing data using Azure data services.

Requirements: DP-200 and DP-201 exams ($165 USD each)

Prerequisites: None, but you’ll need to know basically every data-related Azure service come test time.

Who’s it for? This certification is for data engineers responsible for data solutions that use Azure services.

Why should you get it? You’re a data-obsessed engineer who wants to work behind the curtain, propping up the systems that keep data safe and get it where it needs to go quickly. You like the idea of keeping an ever-steady eye on compliance standards and figuring out things like bottlenecks and a data retention policy.

What’s this certification mean? You can implement, design, monitor, and optimize a boatload of data-related solutions. You’re capable of using and creating data storage and data processing solutions and can ensure data stays secure. And you can do it all across a laundry list of Azure services.

What’s it mean for your career? You’ll find yourself an integral part of your organization’s data team, the steward of the crucial and sensitive information that informs your organization’s strategy and keeps the lights on. You’ll likely be working with various internal teams to figure out their needs and deliver solutions that meet those — and keep them firing on all cylinders.

Azure AI Engineer

TL;DR? You don’t have to be self-aware to recognize that AI is big and primed to get even bigger. Azure AI Engineers create and manage cutting-edge tools in Azure to automate and let machines do some of the heavy thinking.

Requirements: AI-100 ($165 USD)

Prerequisites: None, but if you’re coming from a non-technical background you’ll need to learn Python and software development and get studied up on data science, math, and machine learning.

Who’s it for? Engineers who know the ins and outs of AI and want to prove their prowess with Azure’s sizable suite of AI tools.

Why should you get it? AI has quickly gone from the stuff of science fiction to an increasingly sought-after skill set. This cert shows you’re a step ahead of the curve and ready for a long, fruitful career (even after our robotic overlords ? have replaced all food with a flavorless life-sustaining sludge). You’ll architect and run AI tools using natural language processing, speech, computer vision, bots, and agents.

What’s this certification mean? You can use machine learning, cognitive services, and knowledge mining to design and implement Microsoft AI solutions.

What’s it mean for your career? You can’t spell “paid” without AI. But you’re not a spelling expert. You’re a master of machine learning and AI! That means you can expect to be in hot demand now and well into the future.

Azure Solutions Architect Expert

TL;DR? This cert proves you are among the Azure elite. You have the proven prowess in compute, network, storage, and security needed to masterfully design solutions that run on Azure.

Requirements: AZ-300 and AZ-301 exams ($165 USD each) — to be the AZ-303 and AZ-304 in the near future.

Prerequisites: It’s not required, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt you to have your Microsoft Azure Administrator in the bag before attempting to take down this colossal certification and its dual architecture-focused exams.

Who’s it for? This is for experienced IT and DevOps pros with existing Azure administration and development skills. A successful solutions architect is a daywalker who works effortlessly with cutting-edge technology and good old-fashioned humans. They’re capable of taking on technical tasks like creating apps, configuring cloud infrastructure, and planning continuity. But they’re equally up for getting chatty about cloud with colleagues — helping pair teams with solutions and serving as a persuasive cloud evangelist to convert cloud naysayers.

Why should you get it? You’ll bring tech brains to your organization’s strategy and potentially prime yourself for strategic leadership positions down the road.

What’s this certification mean? You have an in-depth understanding of cloud infrastructure, security, storage, data platforms, workload requirements, application creation and deployment, and more.

What’s it mean for your career? An experienced solutions architect is basically packing a brain filled to the brim with an encyclopedic level of IT insights, making you a must-have at any tech-savvy organization. It also potentially opens a whole new dimension of future career possibilities. This sort of cross-departmental role, the experience you earn, and the people you work with could set the foundation for a jump off the cloud ladder to the corporate leadership ladder.

Ready to reach the pinnacle of the Azure certifications? We’ve got courses to help you conquer the AZ-300 and AZ-301

Azure DevOps Engineer Expert

TL;DR? The DevOps engineer is the conductor (train or orchestra, your pick) who ensures the many moving pieces around DevOps in a modern organizations are performing as they should using Azure tech, a strategic mind, and a deep understanding of development and infrastructure.

Requirements: AZ-400 ($165 USD)

Prerequisites: The Azure Administrator Associate or Azure Developer Associate cert are mandatory for this.

Who’s it for? This is for the engineer who is equal parts coder, people person, and a pro-level cat wrangler. You’re familiar with Azure administration and development (and an expert in one or the other) and well versed in Agile development practices.

Why should you get it? You want a high-paying DevOps gig that is heavy on strategy without being completely removed from the fulfillment of digging in on day-to-day to-dos.

What’s this certification mean? You’re a DevOps master who can tackle the trifecta of people, processes, and tech — all to deliver products that meet user needs and business objectives with Azure.

What’s it mean for your career? You have the combo of hard technical and soft people skills that can take you far. Your work will likely focus on taking the friction out of delivery, creating automation and scalability as well as optimizing communication and processes. You’ll collaborate with development teams to deploy code and coordinate releases.

What’s the deal with Azure DevOps? Our intro to Azure DevOps can bring you up to speed.

Azure for SAP Workloads Specialty

TL;DR? Announced in late 2019 at Microsoft Ignite, this certification is for people in the weeds of planning and administering SAP workloads to be hosted in Microsoft Azure.

Requirements: AZ-120 ($165 USD)

Prerequisites: It’s not mandatory but “strongly recommended” you have an Azure Administrator or Azure Architect certification, plus SAP HANA and Linux certs.

Who’s it for? This certification is for administrators, architects, and engineers migrating SAP solutions to the cloud. Moving forward, expect to see more specialty certifications focused on the pain points of moving on-premises solutions to Azure.

Why should you get it? You’ll find SAP applications in the majority of Fortune 500 companies. Many of these organizations have on-premises SAP workloads that could benefit from being migrated to the cloud, but migrating these complex workloads can be a serious task. (You can help with that.)

What’s this certification mean? You’re a wealth of SAP knowledge and experience who can build and deploy Azure SAP workloads, make suggestions on services, and optimize resources.

What’s it mean for your career? Considering the number of businesses relying on SAP, having this certification should make you a valuable hire to plenty of employers out there who would benefit from migrating to the SAP S/4HANA and SAP Cloud Platform on Azure.

Azure IoT Developer Specialty

TL;DR? The first cloud IoT developer certification from the big three cloud providers, the Azure IoT Developer Specialty cert says you can implement the Azure services that form an IoT solution.

Requirements: AZ-220 ($165 USD)

Prerequisites: There are no official prerequisites, but you’ll need to understand the ins and outs of IoT solutions and be fluent in one Azure-supported language, including C#, Node, C, or Python.

Who’s it for? This certification is for Azure-fluent developers looking to get into IoT or IoT devs who wants to get into Azure.

Why should you get it? So you can call “first.” Or more likely because the demand for IoT skills is such that you may be fighting off recruiters with a stick. As many as 80% of IT decision makers report lacking the “skills in the hands-on delivery of IoT solutions” needed to ensure solutions work as intended. If that’s the case now during the days of IoT’s infancy, it’s probably safe to wager the need (and your stock) will go up with the rising number of connected devices.

What’s this certification mean? You’re an Azure-savvy developer who can implement the Azure services that form an IoT solution, including data analysis, data processing, data storage options, and PaaS options.

What’s it mean for your career? You’ll implement solutions to manage, monitor, and transform IoT-related data, working with data engineers and others to ensure business integration.

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