Is AZ-900 Worth It?
At Ignite 2018, Microsoft revealed a revamped Azure certification path, or, more accurately, a series of paths to the various Azure certs. One of the new features of this approach was the AZ-900 Microsoft Azure Fundamentals exam.
While not a must-take exam, it is the first step for every Azure certification path — implying that it provides a relatively big bang for your buck. In this article, we'll dig a bit deeper into the makeup of the AZ-900 exam itself, as well as the surrounding context, to answer the question: is AZ-900 worth it?
What Does the AZ-900 Cover?
Microsoft's new role-based certification paths narrow the focus of each certification to specific functions someone might play within an organization, such as security engineer, architect, or administrator. These are very straightforward, with more than half of the eight certifications requiring only a single exam.
The AZ-900 exam is listed as an optional, preparatory step on the path to the actual certification tests. This tells us two things: the material is broad enough that it can apply to every Azure role, which also means that the material won't be specific enough to play a critical role in any of the mandatory exams.
The above chart shows that up to 50 percent of the exam consists of basic principles (Understanding Cloud Concepts and Understanding Security, Privacy, Compliance, and Trust). The other half of the test covers core Azure concepts, such as Services, Pricing, and Support. To understand why Microsoft developed this exam, we need to zoom out a bit and look at the broader economic context.
Cloud computing services are revolutionizing the IT industry. Although AWS is currently the market leader in overall size, Azure is the fastest-growing provider and is rapidly gaining ground. The services offered by these two giants have about a 99 percent equivalence rate, making the distinction for subscribers primarily a business decision, not a technological one.
This tremendous, sustained growth made Microsoft realize that they needed to rapidly recruit large numbers of new professionals to continue fueling their expansion and competition with AWS. Due to sheer numbers, many of these individuals would come from either non-technical backgrounds or non-cloud computing roles, making an introductory path a practical necessity.
Is the AZ-900 Worth It? Maybe.
AZ-900 was the solution to this problem. Microsoft's learning path can take virtually anyone from an "I know nothing about Azure or cloud computing" state to passing the exam in about ten hours of preparation. This is excellent news for anyone who is in one of the following categories:
- You're interacting with cloud computing for the first time. You're entering the industry, but don't have a clear idea of how your career will play out or the specific role you're targeting.
- You're familiar with cloud computing but have virtually no experience with Azure itself.
- You're an on-prem sysadmin or architect who is transitioning into a cloud-based role.
You're New to Cloud Computing
If you're entering the cloud computing arena for the first time, AZ-900 might be a good fit for you. Passing your first official examination is a huge milestone that should be celebrated, and AZ-900 offers a low-threat environment to experience this. Going into tougher test prep with momentum can provide a substantial boost that will carry you far; you certainly don't want your first results to be a failure that might discourage you from further progress. It can also allow you to experience what a multi-step certification path looks like: AZ-900 prepares you for the next exam, regardless of the path you choose, which leads to an actual Microsoft Azure certification in most cases.
You've used AWS or GCP, but not Azure
If you've got the basics of cloud computing down but are unfamiliar with Azure, you should consider taking the exam. Depending on your level of comfort, however, you might be better served by merely reviewing study material for AZ-900, then immediately transitioning into study mode for the specific Azure certification(s) you want to earn.
You're Transitioning to Azure
If you have prior experience with both cloud computing and Azure, the AZ-900 exam is not worth your time. It doesn't hold any inherent value, it doesn't give you a certification, and you can earn each Azure certification without ever touching AZ-900.
If you decide to take the exam, be sure to brush up on Azure pricing and support. Our AZ-900 training is specifically designed to get you spun up as completely as possible, including additional material that will give you a head start on prep for subsequent Azure certification exams.
Our training is also efficient: it's 20 percent shorter than the Microsoft Learn course, allowing you to invest that saved time into other areas, like practicing within Azure. You can create a free account here that allows you to immediately implement the lessons you learn and cement them in your mind. The most valuable experiences you have won't be in an academic setting, but rather in tooling around within Azure and trying different things.
Getting Hired into a Cloud Computing Role
IT is a bit of a unique beast: where most other industries revolve around a relatively linear career path with universally accepted checkboxes (e.g., diplomas, degrees, and certifications), that's very often not the case with IT.
It's a distinctly entrepreneurial environment: 87 percent of developers are at least partially self-taught, and one of the most common questions you'll encounter in interviews for technical roles is what you're doing in your spare time to further your career.
Let your interests drive your self-education: pursue what you're passionate about and be confident in articulating that. It doesn't matter if you're studying a language, platform, or framework that isn't directly associated with the job you're applying for—what they're looking for is consistent self-development.
Microsoft intentionally created AZ-900 with a specific goal in mind: to provide the easiest transition possible to usher large numbers of people into using Azure professionally. If you're part of that demographic, AZ-900 is probably worth the 85 minutes and $99 you'll invest in taking it.
The value you'll receive is just as much from the journey and the experience as it is passing the actual exam. Once you pass the test, we recommend immediately starting to study for the exam that comes next in your chosen certification path. Building on knowledge and applying it within the Azure environment is critical to maintaining the momentum you just generated.
If you fall outside of these parameters and have prior cloud computing or Azure experience, skip AZ-900. There's no dependency chain between this exam and higher-level exams or certifications, and it covers such basic material that virtually none of it is proprietary to any particular Azure certification. Your time is better spent studying for a higher-level exam that will lead to a Microsoft certification.