Is the AZ-303 Worth It?
| certifications | microsoft - Josh Burnett

Is the AZ-303 Worth It?

Microsoft Azure is the fastest-growing global provider of cloud computing services. One of the primary reasons for this is its relentless innovation, and that ingenuity requires architects. That’s where AZ-303 comes in.

It’s one of two exams you must pass to earn the coveted Microsoft Certified: Azure Solutions Architect Expert (MCASAE) certification. This validation is highly prized in the Azure world and clearly distinguishes someone with mastery of their skill set.

What is the AZ-303?

Architects design the basic structure and functions of cloud technology. Cloud computing is interesting because public clouds are proprietary by nature. If you want to work with Azure, you’re going to deal with Microsoft technology. The value of many vendor-neutral certifications is debatable because an IT professional’s career can develop in so many directions; however, if you’re going to exist at the senior level in an exclusively Microsoft environment, being certified to do so makes all the sense in the world.

Because the skill sets are so homogenous, certifications take on amplified importance. It's similar to any other area of life: the more narrowly you define the standards, in this case Microsoft's cloud tech, then how those standards are measured becomes the focus. The MCASAE cert is highly valued in the Azure world.

What Does the AZ-303 test?

The first thing to take note of is the recent changes to the exam. The current version was published on November 24th, 2020 with significant content changes. Be sure to check that any material you use and information you reference was published after that date. The current exam breaks down into four main areas:

  • Implement and monitor an Azure infrastructure (50-55%)
  • Implement management and security solutions (25-30%)
  • Implement solutions for apps (10-15%)
  • Implement and manage data platforms (10-15%)

You can expect to see scenario-based single answer questions, a range of multiple-choice question types, and items that require you to sequence a series of operations correctly. The test will have between 40 and 60 questions, depending on the version and difficulty level, and you’ll have three hours to complete it. Your score will be out of a potential 1,000 points, and you need to score 700 or higher to pass.

How Much Does the AZ-303 Exam Cost?

The exam costs $165 in the United States, although Microsoft varies the price depending on the country where you earn your certification. In many Africa, Asian, and South American locations, the cost can be as low as $80.

What Experience Do You Need for the AZ-303?

Microsoft states that someone who wants to become an MCASAE “should have subject matter expertise in designing and implementing solutions that run on Microsoft Azure, including aspects like compute, network, storage, and security.” The test creators specifically draw attention to Azure development and DevOps processes, recommending expert-level skills and significant experience with these areas.

AZ-303 is very high-level, and day-to-day administration is a lesser concern. The Windows provider advertises that only intermediate-level skills in systems and network administration are necessary to ace the material. They should, however, have “advanced experience and knowledge of IT operations, including networking, virtualization, identity, security, business continuity, disaster recovery, data platform, budgeting, and governance — this role should manage how decisions in each area affect an overall solution.” 

Who Should Take the AZ-303?

Anyone who works as an architect or engineer within an Azure environment should consider this certification a must. It’s extremely targeted: you’re working with a single vendor’s technology in a very specific role with a clearly identified skill set at a particular experience level.

When companies hire for this role, they know they’ll be paying an average salary of more than $150K a year in the United States, and they’re not going to take risks on assuming your resume accurately represents your experience. Having this certification puts you firmly in the “can hire” category and removes the guesswork for an employer.

AZ-303 for Solutions Architects

Since this exam is one of two required to earn Microsoft’s Azure Solutions Architect badge, it’s pretty much a no-brainer if your career revolves around Azure. Additionally, if you’re an experienced architect looking to move into the Azure space, this certification can only enhance your career prospects.

AZ-303 for DevOps Pros

In Microsoft’s informational literature about AZ-303, the concept of DevOps is repeatedly and explicitly emphasized. Depending on your specific role, the Certified: DevOps Engineer Expert might be a better fit. However, because these two roles cross paths so frequently, the material is so congruent, and the exam cost is so low, earning an MCASAE should be a priority.

AZ-303 for Azure Engineers

Earning an architect certification as an engineer depends on your current and targeted specializations. Microsoft has Azure certifications for Security Engineer, Data Engineer, and AI Engineer, so these should probably take precedence. If you believe your career will eventually take on a broader design role as an architect, though, MCASAE is something you should keep in mind.

Is the AZ-303 Worth It?

One of the things that any IT professional must ask when considering a vendor-specific cert is whether that technology is widespread and enduring enough to make a certification worth it. In the case of Microsoft Azure, the answer is a resounding yes. Azure has Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Software as a Service (SaaS) offerings to fit a broad array of commercial and governmental needs. The global cloud computing market is worth a shocking $330 billion, with nine out of 10 companies using the cloud in some capacity.

The two leaders in the cloud computing arena are Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure. While the top spot still belongs to Amazon, this is primarily due to getting into the game long before anyone else did. Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, recently said, “AWS had the unusual advantage of a seven-year head start before facing like-minded competition.” In the past few years, Azure has made incredible strides and repeatedly demonstrated its propensity for innovation, consistently outpacing all other major providers in this arena.

Azure is on a trajectory to overtake AWS as the top-tier global cloud provider. Two years ago, AWS held a solid 33 percent of the worldwide cloud market while Azure had less than half of that at 15 percent. This year’s numbers indicate that AWS has decreased to 31 percent while Azure has simultaneously climbed to 20 percent. A 7 percent differential shift in 18 months is impressive, to say the least.

Microsoft is continuing to grow and expand, meaning it will need even more MCASAEs. The Seattle-based company recently procured a $10 billion JEDI contract from the Pentagon that will heavily leverage their cloud capabilities. Salesforce, the world’s leading provider of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, is an Azure customer; there’s no doubt that this heavily influences many of its customers to choose Microsoft over Amazon when selecting a cloud provider.

Healthcare organizations, particularly at the enterprise level, tend to favor Azure over other cloud offerings. If 2020 has taught us anything from a business perspective, it’s that the crossroads of healthcare and cloud computing is going to be a hot economic sector for the foreseeable future.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recently said: “We have seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months. From remote teamwork to sales and customer service to critical cloud infrastructure and security, we are working alongside customers every day to help them stay open for business in a world of remote everything.”

Using AZ-303 to learn skills

You shouldn’t necessarily use an expert-level certification to learn skills. However, if you’re in a more junior-level role and aiming for an architect’s spot, the curriculum you’ll need to prepare for MCASAE certification will provide an excellent roadmap of the areas where you should focus.

Using AZ-303 to validate skills

If you’re working in an Azure architect’s role at a high level, this exam tests the precise set of skills you’re already using. Earning this certification cannot hurt you, and it can do a world of good if you’re planning on changing jobs or careers soon — or even if you want to keep your options open. AZ-303 is a fantastic way to validate those required skills.

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