Is the AZ-304 Worth It?
| certifications | microsoft - Graeme Messina

Is the AZ-304 Worth It?

DevOps has become a highly sought-after skillset for organizations that develop and maintain their own applications. If you are considering certifications in this field, then you would no doubt have been looking at the Azure range of exams. There are plenty of great entry level certifications that will help you to get started, whoever today we will be looking at a more advanced certification in this field.

The AZ-304: Microsoft Azure Architect Design exam is a very popular choice for those that already have high level knowledge of the Azure platform and experience. If you are looking to validate your skills or learn new skills that you might not have already learned on the Azure platform, then this is a cert you should be looking at. We want to look at the way that this certification is designed to help you further your skills and knowledge in the Azure ecosystem, and answer the question: Is the AZ-304 worth it?

What is the AZ-304?

Now that we have a basic idea of what the AZ-304 is, we can delve into some of the details of what this exam is, and what you need to know in order to write it. The AZ-304 is an exam that counts towards the Microsoft Certified: Azure Solutions Architect Expert certification. It requires that test takers are subject matter experts in designing and implementing Microsoft Azure solutions. Examples of these solutions include items such as compute, network, storage and security.

The exam itself expects you to have an advanced understanding of how the Azure platform works, from both an operational perspective as well, so it is not suited to newcomers. An Azure Solution Architect needs to be able to advise decision makers about the impact of each design choice, and how that translates into business impact. Azure Solution Architects are able to design and implement solutions that are scalable and reliable while maintaining security.  

What Does the AZ-304 Test?

The exam objectives of this certification cover quite a few different domains, all relating to design. The full document containing all of the exam objectives can be found here.

  • Design Monitoring: 10-15%
  • Design Identity and Security: 25-30%
  • Design Data Storage: 15-20%
  • Design Business Continuity: 10-15%
  • Design Infrastructure: 25-30%

Design Monitoring: This section covers issues such as designing for cost optimization and designing for logging and monitoring. It involves designing costs management and cost reporting solutions, storage locations for logs and even covers compliance requirements.

Design Identity and Security: This exam objective covers key topics such as design authentication authorization, governance and security design for applications. This covers things such as single sign-on recommendations, authorization approaches and Azure Policy considerations.

Design Data Storage: This section covers database design for solutions, designing data integration and how to select an appropriate storage account. You will need to know how to select the right data platform for specific requirements, recommend data flows that meet specific requirements and when to recommend specific storage solutions for a given objective.

Design Business Continuity: This exam objective expects you to know all about solution designs for backup and recovery as well as designs for high availability. Items such as recommending a recovery solution, workload redundancy and high availability storage types are the types of question you can expect for this exam objective.

Design Infrastructure: This section focuses on designing a compute solution, designing a network solution and designing an application architecture, as well as design migrations. In this section, items such as compute provisioning, network architecture and microservice architecture types are present.

How Much Does the AZ-304 Exam Cost?

The AZ-304 currently costs $165. The AZ-304 is a multiple-choice, multiple-select format exam. The question number ranges from 40 questions up to 60, which will differ from session to session. The exam duration is 150 minutes in total. The passing score is 700 out of 1000 which is calculated on a scale.

What Experience Do You Need for the AZ-304?

If you are considering this exam then you need to have a lot of experience in IT operations with skills such as networking, virtualization, identity, security, business continuity, disaster recovery, data platform, budgeting and governance.

That is a lot of general knowledge that is required in these fields in order to comfortably understand some of the key concepts of the exam. You should also have expert-level skills in Azure administration as well as experience with Azure development and DevOps processes.  The exam itself does not have any prerequisites, but there is a lot of knowledge that you are expected to be aware of before attempting the exam.

Who Should Take the AZ-304?

At this stage you might be asking yourself who would take this exam, given the fact that they requirements seem quite steep and geared primarily towards an Azure focussed candidate. Here are two examples of a job role where earning the AZ-304 certification could be a big help.  There are many other permutations of roles and experience that might differ from these examples, but these will give you a rough idea of who should be gearing up to earn this valuable cert.

AZ-304 for DevOps Cloud Engineers

Engineers in this role that are considering this cert should have around 4 to 5 years in a development environment with exposure to at least one in demand programming language. Examples of these languages are C# or .Net, especially in a Microsoft / Azure environment. By working towards an Azure Solutions Architect certification, candidates can separate themselves from their peers that are performing similar roles as a DevOps Cloud Engineer.

Salaries for this type of role generally start at around $70,000 USD per year depending on experience. The average salary, according to glassdoor is set at around $100,000 USD per year, while the high earners are raking in around $146,000 a year. By certifying as an Azure Solutions Architect, you will move up into a different earnings tier, and your responsibilities will shift more towards design and implementation planning.

AZ-304 for Azure Solutions Architect

Azure Solution Architect roles rely heavily on development and programming skills. Experience is also a huge factor, with most of these roles requiring over 10 years of experience in an active dev role, and at least 3 years of experience in Cloud environments. As an Azure Solutions Architect you are responsible not only for the designing and implementation of business applications, but also for offering support and troubleshooting guidance when things go wrong. You will need to demonstrate strong DevOps capabilities and show that you can work under pressure while still delivering valuable information to management in understandable, actionable terms.

Things on the salary front for Azure Solutions Architects range from around $150,000 USD and top out at around $200,000 USD, according to ZipRecruiter. Salary will depend on several factors including experience and qualifications.

Is the AZ-304 Worth It?

The AZ-304 is definitely worth pursuing if you are trying to develop your skills and become qualified in the Azure Solutions Architect space. There are 2 primary scenarios that would make this certification especially worth it for you.

You might not be familiar with the architectural elements that are required when creating a solution from the ground up, or you might be working with Azure every day. In each case, the AZ-304 is still beneficial.

Using the AZ-304 to Learn Skills

This makes the AZ-304 exam an excellent avenue to learn new skills as they relate to Azure best practice. If you already work with Azure, then you will build on your pre-existing skillset and experience and learn additional knowledge. This has the potential to will make you a vital asset to any company that seeks to deliver high quality solutions through the Azure cloud platform.

Using the AZ-304 to Validate Skills

If you are already performing many of the tasks associated with an Azure Solutions Architect, then this exam is a great way to validate those skills. The demand is growing for professionals with advanced Azure skills, and gaining this cert is an excellent way to show that you are the right person for the job. Earning this cert is worth it, regardless of which of the 2 camps you fall into.

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