Is the AZ-500 Worth It?
Earning a certification is one of the best things a person can do to enhance their IT career. A certification proves that the candidate is a subject-matter expert. Certifications are also excellent ways to attract recruiters, bolster your resume, and negotiate a higher salary. IT pros with some security knowledge under their belt may also be looking to expand their toolbox.
Earning an AZ-500 Security Engineer certification must be an excellent idea for everyone, right? Not so fast. While a certification can be a ticket to a better job and pay raise, it will ultimately depend on your overall knowledge of the system. Let's dive into what the AZ-500 covers, who its intended audience is, and whether it is the right career for you at this moment.
What is the AZ-500, and Who is it For?
The AZ-500 is Microsoft's premier certification for Azure Cloud security experts. It is by no means an introductory course. It is intended for folks who are already well-versed in the Azure cloud environment and have experience remediating and analyzing cybersecurity threats. Your typical AZ-500 candidate will have a strong familiarity with Azure products and services, have an expert understanding of networking in general, and write scripts for automation.
The purpose of the AZ-500 exam is to solidify that understanding, prove your knowledge, and fill in understanding gaps. Now that we know the intended audience for this exam let's talk a little bit about the exam itself.
AZ-500 in a Nutshell
The AZ-500 exam covers the following four topics: Manage identity and access, implement platform protection, manage security operations, and secure data and applications. Each one of these topics is weighted differently to determine your overall passing score. For instance, one of the things a candidate may be asked is how to configure a Web Application Firewall (WAF) or prevent a DDoS. (Distributed Denial of Service.) Another thing candidates will have to know is how to configure an encrypted database securely. All of this information seems very disparate, proving the breadth of experience required to take and pass this exam.
The real question comes down to whether it is worth it or not. Let's delve into a couple of great reasons why the AZ-500 should be your next certificate of choice and a couple of reasons why it may be best to hold off.
Why AZ-500 Certification is Advantageous
At the beginning of this post, I broadly touched on why it is a great idea to earn a certification in general. However, I would like to touch on the pros of why earning an AZ-500, specifically, is a worthwhile endeavor. First, let's start with an example.
Let's say an HR department receives two highly qualified, albeit very similar resumes to fill their new Azure Security Engineer role. Both candidates have a relevant degree, associated experience, and adequate time in their positions. However, one of these candidates has an AZ-500 certification. Out of these two similar resumes, the choice is clear on who to interview for the job first. For those who have never worked in a human resource department, this may seem like an edge case, but this sort of scenario happens far more often than you think.
In addition to preferential treatment from the HR department, a certification will also receive the same treatment from resume-scanning software. Certifications are actively scanned for by recruiters — resumes with certifications often get sorted to the top of the pile.
Is Azure Here to Stay?
Unfortunately, technologies sometimes come and go as often as fads. Will the Azure certification even be worth its weight in paper in a couple of years? Let's take a look at why the AZ-500 will endure the test of time and is a safe bet during times of ever-changing technology.
For starters, Microsoft Azure is the second most used cloud solution on the market, behind Amazon Web Services. However, it is quickly closing the gap. Virtually any company that utilizes a .Net stack will leverage the features of Azure. That is because Azure is far less expensive than AWS if used with Windows Server and SQL Server. Because so many companies are already deeply integrated with Microsoft via Windows, it is a no-brainer to adopt their cloud solution when the time finally arrives.
The AZ-500 certification will be valuable for many years to come — Azure is by no means a fad technology or one in its twilight years. So as Azure continues to expand and grow, so will its security vulnerabilities. Therefore an AZ-500 certification will only become more valuable as time passes, not less.
So we have already covered that an Azure certification looks great on a resume and that it is nearly guaranteed to stand the test of time, but many folks avoid taking certifications anyways. After all, if you already know the technology, why bother to take a certification to prove something you already know? Let's dive into that a little bit.
Filling in the Gaps with AZ-500
One of the most critical aspects of IT is that you simply don't know what you don't know. For instance, how would a security engineer know to check for a particular vulnerability, or utilize a specific tool if they don't know it exists? By taking the AZ-500 exam, it will cover every device required to perform your duties proficiently. Even if a security engineer possesses a wide swath of experience navigating the security aspects of Azure, there is still a great chance that there are aspects that they aren't aware of. Once the security engineer becomes aware of new strategies incorporated into the AZ-500 exam, they become that much more valuable to their employer.
This article has so far covered three good reasons to get the AZ-500; however, there may be a couple of reasons why it may be advantageous to hold off for a bit.
Why to Hold Off on AZ-500 Certification
I would like to preface this portion of the post by stating that it is never not advantageous to get a certificate. However, the opportunity cost of preparing for the exam may be better spent elsewhere. Let's take a look at three reasons why it may be better to hold off.
For one, if your company is planning to move to AWS, Google Cloud, or some other non-Azure cloud platform, then this certificate may be of little value. This concept may seem readily apparent, but consider that there may be an engineer or team currently working in Azure who would like to transfer to another cloud platform. If you are an IT pro supporting this engineer or team, it would not be particularly advantageous to get this certification. It might be more worthwhile to study for certification in the technology you are going to support, rather than the one left behind.
Next, this certification is not exactly a walk in the park. It is difficult and covers a wide range of topics ranging from Azure AD groups to configuring custom role-based access control (RBAC). The time required to study and prepare for these exams can take many months. So it is essential to understand what you are getting into before diving headfirst into one of these exams.
Lastly, AWS is currently the leading cloud technology at the moment. So if your goal is to make your resume as appealing to the largest audience as possible, it may be better to focus your efforts on learning AWS instead.
Security in IT is becoming more and more crucial over time. As Azure continues to expand, its vulnerabilities grow right along with it. The AZ-500 certification guarantees to any employee that you are a security expert with regards to the cloud. This certification will make you employable, knowledgeable, and easily make you a candidate for a leadership position.
So is the AZ-500 certificate worth it? In the end, it all depends on your goals and aspirations. If you are fully invested in the technology, have a passion for cybersecurity, and plan to stick with Azure in the long run, it is absolutely worth it. However, if you are new to Azure or not willing to invest many hours into studying, it may be best to pass for now.
Whatever you decide in the long run, it should now be clear that AZ-500 in and of itself is a fantastic achievement and a flagship certification of the industry. For more information, take a look at our Ultimate Security Cert Guide.