Is the MD-101 Worth It?
IT professionals who're looking to make a career out of desktop or systems administration have probably already heard of the MD-101. For many companies and organizations, earning your MD-101 is one of the earliest hurdles for deciding whether or not you're serious about the career field.
The MD-101 is an intermediate-level exam, but passing it isn't guaranteed. So, it's probably worth knowing ahead of time whether or not the MD-101 is a worthwhile certification exam for you. In this post, we'll cover what the MD-101 is, what you can expect to find on the test, what career fields use or need the certification it leads to, and whether or not it's worth your time and money to pay for and take it.
What is the MD-101?
The MD-101 is an exam offered by Microsoft, its full title is MD-101: Managing Modern Desktops. The MD-101 is one of two exams a desktop administrator needs to pass in order to earn Microsoft's intermediate-level certification called Microsoft 365 Certified: Modern Desktop Administrator Associate.
Desktop or systems administrators pursuing their Modern Desktop Administrator Associate (MDAA) will need to pass two exams: the MD-101 and MD-100: Windows 10. The MD-100 – as its name suggests – specifically covers Windows 10 administration. Together, those two exams test your ability to deploy and update desktop computers through policy and profile management and app management. You can take either exam without taking the other – but you won't earn the MDAA without both.
MD-100 focuses more on installing and configuring Windows 10 on one device, while MD-101 tests your ability to work with Windows machines in an enterprise environment. MD-101 tests an administrator's ability to deploy, configure, secure, manage, and monitor devices and apps in an enterprise environment.
What Does the MD-101 Test?
The MD-101 exam focuses on four primary areas of interest. Deploying and updating operating systems is the largest part of the exam and takes up about 35-40% of the content of the exam. Managing policies and profiles is roughly 25-30% of the exam. Managing and protecting devices has nearly as much at 20-25% of the exam. Although managing apps and data is important, it's the least represented part of the exam with only 10-15% of the exam focusing on it.
The first part, deploying and updating operating systems, will require knowledge of implementing Windows 10 using dynamic deployment, using Windows Autopilot, upgrading devices to Windows 10, as well as managing updates and managing authentication.
The second exam objective, manage policies and profiles, expects an administrator to understand co-management policies and strategies, conditional access and compliance policies, how to configure and then manage device profiles.
MD-101's third exam objective, manage and protect devices, takes a working knowledge of Windows Defender and Intune device enrollment and inventory. An administrator will need to understand how to monitor device health and security in Windows 10 environments as well.
The last exam objective for MD-101 is managing apps and data, and an administrator should understand how to deploy apps through Windows numerous different stores and outlets (like Intune and MS Store), as well as how to implement Mobile Application Management (also called MAM).
How Much Does the MD-101 Exam Cost?
The MD-101 costs $165 to take. The MD-101 is only half of the necessary certifications to earn the Microsoft 365 Certified: Modern Desktop Administrator Associate certification, and the other – MD-100 – will cost you an additional $165, but you can take the MD-101 without ever taking the MD-100.
What Experience Do You Need for the MD-101?
The MD-101 is an intermediate-level, associate certification exam and can be taken with a moderate amount of experience. However, it would be a mistake to take it without any preparation or training beforehand. The MD-101 was designed by Microsoft to stand close to the bottom of a career ladder – it's not the first or lowest rung on the ladder, however.
Technically speaking, the MD-101 has no prerequisites, so you can take it at any point in your career and with no other Microsoft certifications. It is, however, an intermediate-level exam, while certifications like MTA: Windows Operating System Fundamentals or MTA: Security Fundamentals are where a brand-new administrator with absolutely no experience should probably start.
The thing to keep in mind about certifications – and the MD-101 is no different – is that they're certifications written and published by the company in question. So the content isn't always a perfect representation of "can you do this job" as much as it is "do you know the precise way that we want it done?" That's something to keep in mind when comparing your experience to the MD-101.
If you've been working as a systems administrator or desktop administrator for several years, you may think you're experienced enough to take an exam about your job – and you'd probably be right! But this is an exam that tests if you know each way that Microsoft expects the job to be done – and that might be different.
The MD-101 will test your familiarity with Microsoft and Windows-native tools and applications like Autopilot, Endpoint Manager, Desktop Analytics, OneDrive, Windows Defender, and Microsoft 365. For an exam like the MD-101, it's not just whether or not you know how to accomplish the things those tools do, but if you know those tools themselves.
Who Should Take the MD-101?
Administrators, desktop administrators, sysadmins and even network administrators who are looking to secure and advance their career with Microsoft credentials should take the MD-101.
MD-101 for Desktop Administrators
For desktop administrators, the MD-101 is an obvious and logical exam to pursue. Desktop administrators tend to be responsible for – you guessed it – desktops. Most desktop administrators work in an enterprise environment, providing support to client desktops in the form of installing, configuring, upgrading, maintaining and supporting the machines other employees use on a daily basis.
The MD-101 tests all of those skill sets, specifically as they relate to contemporary Microsoft products and operating systems. If you're aspiring to be a desktop administrator, or you're already working as one, the MD-101 certifies your knowledge of pretty much everything you need to know from a Microsoft and Windows perspective.
MD-101 for Systems Administrators
Just like for desktop administrators, for systems administrators, the MD-101 is a good use of time and money. Depending on the company or organization you work in, systems administrators and desktop administrators are often very similar. Where a difference does exist between them, it's usually that desktop administrators are checking on machines in-person and running frontline troubleshooting while systems administrators may have less client-facing time and deal with a number of machines at once.
If you're a systems administrator, whether you work more closely in a one-on-one setting with machines, or if you take a more behind-the-scenes approach, the MD-101 represents a lot of the information you'll need to do your daily job in a Windows environment. The MD-101 is not only about working at a client's desk, it's also about managing and administering solutions from a distance.
If you're a sysadmin for an organization that depends on Windows and Microsoft products, the MD-101 is one half of a certification that you can use to become invaluable in the workplace.
Is the MD-101 Worth It?
Simply put, at $165, the MD-101 is a good investment in your career stability. Not only will you demonstrate your commitment to the craft by earning it, but the study you'll do to prepare for it will solidify your knowledge of Windows and make sure you know how to administer Microsoft desktops "by the book." If you want a career in enterprise systems administration or desktop administration, the MD-101 is a great exam and halfway to a fundamental certification.
Using MD-101 to Learn Skills
As mentioned above, a certification exam isn't always about proving your ability to do a job. Instead, they're often about proving your knowledge of the "right" way to do a task. The MD-101 is no different – earning it will require learning the by-the-Microsoft-book way of maintaining desktops. That might sound tedious at first, but in the end, you may learn that you enjoy the way that Windows products and tools work together to manage and administer desktops.
Because it focuses so much on Microsoft methods and tools, MD-101 is a great exam to round out your skills and abilities with Windows administration. You might feel good about basic device security, but by preparing for MD-101, you'll need to be familiar with all these Windows Defender sub-applications: Application Guard, Credential Guard, Exploit Guard, Advanced Threat Protection, Application Control and Antivirus.
The same goes for implementing conditional access and compliance policies, or upgrading and managing devices and updates. Studying for and taking the MD-101 is a great way to learn the skills that Microsoft expects a competent desktop administrator to know. And even if afterward you go on to do things in your own particular way, being an expert in the Microsoft-way-of-doing-things is valuable for a long career.
Using MD-101 to Validate Skills
The last thing you should consider if you're thinking about taking the MD-101 is its value as a validation. The MD-101 is a desktop administration tool developed by Microsoft for companies who use Microsoft products. The MD-101 – and the Microsoft 365 Certified: Modern Desktop Administrator Associate certification – is sort of like a promise from Microsoft to other companies that "you can trust this person with desktops".
Most companies hear that and believe Microsoft. That's because most companies don't have the time, energy or resources to make a training and certification program of their own. They're focused on their own business and on their own product – they have to trust someone. And many organizations turn to certification vendors or manufacturers like Microsoft to tell them which desktop administrators know a device compliance policy from a hole in the ground.
If the organization you currently work for – or an organization you want to work for – uses Microsoft products to run their desktops or network, the MD-101 is a widely trusted validation of your skills in managing and maintaining all those machines and products.
The MD-101 is a valuable exam relative to its cost. Although when you study and prepare for it, you might find some of the Microsoft-specific expectations and requirements a bit tedious, part of the value in earning it is your ability to say afterwards that you know the "right" way to do things. At CBT Nuggets, we generally err on the side of certifications, but if you're a desktop administrator or an aspiring sysadmin, the MD-101 and the certification it eventually leads to, the Microsoft 365 Certified: Modern Desktop Administrator Associate, are obvious slam dunks to us.