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5 June 2020
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How to start your journey with Azure and prepare for the AZ-900 exam

With the rising interest in cloud computing, the demand for specialists in this area is growing adequately. Programmers should explore the subject because Cloud technologies knowledge is also required when applying for  positions like a .NET developer. How to get a wide range of competences and quickly familiarize yourself with the subject? Start with a solid foundation- the AZ-900 certificate, which will comprehensively introduce you to the world of Microsoft’s cloud solutions.

What is cloud computing?

Recently, cloud computing is getting more and more popular. It is a model of data processing, based on using infrastructure and software offered by third-party providers through the Internet. A growing number of companies decide to delegate responsibilities of maintaining their infrastructure to external entities due to many advantages that come with it. First of all, it can reduce costs. Experts estimate that cloud solutions allow reducing the total cost of running an IT business by 20%.

Moreover, it partially frees companies from having to take care of security, maintenance, and updating infrastructure. It is also significant that there is a lack of upfront costs, unlike in the classic approach of processing data. A cloud offers buying services in the “pay as you go” model. In this case we are charged only for the resources that we actually use. There are already many providers for such services. The most popular ones are Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud.

3 types of cloud computing

  • Public cloud –  An external entity delivers both hardware and software. We don’t have to worry about maintenance. We have access to resources only via the Internet.
  • Private cloud – Belongs to a specific company or organization that maintains infrastructure and services within private networks.
  • Hybrid solutions – It is a combination of public and private cloud. This solution is useful if we cannot outsource infrastructure elements to external companies, for example, due to high data confidentiality.

3 main models of cloud computing

  • IaaS – Infrastructure as a service – We rent infrastructure and disk space. Optimal resource management, configuration, and software installation is our responsibility.
  • PaaS – Platform as a service – We get a set environment that allows us to deliver, test, and run our applications without the need to manage the operating system or database server.
  • SaaS – Software as a service – We, as a customer, buy only the access to specific software. We do not have to worry about the infrastructure, configuration, or installing and updating programs that we use.

If you want to know more about Cloud and the potential of serverless solutions, take a look here.

What is Azure?

Azure is currently one of the most popular sets of cloud services. It is provided by Microsoft. It offers a full range of solutions for DevOps, IoT, Business Intelligence, and many more. Due to its possibilities, every programmer working with this company’s technologies should get at least basic familiarity with the Azure platform. It is increasingly common that skills associated with it are necessary for a job of a .NET developer.

Where to start ?

The easiest way is to follow the path created by Microsoft. There is a wide range of certificates that we can pass to ensure that our knowledge is well-established. Certificates, although not as significant as experience, can be a clear signal for a prospective employer that we are highly motivated to develop and improve our technical skills. Certification can also be a smart way to stand out from the crowd and get the first job. Especially for those with little or no commercial experience. Companies specializing in the outsourcing of IT services should also pay special attention to the systematic training of their employees. Certificates can help, due to their high recognition by potential clients around the world. The entire development path can be found here.

Before we embark on our journey of becoming a cloud specialist, we should pass the AZ-900 certificate. It is not required, but it can smoothly introduce us to the world of cloud computing. It will allow you to understand the extensive spectrum of the offered solutions and choose the development path that best suits your interests.

The scope of covered competences

The AZ-900 exam covers a wide range of competences. First of all, a person who passes it will be familiar with the concept of cloud computing, the advantages, and disadvantages of using it. Furthermore, he will be able to navigate through the Azure portal efficiently and will also understand all available payment models. It is also required to comprehend the so-called regions and all consequences that come with using them, such as varying costs of services due to the location and level of availability guaranteed by Microsoft (SLA). A candidate will also have to learn about the available methods of data storage and network traffic management through the use of load balancers. By using Azure Policy, we will be able to enforce compliance of all resources maintained in Azure with our company guidelines.

Furthermore, we will need to pay closer attention to the way we manage resources and organize them in resource groups. We can categorize resources by various criteria, such as belonging to a particular branch of the company, location, or level of confidentiality. Mechanisms such as locks and RBAC (Role-based access control) will enable us to grant access and change resource settings only for specific, authorized groups of users. Finally, we will need to familiarize ourselves with the cost estimation of our Azure services and learn how to optimize the spendings. Understanding the topics mentioned above will surely be a great introduction to cloud computing. It will allow us to smoothly start our journey and later on approach even more demanding certifications.

How to prepare for the exam?

First of all, I recommend going through the entire “Azure Fundamentals” path available here.

The guide is available for free and covers in great detail all the required subjects. What is more, there is a quiz to solve at the end of each chapter. This forces us to study more carefully. You can also encounter exercises that you have to do inside the Azure Portal. We do not have to worry about any costs, because Microsoft provides a special “sandbox” mechanism. We can perform tasks in an environment that emulates fully-featured, paid access to the service. Once you are done with the guide, I recommend using the so-called “Dumps” – sets of sample questions that we can expect during the exam.

In addition to sheer knowledge, we will need to know how to approach the exam itself. Therefore, it is worth to take a few sample mock exams to be able to control stress and avoid unpleasant surprises while being at a real examination center. Sample exam questions are offered by Microsoft.

Similar sets of questions are also offered by other companies. Very often, they present similar quality of content and are a few times cheaper, which is why I recommend looking around for alternative resources.

Methodical approach

The key aspect of preparation for the exam is to divide the material into small chunks and then to learn some of them every single day. Furthermore, you should start preparing early enough so you can have a sufficient time buffer. As a rule of thumb, there is always more material to learn than we initially thought. Every now and then (e.g. after each week of studying), it is good to schedule an additional revision of everything you’ve learned so far. This will allow for better consolidation of knowledge. The amount of new information to grasp is not small. If we want to actually get something out of this certificate, we should approach the whole process methodically. The day before the exam, it is worth repeating everything from the very beginning to maximize our chances for success.

How to effectively learn sample questions?

As I mentioned before, in addition to reading the material itself, it will be crucial to practice some mock questions. It is not very likely that we will come across the same questions, although many of them may seem familiar to us. A lot of questions will refer to the same topics. They can show us what aspects we should focus on and what to expect. Regardless of where we get our sample questions, I recommend uploading them to an application that allows us to create sets of questions and answers and then learn the material in the form of digital flashcards. One of those which I highly recommend is a free app called Anki.

anki-tool

We can set the number of new questions we want to learn every day and the number of repetitions. The program displays only the question. Then, after pressing a key, we can uncover the correct answer and indicate whether we were able to answer correctly. The program has a built-in algorithm, based on the so-called spaced repetition. Questions that we answered poorly will be shown more often than others. Thanks to this, we will be devoting more time to the material that causes us problems and making the most out of our studying.

What’s next ?

The AZ-900 certificate gives solid foundations for further development in each of the available paths. For most developers who would like to acquire more practical Azure skills, the next step should be AZ-204 certification. It is the successor of the previous version(AZ-203). Although the newer version is still in beta, you can already take both exams. Since AZ-203 is going to be canceled in September 2020, I recommend starting immediately with AZ-204. This certificate is suited for developers who have over a year of commercial experience and have basic knowledge of the Azure platform.

The acquired skills will include using tools and services available on the platform at all stages of software development. From design, through programming, testing, and deployment of fully functioning cloud solutions. A strong emphasis is put on creating “serverless” applications using Azure Functions and using multiple ways to pass messages between components with the use of technologies such as Storage queue, Event Hub, Event Grid, and Service Bus. Furthermore, you will spend a lot of time exploring ways to store data using databases and Azure Storages. Finally, you will learn how to publish your applications using virtual machines.

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