How I prepared for and passed Azure Administrator Associate certification [AZ-104]

Recently[January 2021], I appeared in Microsoft’s Azure Administrator certification exam and cleared that. In this post, I list the approach I followed to achieve that. I hope it benefits you too.

First and foremost, the exam page at docs.microsoft.com is the source of truth. Microsoft keeps updating the skills measured from time to time, so visit that before starting your preparation. Further down on that page, there are additional resources such as Journey to certification and certification poster that provides a wholistic view of how this certification compares to the others.

There are a few useful resources available on the internet to help you in this course. Here are the ones I found helpful:
-the free online Microsoft Learn learning path based approach listed under the certification page
-Cloudskill.io’s Azure Admin Certification course delivered by Mike Pfeiffer and Tim Warner
-Pluralsight’s certification prep path for Microsoft Azure Administrator
-few online test-taking websites like Kaplan (integrated with Pluralsight depending on your subscription) and Whizlabs.

Before preparing for the certification test, I had a decent understanding of Azure cloud services. I passed my AZ-900 (Azure fundamentals) in January 2020 and dabbled on and off with many Azure resources. I think that was necessary for helping me determine the value that this certification would add. I believe, before attempting a certification test, it is essential to review the value proposition. Asking these questions is helpful  –Where am I in my career? Where do I want to be in my career in the next 1-2 or 2-3 years? What are the gaps in my skills currently? Will this certification fill any of those gaps?

With that understanding, I proceeded to create a plan for my certification test. The next step was determining the course provider. I’ve listed down the three that I know of and used. I am sure there are more. Review the course that you will select and check if it aligns with Microsoft’s skills measured. I had access to all three (MS Learn, Cloudskills.io, and Pluralsight) and used all of them.

Once you identify the course provider, break the course into learnings paths. In AZ-104, Microsoft has already classified the skills measured into separate learning paths -manage identities, manage storage, etc. Cloudskills.io and Pluralsight have also done this. However, Microsoft Learn also has a learning path titled AZ-104: Prerequisites for Azure administrators. I would advocate that irrespective of which course you take, do go through this learning path. This learning path lays a strong foundation for what to expect from the rest of the course.

My personal opinion is that MS Learn should be one of the course providers that you select. [Note: while taking the certification test, I had many eureka moments because I identified studying for them in the MS Learn learning paths.] With the certification objective broken down into learning paths, MS Learn also provides the course’s duration. And so do Cloudskills.io and Pluralsight. After you review, you know how long it will take to listen/read/study (hands-on) a particular learning path. Do that for all the learning paths for all the course providers (you are selecting). Add the time and then double that and add a week to that for revision. That is the total study time. This is my approach, and it has worked fine for me.

I have been working using Agile methodologies at work, and I use the same approach for my studies. Studying for certification is a feature lever work item with the learning paths as user stories.
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As you can see, I have all the MS Learn learning paths (along with Cloudskills) mapped into user stories. Generally, I also map the modules inside the learning paths into tasks of that user story. I then allocate the duration to each task. Once all the tasks inside a user story (MS Learn learning path) are created, I add up the duration. I double that duration, and that becomes the story point of the user story. This is not the proper use of story points in Agile terminology, to be honest. In Agile, story points are units of measure for expressing an estimate of the overall effort required. Once I had the feature, user stories, and tasks classified for the learning paths, I created a separate user story titled -“Prepare for the exam.” This user story is where I tracked all the practice tests, exam scheduling, preparing the room (I took the test at home), etc., related activities.
With all that out of the way, I had a reasonable estimate of how long it was going to take me. Based on my experience working in sprints, I also knew my capacity in each sprint. I considered these two bits of information to create a few sprint plans  –duration of the user stories and capacity in a sprint. This approach helped me determine when (in the future) I’d be prepared, and I scheduled my certification on that day. Scheduling helps, and I’d suggest going through this exercise in determining the date. Scheduling can be done from the same certification page.

The test location is also important, now more so due to Covid. I took mine from home. Although I have decent wifi, I connected my laptop to my home LAN with a cable for a reliable internet connection. I checked the internet connectivity using the cable a month before my test so that I had ample time to accommodate any changes if required. I also performed the system check recommended by Pearson Vue (details would be in the email once you schedule the test).

Over and above that, I maintained a study journal where I noted down what I studied that day, how I was doing vis-a-vis the overall plan and the next day’s schedule. Before starting study for the next day, I did a quick review of what I studied the previous day. My preparation spanned three sprints.

A few other things to be mindful of:
sleep well every night. Sleeping helps retain what you learn. The importance of sleep has been discussed in detail in Mathew Walker’s book -Why we sleep, which was one of Bill Gates’s books to read in 2019
take care of your health. Your health (body and mind) are the instrument you will use to study. If you are unwell, you won’t be able to dedicate as much time, and
have a schedule to study each day and, if possible, at the same time and place. This has been discussed in detail in James Clear’s book -Atomic Habits.

Another essential point, which applies to all certification courses, is that let us not obsess over the certification and collect as many as we can. It is good to have a goal to be certified but let’s not stop learning because we have a certificate now. If anything, studying for the certification should open new ways of thinking for you. It should make you realize the possibilities that you could explore with this new skill. It should make you eager to learn more. I like to treat certification as a good milestone, but not the end of my learning journey. I have learned new concepts as I was preparing for AZ-104, and I continue to learn even though I have the certification.

I wish you good luck, and yes, if I can be of help please do not hesitate to reach out.

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