AZ-700 – Renewing my faith in Microsoft Certs. Maybe.

Hot on the heels of a post shitting all over Microsoft exams and slating professional certifications in general (6 months ago mind, this whole blogging thing has slipped down my list of priorities!), I have today found renewed faith in Microsoft certifications. Or at least one of them.

I passed the AZ-700 exam this evening, “Designing and Implementing Microsoft Azure Networking Solutions”. Why would this mid-level cert restore any amount of positivity towards Microsoft certs?

The hands-on Simulation section.

After the 33 multiple choice questions and a 10 question case study, and with a growling stomach I’m sure the proctor could hear, my mind wandered away to think about what I was going to order for takeaway. So I was more than a bit surprised after confidently flicking “Finish” to be presented with an Azure Portal login screen and credentials. I can’t remember if there was a warning of a simulation at the start of the exam, but if there was, I clicked past it as fast as I click past the pre-test survey (I’m answering “zero experience” to all those questions, I’ll never believe anybody who says they don’t influence the questions generated!).

The simulation presents a realistic Azure Portal experience with a dozen or so tasks to complete that touched on subnetting, route tables, Azure Firewall creation, Firewall Policies, WAF policy, Private Endpoints, Private DNS zones, NSGs, NAT Gateway, Local Network Gateway, VNet peering, configuring diagnostics and more. Nothing overly taxing if you have a solid understanding of the exam objectives, but it at least tested your hands-on ability to complete common Azure networking tasks.

My gold standard so far for technical certification exams is Red Hat Certified System Administrator (I’m sure RHCE is another level entirely). I’ve blogged about this before, but essentially in RHCSA you are presented with 2 VMs and a list of 15 tasks to complete on them. If you can’t complete task 1, you may as well go home; you can’t install the OS and partition the disks, so you’re subsequently not going to be able to complete task 2, 3, 4, and 5. Completely hands on exam, very little mercy shown if you don’t know your way around Linux, you absolutely need to have spent many hours at the CLI to pass. The way it should be. And while AZ-700 is nowhere near RHCSA, it was still very refreshing to see some hands-on skill tested rather than pure theory. If you haven’t labbed these tasks during study, there’s a very real chance you’ll struggle. There was even some nasty overlap in tasks in a similar style to RHCSA; I believe in my case if you weren’t able to configure Private Endpoint for storage you were not able to complete the network access restrictions in a later task.

I passed a slew of Microsoft certs over the past 9 months, from Foundation to Associate to Expert level. All multiple choice exams, all very crammable, all passable with absolutely minimal hands on experience. AZ-700 is in my opinion the most worthwhile of the lot, at least in the Azure space.

This is a step in the right direction for how Azure exams should be. I’ve no idea how much the simulation accounted for my final score, and I’ve no idea if any other Microsoft exams contain similar simulations (I’ve done a load of them at this stage, and this is the first one I’ve encountered), but I don’t see why this kind of simulation couldn’t be applied to just about every Azure/M365 exam.

Congrats to Microsoft for having at least one exam that goes beyond the theory.

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