It's been a while since I took an MS cert test. A while.
However, it looked like Azure was going to be a fun addition to our next MS renewal so I figured I would dig in well in advance to see how it worked and what to do with it.
I wasn't sure where to start and then 2 things fell in my lap.
1. The 4 day Azure IaaS for IT Pros Online Event.
Well, it was 4 half-days. It looked like a great introductory lesson on Azure IaaS.
Since I enjoy server support, this was a logical overview for me (versus straight Dev stuff).
And the sessions focused on a few things outside of my comfort zone like Puppet, Chef, and Docker.
Cool intro! The event is free online. About 16 hours of content, held December 1 - 4, 2014.
I found it to be a great, general overview. They did in-depth demos but so much info in such a short amount of time, coupled with my lack of background and my insane attempts to WRITE NOTES during the sessions - wow. Overload.
OK, the other thing.
2. A free voucher for MS Exam 70-533 Implementing Microsoft Azure Infrastructure Solutions.
I jumped right on that voucher and then discovered serious constraints.
Voucher had to be REDEEMED by DEC 19, 2014 - a few weeks after I got the voucher. No biggie.
Exam had to be SCHEDULED/TAKEN by DEC 31, 2014. Biggie!
And if that weren't enough, it was only available through Prometric and when I redeemed the voucher (on DEC 19) and went to schedule the exam - all of the nearby local testing centers lacked the exam on their schedule. The available exam centers (and I wanted to take the test by DEC 29, not the 30th/31st because of potential holiday conflicts) were all really far away. Like 90+ miles away.
So. I scheduled the test for Baltimore. About 90 miles away.
I have twice run 93 miles in a single day. I shouldn't bitch about the distance via car :-)
That basically gave me just over a week to study/prepare for the exam.
And it was real! I was taking an MS CERT!
Step 1 - Take off work for exam - test was at 9AM on Monday, Dec 29th.
With that out of the way, I set about to study. We'll call that Step 2 of 2.
Study. I'm not calling it cramming because:
a) I had 9 or 10 days depending on how you look at it.
b) It was near XMAS so I had a few days off work.
c) As it turned out, I really didn't have much time to study on the actual day before the test.
d) I didn't hit up any cramming materials. This was hard core studying.
Of the test, I will say that it was difficult, but I cruised through it.
Enough to go back & check all of my answers.
Enough to go back & provide comments to MS on all of the confusing/gotcha questions that I felt could be improved.
I won't be providing any info as far as what was on the test - just the materials I used to prepare.
Plenty of questions kicked my butt.
And quite a few questions made me go blank - stuff I had never seen before in my life.
It does pay to be a good test taker, with all of the tricks and strategies you may have picked up in school.
While listing the prep materials I used, I must emphasize the following lacking prep materials.
1. No formal class. I had no interest in paying for (or having my employer pay for, or using MS training vouchers for) the MS 5-day prep course. They usually cost something outrageous like $3,500. That said, the stuff they cover is pretty awesome. The course outline also highlights another crazy part of an Azure cert - the capabilities of Azure are increasing daily! How can you know what will be on the test? Use the damn thing!
And keep reading materials right up to the exam date.
For example, some materials I read said, "You cannot do internal load balancing in Azure."
Well guess what - you can! But as you can imagine with the interweb, not all materials get updated as features change. I will say that MS appears to frequently update their sites with the latest.
2. No formal class. And. No book.
Just kidding. There is an MS exam prep book.
Wait, what does pre-order mean? March 19, 2015?
Guess that means NO BOOK. And I really really like the MS press books.
3. No cramming assistance. Honestly, the whole damn world is full of fakes. And it is incredulous to me that in 2014 (close enough to 2015) - brain dumps (not a link to a brain dump...) and exam crams still proliferate.
I am the type of person that doesn't read the back cover of a book. Or the stuff inside the jacket. Author's notes, etc. I hate having the reading experience spoiled.
Same with certs. You work your butt off prepping only to find an exam cram is dishing up questions/answers straight from the test? People suck.
With all of that said, I passed Exam 70-533 using the following materials. In about the following order.
I could probably copy/paste my browser history to give you the full path of my studying but I clicked and read so many links you'd think I was a complete nut.
1. Azure IaaS 4 -day. Set aside 16 hours and do it.
2. Azure Free Trial. It's free. Do it.
You get 30 days or $200. And if you exhaust either one. Sign up for another free trial with a different email address. That simple.
You can make the free trial stick by creating a cloud service that matters in your life.
I built a Minecraft server for my kids that will be around long after the free trial expires.
(I didn't actually follow that link, or watch the whole thing, but I really wanted to.)
The free trial lets you build all kinds of Azure cloud resources, stuff you normally wouldn't care about or have never heard of. And better than that, you can drill down on all of those resources within the management portal and see the available settings and options, and play with those, too.
3. A guy's blog with links to MS articles for the 70-533 measured skills.
I admit, I kinda screwed this one up. I followed Sandbu's blog like it was the bible, even though it was missing a bunch of links.
What did this mean for my studying work-flow? Well - every time I clicked a link to a topic, for example configuring auto-scale for websites, I would click all of the associated links within the material. That was an exhaustive way to cover the topic from top to bottom.
4. An awesome YouTube series.
I NEEDED video. I was falling asleep, quite literally, reading all of this stuff.
(I would later fall asleep just the same while watching the material...)
And here it is, this 8 part series. (Part 1 of 8 linked here)
I have NO IDEA where this "boot camp" session came from. But it is fucking awesome.
Yes, I fell asleep watching it on a tablet.
So, I streamed it through YouTube on the XBOX on the wide screen. And fell asleep.
But, it was great. Great demos. Great info. Fast paced!
Set aside about 6 hours on a Sunday while your family goes to Hershey World.
And watch the 8 part series.
You've got a guy on there who invented Azure PowerShell. And the other presenter is a kick-ass developer. Sweet video presentation.
And that was pretty much it as far as video-based prep.
I watched a few forgettable, "Intro to Azure" YouTube videos while I washed the dishes over the week leading up to the exam, although I'm sure they gave me a better, general Azure background.
5. Use the damn thing. The Azure portal (and the newer, prettier, confusingier Preview Portal) is fine and good but I also got Microsoft Azure PowerShell working on my Win7 laptop and ran through a few things like creating websites and tearing them down via PowerShell cmdlets.
(I failed to get xplat-cli working on my linux laptop. But I didn't try very hard.)
Then, the day before the exam, with the limited time I had remaining, I hit the books one final time for about 3-4 hours.
Half of it on my Droid while my wife drove us to Baltimore to stay the night before the test.
6. Remember #3 above? Well here are two more awesomely complete blogs I discovered late in the game with full links to the exam's measured skills. I blasted through these because I was up to par with most of the material.
a. Anders Eide Blog - Much like Sandbu's blog but he filled in all of the blanks and gives info on newer Azure capabilities.
b. AzureMan.com's Blog - Again like Sandbu's blog but with blanks filled in. However I'm pretty sure this site had a frustrating amount of dead or malformed links.
As I said, finding these resources was pretty late in the game for me. That's mostly because I was blinded with satisfaction upon finding the first blog with links to the materials as explained by MS.
AzureMan recommends the Microsoft Virtual Academy. I only used it for the Azure IaaS 4 day.
Day to day, I really don't like the MVA. Not sure why.
7. After reviewing all of that other stuff - you're pretty much a pro.
So why not go back through Azure 101?
This granddaddy of links, after your brain is already swimming in Azure, helps you understand how everything fits together. The link is simple, yet powerful. Maybe you missed something basic yet critical within all of the technical mumbo jumbo. This link might give you clarity.
8. Two last bits.
I wanted to double-check VM & Cloud Service sizing differences though my brain struggles to remember the differences.
And while I love command-line, scripting AND automation - I am not at the level with PowerShell that I am capable of. More so for statistical analysis reasons than actually memorizing PowerShell commands, I ran through this Azure PowerShell cmdlets list one last time before walking into the exam.
I was only concerned about the list. Not the nitty gritty.
And when I say statistical analysis I mean like: There are relatively few Add-, Start- and Stop- cmdlets.
Versus the boatload of cmdlets for Get-, Set-, New-, and Remove-.
That's it, I feel that MS gives you plenty of time for the actual exam questions.
I did sit longer than I wished.
Against my better judgement I ran through the "How to use an exam computer tutorial" at the outset. And while I did score a 100% on the fake Earth-Science quiz, it burned 5 minutes of my life.
As mentioned, I double-checked all of my answers.
I can be impulsive on the first-pass-through on tests. I never leave a question unanswered.
It was nice to have the patience on this day to go back and review.
And that three-second feeling of accomplishment when the exam flashed up "You passed! You needed 700 and you scored 760!"
So if I can do that successful prep in such little time - I know you can do it,too, if you plan your resources properly.
Want the full "Failure to Detect Sarcasm" experience though?
Last minute - book a hotel the night before the exam. Drive ~2 hours to Baltimore.
Decide to eat at Hard Rock Cafe. Have daughter fall ill with a stomach virus as soon as you exit the hotel room.
Return quickly after dinner and end up carrying a handful of daughter's vomit into the room. Then take half of the bath towels out of the room to clean the hallway by the elevators.
THEN share a bed with her, awake almost all night, as she dry heaved. Poor kid.
Bump alarm clock back way too late to TRY to catch some Zzzz's.
Scramble to shower and get out the door, leaving no time for complimentary breakfast and much-needed Coffee. Grab a banana.
Oh that's right. I planned to jog the 2.5 miles to the exam center in an unfamiliar city. In the winter, in shorts/t-shirt. Couldn't find my jacket.
GPS on phone flakes out, critical traffic circle leads to a dead-end. But end up arriving 30 minutes early after ~20min jog to exam center. Eat banana, drink water, get trapped on elevator trying to get to the doomed 13th floor. But walk in the Prometric doors with 20 minutes to spare and knock out the test.
Then jog 2.5 miles to the National Aquarium to meet the family and, well - pretty much like the night before ;-)