I recently sat down with a friend of mine for an AzureFunBytes stream and discussed his current training on Azure Fundamentals using Microsoft Learn. Like many others across the globe, Mike was impacted by the COVID19 pandemic which led to mass layoffs. Mike often sees me extol the virtues of taking the Microsoft Learn Azure Fundamentals training and became interested. I pointed him in the right direction and he jumped feet first into the training.
Mike and I talked a little bit about certificates and their value, especially for those of us who got into technology in the early 2000s. I was not a college graduate. I did not come with a credential when I was looking for work explaining that I was proficient based on the school's academic standards. Because of this, I looked to professional accreditations from Microsoft and COMPTIA. By following the learning paths provided then, I was able to crack the books and pass my certificates.
Here was the hard part... training and preparation for the test. I was working another full-time job and looking to get training for my exam. in 2002 I had only access to education with an on-site school with instructor-led courses. These training courses were costly, time-consuming and typically came after my workday. I was always stressed. I wanted to keep up with the rest of the class, keep up with my systems administration work and also enjoy time with my then-girlfriend, now wife.
Preparation for my tests was hard, very hard. There were no resources to use at home except books and poorly made CD-ROMs. I spent so many hours after those 6:30 PM training courses still trying to understand concepts around Active Directory, Windows 2000 networking, and other key parts of becoming proficient enough to get my MCP.
I carried on, I took my first test and passed! I had one more to go to get my MCP and felt encouraged. I had just taken my A+ and passed. I knew I was on the right path.
I didn't pass the second test the first time. I sat in the PEARSON testing center, $150 less in cash, and wondered how all the work I did just didn't seem like enough. There were aspects around AD I just didn't know and weren't prepared for. Our instructor-led training got us the things we needed to know conceptually, but there were actual "real world" types of examples I still didn't feel I knew the answers to. That was obviously proven around my test score, I just didn't have all the skills yet.
I took a real hard look at what I didn't understand about the test in regards to AD, domain controllers, and how they were connected. I had spent a lot of time around Linux systems and these AD concepts were still foreign to me.
In those classes, I felt really self-conscious when I didn't understand one of the topics. I was in a room full of other working professional adults. I was at times afraid to speak up and say I didn't get one of the subjects in fear of interrupting the flow of the class. It became a sticking point for me on why I was getting
I recognized that I needed to spend time using technology rather than reading about it. I started coming to school on weekends and using the lab facility to train. I had a room full of Windows 2000 and Windows NT servers to learn from. I was able to configure networks, authentication, add policies, and learn what I needed. After doing this for about two months while also preparing for my NET+ test I finally scheduled my second test to complete my MCP.
Returning to PEARSON was intimidating. While I had seen success prior, the recent failure felt like a reminder that this was not easy. I went into the testing room and then the worst happened. The modem for the network to connect to the testing network was failing. I walk out of the testing room and find a person who administered my test poking in a closet.
"Hey is this broken?"
"Yeah," the person said. "I think you may need to reschedule but let me try something."
The person pushes a few keyboard buttons, but I notice some red lights on the external modem appears to be flashing. I see a phone next to it and being the nosy boy who wanted to take his test I ask,
"Is that the phone for the modem line?"
"Mind picking up and listening?"
The person picks up the phone, we hear a busy signal. He unplugs the line from the wall, plugs in back in and then hits dial on the program again. It works.
I go back to the room, kind of shaken up about having to assist with tech support, and start my exam. I answer the questions with far more confidence this time. I feel good about what I am doing as the questions begin to get more difficult as I continue. I finally reach the end and wait for the computer to spit out my result. I see "CLICK HERE TO GET SCORE" and follow my modem driven leader's instructions.
I sigh with relief. I did it.
I've had this card since 2003 and have always held on to it as a reminder, I did it.
I look back on what I had to do, how I did it, and eventually what this moment all meant for me. I finally got something that helped me feel like I was ready, I was prepared and able to say "I know this." I'd go on to take Linux+ and felt I was ready to take on some new interviews. About early 2003 my old job was about to go out of business. The company had simply run out of money. My boss's hosting and dial-up simply weren't making money and it was time to really find the next step.
I eventually got my opportunity when a managed service provider in the New Jersey area went on a hiring binge as they expanded. They wanted young, newly trained, and ready to work people with their certs. They felt that those certs proved that we had already wanted to do this kind of work. As I went through the interview and eventually hiring process, one thing that was communicated to me is that I was more than welcome to continue taking more of these certificates. The company even offered to pay for the exams every time I passed one. This was greater encouragement to keep going, and I did. I worked at the MSP for eight years and was able to learn and accomplish so much. But it all started with those first tests, those certs, and the desire to prove I knew these subjects.
The one thing I really wish I had then, that we all have access to now, is Microsoft Learn. Microsoft Learn is a free educational platform that allows you to train for exams like AZ900 at your own pace. No going late to the lab at school to try out the real world examples anymore. You can use the free sandboxes built into the platform to help you try out the products, languages, and tools that help you learn what you need to know to say, "I am skilled up and ready to go."
This isn't just about career change either. Last year I recognized I didn't have something other than my own voice that said "I know Azure." So I took the steps and started the path to getting my AZ900 certificate. I started down the Azure Fundamentals learning path and started getting all the small gaps I didn't know about Azure filled in. The platform comes with an experience points meter too, so I kind of pretended I was playing a video game while learning. Most of all, it was on MY TIME. When I wanted to train, I could train. When I needed to run through a module again, it wasn't a problem. I wasn't going to hold back anyone else in a class nor feel uncomfortable in front of a crowd admitting I didn't understand something. Microsoft Learn gives me an opportunity to back and do the lab as many times as I need to.
I eventually took the test and unlike in the past, I didn't even have to go anywhere! I was able to have the test proctored right from my home. No broken modem problems, no traveling, and like my training, it was on my schedule. The proctor helped me prepare by asking me to put all my devices away, then asked me to walk around with my webcam and show that there were no materials to cheat from. Being the honest person I am, I wasn't too worried! Eventually, the test started and I got to it. After a little while I finished up and unlike the years before, I felt so confident. I hit the button to get my score and I saw "PASS." I got it. I got my AZ900!
When you complete your exam, you are given a copy of your certification in a PDF, but the other really cool thing you can do is add your accreditation to your LinkedIn profile. Any potential employers can see a link right back to Microsoft showing them your accreditation! The certificate badge tells people who see it on your profile, "they did the work, they know Azure."
You read my story, you know where to go, now it's time to go there. Let's get you the links so you can take your first steps to have your own badge,
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Remember the AzureFunBytes stream is every Thursday at 2 PM EDT on Twitch. You can get small bits of information on your way to your certificate, ask questions, and even be part of learning Azure together on the stream.