Software Architect / Microsoft MVP (AI) and Pluralsight Author

Azure, Chatbots, Cognitive Services, General Development, Machine Learning, Speech

Taking the Azure (AZ-900) and Azure AI Fundamentals (AI-900) Exams

I recently took two Azure exams in the same week – Azure Fundamentals (AZ-900), and Azure AI Fundamentals (AI-900).

Maybe you’re thinking of doing one or both. Or if you’re on the fence about taking a Microsoft certification this post will give you some insight. Specifically, I cover the following:

  • Overview of each exam
  • Preparing for the exam
  • Why I took the exams?
  • Taking the exam remotely
  • Should you take an exam?
  • Did I pass!?
  • Next steps

Let me say from the outset that what follows is my opinion and is in no way prescriptive. We all have our own unique motivations and approaches.

Azure Fundamentals (AZ-900)

I’ve been working with Azure for several years now and it made sense to start with this exam.  You can probably guess from the title that this exam helps validate that you have foundational knowledge of cloud services and how to provision/maintain them with Microsoft Azure.

The following main skills are measured:

  • Azure
  • Cloud Data
  • Cloud Networking
  • Cloud Security
  • Cloud Services
  • Cloud Storage
  • Virtualization

Other concepts such as pricing, SLA’s, compliance, and trust are also covered. You can find out exactly what’s measured here.

Cost: £69

Azure AI Fundamentals (AI-900)

This exam validates that you have foundational knowledge of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and the related Azure services.  The following skills are covered:

  • Azure Bot Services
  • Azure Machine Learning
  • Cognitive Services

Other non-technical concepts such as fairness, privacy, diversity, responsible AI (RAI) and ethics are also covered. You can find out exactly what is measured here.

Cost: £82.80

Preparing for Azure Fundamentals

I’ve been using Azure for a few years now so didn’t feel I had to prepare too much for this exam. I did review the course outline though and review the areas that I was weaker in.  I didn’t use any mock tests or use any formal training. My thinking was that I had enough experience to pass this one.

Preparing for Azure AI Fundamentals

I used Bayesian Theorem on a project to perform text classification and sentiment analysis of social data back in 2014 so felt I have a good grounding in classification algorithms. I’ve also been working with the Bot Framework since v3.

My experience with Cognitive Services Text Analytics and Computer Vision then using these APIs to surface insights in social data helped here.

There were 2 capabilities that I haven’t been using so much – ML.NET and Azure Machine Learning Studio. These were areas I spent more time preparing for. This meant looking at high level concepts, making sure understood terminology, concepts, processes, inputs and outputs and the pros and cons of specific algorithms.

I have plans to use ML.NET Clustering algorithms to segment users on social so it was time well spent.

Why I took the exams

I’ve been working with the technologies for a few years and have developed my own internal processes and systems for getting stuff done. I hadn’t taken a professional certification for a few years and the timing seemed right.

Other factors were:

  • Accreditation
  • Challenge
  • Growth
  • Learning

 

By taking the exams I was able to stretch out of the regular and identify weaker areas or new concepts that I hadn’t yet encountered.

Taking the exam at home with Pearson VUE

Things aren’t so normal right now in 2020 which meant I took the exam from my own home. I wondered how this would go as I’d never done this before. I had a chat with Gregor Suttie about this before booking up.

The process goes like this:

  • Book your exam
  • Test your connectivity and camera by taking a “test exam” (simple wizard with 1 question)
  • Download the Pearson VUE software
  • Close all other apps on your machine
  • Open Pearson VUE software
  • Webcam is activated by the software
  • You are supplied with a text or URL to key into your phone
  • Take a selfie (YES!). This is then matched to your government id

 

You’re then asked to upload pictures at the front, back, left, and right of the desk your machine is on.

After uploading the images and placing your phone out of arms-length, you let the agent on the chat window know that you’re ready to take the exam. The agent then releases the exam and you’re good to go.

The first exam went smoothly and I completed it in about 40 minutes.

With limited time I had to do get up at 0600 to take the second exam.  I was bloody shattered as I hadn’t been sleeping well. An extra-large coffee helped waken me up.

When I signed in, I was asked to walk the camera around room (which is a building site right now) with the web camera to triple check no one was around, and all doors were shut.

Halfway through this test I had my hand on my chin then was interrupted by the agent who told me off for doing that! I must have read part of a question out loud (I’m not crazy, promise!) then I was told off again for speaking! I was warned that I’d have my exam cancelled if I done either again.

Other than these “misdemeanours” I completed the second exam in about 40 minutes.

Whilst working through each exam I’m not one for dwelling on a question or “marking for later”.

Commit to the answer and click next!

Should you take the exam?

This is really subjective. I think most learning is done on the job.  Certifications are a great baseline to aim for but I personally “learn by doing”. I’m not sure how valuable it is to pass an exam but never use the technology.

I feel we outsource of a lot of our memory to Google these days so there is little value in proving you can cram for an exam and memorise answers.

That said, I remember gaining my first set of certifications in the early 2000s.  I was just starting out and they were a great way to demonstrate something a little different and to distinguish myself from other job seekers.

Other reasons you might want to take these exams are:

  • confirm existing knowledge
  • learn something new
  • marketability and recognition
  • professional accreditation

 

From a job seeker perspective, I’d say it’s better to have certifications than not. At a time when the employment market might be uncertain, certifications when couple with experience can be a great differentiator.

Did I pass?

Yes! You are notified immediately when you complete the exam. You also have the option of cross sharing your transcript and certifications from your Microsoft Certification dashboard.

Within the Certification dashboard there is the option to share or download your certification badges which are issued by Acclaim.

Next Steps

With the fundamentals done the final exam I’ll complete will be the AI-100: Designing and Implementing an Azure AI Solution. I’m doing a lot with voice enabled chatbots and have some ideas around applying ML.NET which will help broaden my knowledge of those areas.

Summary

In this blog post we’ve looked at was involved when taking the Azure Fundamentals (AZ-900) and Azure AI Fundamentals (AI-900).

To wrap up I would say that professional experience coupled with certifications are a good thing to strive for.

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