Microsoft offers a wide variety of Azure certification exams and role-based certifications for its Azure cloud computing service: 10 core Azure certifications and two specialty Azure certifications, spread across three levels (Fundamental, Associate, and Expert). 

Given how Azure is one of the fastest-growing cloud services platforms around (and actually catching up in some respects to AWS, the market leader), getting an Azure certification could be the ticket to a higher salary and better job prospects. Burning Glass, which collects and analyzes millions of job postings from across the country, has a breakdown of which technology jobs demand Azure-related skills; as you can see from the following chart, it’s a rising percentage:

However, actually obtaining certifications can prove a challenging process. Dice Insights spoke with Guy Hummel, Cloud Academy’s Azure and Google Cloud Content Lead, to get the inside scoop on the value of Azure certifications, what the hottest certs are, and some of the best ways to make sure you’re prepared for exam day. 

Why is it a good idea to get an Azure cloud certification? 

“It’s been shown that getting this sort of certification will improve your salary, so if you already have a job, getting them can be a boost,” Hummel explained. “If you don’t have a job in this area, getting a cert can, to some extent, make up for a lack of experience—if you can prove you know it quite well by having these certifications, that can help your chances in getting hired. It might not fully replace that job experience, but it will definitely help.” 

Which Azure certifications are in demand?

Hummel said the Microsoft Certified Solutions Architect certification and Azure Administrator associate-level certification are both “very popular,” along with Fundamentals Exam AZ-900, which is big among those who aren’t planning on getting one of the more technical certifications.

“You don’t need to take the fundamental certification training program to get the other certifications, but it’s a good one if you’re in a sales or management role,” he pointed out. 

Of the two expert level certs—solutions architect, which covers basically anything, and DevOps engineer—Hummel said that, while architect exams are more popular at the moment, DevOps is an up-and-comer, given DevOps’ exploding popularity in general.

“It’s more about how you make sure a team can bring all of their software updates together and release it without breaking everything,” he said. 

Are Azure certifications easy or hard? 

“I would say they’re hard. It does depend on the exam, of course, but for one thing, it’s not just multiple choice. On any of the exams, they’ll have a variety of questions, case studies, questions where you have drop down boxes, and quite often they are quite complicated questions,” Hummel said.  

As Hummel also noted, Microsoft has added live labs to many of their exams; those taking the test have to go into the Azure portal and complete tasks—frequently up to 10, and in a limited amount of time.

“If you don’t actually know how to do things in the platform, you’re not going to do well—and they’re getting really big into that,” he said. “That definitely makes them more difficult. I always find them challenging.” 

What are the benefits of having Azure certifications? 

“The companies that want their employees to get these are the ones that are in the consulting business: Service providers and companies that do implementations for other companies,” Hummel said. “They tend to want to get certs because they need to prove to their clients that they have the expertise that’s needed, so it’s really important if you’re in the consulting business. The first thing they want to do is put all their people through these certifications.” 

Do Azure certifications expire? 

“Yes they do! It used to be that they didn’t, but Microsoft has really changed its certifications program in the last few years. Now they all expire, and it’s within two years—which is even shorter than AWS now,” Hummel noted.  

How can I best prepare for an Azure certification test? 

“If you’re preparing for an exam and it has live labs in it, as a lot of them do, then you really need to have the hands-on practice and go through some exercises to make sure you can do that sort of thing on the exam,” Hummel said. 

Wondering where to start with acquiring Azure skills? See what type of azure training can help you get on your way.