As you know, cloud computing has quickly grown over the past 5-10 years to be one of the hottest in-demand skills in the industry.
It's true that you can learn Azure, use it in your job, be very successful with it, and move up in your career without ever answering a single multiple-choice test or analyzing a single case study.
So what are the benefits of getting Azure certified?
Well over my career, I've pursued about a dozen certifications from various vendors. From the early days, I was Java Certified within the first year that it came out. I had an IBM certification, and some of the early Microsoft ones (remember Microsoft FrontPage?).
Over that time, I've come to feel that there are three main benefits to getting certified, and it's certainly true with Microsoft Azure.
The three benefits are:
1. Certification is like an amulet, it gives an experience boost
Just like in those games where you wear a special ring, and get some type of small but useful extra power, having a certification attached to your resume gives you a small boost in perceived skill.
When you're looking for a job, and lack extensive experience in something, having a certification tells the interviewer that you have been trained on it and passed a test. This gives you a leg up on anyone who claims to know it, but cannot demonstrate that experience.
I often say that certification substitutes for 1 year of experience when you need it.
Of course, as you gain more real world experience, the benefit of certification is small compared to the real-world projects and experiences you can talk about in an interview.
So if you're trying to gain real-world experience but don't have the opportunity at your job at the moment, getting certified gives you credibility in that regard.
2. Even if you have years of experience the topic, certification forces you to learn everything
One thing I've always discovered is that certification is a learning process! You actually are forced to poke about into the dark corners of the technology and learn the things you might not use on a day-to-day basis.
Take for instance the Microsoft 70-534 certification, on architecting a Microsoft Azure application. That certification is difficult and extensive. It covers 100 distinct topics having to do with Azure - everything from load balancing, to traffic manager, to application gateway, to networking, to virtual machines. Not exaggerating to say it's 100 topics. And it may be that you only work with 20 or 30 of those things in your job.
So even if you're experienced with some parts of Azure, very few of us are experienced with all. So getting certified actually exposes you to way more than you may have even known existed.
And the third benefit is...
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3. Learning the Microsoft way
And finally, we all should admit that with any complex technology, the first time we go to implement a solution using it, it won't be done in an efficient or ideal fashion. We will use tools in ways they were not intended, and patch together a solution using duct-tape and string to make it work on-time and on-budget.
That's a natural way of operating, although many would shudder to think about the applications that are important to our lives being developed in such a fragile fashion.
For instance, I worked at a company that used Drupal for several of their websites. They had maybe 10 sites developed in Drupal.
But when talking with the developers and architects, I was told "Oh these sites here were developed when we didn't know what we were doing. From this point forward, we developed them using the Drupal way."
There is a "way" to develop cloud applications.
So it's important as an architect (and developers of course) that we understand how to best use tools in the cloud to accomplish what we want. Instead of spinning up a new VM each time we have some task we want accomplished, would it be better as a Web App? Or an Azure Function?
Choosing the right tool for the job is an important part of constructing a solution. So while we're learning about all of the tools that Azure has available for us (the 100 plus Azure Cloud Services), we also need to learn when to use one over another, and the limitations we will face when making certain decisions.
Certification is relevant
In 2017 and beyond, certification is still relevant in the tech field. While we can get jobs based on skills and experience, and certainly is a smart approach when hiring, it also makes sense that the teams are properly trained on the platforms they are developing solutions for.
The cloud is this big wonderful world where hundreds of services are available to rent and use in our solutions that can cut costs, speed up development time, and reduce future maintenance headaches. And cutting the time required to be a master at that will yield better solutions and a happier overall team.