If you follow anyone that's part of Microsoft's MVP program, you might have heard there has been a global cloud skills challenge happening lately: #TheMVPChallenge.
There were three challenges that each of us could complete:
- Azure Data & AI Challenge
- Dynamics 365/Power Platform Challenge
- Microsoft 365 Challenge
You can imagine which one I chose to complete. I did the Azure Data and AI challenge. Data and AI are a pretty common grouping.
While I would have liked to also do both the other challenges, Power Platform is obviously interesting to me, but I've looked at Dynamics over the years, and it's just not for me. The Microsoft 365 aspects aren't also my territory, but it might have been interesting to see what I could have learned if I'd done it, given most of us use those products every single day.
Data and AI Challenge
The name of this challenge was odd. There really weren't any data topics. It was all AI, and I don't mind that.
Some years back, I did the full Microsoft Professional Program for Data Science, and I also did the full Microsoft Professional Program for AI. Those offerings are now gone, and I have to say that I was quite sad when they disappeared. They really covered the topics in good detail. I also work with many of the Cognitive Services regularly, so this wasn't a new area for me.
I was really interested to see what Microsoft Learn now offered as a mechanism for free learning on these topics.
In the challenge, we needed to complete 42 modules. The depth really isn't there any more but for introductory-level material, what is provided is quite excellent. And did I mention that it's free?
Did I learn any new things while doing the challenge? Yes, a few. I think that any time you go back over an area, you pick up something that you've missed before. Or perhaps there's something you've forgotten because it didn't seem useful to you at the time, and now you realize that it is quite useful.
I'm already using some of the concepts that I picked up while doing the challenge, even though it was introductory level content.
I was really pleased to see how many of the local (and remote) MVP community took part. It's easy to start these types of challenges and to lose focus and stop.
In particular, I loved the way that our CPM Shiva Ford and other MVPs egged each other one to make sure we completed the challenge.
There was no requirement to do any exams related to this. I had a real interest, though, in knowing what was in all the "Fundamentals" exams. I wouldn't normally have taken them as they don't count towards certifications, so I decided to do a few exams during the month.
First I took the Azure Fundamentals exam AZ-900.
I thought the exam was OK, not too difficult and should be attainable for most people starting out with Azure. One thing I didn't like was that they spent so much time examining whether or not particular services were Platform as a Service (PaaS) or Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) offerings. For many services, that's straightforward, but for services like storage, there are aspects of both. Regardless, that's not the sort of thing people should be all that focussed on. They should understand the difference, and that's enough.
Next I took the Azure Data Fundamentals exam DP-900. This had a little more substance to it. I thought it was a reasonable exam and covered many areas of data. The balance was a bit different to what I would have hoped for, but still OK. I did find questions, though, that were just simply wrong, where the author clearly might have read about a concept, but really didn't understand it. In hindsight, I should have taken the time to comment on the really problematic questions but I had a bunch of exams that day, and was already tired from fitting in the exams.
Next I took the Azure Administrator exam AZ-104. Now this exam was way more challenging than I expected. I wouldn't say that any of the concepts were all that difficult if you've worked with Azure for any length of time, but the way the questions were phrased made them more challenging than necessary. I was also surprised by the amount of focus on networking, when you consider all the tasks that an Azure administrator needs to handle.
I was glad to have taken AZ-104 though, as I had previously added the Designing and Implementing Microsoft DevOps Solutions exam AZ-400. I'd been meaning to take AZ-104 for ages, as that's what I still needed for the Microsoft Certified: DevOps Engineer Expert certification.
Now that I'm back into taking some exams again, I plan to do the other fundamentals exams (AI, and Power Platform) soon to see what's in those. Then I'll do the other data-related exams to complete those certifications.
I'll finish this post with a few comments about the online exam mechanism.
I didn't love it but it's workable.
I found the process pretty random. With my first exam, I tried to follow their instructions perfectly. When it got to my turn, a chat window opened but the text box where I could type wasn't enabled, so I couldn't respond to the monitor person. When I didn't respond, they told me they had to put me back in the queue again. Then that happened yet again. I was starting to think I wasn't going to be able to do the exam.
On the third time round the queue, I was able to type into the text box. They person then told me they couldn't see my video. But my video was displayed on the screen in their application. So clearly the application could see me. No idea why the monitor person couldn't. I started to explain that in the chat text box and then they just suddenly started the exam.
The other bizarre part is that they tell you to put your phone out of reach, and that if you leave the video area, you'll fail. So I put my phone in another room. And then a later screen tells you that if they need to contact you, they'll call you on your phone.
For the second exam, again I went round the queue two times. When the person came online in the chat, he told me I wasn't allowed to wear headphones. The bizarre thing is that I thought that would be best, and I did the first exam with them on. I took them off and he was happy.
Third exam started OK, but then I got pinged for turning my head. I have a tendency when sitting and pondering a question, to turn my head, and perhaps even lean back and look up. As soon as I did that, I had the monitor person warn me that if I did that again, I'd fail.
I'm glad there is a way to do these exams online, but I'd really like to see the experience improved. At least with these notes, I hope it will help you if you haven't been doing any exams this way.