back to article Azure certifications are awful, Microsoft admits, so it has made new ones

Microsoft has admitted that the certifications it created for Azure admins aren’t very good. A post by Microsoft’s Liberty Munson* offers two reasons for this, the first of which is that “we have gotten consistent feedback that our current Azure exams are too broad, covering a range of skills that very few individuals, even …

  1. TonyJ Silver badge

    Really?

    Vendor exams don't test real-world capability and knowledge but rather memory and the ability to pick out a "new" feature?

    MS exam responses usually consist of:

    A - Woefully wrong option

    B - Wrong option that might just be worded to trip you up

    C - The way you might do it in the real world

    D - Shiny new MS way of doing it

    1. Nezumi
      Meh

      So true...

      I had to chuckle when I read this. I've done NT4 MCSE, MCITP:Ent 2K8R2' and am 1 exam away from 2K12 R2 MSCE. I just can't be bothered anymore...

      1. Wzrd1

        Re: So true...

        "I had to chuckle when I read this. I've done NT4 MCSE, MCITP:Ent 2K8R2' and am 1 exam away from 2K12 R2 MSCE. I just can't be bothered anymore..."

        Yeah, know the feeling. Alas, I'm working doing contracting for the US DoD, who are cert happy. Despite Microsoft's pathetic and anemic offerings of most modern offerings. It appears that Microsoft switched from having engineers design the tests to the sales teams doing so. With predictable and pathetic results.

        Still, due to my contract gig with the US DoD, I need a cert. So, after perusing lists of test questions and with open laughter, I'll not even bother to study. Indeed, I may well decide to get falling down drunk and pass that anemic test.

        This, from the guy who, on day three at a new environment, successfully diagnosed a major AD replication failure that the AD team refused to acknowledge the existence of.

        It seems that they permitted some pinhead to install a new DC onto a cheap network path to the entire domain, then after some time, permitted that pinhead to power button remove it, rather than demoting it and shutting it down.

        End result, that specific DC had been elected replication roles that now no longer existed and AD in general had no clue that the absence of the former replication hub was now vacant.

        All, with end user's access.

        Once they read my e-mail, they attained a clue and removed another DC, which was to be upgraded anyway and was a replication partner with the absconded DC, forcing an election.

        Bloody hell! I can't wait until the movers get my laser armed sharks here. And the purloined security robots.

        Now, if only I could find the urinal electrification kit that I packed...

        Moves, can't find a blasted thing!

        Found a cricket bat, which is odd, as I never owned one before. But, can't find that damnable electrification kit or my Marmite. Found some Oxo, which is odd, as I'm fairly certain that was lost in our first move, two years ago. Found a foot, inside of a shoe marked Fanny Adams.

        The latter, I posted to the UK embassy, anonymously, to avoid potential human rights issues.

        Come to think of it, I am now convinced that that isn't my luggage.

        Movers!

    2. A Non e-mouse Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Re: Really?

      That method isn't exclusive to Microsoft.

      I've been on far too many courses where the instructor said: "The answer in the exam is X, but in real life you'd never do that and you'd do Y instead". Unfortunately, Y was often an option in the exam and classed as incorrect.

      The other classic, was the course & exam being devised on V1.0 of the product (or even a beta!), but SP5 (or whatever) of the product changed things so the course & exam no longer matched the product you were using in real life.

      I still attend the occasional course, but I just don't bother with exams anymore.

      1. Franco Silver badge

        Re: Really?

        First MS Exam I sat was the XP client exam, and the answer for every single failure to boot scenario was "Use Last Known Good Configuration" which has worked precisely once that I have ever heard of, never mind seen.

        The first 2008 exams were very big on ADFS as well, it's only in the last few years though with Office 365 SSO that it's seen significant uptake in my experience though.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Really?

      Clearly someone who hasn't sat a Microsoft exam since the NT days.

      Question are now like this:

      Blah blah massive scenario including diagrammes. Blah blah massive proposed solution (takes at least three minutes to read and another two to get your head round)

      A - The proposed solution solves the problem

      B - The proposed solution does not solves the problem

      C - The proposed solution solves one part of the problem but not the other

      D - The proposed solution solves the second part of the problem but not the first

      E - None of the above

    4. OnlyMee

      Re: Really?

      You forget the 2 options that quick look read pretty much the same. You just need to pick the one with sentence copied from respective vendors marketing material...

  2. PermissionToSpeakPlease

    experience vs certs

    "readers opine that hard-earned experience is a far better indicator of skill than vendors’ exams" (...) "Microsoft night be onto something this time with its mantra that “certs = credibility with employers = fatter paycheques”. "

    As employers tend to not know how to test real skills, both can be (and too often are) true at the same time

  3. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Certifications, pah !

    As long as the exams are done by sitting in front of a computer and divining which option is the least infeasable, certs are really only an excuse for the existence of an entire industry.

    A real cert would be a panel of three experts grilling the candidate for twenty minutes, or, for more practical things, a misconfigured server to correct and put in working order. Or sit the programmer in front of a computer and give him two hours to pound out the code to solve a given problem, then review the code. Bonus points if the program compiles and actually works.

    Obviously, that would rather limit the number of certified people and would kill the certification industry as it stands today. But the certification would actually mean something.

    1. AMBxx Silver badge

      Re: Certifications, pah !

      Depends upon the level of certification. Yes, for higher level stuff, but for most of these exams, there's no need for much more than multiple choice to prove familiarity with the material and concepts.

    2. ninjaturtle
      Linux

      Re: Certifications, pah !

      Pascal:

      You're describing Red Hat certification. Four hours of practical problem solving, if the given system works as specified at the end of the four hours you pass.

      My experience with Windows-minded colleagues is they are more inclined to memorize a list of letters and fill in a multiple guess test than to actually have skills tested, so I don't expect much from these new Azure certs.

      1. TheVogon Silver badge

        Re: Certifications, pah !

        "My experience with Windows-minded colleagues is they are more inclined to memorize a list of letters and fill in a multiple guess test "

        You can't easily guess or learn the Microsoft exams. They construct the scenarios and answers at random from a selection of options so no two exams are the same.

      2. Wzrd1

        Re: Certifications, pah !

        "My experience with Windows-minded colleagues is they are more inclined to memorize a list of letters and fill in a multiple guess test than to actually have skills tested, so I don't expect much from these new Azure certs."

        My experience has been, two out of four responses are nonsense, two may or may not be a question of which one is least wrong - in the Microsoft manual version.

        Not real life.

        Hence, right clicking computer, selecting manage isn't an option in the idiotic things. One has to select the pathway the entire, long way.

        Useful on a system one really is going to wipe and reimage, but a joke in the real world.

        But, that data was insanely irreplaceable... Yet, entirely never backed up or copied to the server's storage array, which is SAN based.

        Yeah, I've worked everything from Hell Desk through LAN/WAN, moved to information security. Now, wending my way back to more satisfying occupational activities, BOFH MK II.

    3. Wzrd1

      Re: Certifications, pah !

      " real cert would be a panel of three experts grilling the candidate for twenty minutes, or, for more practical things, a misconfigured server to correct and put in working order. Or sit the programmer in front of a computer and give him two hours to pound out the code to solve a given problem, then review the code. Bonus points if the program compiles and actually works."

      Isn't that what a proper technical interview actually is? Oddly, for this gig, the technical interview was entirely omitted.

      But, I've trivially identified the major problems in our environment. The management.

      I'll have a solution to that problem next pub outing.

      Signed,

      BOFH MK II.

    4. weznagwama

      Re: Certifications, pah !

      A real cert is the redhat approach - give the candidate a *virtual machine they have to configure*.

      Doesn't matter which way you do something - gui, CLI, whatever, as long as the end result passes their unit test, you pass.

      Unfortunately the exams are ridiculously expensive, but definitely hold their weight oppose to brain-dump land every other vendor is stuck in.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    People don’t want certifications and don’t want to do whiteboard coding and don’t want to do take-home assignments so what exactly do people want, to waltz into a job with a nod and a wink?

    1. InNY

      Yes.

      They do.

      Well, a fair few do; there'll always be those folks who want to actually prove they know how to do the job, but they are getting increasingly rare these days.

      1. Wzrd1

        Re: Yes.

        "Well, a fair few do; there'll always be those folks who want to actually prove they know how to do the job, but they are getting increasingly rare these days."

        Yes, I'm one of that vanishing breed. Alas, the reality does not meet your expectation.

        Just today, I was asked to assist a coworker, who could not use his notebook's trackpad. It quit on him, he thought it defective.

        Despite it being an HP device and a glaringly bright LED indicating that he had disabled the damned thing.

        Double tapped it, explained nicely (due to his age) that he had a severe keyboard-mouse interface issue and departed.

        While the user, due to the way that I worded things, will feel good, his supervisor, having heard my words knows that the user, despite being hired for a specific high level technical role, doesn't have a clue. I suspect he'll soon have to find a new position, perhaps, as a pizza delivery guy,

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      How about sitting in a classroom for 3 years learning out of date stuff (to mainly show you're not a quitter), then starting from the bottom and working your way up.

      1. Wzrd1

        "How about sitting in a classroom for 3 years learning out of date stuff (to mainly show you're not a quitter), then starting from the bottom and working your way up."

        Well, doctors and attorneys do that every day. I did that in spades in selection in special forces.

        None of the above prove that you are competent overall!

        Meanwhile, I only sat through a class that was as you described. That, due to an injury that required me to learn a specifically specified standard. One that is as defunct as Windows 2000.

        Whose test was infamously wrong in many areas.

        I've done and certified under pretty much everything Microsoft from Windows 3.51 onward. Remember Windows NT, Service Pack 6, then the scrambled at fixes included in Service Pack 6a? I do recall it quite well.

        Two clients moved back to NT3.51 over it.

    3. Wzrd1

      "People don’t want certifications and don’t want to do whiteboard coding and don’t want to do take-home assignments so what exactly do people want, to waltz into a job with a nod and a wink?"

      Yep, in my case, that was precisely what happened. What the reality of it is is, I'm the most qualified person that the company has. I can diagnose AD issues after being kicked in the head by an angry horse. Not that I'm idiotic enough to put myself into the position of causing a horse to suffer such an injury.

      Laughably, zero certifications that are germane. Annoyingly, the client requires specific certifications to operate at specific levels.

      If memory serves, I do believe that Moses sat with me for my first certification.

      Or was that some guy, who called himself Adam and had no family as of yet...

  5. AMBxx Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Not just Azure

    Years ago, I had to become MS certified. Had a choice of anything SQL or Windows Server related. I took the Windows 2000 course. The exam was trivial, but the content covered was an excellent foundation course on general OS stuff - networks, RAID etc. It's all come in really useful over the years.

    Last year, I looked at finally updating to Windows Server 2016. Massive text book containing nothing more than vast quantities of Powershell commands to be memorised. Unless you're doing nothing but windows admin all day every day, you don't use this stuff often enough for it to be useful.

    1. Zippy's Sausage Factory
      Mushroom

      Re: Not just Azure

      Personally, I dislike Powershell intensely. It feels like they wanted to try and make their own version of bash but without making it look too much like bash and now they're too far down the rabbit hole to back out.

      If I were in charge of MS I'd just cancel Powershell immediately - no further products to ship, and all existing products remove all support in their next release. I appreciate that this sentiment will get me downvoted by all the Powershell junkies but hey, just my opinion...

      1. AMBxx Silver badge

        Re: Not just Azure

        I sort of half agree. I'd like to be able to get the powershell script from a ui - so when creating a new user, I have the option to spit out the script to use next time. You can do it in SQL Server, not sure why you can't in the Windows UI.

      2. Franco Silver badge

        Re: Not just Azure

        PowerShell is (IMO/E) great for certain things, particularly bulk work. For example, due to licensing restrictions, I had to change the UPNs of selected users during an Office 365 migration rather than doing it at the Domain level. This would be incredibly tedious and time consuming on a per-user basis.

        Day to day admin, it's not worth it though for me. Same thing with Server Core, it's a great idea in principle, but when it hits the fan you spend ages more time looking up the commands to fix things than doing it through the GUI.

  6. Ochib

    The issue is that the HR Droids use the lack of Certs to remove CVs from the pile before passing the list on to IT

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Really can't be bovvered to log in with my details to check- whats the discount? 50%?

  8. TonyJ Silver badge

    I appreciate it's not just MS but most certifications that take the path I highlighted above.

    And to add insult to injury the only time a company cares is that time of year when partnership is up for renewal. I have quite literally witnessed first hand where a manager has looked around a room, and picked whomever they thought would be most likely to pass the necessary exams in the time frame.

    I was Citrix CCEA #54 way back in the very early 2000's.

    My reward? Access to a CCEA only website. The only content on said site being a list of exams you needed to pass to attain CCEA...Not to mention that back then, it seemed the higher your certification with Citrix, the worse the quality of the certificate they sent - from the CCA with a gold embossed emblem to the CCEA which looked like it'd been self-printed on an HP DeskJet 500c on toilet paper - you could see through it when held up to the light.

    Back in the day, at least MCSE gave you access to a free TechNet subscription which was handy to have.

    Let's face it - no one in a serious position in a company gives a toss about certs. It's all about what you've done, where and for whom. Actually, I would go so far as to say I'm always a bit suspicious of those people with a list of certs longer than my arm...it makes me wonder if they ever have time to do their day job or they just spend it all with a nose in a book and sitting the damn things.

    Certs != ability in the vast majority of cases.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      >I was Citrix CCEA #54 way back in the very early 2000's.

      I was a CCEA around the same time (MetaFrame 1.8). I literally passed it one month, and the next they announced they were changing the program and I'd have to start again from scratch.

      1. TonyJ Silver badge

        "...I was a CCEA around the same time (MetaFrame 1.8). I literally passed it one month, and the next they announced they were changing the program and I'd have to start again from scratch..."

        Yup. Totally scuppered their own certs.

        I recall doing the MF1.8 exams. Liberally scattered with WF1.6 questions. :)

        1. Goobertee

          This side of the pond, too

          Years ago, I was a department head at a midwest USA university. Somebody high in the food chain decided the university ought to be good for something practical. Big meeting with 20+ administrators and it turned out preparing students for MCSE certification was going to be it. Yes, it hurt my head then, too. Two staff members (not faculty) and I were assigned to develop the curriculum and the process.

          We spent considerable time and effort, plus the hourly pay for the two staff members, and made some progress. (Being a faculty member and an administrator, my time was presumed to have no dollar value.) Then the fellow who was following the updates from MS told us the exam was being discontinued in a few months. It would be replaced by something whose content had not yet been identified. Awshit, WTF, and that sort of thing. Being much younger, we didn't know this sort of thing happened.

          The vice president who made the assignment was not noted for being sympathetic with subordinates' problems. We documented our efforts and the new information as well as we could, then got an appointment with the dean. Showed him our efforts and he did the awshit and WTF thing, too. He called for an appointment with the vice president and we got in that day. I had the information ready and explained it, expecting really bad things. In quite a surprise, the VP said sounded like a moving target not worth chasing and we should just shut it down.

  9. Alan_Peery

    Discounts for the first 300 is miserly

    Come on Microsoft, you're a behemoth. Do you really only expect a few people to take the test, and need the revenue?

  10. blokedownthepub

    I'm done with this

    I am MCSA in Server 2003 and 2012 R2, but never again.

    MS exams start at a reasonable standard early on, then as more people pass they make the exams steadily harder. One trick is to introduce more complex question formats, with potentially hundreds on wrong possible answers - one small mistake with a PowerShell drop-down parameter and you get zero.

    I had five attempts at the final 2012 R2 exam. Loads of studying over a year and my scores were getting lower.

    First attempt with no study: 670. One year's study and experience later, expecting I'd smash it: 430

    It's like narrowly missing a GCSE, then resitting it a year later and finding A-level questions on the paper, but you still only get a GCSE.

    I've wasted too much of my life of this.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I'm done with this

      So are the certs too hard or too easy? I’m getting mixed messages from the comments here

      1. blokedownthepub

        Re: I'm done with this

        An exam will start off easy when first released, then get very difficult over the next year or two.

        MS choke off the pass rate as they become more popular by making the questions more obscure. The usual trend in my experience is for the later exams to require detailed knowledge of obscure nooks and crannies of the product.

        So if you want an MS cert, do the exam when it's first released.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I'm done with this

          Unfortunately there is a tendency amongst some to “braindump” the questions - without knowing or caring they are undermining their own certs value - so MS or any vendor has no choice but to ramp them up to maintain a constant pass rate

          1. blokedownthepub
            Holmes

            Re: I'm done with this

            The ramping-up and the brain-dumping are mutually fulfilling.

            When someone with 15 years' experience of Window Server takes the exam without study and scores 670, then spends a year reading the books and watching the videos (at expense) then scores only 430; then a £30 brain dump becomes very attractive.

            Just saying - the above is just an example of course...

            MS are cheating by making the later exams harder with absurdly detailed questions, so candidates cheat with brain dumps.

            It's justified cheating.

            That's why I'm done with this.

      2. joed

        Re: I'm done with this

        It all depends how badly you want to pass - this can make the whole thing an exercise in frustration and colossal waste of time (I'm not sure if failing is worse than overstudying for a passing grade). And what really sucks is how insufficient course materials are (or maybe excessive range of questions) - forget about scoring without brain dumps. I've noticed is that seemingly lower level exams require system admin experience and notably some W10 ones seemed to be mixed up with one another, with a "healthy" dose of questions on in-the-state-of-flux subject of Azure/Intune that few would have hands-on access to (plus the test jumped into next course topics). If you realize the craziness of W10 semi-yearly update cycle introduced changes you can only imagine what it does to test answers.

      3. W@ldo

        Re: I'm done with this

        What I glean from these posts is something I've experienced in 3+ decades of IT--the best folks I have either worked with or hired don't have any of the vendor specific certs. They spend their time doing, versus studying to learn a particular exam. Very big difference in skill building. At the end of the time doing, the person is much more experienced. At the end of a cert learning process at best you have a piece of paper.

        The problem is with employers, including mine, that require and/or are cert happy. I've had to jump through those hoops over the years and like my Novell Netware CNE are just pieces of paper in a folder to prove I have the organization required competencies. Just a check box. As an IT manager I would rather provide quality training and exposure to new technologies instead of sending someone off to boot camps. Hiring is another story--the organization required certs are filters that unfortunately leave out more qualified candidates.

        My advice--do the certs going for the quality ones out there that cover broad checkbox items for qualifying for a position. Get real hands on experience via practicing using the many vendor supplied free resources. It is much easier now with both AWS & MS giving away lots of access to their technology. Back in my day you had to cannibalize hardware to cobble together a server, router, etc.

        College is a different story. All are correct that many that attend are no better than those that have gained the experience on the job. Like certs, the degrees are a filter some organizations use. They miss many highly qualified candidates, but that's their choice. Think of all the IT pioneers that have no degree....and there are those that contributed through academia. You really need both and keep the doors open for all truly qualified. (my opinion) I got my degrees while working--yes, it sucked going to classes with folks 10 years younger and with different motivations. It did take much longer, but I got that paper and nobody cares about the GPA, honors, whether you were a jock/cheerleader, etc. :-)

        Hang in there and avoid wasting time chasing the cert hypes!

  11. JMiles

    On one recent job application the company hired an external CV validation service.

    They got in touch to ask me for a whole bunch of stuff about my education and past experience. For the education piece I told them to 'just mark me down as having no verifiable education and being illiterate' - they thought it was a joke but I insisted they do it.

    They did. The company that offered me the position thought it was funny and hired me anyway.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They are charging now

    I am so disappointed that MS has started charging for Azure certs. I have been out of work for a long time and even $33 is more than I can afford.

  13. SenseIT
    Meh

    Certification minefield

    We run an exam test centre for multi-vendors, AWS, Azure, Google cloud, Cisco and the certification market has changed, everyone has a much better understanding of the certifications available, why would you need an Advanced certification if the geographic area you are in has businesses who do not use that technology apart from IT support companies.

    Most corporate companies only require staff to have a fundamental level of knowledge. But certification is a growing market and is the only way lesser beings know whether that person has the ability.

    It is about time Microsoft came clean about Azure certification, its been in the spot light for all the wrong reasons for a long time now and has definitely lost ground to AWS and Google cloud.

    It would be nice to see the other vendors whose certifications fall short come clean.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Tech Training has lost all credibility

    Once class-based 'practical training' was replaced by multiple-choice-tests, training-centers started to just email out the answers in advance from anonymous email accounts etc.

    That's how so many training businesses were able to boast a 90% pass-rate. Talk about fraud. Its the biggest open-secret in what is largely a 'dirty' industry. Even the Reg was researching scandals in this area in the LP days.

    Thankfully in Game-Dev certification is pretty much shunned. So its portfolio work or nothing. Therefore outright cheating / fraud is rare!

    1. TonyJ Silver badge

      Re: Tech Training has lost all credibility

      "...Thankfully in Game-Dev certification is pretty much shunned. So its portfolio work or nothing. Therefore outright cheating / fraud is rare!.."

      You'd think that would follow as a general rule but last year I had to review a CV for a chap that had applied for a role at the gov. institution I was working at.

      Now said place had c22,000 users globally and we were a good way down the route of various upgrades and migrations part of which was to move some users to Office 365 where security levels allowed it.

      Imagine my surprise when the CV boasted front and centre that this person had successfully migrated over 50,000 users to O365...at the exact place I was working.

      Embellishment is one thing but to outright lie so outrageously is another entirely.

  15. Multivac

    I have this horrible trick in interviews where I ask people who claim to be AWS or Azure certified some of the questions from the certification exam, its a quick way to figure out who paid a ringer to go and sit the exam for them.

  16. N2 Silver badge

    Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer

    Once asked me, whats that you are doing in MS-Dos?

    Me: Oh, I'm just mapping network some drives, then I will add it to users the logon script

    MCSE: oooh, how do you do that then?

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