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Navigating the Maze of Azure Data Certifications

This blog discusses a roadmap for the DP series of Azure cert exams (which all involve data). You'll have a much better idea on which ones you should take to have the best impact on your career.

Jun 08, 2023 • 7 Minute Read

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It’s no secret that the Azure certification exam ecosystem can be tricky to navigate. There are lots of certs that are frequently updated or retired, and new ones get added all the time. Today, we’ll dive in a specific corner of the maze that is the world of Azure Data certifications. Find out what certifications there are available, get a brief overview of what they cover, and learn what value they can add to you career. If you’re in the Azure data space or looking to jump in feet first, don’t look past this post. Let’s go!

The air feels thick and heavy. You’re surrounded by leafy hedge walls that seem to be closing in with every passing moment. It seems like you have been in this maze for years, twisting and turning through the various paths, trying to find the one that is right for you. With each passing step, it seems like a new choice is presented. Feeling confused and deflated, you plop down on the cold stone floor and decide to take a nap instead.  

No - this isn’t the latest fantasy series, but the reality of navigating the maze of cloud certifications and trying to understand which one is right for your career path. It can be daunting, and as soon as it seems you have a handle on things, a new exam pops up just as another one changes.  

In this blog post, I’ll be handing out the road maps for the DP series of Azure certification exams (hint: they all involve data). By the time you finish reading this, you should hopefully have a much better idea on which certs you should take, and which ones are likely to have the biggest  impact on your career. (Keep in mind that these are all my opinions, so your mileage may vary.)

Which Microsoft azure certification is right for me?

What Azure data certifications are available?

Breaking down the options available today in the data family of Azure certifications, you can take the DP-900, DP-100, DP-203, DP-300, DP-420, PL-300 and DP-500. We'll get more into what this jumble of letters and numbers mean in just a second.

But first of all – no, higher numbers in the cert title doesn’t mean it is automatically harder. In fact, the DP-900: Microsoft Azure Data Fundamentals is the starting point for your Microsoft data certification path. On the other hand, the DP-100: Designing and Implementing a Data Science Solution on Azure is far from the easiest of the data exams.  

So let's start with a basic grouping of how I see the exams, and then we can dive into each one.  

  • DP-900: Microsoft Azure Data Fundamentals
  • DP-100: Designing and Implementing a Data Science Solution on Azure
  • DP-203: Data Engineering on Microsoft Azure
  • DP-300: Administering Relational Databases on Microsoft Azure 
  • DP-420: Designing and Implementing Cloud Native Applications Using Microsoft Azure Cosmos DB
  • PL-300: Microsoft Power BI Data Analyst
  • DP-500: Designing and Implementing Enterprise-Scale Analytics Solutions Using Microsoft Azure and Microsoft Power BI

What does each Azure data certification cover?

Now that we have some basic groups in place, I will take a slightly deeper look at each exam. I will focus not only on the exam itself but on the potential value I see for your career in carrying the certification.  

The fundamentals

The DP-900: Microsoft Azure Data Fundamentals is the introduction to data exams at Microsoft. In my opinion, achieving this cert will not necessarily land you a new job or raise your current salary. It will, however, help you prepare for future data exams. And for the completionists out there - this is one that you’d want to add to your collection. The good news is that the 900-series exams don’t expire, so once you pass, you will have the qualification for life. Not bad at all!   

For data scientists

The DP-100:Designing and Implementing a Data Science Solution on Azure is the only current exam for data scientists. Data science is all about using predictive modeling or machine learning to answer questions about your data and its source. It is a helpful exam if you are trying to prove out your skills in data science, but given the complex nature of the work, a certification alone isn’t enough to get you a job in the field unless you combine the qualification with work experience, or at least a few sample projects that you can whip out on your resume or talk about in an interview.   

For data engineers

 The DP-203:Data Engineering on Microsoft Azure is in my opinion one of the hardest exams in this series. It covers a large list of data services and focuses not only on the services but on the working knowledge required to be a data engineer. This exam will carry a lot of value, both in getting a job as a data engineer and in raising your potential earnings. I would consider this a core exam in the world of Azure data and one that everyone heavily invested in the space should consider taking. Be warned: it will require a lot of study time and a moderate understanding of SQL and another language, such as Python or Scala.  

For database administrators

The DP-300: Administering Relational Databases on Microsoft Azure and DP-420: Designing and Implementing Cloud Native Applications Using Microsoft Azure Cosmos DB exams are narrower in scope than the DP-203 and require knowledge of  SQL and Cosmos DB respectively. Since the focus is narrower, they go in more depth for each of the  individual services, but these parameters arguably make it easier to prepare for the exams. In addition, there is less of a focus on coding, which could be an advantage depending on your background. From a career perspective, I don’t feel that these exams carry quite the same value as the DP-203, simply because they are more limited in their scope and application. If your current work is in the  SQL or Cosmos DB space, there is definitely value in having these certifications under your belt to negotiate for a better salary. If you are starting from scratch however, I would focus on the DP-203: Data Engineering on Microsoft Azure first. 

For data analysts

Finally, we have the PL-300: Microsoft Power BI Data Analyst and DP-500: Designing and Implementing Enterprise-Scale Analytics Solutions Using Microsoft Azure and Microsoft Power BI. These exams are on data analysis. The PL-300 is more accessible than the DP-500 and focuses exclusively on Power BI (it’s also part of the broader family of Microsoft Power Platform certifications, hence why it starts with ‘PL’ and not a ‘DP’). The DP-500 takes the knowledge gained from the PL-300 and applies it more broadly to designing and implementing enterprise-scale analytics. If you are a data analyst or aspiring to become one, these exams are highly sought after and can be beneficial in getting a first job or asking for a salary increase.

What's the next step in my azure data certification journey?

I’m hopeful that as we wrap up this article you are beginning to see the hedges (and clouds) part, and the path to your career goals becoming clearer. If you are new to data and trying to break into the industry, I would suggest focusing on the DP-900, DP-203, and/or the PL-300 to start.  As you move further along, look at the other certifications to help validate your skills, get interviews more easily, and raise your salary.  Head on over to our catalog to take in-depth courses on these certifications or brush up your  SQL or Python skills. Good luck!  

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a SQL step

Start a free trial with ACG today and accelerate your career with our range of Azure data cert courses, SQL courses, hands-on labs and other awesome learning features. Not sure where to start? We'll guide you step-by-step through the knowledge and skills needed to progress through our learning paths. And no matter where you are in your journey, stay up to date on the latest Azure news with our original series Azure This Week.