I’m always excited when I earn a certification, but some are more special than others. I have been working for over a year to learn all the skills needed to earn the Microsoft 365 Developer Associate certification. While I have been working as a SharePoint developer for almost 15 years, most of my work has been in very specific areas, like webparts or apps. Certifications normally require more skills than one person would have experience in, even someone doing this as long as I have. MS-600, which is the only exam needed for the certification, covers several areas that I just don’t operate in every day. It has taken a while for me to get comfortable in those areas.
Any fool can know. The point is to understand.
– Albert Einstein
The certification process
In recent years, Microsoft has completely redesigned their certification and exam structure to be role-based instead of technology-based, which is an improvement in my opinion. The number of available certifications has been reduced and the number of prerequisites has been lowered for most certifications. Prerequisites include earning other certifications and taking other exams. As a result, the skills required list covered by each exam is larger. Simply said, there are a lot of skills required to pass MS-600, so my challenge was to learn the skills I am not as strong in.
Getting a Jump Start on preparation
I’m going to present this a little out of order, because something happened during my preparation that could be a game changer for others. As I struggled to determine how to tackle this exam, one of the premier developers and trainers in the M365 development space announced that he had recently passed the MS-600 exam and was doing 5 mini-webinars covering how to prepared for the exam. Andrew Connell from Voitanos planned webinars on each of the 5 areas from the exam’s “skills measured” list. Ultimately, he did 7 total webinars on preparing for the exam. These are still available, but he is offering even better material in his on-demand course for MS-600 Exam Prep.
In the free webinar series, Andrew covers the skills and gives advice on how to find material to study for each skill. In his full course, he actually teaches the skills using a combination of presentations and examples. The full course does cost a small fee, but it is a fraction of what you would pay to one of the “big name” training companies and his content is always accurate, relevant and timely. Follow the link above for details and watch Andrew’s blog for discounts! To be very clear, Andrew is not teaching the exam! He is teaching students how to master the skills covered on the exam. I was too close to taking my exam to sign up for the full course, but if it had been available at the beginning of my journey, this would have been me.
One thing I learned in my preparation is how Microsoft designs and builds exams. While I won’t go into detail, the key part is the “Skills measured” list. There is a lot of work involved to determine the most relevant skills that need to be mastered to pass a certification exam, including participation by Microsoft employees, MVPs, and Microsoft Partners. That process can take months and once the list of skills is approved, work begins to build the question bank that confirms the exam taker has mastered each skill. Separately, practice exam questions are built based on the skills list, with no knowledge of the actual exam questions. I can’t emphasis enough that you need to download the skills list for any exam you are hoping to pass and base all of your learning on those skills. If you use practice tests, make sure they are based on the skills list.
Microsoft also changed their learning platform at the same time as the certification process and that has been a very positive experience for me. While the platform is still managed by Microsoft, much of the content is written by Microsoft Partners and MVPs. This content is not open-source, but creation and updating is handled in a similar fashion as open-source projects. This is important for 2 huge reasons. First, the creators of the learning content are experts in the field. Not only are they experts in the technology, but they are also trainers that understand how to teach the content. The second big reason that the new learning modules are better is that updates to the content are handled so much faster than previous modules. With the rapid pace of change in today’s information technology world, this increased speed keeps the material accurate and relevant.
My experience in using MS Learn was very positive and I found it easy to link the skills needed to the learning module(s) that cover those skills. Now that I can look back from the test to the learning modules, I can also say that the training modules help cover how the skill will be tested. This was certainly not my experience with previous certification exams.
If you have not taken a remote exam before, you should give it a try. I live less than 5 minutes away from a testing center, so I thought it was easier to just do testing in person. Covid-19 changed that, and I have taken several exams from home now. The challenge for me was finding a “sterile” space with a door. My office has several computers and monitors, all of which would need to be repositioned and turned off to even have a shot of qualifying as a testing space. Add in a whiteboard and a full bookshelf and it would just be too much work to attempt to take exams in my office. My house has an open floorplan, so the only other spaces with doors are bathrooms and a spare bedroom. I opted to set up a table in the spare bedroom, which is full of furniture, but has just enough room for the small table. It gives me a clean area with just my laptop on the table. Be prepared to spend about 15 minutes taking all the steps to prove there is nothing in the room that would allow cheating, including pictures in every direction and spinning the webcam around for the proctor to double check the room, as well as the location (more than arm’s reach) of my phone and watch. It’s tedious, but once I start the exam, I find it much more relaxing than the testing center. I have my own chair, laptop, and mouse. Make sure to lock the door because if anyone enters the room, you fail the test!
The last challenge for me is that there can be no talking during the exam, and you have to keep your mouth uncovered. When I am concentrating, I tend to put my hand over my mouth and chin, aka the thinking man’s pose. 🤔 Also, if I find a question difficult to understand, I like to read it aloud to myself. Either of those will result in a “gentle” warning from the proctor to “cease and desist” or risk forfeiting the exam (i.e., fail). Once I was able to break those habits, the rest is straight forward.
While I liked my score, 822 on first attempt, I was a little surprised by the breakdown. SharePoint development is definitely my strongest area, but I scored higher in Teams development. While I have studied a lot about Teams development, I don’t have a lot of practical experience. The rest of the breakdown looked a lot like me!
While completing this certification took longer than I anticipated, the honest truth is that most of the delays were just me procrastinating. Once I dug in, I was ready in a few weeks.
I hope this helps encourage you to challenge yourself and get this certification. As of this writing, Associate is the highest level of certification a M365 developer can earn. I’m sure they are working on an expert level at some point and look forward to tackling that when it is available. Follow the steps above and I’m sure you can earn this or any other certification you desire. Reach out if you have any questions.