Most techies love certification and training courses. Learning opportunities help them stay relevant and increase earning potential, as well as utility to the business.
When I saw my employer was offering free Microsoft courses and exams, I jumped on the opportunity. Microsoft provides the Microsoft Enterprise Skills Initiative (ESI) for free if your employer qualifies. The ESI program includes dozens of courses and several tracks designed for developers, administrators or engineers, with unlimited retakes.
Who qualifies for these free courses?
There's no publicly available criteria for approval. If your employer has a nontrivial Azure subscription with Microsoft or plans to move nontrivial workloads onto Azure, your company should qualify. Most major companies fit the bill.
It's ideal for anyone whose job involves Azure, whether as a project manager who needs a high-level view of their Azure ecosystem or a developer who wants to build tools on Azure.
Your employer might already have access -- just ask whoever pays the Azure bills or try the ESI login page. The Microsoft ESI program provides a 100% discount voucher to apply at checkout on the Pearson Vue site for the exam. Once again, you can take the exam as many times as you need.
Some might think there is no such thing as quality, free training programs, but they would be wrong. These courses are identical to the courses companies pay thousands of dollars for from third-party authorized vendors and include free exams via Pearson Vue.
Microsoft has an obvious interest in giving away the courses if it means more spending and infrastructure stood up in Azure.
What are the courses?
The program provides many courses, such as the AZ-900 introduction to cloud, AZ-401 Azure administrator course and AZ-500 Azure security course. Courses are arranged in tracks to enable a more focused learning approach. And Microsoft gives enough Azure credit to participate in and complete the course labs.
These courses provide the same content a student would get for a paid course and can go on the CV -- with just as much authority as a paid course. The courses are delivered over Microsoft Teams and conduct labs on Azure. The tutors are Microsoft's internal tutors.
I attended the AZ-401 course and learned a lot, even though I have been using Azure for a long time. Like most courses, it's the material you can't learn anywhere else that makes it a valuable experience.
Those IT pros looking to take the course, pass the exam and be certified all within one day will be out of luck. The ESI courses span several days, in a schedule that requires attendees to book time off to complete them.
Anyone looking to take the relevant exam will benefit enormously from buying the official Microsoft exam revision book. For example, the AZ-401 course does not cover every scenario that could appear on the exam. Just like a college course uses textbooks to supplement lectures, this book is a valuable resource that contributes to the overall learning experience and serves as a useful guide moving forward, when you need to reference specific information.
The reading material provided is lackluster compared with other courses -- it's a Skillpipe download. That said, you can always take your own notes.
The other thing to bear in mind is that these courses are extremely popular. When booking a desired course, there could be a wait before there is availability.
To build your cloud-related skills, gain training and receive certification for no money, invest your time in the Microsoft ESI program. One need only look at the demand for Azure administrators and developers to understand the value of the offer here.