One of my big goals to wrap up 2020 was passing the AZ 500 Azure Security Engineer exam. I, unfortunately, fell short of that endeavor, and to say it was an adventure would be an understatement. That said, I did circle back to the exam shortly after failing December 31st, 2020, and passed it in the first week of 2021! Below is a bit about my experience and pushing past failure to reach my goal.

Let me start by saying that failing certification exams is not new to me. I hold nearly 20 certifications that I've accrued over my 12+ years in IT/Cyber and while I passed most of them on the first try, there's certainly been several that I failed initially. This can be an extremely stressful and emotionally fatiguing experience, especially after putting in countless hours studying and preparing for an exam. It can be tempting to tie your self-worth or competence to the exam outcome, and it is dangerous to do so. Exams can be fickle, full of tricky questions and wording, and ultimately are NOT always the best barometer of your competency in a specific field of technology.

The AZ-500 exam was no different. I spent the better part of October-December of 2020 preparing for the exam. I hold most of the AWS certifications (8 to be exact) and I wanted to diversify a bit to build more proficiency with Azure. I began listening to countless hours of video courses, YouTube videos, reading Azure documentation from Microsoft, books, and more. This included many late nights, early mornings, listening to course content during workouts/drives rather than music, and similar sacrifices. Heading into the exam on December 31st I felt prepared, I thought for sure I would pass! But a few questions into the exam, I knew right away that was not the case. I wasn't prepared for the complexity of the questions, the similarities among the possible answer choices, and also the experience of testing in a mask and gloves (which was a new experience as well).

When I hit submit, I saw what I suspected, that I failed the exam. I initially left the test center totally deflated. I was tempted to not tell anyone how I did, or not mention the exam again. But I knew better, I knew feeling ashamed wasn't something I should feel. I had learned a tremendous amount about Azure Security during the process and I had worked hard, even if I failed. So, instead, I shared a post about my failure on LinkedIn and what I learned during my exam attempt. It ended up generating a lot of positive feedback and it helped many people. In our industry, it is easy, especially with Social Media to only see the highlights. The promotions, exam success, achievements, and accolades. The truth is, the real path to success is often mired with failures, setbacks, and missteps. We're all human, we all fall short, we all experience failures in pursuit of things worth obtaining. We need more honesty and openness. It lets people know it is okay to fall short and not hit a home run with every swing.

After making my post about failing and receiving positive feedback, I was inspired to try again. So try again I did. I scheduled my exam for a week later, and started hitting the areas I felt I needed to learn more on right away. This included again, as you guessed, a lot of documentation reading, videos, practice exams, and more. However, I now knew where more weak areas were and I focused on them ruthlessly. Then the time came, it was test day. I walked into the test center incredibly nervous again. Failing is never fun, and the fear of failing again was certainly on my mind. That said, once I sat down and began taking the exam, I knew I had done the work. I felt confident, the answers were much more obvious and I didn't feel so overwhelmed. When I hit submit, I saw what I was after all along "Congratulations, you've passed!".

The hard work paid off, but it wasn't easy, it wasn't without setbacks but it WAS worth it!

The key lies in not giving up on your goals or yourself."

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