If you're an Azure data engineer or aspire to become one soon, then you are probably interested in acquiring Microsoft Certification so that you can prove your expertise in this cutting-edge field. One of the most important Microsoft Certifications for data engineers is Microsoft DP-201: Designing an Azure Data Solution. Because this is such an important exam, we're presenting this complete guide, which was created to help you fully and properly prepare for the Microsoft DP-201.
If you're working to become a Microsoft Certified Azure Data Engineer Associate, then you will need to complete both Microsoft DP-200 & DP-201 exams. While there is a little overlap between Microsoft DP-200 and DP-201, there is a definitive split, whereas DP-200 is about implementing an Azure Data Solution, Microsoft DP-201 is all about designing an Azure Data Solution using best practices.
The path towards becoming an Azure Data Engineer requires you to be intimately familiar with Azure data storage and processing solutions while paying close attention to compliance with data laws and security best practices. This test focuses on your theoretical understanding of Azure data storage and processing, while Microsoft DP-200 focuses on your practical understanding of the same.
What Skills are Tested on the Microsoft DP-201 Exam?
An Azure Data Engineer is someone who can plan out, test, optimize and deploy data related designs. In particular, they need to be familiar with the storage and data processing solutions that Azure provides, so that they use the correct tools in the right use-case scenarios.
In order to acquire this Microsoft Certification and become an Azure Data Engineer, you must demonstrate the ability to choose the right storage solutions based off of real-world needs, design appropriate data partitions and data distributions, and to keep future-proofing and scaling in mind from the beginning of development.
In addition, an Azure Data Engineer also needs to use Data Factory, Stream Analytics, and Azure Databricks to design their own real-time and batch processing solutions. These are the basic requirements of Microsoft DP-201, and today we're going to focus on proper preparation for all these points in the exam.
The Microsoft DP-201 consists of an exam in 3 broad sections:
|Skill / Test Area||Percentage (%)|
|Using Azure to Design Optimal Storage Solutions||40 to 45% of your score|
|Using Azure to Design Optimal Data Processing Solutions||25 to 30% of your score|
|Designing with Compliance and Data Security in Mind||25 to 30% of your score|
How Do I Properly Prepare for the Microsoft DP-201 Exam?
The Microsoft DP-200 exam focuses on questions that ask you to show that you know how to work with and deploy Azure data services. In contrast, this exam focuses on questions that ask you to explain why you would choose certain data solutions given specific technical requirements. Microsoft DP-201 is all about theory, including data design theory, as well as security best practices and other situational design problems, that challenge you to find the best data solution among a variety of options.
So, to properly prepare for the Microsoft DP-201 exam, you need to immerse yourself into the data storage solutions available on Azure and study the subtle differences. You should be able to communicate with a business decision-maker the differences between blob storage and Cosmos DB, for example. You also need to know the scenarios when blob is the better storage type, or when Cosmos DB should be selected. That's just the beginning though, as you're going to need to be intimately familiar with the entire Azure data offerings, so that you can properly design and deploy the optimal data solutions as an Azure Data Engineer.
The best way to study for any technical exam like this, is to utilize a clear path or curriculum that is dedicated to teaching you everything you need to know. I recommend taking this 6-course bundle, which was designed specifically for mastering the Microsoft Certification for DP-201. After deep-diving into what Pluralsight offers in a previous review, I can assure you that their course work will teach you everything you need to know easily pass the Microsoft DP-201 exam.
Microsoft provides a lot of different official guides scattered across the internet. One good resource is this brief Microsoft Ignite tutorial which covers the exam:
Of course, you should also familiarize yourself with the official exam preparation guide and exam skills outline. However, those resources alone are not enough, since they simply outline the keys areas without exploring the underlying content in depth. Microsoft advertises some learning paths, but with so many different options and no way to discern the quality or accuracy of the information on those 3rd party sites, I'll stick with the tried and true Pluralsight DP-201 path, which outlines everything you need to pass the Microsoft DP-201 and get your Microsoft Certification as an Azure Data Engineer in 6 easy to understand courses.
What is the Difference Between Microsoft DP-200 and DP-201?
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, DP-200 is about implementing data solutions, while DP-201 is about designing data solutions. In reality, DP-200 and DP-201 are sibling exams, that when passed together, give you Microsoft Certification as an “Azure Data Engineer Associate.” Microsoft DP-201 is an exam that tests your theoretical knowledge of data solutions, while Microsoft DP-200 focuses on the actual practice of implementing those data solutions in the real-world.
Generally, someone who is planning to take the Microsoft DP-200 should also plan on taking Microsoft DP-201 so that they get full Microsoft Certification as an Azure Data Engineer Associate. It also makes sense to work on these two exams at the same time, given the only real difference between the two is that one focuses on theory and the other on practice. Since theory is worthless without practice, and vice-versa, for all intents and purposes the Microsoft DP-200 and Microsoft DP-201 are two halves of the same whole.
Using Azure to Design Optimal Storage Solutions
The DP-201 exam begins with several single-choice, multiple-choice and other interactive questions that assess your mastery of Azure data storage services and solutions. This section accounts for almost half of your score on the DP-201 exam, so it's important to get this right.
The exam requires you to analyze a business' technical needs, and suggest and choose the right data solutions to meet their needs. You will also be required to show that you have the necessary knowledge and expertise to properly design relational and non-relational data stores, using solutions powered by Cosmos DB, Blob, Azure Synapse Analytics, SQL Database and/or Data Lake storage.
When you begin the exam, you will be dealing with hypothetical businesses and their technical requirements, which is common for real-world Azure Data Engineers. You will be demonstrating your knowledge of Azure data storage options to provide each business with the solution that best matches their technical requirements.
Moving on, the Microsoft DP-201 next focuses on designing non-relational data stores within Azure. You're required to design a solution using Data Lake, Cosmos DB, or Blob stores. Through the exam, you will design partitions and data distribution, while also answering questions that show your understanding of all the security concerns and best practices.
In addition, to become an Azure Data Engineer, you will be tested to make sure you understand how to plan for disaster recovery by formulating recovery strategies ahead of time. You will also be required to design for scale and high availability, so that the data solution is robust, scalable, and available whenever it needs to be accessed.
Using Azure to Design Optimal Data Processing Solutions
The first section of the Microsoft DP-201 exam, focused heavily on data storage design. The second section, shifts focus towards data processing design. This includes a heavy emphasis on batch processing, and to a lesser extent real-time data processing. This section accounts for 25% to 30% of your grade, but it also is the smallest section on the exam. This means each question in this section has more weight than the others, so keep that in mind!
To begin this section, you will be designing a batch processing set up that utilizes Azure Databricks and Data Factory. You will be selecting the data ingestion method that is the best match for a given batch processing solution. In addition, you will need to select whether the source, transit or destination is the location of where processing is taking place for the given scenarios. Finally, to finish with batch processing, you must correctly choose the transformation logic that is being applied in the Azure Data Factory “Mapping Data Flow” tool.
Moving on from batch processing to real-time data processing, you will start by using Stream Analytics and Azure Databricks to design for real-time data processing. This includes designing and provisioning applicable compute resources from Azure. After you've completed the section on provisioning compute resources, you will have completed the second section of the Microsoft DP-201 and one step closer to becoming an Azure Data Engineer!
Designing with Compliance and Data Security in Mind
The final section of the Microsoft DP-201 exam is all about data policies, access, security, and compliance. This section also accounts for 25% to 30% of your grade on the exam, but don't be fooled, this is some of the most mission-critical aspects of working with data in the cloud. You have to take security and compliance with the utmost level of concern, because if you don't, the consequences can be devastating towards an IT career.
The third and final section opens with questions related to your ability to design private and public endpoints that are planned with security in mind. You will be required to demonstrate your knowledge of the correct authentication scheme to use, including when to use SAS, access keys and/or Azure AD. These are essential skills for any Azure Data Engineer to master.
The final portion of the Microsoft DP-201 exam focuses on data policies, including compliance with regulatory laws and data security best practices. During this final phase of the exam, you will need to show your ability to design encryption for at-rest and in-transit data. You will need to demonstrate your ability to design for data masking and data auditing. You will be required to design with data privacy in mind, and to accurately classify data types. You must develop a data retention policy, and similarly, you must engineer a strategy for archiving data and purging data per business and regulatory requirements.
Passing the Microsoft DP-201 Exam on the First Attempt
The Microsoft DP-201 exam costs $165 USD and takes several hours to complete. Since Microsoft Certification costs money and the process is time-consuming, it's important to pass this exam the first time you take it. That is why it is important that you come fully prepared on the exam day. You also need to make sure your schedule is free for several hours you'll be busy taking the exam.
Anyone who takes an exam will either pass or fail, obviously, but statistically speaking, people who feel confident in their study preparation almost always pass their tests, while those who do not have confidence in their preparations almost always fail their tests! The lesson to take away from this is that you know when you're ready to take an exam, because you properly prepared and have become an expert through your studies.
If you're thinking about taking this exam, but you don't feel like an expert who is ready to acquire Microsoft Certification… well then think again. You shouldn't attempt a paid exam until you've done the necessary work to ensure that you'll pass the exam. This means finding a solid path from where you are today in your studies, to the expert Azure Data Engineer you need to be before you take the exam.
The shortest distance to any object is a straight-line, and in this case, the shortest path to getting your DP-201 certification is to use the Pluralsight DP-201 path which gives you everything you need to pass Microsoft DP-201 in just 6 easy to digest courses.
Best Practices for Studying for any Microsoft Certification
If you're serious about progressing your IT career as an Azure Data Engineer using this Microsoft Certification, then you are going to benefit by developing good and healthy study habits. These habits are optional, but are recommended if you want to pass your exams with the least amount of problems.
The best bit of advice is to find a strong guide to lead the way. You shouldn't be reinventing the wheel, or trying to piece together advice from a bunch of different websites. Instead, you should find a complete guide from A to Z that will get you from a complete beginner to a total expert by the end of the journey. The Pluralsight DP-201 path is one such complete resource, capable of guiding you from beginning to end towards achieving your Microsoft Certification as an Azure Data Engineer.
Once you have found your preferred path of study, it's critical that you maintain a regular study schedule. You should allocate at least 30 minutes to an hour each study session, but you should also be careful to not overextend yourself by trying to cram information into 2- or 3-hour marathon sessions. Studies show that the human brain actually retains more information when it's given several short breaks in between longer sessions of focus. Be kind to yourself, and you'll not only be less stressed about your studies, but you'll also retain more of the information you're studying.
Don't underestimate the body's influence on your study habits. If you're eating a poor diet, not getting enough sleep, or not regularly exercising, these things can actually interfere with your ability to focus for long periods of time and can make studying a nightmare. To ensure your mind is at its best while studying, make sure you're drinking plenty of water, eating a few good meals a day, getting a full night's rest and doing regular exercise.
Everyone learns differently. Some people learn best by taking notes, other people need to practice things hands-on before they fully retain something. You know yourself best, so make sure you're studying and learning in the ways that work best for you. If you're a visual learner or someone who likes to perform tasks in order to retain their knowledge, the Pluralsight DP-201 path will work well for you with its self-paced courses and hands-on approach. The courses make it easy to pause and try out the lessons directly within Azure itself.
Final Advice on Preparing for Microsoft Certification
Microsoft Certification is such a valuable tool in the IT world, especially if you're trying to move up in your current position or find a new job in the growing world of cloud reliant businesses. The business world continues to move towards the cloud, with more and more critical business infrastructure being built around Microsoft's cloud platform. This makes a Microsoft Certification as an Azure Data Engineer a safe, future proof bet, both now, and for the foreseeable future.
Regardless of what type of exam you're taking, the key to success is to fully prepare yourself for the test at hand. In the case of Microsoft DP-201, you will find that it is all about theory. However, don't forget to pursue the Microsoft DP-200 certificate at the same time, since both of these exams are related and both are required to become a certified Azure Data Engineer Associate.
I hope this guide has helped fully prepare you for the Microsoft DP-200 and Microsoft DP-201 exams. Stay consistent with your studies, and only take the exam once you're confident that you will pass it, and you should have no problems acquiring this and any other Microsoft Certification that you pursue!