Brief History of ‘Hands On’ Experience
I feel I need to go over this ground first to give perspective on my opinion of studying for this exam, basically I’ve designed, deployed and operationally managed a number of environments at previous client’s sites along with designing and consulting on a number of other environments. I’ll be honest, I haven’t had the same ‘hands-on’ as I did since my transition to the Vendor space, although I have done a lot of pre-sales design work (specifically around VDI & Server Virtualisation).
I’ve always had the vSphere client close to hand be it on a Customer site, as part of a pre-sales demonstration or more recently as part of building solution stacks on top of flash storage.
With this in mind I went about looking at VCAP-DCA as part of an overall journey to VCDX, this has only really been possible thanks to my current employer who supports me in this process.
Decisions I Made on What to use for Studying
1. I was originally planning on doing the VCAP-DCD first, but as I felt a bit ‘rusty’ with hands-on I decided it was better to go this way first. I think it’s also the official line from VMware to do DCA then DCD and in hindsight, I think it has provided me with some insight that will definitely help with DCD study.
2. I Decided to go for VDCA550 as it was the latest exam even though the majority of my experience was on vSphere 4/5.
Even though I didn’t know much about the new 5.5 features or didn’t really get into the whole vSphere Web Client thing (Although I am a MAC user now so it does have more appeal). I decided that the latest and greatest exam would be the right one, especially with VCP’s now having expiry dates (BTW completing an advanced certification also renewed my VCP!)
I also noticed recently that both the VCAP-DCA/DCD for 5.1 have now been retired so I’m glad I made that decision!
3. Next was finding out what was going to be the best study information to focus on.
One thing I’m really good at is finding material for preparation for exams, too good infact. I usually end up spending more time gathering study material than I do actually studying. So the first thing I did this time was lock myself down to 2 or 3 sources and go deep, with this in mind I started reading about other peoples DCA experiences, specifically Anthony’s (@), Christian’s (@) and Steve’s (@) because they all had recently completed the VDCA550 exam. From these and other sources I gathered the following: –
- VCAP-DCA Blueprint – of course, but also get hold of Chris Wahl’s Study Guide, which helps you record your progress, both are really useful for scoping what you need to learn
- Jason Nash’s Optimize and Scale Course on PluralSight, if you don’t happen to have a PluralSight subscription then I’d also recommend Josh Coen & Jason Langer’s VCAP-DCA study guide. Just be aware that both resources are based on 5.0 and therefore do not cover any 5.5 changes that you may be tested on in the exam!
- VMware Press VCAP-DCA Official Study Guide, I didn’t use the book much, but did go through Chapter 10:Scenarios which Christian mentioned in his blog and found it to be really useful.
4. Thanks to Steve’s blog I also discovered Josh Andrews (@SOSTech_WP) who maintains Test Track which is basically a live lab on a laptop containing a collection of vSphere 5.0 scenarios which I found to be a great hands-on primer for the DCA! Joshua makes Test Track freely available to anyone that asks, I found him extremely helpful.
You can’t study for a ‘hands-on’ lab exam without access to a lab so I went to AutoLab (thanks @DemitasseNZ & @NickMarshall9) and completed a build using vSphere 5.5 media running everything on VMware Fusion on my 8GB Macbook Pro. I managed to squeeze 2 ESXi hosts, a NAS, a DC and a Windows VC all without too much trouble. I really liked this as it meant I could be anywhere (Plane, Hotel, Work, Home… wherever) and I could spin up the lab and get hands-on (I have to mention that for me the power management of Fusion has been just great! This makes accessing the environment a breeze).
Putting it all Together
So after assembled my study material and creating my lab, the last step before starting was to go ahead and book the exam, thereby creating myself a deadline of about 6 weeks and making this a priority in my busy life (it’s the only way to tackle this kind of challenge, If I didn’t do this I would probably still be studying now).
Over the next 6 weeks I went through the material and plotted my progress. I really spent the last week working through the scenarios in the official study guide along with the scenario provided as part of the awesome Tech Track (thanks again Joshua!).
I’ve read a lot of advice for time management on the exam, I knew this was going to be my biggest challenge so I kind of made the following Rules: –
- Read the Question, if you know it and think you can do it get it done and move on (don’t second guess, complete what you think needs to be done and move on),
- If you come across a question you’re not sure about, asses if you can stumble through it or if you don’t have a clue then mark it down in that order on the whiteboard/paper provided with a brief description of what it is,
- Once you get to the last question, if you have time left go through your ‘not sure’ list,
- Once you’ve done those to the best of your knowledge, visit the haven’t a clue list and try to complete them…
While there was some latency on the connection it wasn’t a big problem, if a task took longer I’d just jump to another Question or review the Requirement of the current question. I felt the lag gave me room to breath a bit and take stock of the question I was working on.
After about 2.5 hours I kind of lost focus and made some simple mistakes, then before I realised it I only had about 20 minutes left so I focused on a Question that I didn’t know much about and tried to complete as many of the tasks as I could before I ran out of time (remember that even if you’re unable to complete all the tasks in a question, you are scored on meeting each requirement, so have a go even if you’re not sure!).
Overall I came away from the exam feeling that I’d done my best, I felt quietly confident I’d answered enough questions to gain more than the 300 mark required to pass the exam.
I tweeted about coming out of the DCA and waiting on the result, my honest expectation was that it would be up to 15 business days, when there was some discussion about if I had clicked ‘Finished’ on the exam…
What happened next really surprised me…
I wanted to finish this post with the following mention, being provided this kind of support to complete what is a difficult exam just made the whole experience for me, I’ve proudly recommended Joshua as a vExpert 2015 for his help and assistance, if your VCAP experience has been enhanced by Joshua, please also make a recommendation here: http://blogs.vmware.com/vmtn/2014/11/vexpert-2015-applications-open.html