I took the VCAP5-DCA this morning, and let me start off with one thing that is key to this exam: time management!
On July 19th, VMware released the VCAP5-DCA exam. Unlike the VCAP5-DCD, this is an exam that focuses on hands-on, solving configuration problems and setting up new configurations. You do this on actual live systems, and you have the normal vCenter help available as well as PDF versions of the help files.
What does the exam environment look like?
Basically, you open up an RDP session on a 1280 x 1024 screen. Inside of this screen, you will find a small bar with shortcuts to the items you need (think RDP, vCenter Client). Easy enough to get started with, but since you don’t have a window manager that allows you to switch between programs, it can be hard to keep track of what window you are in. Also, when switching between windows, your window focus is usually off, so when you start typing nothing is showing up. You always have the option to check what the usernames and passwords are, although the password is the same for all accounts. Save some time by not maximising the windows, but create a custom size. That way you can keep track of open windows.
Is it a good exam?
Ehm… Yes, it is… Most of the time. I had one glitch during my exam where a required preconfigured item would not work. The tasks in the exam actually tell you that you need to have certain things configured because further parts of the exam will build up on these things. For me, one of those preconfigured items didn’t work, and there isn’t really a way to have this fixed during the exam. That can be quite frustrating, plus it takes up valuable time to actually troubleshoot.
Which brings me to my next point. I mentioned it before, but time management is key. You’ll be in the exam room for 4 hours for non-native English speakers and 3.5 for native English speakers, and that is a lot of time, but with 26 tasks, that means roughly 8 to 9 minutes per task. One thing that might help you, is to use the notepad that you get when you go in to the room. Note down the numbers 1 through 26, and create a note when you finish a task or if something is still open. Don’t wait for a task to finish, but move on to the next. Unfortunately, you can’t mark the question to review at the end, so having a note which questions you need to re-visit is quite helpful.
In my case? I actually did run out of time. I wasn’t able to complete 3 tasks. I was fairly confident going in to the exam, and I came out feeling pretty drained. It’s a good exam in the sense that it covers things that any advanced admin can run in to, and some that an admin will run in to. Common things like the stopping and starting of services, or administration of your storage devices might be an every day task, PowerCLI might be less common. Some folks will use Auto Deploy, and some might have other infrastructures in place to accommodate things like installations.
So what do I study?
Brush up on what you don’t know that well. The exam isn’t unbeatable, but it will give you a run for your money. Try to focus on scenarios that make sense to you, and that you would expect as an advanced admin. Brush up on a bit of PowerCLI if you haven’t before. Work with storage if you can (download one of the many virtual storage appliances out there and toy with it), and brush up on your troubleshooting skills. If you have a co-worker, have him mix up some settings in a lab/test environment and try to resolve the issues.
Also, get hands-on time! Even if someone were to give you a list of all the required tasks, you will need to know your way around. There is only one advantage here, and that is getting your hands dirty. In my case, the exam environment was pretty snappy, but anything that involved scrolling was just horribly slow. Be prepared to work in an environment that you don’t know that well. And one more tip for the people working with a non-US keyboard: Learn to use a US keyboard layout. In my case, normally you would expect a German layout on the keyboard. Well, the actual physical keyboard was a UK layout, and the keyboard in my RDP session was a US version. I can touch-type on a US keyboard, which helped, but not everyone will be so lucky.
Any other tips?
Yep, also check out some of the other online resources and experiences, for example this post by Ed Grigson, or this post by Patrick Kramer. Also, check out this study guide on VirtualLanger.com, or these study resources from TheSaffaGeek.
And did you pass?
I don’t know yet. I will get my results “in approximately 15 business days”, so until that time I’ll just have to wait it out. But, pass or fail, I learned a couple of my weak spots (which I thought weren’t that weak when I started the test), and even if I should have failed, I learned additional things by studying, so the time wasn’t wasted. Either way, I’ll update this post once the result comes in.
Update – September 28th:
Got a mail during the night confirming I passed.