Sunday, November 30, 2014

VCAP-DCA 550 passed

So I took the VCAP-DCA550 exam the other day, and passed (just, but a pass is a pass). Awaiting the details to be updated to my Transcript, so kind of feel it’s always a little premature until this is complete, but in time honoured fashion, here’s the obligatory “What I did, and what I used” post.

Thoughts on the exam :
Fair - it’s actually not that difficult a set of questions, but as almost everyone else has said, time is your challenge. The setup I had to use was a 20” (I think) monitor. The actual booth I was in didn’t really have elbow space, so I had to put the marker boards you are given in front of the keyboard, not to the side. So it was cramped in that sense, and the use of a single monitor for flicking between question and RDP session is ok, but not ideal.

This actually impacts on the time factor (coupled with if you need to look something up in the documentation, this is where the latency hits home a bit). I’m of the view that if you had say a dual monitor setup with elbow space, so you could see the questions/documentation on one monitor, and RDP on another, then it would actually save you say 5-10 minutes of flicking back and forth. I ended the exam with 35 seconds left, so that 5/10 minutes actually would make a reasonable difference.

So as I mentioned, I think the exam is fair. The questions aren’t that difficult, but you need to get on and do them, not think too much about them. If you’ve got a few that you think you can get done quickly, then do it, as clearing those out of the way will give you a bit of thinking time on the questions you are a bit wary of. Don’t focus on what you can’t do, focus on what you CAN.

I started a marking scheme on my marker board which indicated confidence level in the question :-
C1 - confident,
C2 - yeah, think this will be ok,
C3 - ah, bugger, I knew I should have looked more at that :-)

This worked to an extent. There were some questions that initially fell into the C3 category, but when I re-read them, they weren’t that bad - a combination of them probably actually got me over the line in the overall score.

So don’t let yourself get downhearted if you see something you think you can’t do or are not confident on. Deep breath, relax and think logically - chances are you can figure it out, and it may make the difference between passing and failing. If you’ve reached the point where you felt you wanted and were ready to take this exam, you probably can do it - you just need to be relaxed and confident enough in yourself.

Work through the questions as you need to, it’s not necessarily a sequential exam. If you can do some later question before an earlier one, or while waiting on a task from another question, then do that. Be aware of what’s being asked - a question may require you to do something without explicitly stating it - no trickery involved, just read and think logically.

Try and pick up the points where you’re confident and come back to the others. I left one question completely (which really annoyed me as it was some area I’d been specifically practicing, but it was subtly different to what I’d practiced). I reckoned I knew it - I marked it as a C2, and would come back to it. I came back to it, and my mind was a total blank. I’m still as annoyed with myself for that one, (and one other question that was easy and I know I messed up), as I am pleased with passing.

One other looking back for me, is planning on when you’re going to do the exam - day and time. I booked the exam for early(ish) morning. In order to get a slot around the date I wanted, I had to go “out of town”, which meant a 90 minute drive, so I booked a hotel for the evening before to avoid the drive to the testing center on the day of the exam. I also knew that for me, it would have to be an early time - I prefer to get going early in the day, and I also knew if I waited towards the end of the day, I’d kind of be fretting all day, so better to get on and get it done, than hang around and letting the mind play tricks. But one thing I probably overlooked, is that I booked the exam for a Friday. This may have been a mistake, as it meant I spent the final week during work thinking/fretting about it, and as I’m in work, I can’t really do anything about this like practicing etc. So for me personally, I think booking for first thing on a Monday may have been a better plan - I would still have being thinking about things on the weekend prior to it, but I could’ve spent the time working on it and trying to practice. But that’s just me. The main thing is to know yourself - know how you work, how you react, how you prepare. And so then arrange things in a way that works for you.

Material used and preparation
VMware vSphere 5.5
Yeah, I know it’s obvious. Nothing here that everyone else hasn’t said, you need to be hands on in your practice. I work with VMware everyday - it’s my job, so I use it every day. However, we don’t use every feature. We have ways to do some things, I’ve written scripts to do some stuff, so my practice had to focus more on the things I don’t do/know well, and the alternative ways to do things.

I set up a nested environment at home and tried to practice scenarios and configurations - the official study guide (details below) helped here, in that it had some suggestions and “example scenarios”. Trying these and variations on the theme helped me. I also wrote a “task sheet” document - 1 task per page, just how to do some things in a manner that made sense to me. I did this partly as I often find writing stuff down helps me in learning/remembering, and partly so that I would then use those sheets as part of my practice.

Ultimately, I booked the exam 6 weeks before taking it - full of good intentions for my preparations (and because I read that there was a 20% off discount announced at VMworld Europe - hey, don’t judge me!). Unfortunately work got busier and more stressful, and firing up the lab each evening became harder to do, so that most of of the preparation work took place on the weekends instead. The final week before the exam, I did feel like cancelling, and my preparation wasn’t as good as it should be. But that’s entirely my fault - plus I’ve always hated and always will hate exams, so this was a bit par for the course :-)

Oh, and although the sheet tells you that it may take 15 days to receive your result, I had mine when I checked e-mail 2 hours later after driving home. Actually the e-mail itself arrived about 15 minutes after leaving the exam center, so the wait may not be as stressful as you think.

In supporting the practice, I used the following :

Documentation - All documentation on my iPad and Kindle - would read some on the train on the way home every day.

VCAP-DCA Official guide by Steve Baca and John A Davies, which I have as part of my Safari subscription. Again, I had a copy of this on the kindle and would read a bit every day on the way home from work.

Unofficial guide by Jason Langer and Josh Coen

CLI guide

Chris Wahl’s study sheet (5.5 edition) - although I didn’t fill this in, this is especially useful for checking/forcing yourself to do things in different ways to what you perhaps do every day. This sheet helped focus that I may need to confirm that I could complete tasks in multiple ways as opposed to just “yeah, I can do that”.

I also used resources from the VCP exam - the Safari library has pretty much all the VMware Press books available, along with other publishers, meaning there was a good selection available for checking different bits, and coming up with ideas on what to practice. But the resources listed above were the main basis, and just practice, practice and worry.

Ultimately, if you feel this is the exam for you, go for it. Sure, my passing score wasn’t great, but I do think that if you prepare well and show the exam the respect it deserves, then there’s a good chance you’ll be successful.

Then you continue learning …