My Thoughts on the VCAP-DCA Exam

After about 2 months of studying for the VMware VCAP-DCA, I finally had the opportunity to sit the exam on March 17th. This is the first live lab exam I have had the opportunity to sit, and I wanted to put down some of my thoughts. Most everything is covered under the VMware exam NDA, so I’m mainly just going to review generalities and the experience as a whole. I won’t know if I passed until late March or early April, at which point I’ll update this post again with the results.

Update: I passed!

Live Lab Environment

Being in a live lab environment means that your actions have consequences. VMware does a great job at making sure you know what is “off limits” through various methods, so you are not walking through a minefield without a metal detector, but the possibility that you will blow up the lab and fail is in the back of your mind. I would have liked to leisurely and carefully examined the lab environment and soaked in all of the components, but the little countdown clock slowly draining itself towards zero encourages you to hit the ground running. I tried to multitask as much as possible, as some things in an any VMware environment just take a while to finish. I completed the exam with roughly 3 minutes remaining (207 minutes used). I encourage short stretch breaks when possible; the time went by so fast that I rarely noticed anything other than the tasks.

Testing Facility

I did not have any issues with a slow connection or bad testing equipment. The Pearson VUE test center in Schaumburg, Illinois was very clean, modern, and had responsive equipment. The monitors were around 17″ LCDs on computers that were badged for Windows Vista. VMware also did a great job at making sure that all of the information I needed for the lab environment was readily available so I did not have to write much down other than notes to myself on tasks I wanted to review later.

The security around the exam was nearly identical to the VCP4 (Two forms of ID, not allowed to bring anything in, and had my picture taken). The only difference I could spot was they told me I was going to be recorded by a video camera throughout the exam. I thought that was a little weird but it didn’t really concern me. Ear plugs and a note sheet was provided. I was not patted down like David Davis – perhaps they just wanted to touch a celebrity? :)

Update: To schedule the exam make sure to first visit the VMware website, log into the educational section, and complete a VCAP4-DCA Registration Request. It will show up under the “tasks” section of your VMware myEducation account. Until this is complete, you will not be able to schedule the exam on the Pearson VUE website. Once approved, make sure to choose “VMware Advanced” as the certification authority on the Pearson VUE website; the exam will not be under the normal VMware test area. I ended up doing my by phone to ensure it was done properly; the Pearson VUE personnel were very helpful.

The Tasks

Going to be very careful what I say here. The tasks were well written and straight forward. They did not try to trick me with the question or play any mind games.

Update: It is important that you are comfortable with every section and objective on the blueprint. It’s all fair game, both with the GUI and CLI. There are some documentation materials available during the test, just like they are on the web (topics like ESX, ESXi, vMA, etc.), which I referred to sparingly. However, the documentation is very slow to load and difficult to read on the resolution presented (1024 x 768). I would advise ignoring the fact that documentation will be available and try to focus on getting all of the commands into muscle memory by practicing them in your lab.

Business Value

The VCAP-DCA provides a very high value to the business community in the sense that someone branded with this certification has gone through a rigorous process of learning, practicing, and proving they know the technology. For me personally, the blueprint and the exam really stretched me out of my comfort zone and forced me to learn and practice everything I did not know much about or do not have in my production environment. I said it before the exam and it remains true: even if I do not pass the VCAP-DCA exam this time around, I have gotten a lot of value out of the process of studying and sitting the exam.


Update: Thoughts

I feel fortunate that I received my results so quickly (12 days) – it is very difficult to wait for the results. Each day I would think of a possible mistake made on the exam. Reaching out to the community was a big bonus (thanks for all of the sanity checks from both @esloof and @mattliebowitz).

If you are thinking of reaching for this certification, I say go for it! Here are two pieces of advice that I used to help prepare:

Learning & Lab: I used a pair of virtual ESX servers, a virtual UBER VSA for shared storage, and VMware Workstation … there’s nothing that says you have to have a multi-thousand dollar setup and a switched fiber environment (although I would love to have one!). Build yourself a lab environment and start playing with it with regards to the blueprint, research anything you haven’t used before or aren’t that familiar with. Don’t take any skill set for granted – if it’s on the blueprint, figure it will be on the test and prepare accordingly.

Study Time: Talk to your family and friends to let them know you are dedicated to learning what is required for this test. Preparing for this test takes time and dedication. I squared off a specific block of time each evening and during weekends and tried to keep myself from distractions – twitter mostly. :)

It may also help to set a goal test day and book it a month in advance. For me, this raises the pressure to learn as there is a hard date coming at me. If something unexpected happens, you can always move the test date to another day.

Best of luck to my VMware colleagues and friends.