VMware VCAP5-DCA Exam Experience

vmware certified advanced professional data center administratorI’ve read a lot of blog posts from others sharing their experience taking the VCAP5-DCA exams and I thought I’d join in on the fun and give back my advice to someone who may also be preparing to take the exam. I sat for exam VDCA550 which is the newer exam focused on the vSphere 5.5-based objectives. This exam is tough. Probably the most rigorous cert exam I’ve sat so far. Here are my thoughts about the exam.

The time limit that is placed on you during the exam was an enormous source of pressure for me and honestly it’s the biggest stumbling block for most from what I hear. This exam will not only test your pure knowledge of the VMware solutions involved but foremost your ability to have the procedures to configure them correctly , quickly, and efficiently down absolutely pat.

The documentation is there if there’s a command or option you’re not 100% sure about, and I encourage you to be familiar with the documentation, how it’s laid out, and how to search through the folder of PDFs quickly using an advanced find feature of a PDF reader. The list of documents available is in the exam blueprint. However, that being said, your time spent looking up information is actually extremely wasteful in terms of exam time so don’t just assume you can look something up; you should make it a goal to know what the commands and options are for almost any exam objective
without needing to look something up.

Time management above all is key. Unless you’re in some kind of consulting role at work you where you spend all day every day setting up all the different technologies covered in the exam objectives for different clients, you probably won’t be fast enough to complete every single task on the exam (Even then unless you’re some kind of time wizard I have my doubts; there’s a lot of things to get done correctly in 3 hours’ time for anyone.) Therefore you need to look at a task and gauge how long it’s going to take. If you don’t feel your knowledge on a task is up to par, you might consider skipping it and coming back later if you can. There were also some tasks I knew would take a bit longer to complete, so I skipped them to come back to if I had time. I think I did a pretty good job at this.

If you’re working through a task and finding yourself spending a lot of time completing it, you also need to reevaluate. If you’re sinking too much time into any single task, you should stop and think if it can be done differently or if it’s time to cut your losses and move onto another task. There were a couple tasks on my exam that in retrospect were big time sinks for me, and I wish I would not have spent so much time on them so that I could have focused elsewhere.

That being said, I wouldn’t describe the overwhelming majority of tasks as difficult per se. If your level of knowledge is where it should be, you should be familiar with each technology and configuration to the point that none of the questions will really be surprises to you. Especially if you take the time set up a lab environment similar to the one described in the exam blueprint and time yourself as you work through configuring all the different technologies. Pay attention to your study materials and compare them to the blueprint for the exam you are taking. For the VDCA550 in particular, lots of exam prep material may not focus on the objectives found in the new exam, so take heed of this and supplement your knowledge as necessary. I found the practice exams available from the premium edition of the official exam cert guide helpful for practicing my timing, but note that only one of them is focused on 5.5.

If you’re looking at a good way to quickly set up a lab environment, take a look at AutoLab. AutoLab is a set of preconfigured VMs and scripts that you can use to quickly set up an entire vSphere environment inside ESXi, Fusion, or Workstation including shared storage, a Windows domain, Windows based vCenter, hosts, etc. Using a laptop with 16GB of memory I was able to have an entire vSphere environment with me anywhere I went and tear it down and set it back up in about 4 hours of mostly hands off time. This was a huge time saver for me and I can’t thank Alastair Cooke, Nick Marshall, the AutoLab community enough for their contributions to this project.

All that said, I sat the exam in the morning and was shocked and very pleased to get my passing score report by the time I left the exam center and sat down for lunch 30 minutes later! Prepping for this exam and sitting it was not easy, but it was also a ton of fun and all the more gratifying to get that passing score. I can’t wait to see what VMware and the virtualization market has in store for us in the future, and I continue to keep the advantages and pitfalls of virtualization in mind for all my professional endeavors.