VCAP5-DCA (VDCA550) – Experience & Tips
Back at VMworld, I got talked into something that I’ll elaborate on later, but it required passing VCAP5-DCA in a hurry. You may be aware that this exam is available in two flavors, VDCA510 based on vSphere 5.0, and VDCA550 based on vSphere 5.5. A choice had to be made. I was ill-prepared for either, but after hearing some horror stories about disconnected labs on the older exam, and reviewing both blueprints, I decided VDCA550 was a safer choice. I’ve spent more time with 5.5 lately, and the less AutoDeploy and vMA, the better.
Successfully scheduling this test should earn you points. While there are allegedly three PearsonVue Triple-Diamond-Whatever testing centers within an hour’s drive from me, none of them would give me any available testing dates. I checked the site every few days for a couple weeks, and then finally, during a full moon, a single slot opened up—October 4, 8am. It was on.
Here’s how I prepared:
- Watched the crap out of Jason Nash’s vSphere Optimize and Scale course on PluralSight. Seriously, for the better part of a month, I was listening to to that content anytime I was in a car or on a plane. Probably made it through the whole series three times. Even had a dream I was on a road trip with Jason, and he would not shut up about esxcli.
- Purchased and read through most of the VCAP5-DCA Official Cert Guide
- Worked through all three of the sample exams on included with that book, probably four times each.
- Spent a bunch of time working through VMware Hands on Labs. “HOL-SDC-1402 – vSphere Distributed Switch from A to Z” and “HOL-SDC-1404 – vSphere Performance Optimization” were the two I spent the most time on. Checking my HOL transcript, it seems I fired up the latter seven times, often veering far outside the lab manual.
- Josh Andrews’s VCAP Test Track. Josh maintains a live lab containing a bunch of different vSphere 5.0 scenarios and makes it available freely to anyone that asks. Profoundly helpful.
Saturday at 7:30am, with Monster and coffee on my breath, I walked into the test center to try my luck. So, the exam is 23 scenarios, conducted in a live lab setting, with a three hour time limit. Time, as everyone else that has ever taken this test will tell you, is not your friend here. Before the official exam starts, you’ll have ten minutes to fill out a survey. I suggest you use this time to collect your thoughts, make a few notes about whatever you were cramming on before entering the test site, whatever. I’d also suggest you write the numbers 1 – 23 down the left side of your scratch paper.
As soon as the test starts, click over to your jump box and launch the thick client and the web client. Log in. That’ll take a couple minutes to process—don’t wait. Click back to the question area. Quickly run through the test questions, and write a note or two about each scenario on your scratch paper. This’ll give you a sense of what’s ahead, and what tasks you might be able to work on concurrently or jump between.
After you’ve made your first pass, start wherever you feel most comfortable. I went right back to number one, and plugged away at the first fifteen or so in order. I then checked the time and realized I was not going to finish at that pace, so I started jumping around from there. I finished my first pass of the exam with about half an hour to spare, leaving one item completely untouched (as I had never seen the thing being tested) and three abandoned some portion of the way through. I was pretty well exhausted by that point and really tempted to just hit Finish and see where things landed. But, I decided to give the blank one the old college try, and see if I could figure it out by meandering through the UI. In what I feel is the Web Client’s best rebuttal against years of abuse, it turned out I could stumble my way through it without needing to know much of anything about the feature being tested. I then tried to salvage the other three, and I think I figured out two of them. The third, I did something that may have been what they were asking for—by that point I was done. I hit Finish with about five minutes left on the counter.
I got the “Expect results within 15 days” message, and I left feeling pretty good. I was not as prepared as I thought I was—more on that in a second—but I still felt I pretty much rocked that thing. As I got into my car, 20 minutes after hitting Finish, my pocket vibrated. Results were in. Passing Score: 300. Your Score: 300. Gulp. An ugly pass is still a pass, but that was cutting it a bit closer than I would have liked. Either the script that does the grading just stops and fires off an e-mail when it hits a certain threshold, or I made it by the skin of my teeth. I’m damned glad I didn’t hit Finish early.
Let’s assume that I presented as what they call the minimally qualified candidate. What could I have done better? Well, if you look at how I prepped, most of the resources I used were tailored to the 5.0 exam. I didn’t spend nearly enough time on 5.5-specific stuff. Also, without getting into NDA territory, there are things on the blueprint that can only be done in the Web Client, and I pretty much had to learn those things on the fly. The documentation was a huge help for that during the exam, but navigating it chewed up a lot of time.
Overall, it was not a particularly unpleasant exam. DCD was much more painful. With one exception, all of the questions were clearly written, and fair. Some of them covered things I wasn’t strong in, but they were direct enough that I knew right were to go for help. Some were a bit evil—giving you a few extra hoops to jump through on the way to an otherwise simple configuration bit—but most were surprisingly straightforward. Or, maybe they weren’t, and that’s why I only barely skated by. Either way, it’s done, and I can go on to the next thing.