VMware VCAP4-DCA BETA Exam Experience

June 21st, 2010 by jason Leave a reply »

6-21-2010 7-09-54 PMThis morning, I sat the VMware VCAP4-DCA BETA exam at a VUE testing facility in Eau Claire, WI – a 110 mile drive from my normal area.  Today was the last day to take the exam and the Wisconsin location was the only available facility as of last week when I scheduled the exam.  This is the first time I had traveled extensively to take an exam.  Although it was not my first preference, I did so for the following reasons:

  1. The exam price was discounted $300 off since it was beta.  For this price it was worth a shot to pass.
  2. Declining the location would have meant declining the exam since today was the deadline; hence I’d have to wait a few months when the exam went live.
  3. I wanted to get the exam out of the way (hopefully) and help others prep once I had the experience.
  4. I’d never written a beta exam before.
  5. This was my 1st beta invitation from VMware.  I probably wouldn’t receive a 2nd if I had refused the 1st.  <– Godfather reference

I used the exam blueprint as a guide for what to study.  I was a bothered by a few of the technologies on the exam blueprint which I didn’t have much experience with:  vShield Zones, Orchestrator, and vCenter Heartbeat.  Might as well add PVLANs to the list too.  I was also a bit bothered by lack of study time.  VMware had just scheduled this exam for me late last week.  Thursday or Friday.

The VCAP is an Advanced Professional certification.  As such, I came into the exam expecting it to be similar to the VI3 Enterprise Administration exam and tougher than the VCP exam.  From a challenge aspect, the VCAP-DCA exam did not disappoint.  It covered several features which were new to vSphere leaving little room for overlap from previous exams.  Obviously, I cannot go into details on specific questions due to the standard NDA policy around certification exams.  Suffice to say, the exam blueprint mentioned earlier is a good resource.  The blueprint covers broad objectives.  Expect to dig deeper for each objective listed.  Those who complain about the VCP exam being “too easy” should enjoy the VCAP series of exams if the beta exam is a relevant indicator.

Like the Enterprise Administration exam, the VCAP4-DCA exam has a live lab environment which is used to accumulate points for questions asked.  Unlike the EA exam which had 11 lab questions and the remainder written/multiple choice, the DCA exam is 100% lab and no multiple choice.  The exam tests working knowledge of the products and not as much memorization.  The beta exam was 41 questions in length with an alotted time of 4 1/2 hours.  I liked the EA exam from the perspective that the lab questions quickly made sense to me and I think I scored a lot of points in the lab.  For this reason, I felt the DCA exam would be right up my alley, being 100% lab.  I was half right.  The DCA exam is very challenging.  If there is something in the lab you don’t understand or did not study for, there’s no multiple choice correct answer staring you in the face so you at least have a statistical chance of getting the answer correct.  To use a made up example, you either know how to enable root SSH access on a Service Console, or you don’t.  If you had to guess, you’d never get it right, thus you lose points on the question.  Working in the lab was a fun approach, but the flip side is not knowing enough of the content will kill you for lack of multiple choice guess.  Some of the community laughed at the VCP exam.  VMware has answered with the VCAP.

Now for the bad news.  The lab testing environment, in my experience, was riddled with issues.  Most notably, “glyphs” painted randomly about the screen due to screen refresh/repaint issues.  They are an incredible distraction and in many cases, they covered up buttons and hyperlinks in the vSphere client such that if you didn’t know the buttons were supposed to be there, you’d never find them to complete your task.  Since I know the vSphere Client fairly well, I knew where to blindly click in an area to force a repaint of the screen.  I had other issues as well which prohibited me from answering questions.  I notified the proctor who called support while I continued with the exam.  About 30 minutes later, someone rudely took remote control over my screen and logged me out while I was in the middle of a lab.  I was then logged back in and told to continue, problem solved.  Problem was not solved as it had nothing to do with the VUE equipment, rather it was internal to the remote lab.  I had the proctors open an incident case with VMware.  At one point later I was pulled out of the testing room and put on the phone with VMware support.  Suffice to say, the problem didn’t get resolved and several questions will have been impacted.  In addition, for the time spent troubleshooting the lab, the clock was ticking.  I’m not sure if I was losing time while on the phone with VMware.

The combination of struggling with the previously mentioned issues, coupled with poor time management on some other questions, resulted in me running out of exam time before completing the last question. I wasn’t even close to finishing.  I needed about another hour.  Part of the key to this exam, other than obviously knowing the content, is to be able to digest the information in the questions quickly and accurately.  This is good because it’s a fundamental core competency in the VCDX process as well as in the life of an Architect.  The anal person that I am, I found myself going back and forth between test question and lab to be sure I was doing everything PERFECTLY.  In the long run, I think it cost me.  I noted in a few of my previous exam blog posts that I found myself struggling with time issues on certification exams lately.  This was no exception.  I need to move faster, but not at the expense of accuracy.

I left the exam facility in a stunned zombie state.  I wasn’t pissed.  I was disappointed in my own self on several questions – like any exam, it revealed my weaknesses.  The exam was a lot more challenging than I expected.  Lab issues aside, I think VMware did a good job with the difficulty of the questions.  Now I just need to wait a few weeks for the results.  Nothing I’ve experienced compares to the drama and anxiety created by the VCDX defense process and grading period.  If by chance I do not pass the DCA exam, it will be an ego crush but I will survive, retake, and the result will be a sharper skillset – which is my primary reason for certification in the first place.  Retaking an electronic exam after a 10 day wait is not a big deal compared to the consequence, wait, and expense of not passing the VCDX defense process.  Knowing this consoles me.  Now that the beta period is over for the DCA exam, others will get their chance at this exam hopefully in a month or two, and perhaps I will  again as well.  I haven’t felt positive about my last few exams and I passed.  We’ll see about this one.

Update 6/22/10:  I failed to mention William Lam and Chris Dearden also have great summaries of their VCAP4-DCA BETA exam experiences.  Be sure to check them out.

Update 10/14/10:  I passed.

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14 comments

  1. Russell says:

    I was invited to sit the beta DCA exam too but unfortunately I’m in Arizona on engagement and they couldn’t accommodate my schedule. I suspected a similar experience to the release candidate Enterprise Admin exam I sat in on back when the VCDX was announced.

    I’m frankly a little surprised they haven’t sorted out the lab issues. My exam experience for the EA exam was riddled with labs that were either partially completed (in many cases with the absolute wrong solution) or in some cases literally had the same solution.

    That said, the worst exam beta I ever took was the design exam. 4 and a half hours and some 300+ questions some with incorrect or missing answers and some just eating the solution.

    I think our time as an architect takes us a little far away from the weeds of the technology and that’s what is impacting your accuracy. Spend some time in the trenches with a customer or give yourself some pet projects and force yourself to implement them via VMA/PowerCLI for example.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Simon Long says:

    Thanks for the write up Jason, I hope to be taking this exam shortly, so reading your experiences gives me a good insight on what to expect.

    Simon

  3. Dustin Pike says:

    I was glad to see VMware announce the VCAP program as a mid tier to the VCDX. As a VCDX, do you think this exam help prepare you for the design and defense portion required for the VCDX?

  4. jason says:

    @Dustin Pike
    Yes absolutely. That was the reason for the Enterprise Admin exam and the Design exam for VCDX on VI3. The DCA and DCD exams are essentially the same but for the VCDX on vSphere track. Although the two new exams represent the two older exams respectively, expect some changes in the new versions. For instance, a change which is already evident on the DCA exam is that it is 100% lab whereas only a smaller portion of the EA exam was lab. The EA exam felt very Red Hat centric (plenty of Service Console in the enterprise items). Some of that was still apparent in the DCA exam, but a much smaller portion. Speaking of Red Hat or lack thereof, another change is that the DCA exam encompasses ESXi by virtue of its coverage of the vMA appliance.

  5. Dustin Pike says:

    @Jason
    Looks like VMware is really pushing that ESXi stuff. I’ve never had the pleasure (or pain) of sitting a full lab exam, so that part has me, and Im sure plenty of other folks very nervous. Glad to see you and the other folks who posted about their beta experience did mention that they felt it was a great representation of skills on the topic of Datacenter Administration. Thanks for putting up the info.

  6. Raj says:

    Any idea which book would be beneficial to help in VCPA4 – DCA Exam

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