Monday, January 20, 2014

VCAP-CID and VCAP-DCD exam experiences

I recently studied and passed the VMware Advanced Certified Professional (VCAP) level exams for both Cloud Infrastructure Design (VCAP-CID) and Data Center Design (VCAP-DCD).  It was an interesting experience, and well worth the process for any considering them.

I was part of a study group with @GrantOrchard and @Josh_Odgers, and those guys really helped me focus on a study structure.  In both exams, our general approach was to work through the Exam Blueprint, which has been the strong recommendation by VMware Education and pretty much everyone else who cares to comment!  I can validate that approach.  Using the Blueprint, you know exactly what you're going to be examined on, and it will draw your attention to your weaker areas.

My natural behaviour was to skim through the blueprint and ummm and ahhh at each section, thinking about what it meant.  In my more productive moments, I would feel a little nervous and be prompted into a sideline of reading the Best Practice papers for the area.  When getting into the group, however, this casual attitude was firmed up into some very useful whiteboarding exercises.  Some of the exercises were drawing up a table - like a permission or role matrix.  This was the content which I just had to memorise, as the "logic" you might use in your own workplace could be irrelevant for the exam.  The exam is looking for certain organisational roles, and choices of permission management, which may have no bearing on how YOU would do it in real life.

For the VCAP-CID, almost everything you need to know is in the vCAT (plus a little bit of Chargeback docs).

The absolute BEST exercises were modelling the design scenarios, of which there are a few in each exam.  These take some time to answer, and are not always easy to draw in the exam, so having them clear in your mind is a great start.  For each of the study areas, we would try to imagine "What would be a design exercise for this?" - and then try to draw out a scenario.  This was awesome in a group, because inevitably it would start a discussion or argument about exactly what might be asked, and exactly what a "good answer" might contain.  For me, this is where the rubber hit the road.  Once we had a good set of scenarios we had worked through, we would then be in a good position to wonder how it might expand/change, or if we were missing a scenario so far.

My VCAP Design study tips

  • Find some colleagues, and study in a group.  If you're semi-confident, then a minimum of 5-6 sessions would be a good idea.  
  • Follow the Exam Blueprint as your study blueprint.  It tells you what you will be asked.  Pore over it and make sure you could answer questions about all the areas.
  • If you're feeling weak in areas, download the Best Practice whitepaper for the topic and make sure you understand the content, and why recommendations are given.  I found the below ones the most useful for me.
  • Get a whiteboard.  A big one!
  • For each study area, pick two design scenarios you think might come up and work through them in the group.  Nut it out, argue about it, ask what else they might want.  Don't forget you'll be starting from Business Requirements, so that has to be the start of the scenario!

Are you ready?

Well, that is something you will only know AFTER the exam!  However, my guidance on the exams is below.  Do take it with a grain of salt, as everyone will have a different experience.


In my opinion, this exam was quite good, and not particularly scary.  Trying to sit down and focus for 3.5 hours is the biggest problem for candidates.  I reckon I was mentally "done" by about 2 hours into it.  So a VERY good sleep the night before is recommended - don't sit up studying late the night before.  It will hurt you.

Anyone that has a VCP-DV has the vSphere technical knowledge, I think.  In addition to this, the rest of the knowledge comes from using that feature set with customers' real problems.  I would say that if you have been spending the last 2-3 years implementing vSphere or acting in a (modestly detailed) technical pre-sales capacity for vSphere solutions, then you should be right to go.

I have recommended that ALL my VMware SE colleagues just go for it.  Both @GrantOrchard and @DemitasseNZ recommended that I just book it without study.  While I did study beforehand, it probably didn't help much - they were right.


Now, this one is a different kettle of fish.  This exam was challenging on more ways than one.  I believe it is perhaps still a little new in the sense that the exam content is nowhere near as refined/evolved as the DCD exam.  I found quite a few of the questions were either (a) unanswerable because of vagueness or ambiguity, or (b) unanswerable because the answers presented all seemed wrong.  I am happy to trust that the exam could be 100% correct and I am a bit thick, but for some questions I was still unable to derive a correct answer even several days later, when thinking back on it.

The other challenge was that at least one of the design scenarios seemed to be broken. That is, I couldn't correctly connect up the elements, no matter what I tried.  Perhaps I was marked correctly anyway, but I doubt it - and the drawing tool just would not play ball.

I failed my first attempt at this one (VCAP-CID), and so I can verify that it was not a one-off problem.  I also noticed that the question pool must be quite small, so unfortunately my second sitting was probably a bit unfair as I found myself in front of a lot of familiar (and previously considered) questions.


My biggest factors in failing the VCAP-CID exam the first time around were two that are well known among all other candidates:

  • Lack of sleep the night before.  I had trouble sleeping due to an unrelated event, so while I got to bed early, I spent a lot of time listening to the night pass by!  This meant my brain was struggling to concentrate, and most questions took 2-3 reads before I understood what was needed.
  • Time management.  I ran out of time.  In fact, on a "pro-rata" basis, I got about the same score on both attempts, for the questions I got to.  The first time I got nearly three quarters through, and just failed by a few points.  The second attempt I finished quite early, and passed pretty well.  I thought I was managing OK the first time, but obviously my brain was operating at an entirely too slow rate!  (Due to the first factor above).


If you've been a "vSphere guy/gal" for a while, and kept your VCP status up to date, just do the VCAP-DCD.  It's a fine exam, and is a good test of what you're probably doing day to day anyway.

If you attempt the VCAP-CID, be prepared for a poorer quality exam, and a lower achievable score (I think).  And keep the vCAT close...

Good luck!

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