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Preparing for the VCAP5-DCA exam

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I started the TrainSignal VMware vSphere Optimize and Scale (VCAP5-DCA) Training course as part of my preparation for taking the exam which I took at the beginning of this week – I’m still waiting to hear the results. One thing I found when I started preparing is that there is an overwhelming volume of information – the Exam Blueprint is a great place to start as that lays out what will be tested. There are 9 sections and 27 objectives laid out, with knowledge, skills and abilities and tools required for each objective. The volume can be overwhelming, even if you already know most of it!

I found the VMware vSphere Optimize and Scale (VCAP5-DCA) course provided me with a framework on which to hang these topics – it covers pretty much every objective in the blueprint directly and allows you to get a picture of what you already know and are confident on and areas where you need to really focus on learning. Once I identified areas to study I used a number of really helpful resources as well as the VMware documentation to boost my knowledge on those topics. Quite often I re-watched the relevant topic in the TrainSignal course, but most important of all is getting into the lab.

The course is presented by Jason Nash (@TheJasonNash) who I found to be a good communicator and went through things at a good pace. One frustration I’ve had in the past is with presenters who go a bit too slowly on an advanced course – not so here. For professionals working full time and learning in their spare time I think the ability to cover a lesson in a 40 minute lunch break is awesome.

This cram-it-into-a-lunchtime is also the principle behing the vBrownBag talks which I also used – these are an awesome and completely free community resource. I can’t remember who said it but I saw a tweet along the lines of “if you take the VCAP-DCA and haven’t watched the vBrownBags then you deserve to fail”, and they’d be right.

There are are also several bloggers out there who have provided detailed breakdowns of the exam objectives, my advice would be to pick a couple of them and stick to them rather than trying to go through everyone’s guides. I found Gregg Robertson’s (@greggrobertson5) objectives and exam advice on thesaffageek.co.uk and “The Unofficial Official VCAP5 DCA Study Guide” from Jason Langer (@jaslanger) and Josh Coen (@joshcoen) to be two of the best, but there are loads to choose from. Gregg’s site has a particularly good list of resources which I won’t replicate here!

Two of the books I recommend on my Booklist page are definitely good prep too – Scott Lowe’s Mastering VMware vSphere 5 and Duncan Epping/Frank Denneman’s VMware vSphere 5.1 Clustering Deepdive.

Taking the exam

I seem to get the rough end of the stick when it comes to actually taking the VMware exams – my VCP exam was problematic and ended up with VMware allowing me a re-take; then this time I’d just finished the initial survey – heart thumping with nerves – when the exam crashed. The helpful team at Global Knowledge were really good at getting PearsonVue and VMware to sort it out – but I ended up waiting an hour to re-start the exam. That’s an extra hour stewing in my own nerves which isn’t great!

Most (if not all) people I spoke to about their VCAP experience said to me one thing – practice in the lab because time is tight. Jason Nash repeatedly advises getting used to doing all tasks as quickly as possible throughout the course. I have to join them and emphasize that time is of the essence – I have never felt 3 and a half hours pass so quickly! You have an average of 8 minutes per question which may sound like a lot, but it isn’t.

Bear in mind that you are connecting to remote equipment that will not always be as responsive as you’d like. I struggled with tasks that had me waiting for PowerCLI to complete or hosts to go into maintenance mode. I’d suggest trying to start the next question if you can, just remember to go back and complete the previous one!

During the exam you have access to the vSphere 5 documentation in the form of PDFs, but this is a dangerous time suck unless you know exactly where you are looking or have very specific search (e.g. I searched the Installing and Configuring PDF for a PowerCLI command I knew was in the section I wanted).

Overall I found the exam to be tough but fair – the time pressure was immense and I didn’t complete all of the questions – I was halfway through question 24 of 26 when my time ran out. Afterwards I felt like I’d gone 10 rounds with Mike Tyson! It’s very hard to judge if I’ve done well or not – I think I managed to answer all of the questions and there wasn’t anything I was unfamiliar with, but you have to work so quickly that I imagine mistakes might creep in very easily. I guess I’ll have to wait and see as the results will only come in approximately 15 working days. 4 days down, 11 to go!

Resource Links

Full disclosure – I recieve TrainSignal training for free as part of the vExpert program. I also partner with TrainSignal and am paid a referral fee if anyone uses the links on my site and signs up. That said, this is my honest appraisal of the course and my experience with TrainSignal.

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