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VCAP5-DCD In The Books – Exam Experience

June 18, 2012 2 comments

I took the VCAP5-DCD exam on Friday and wanted to write up a post on my experience and thoughts of the test. Hopefully this helps if you are preparing for the exam with a few takeaways and tips that I came out with.

We’ll start this post with a story about a unique experience I had while taking this test. I normally go to a New Horizons testing center which is much closer to my house, but this exam was only being offered in Boston so I didn’t have a choice on location. I noticed a lot of people in the streets around the testing center when I went in, but didn’t think much of it. Well, about an hour into the test it was clear that a protest was going on outside. This was accompanied by megaphones, an angry yelling crowd, and lots of police sirens. Needless to say, it was extremely distracting while trying to take the test. They gave us ear plugs when we went in (before the protest started) and I thought it was a little unnecessary. Guess the joke was on me when everyone put them in during the yelling!

Back to the actual exam though, I thought it was one of the more challenging, but well put together tests I’ve taken recently. I know my thoughts echo those that others have posted, but time is definitely one of the biggest challenges for this exam. I finished the exam with 3 seconds left on the clock, although that includes about 20 minutes of time I lost due to the computer which I’ll explain later. Definitely budget your time though! Have a plan going in on how much time you’ll spend on each question and stick to it!

I planned to spend about 20 minutes on each of the diagramming questions and tried to stick to that. I actually did them as they came up and didn’t leave them for later as others had suggested. Looking back, I think I would flag them and leave them for the end. It’s easier when you can get into a rhythm with the other questions and you know at that point how much time you have left to complete all the diagrams.

A short note about the actual visio-like tool. I watched the UI demo beforehand so I knew what to expect when they came up (definitely do this!). What I didn’t account for was the machine I was on seemed to be running slow. The more elements I added to the design, it seemed to bog the system down a bit. I was on my second or third diagramming question and about 20 minutes into it, I had to add one more element and the entire machine locked up. It actually went as far as to bring it back to the login screen where the proctor has to come over. At this point I wasn’t sure if all of my previous work (2 hours worth) had been lost so I was freaking out a little bit inside. After the proctor logged me back in, my previous answers had been saved, but the diagram was empty so I had to start over. I lost about 20 minutes on that, so it made the whole experience a little bit more stressful Smile I’m not sure if this was due to a network issue or what, but it teaches you to always be ready for the unexpected! In general I think the UI worked well for the questions and I really liked this kind of format.

A tip about the exam environment: screen real estate can be key! On some questions, there would be an information box that I could show/hide and move around while still reading my options. On others however, it took up the entire screen. Now hopefully you’ll get a bigger LCD than I did, but if not, be prepared to take some notes!

Another skill that is important is being able to take a bunch of information given to you and pulling out the essential pieces or being able to map them to requirements and the design framework. I’ve had experience with this just doing interviews with customers on projects or reading requirements docs, but a great way to practice these is by reading case studies or customer scenarios. These will usually be packed with information and its good practice pulling out the most essential pieces. Also make sure you are familiar with VMware’s terminology and can translate a document into those terms.

I can’t go into the actual questions on the exam, but definitely know all of the areas on the blueprint! The test will cover all aspects of those and VMware did a good job of outlining everything that was fair game. Also, I know this has been said before in other posts, but study the corner cases! I ran into this with a few of the blueprint items where I had less experience implementing the feature or product. Identify ahead of time the areas you have less experience that are on the blueprint and take some time to look them over. Set them up in your lab as well so you know them in and out. This will make it much easier if you have to include them in a design!

Overall, I really liked this exam and the types of questions and topics it focused on. I like that it had more than just the normal multiple choice (select one or select many), but also the matching questions and visio-like diagramming. This format can really give a good variety of questions and assess your skillset in different ways. Definitely spend some time in the lab on features you aren’t as familiar with, but experience designing VMware environments here is essential too. That’s one thing you can’t get from the study materials unfortunately, so it helps to have been through these before. If you aren’t doing this every day with customers, the VMware community is great for this! Bounce some design ideas off others or come up with a scenario and run through it with your peers. It really helps to talk through it and get feedback!

The 4 hours actually flew by for me on this exam! I clicked the end review button with 3 seconds to go and received the news that I had passed! Excited and relieved were two feelings that came to mind! Now onto VCAP5-DCA!

I’ve put together a list of some good resources that I used and would recommend in your studies:

  • VMware vSphere Design – This is a fantastic resource and really the only book out there right now that focuses on vSphere design.
  • VMware vSphere 5 Clustering Technical Deepdive – HA and clustering have been completely redesigned in vSphere 5 and this is the most in-depth source out there. Read this one!
  • VCAP5-DCD Blueprint
  • VMware vSphere: Design Workshop [V5.x] – I did not actually take this course and it’s not required, but if you are looking for some classroom based learning, this course maps well to some of the exam objectives and I’ve heard good things about the v4 version of it.
  • DRBC Design – Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Fundamentals – This is now a free course offered on MyLearn that goes into detail about using VMware solutions for BC/DR. It’s about 4 hours and worth your time if you aren’t as familiar with these concepts or to introduce you to the language/terms that VMware uses when talking about these subjects.
  • ProfessionalVMware vBrownBags – As always, the vBrownBags are a great resource here and the team has put together a podcast per VCAP objective. Check them out!
  • Exam UI Demo – Watch this one and make sure you are familiar with it! This is a video from VMware that demonstrates how the diagramming interface works so you are comfortable with it ahead of time. This can save you some precious minutes so you aren’t trying to figure out a new interface for the first time during the exam!

Also some blog posts that were helpful:

Hope this helps anyone out there who’s preparing for the exam and if you have any questions, feel free to post a comment or reach out on Twitter!

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