My VCAP5-DCA Experience

For the TLDR crowd:

  • If you’re a real admin and love virtualization, take the test – you’ll have an insane amount of fun!
  • Is it a difficult test?  In the words of my friend Gopi, “It’s easy if you know everything.”  Couldn’t have said it better myself.
  • Accept the fact you’ll not have enough time to finish and embrace the work.
  • If you have a chance to use the VMware Test Track, DO IT!
  • Get that piece of paper!
  • Oh, and Joshua Andrews is really a nice guy.

Preface / the story to begin the journey

Cert Clipart

I love going to VMUGs – they’re a great way to hear some product developments, see some tech in the expo, and meet new people.  When my colleague Gopi and I went to the #IndyVMUG last year, we figured it would be much of the same… and we weren’t disappointed.  They threw one heck of a VMUG indeed – good food, awesome presenters, and a very professional atmosphere.  We moved from session to session and then I saw a sign in the hallway:  “Test Track.”

For as long as I’ve been working with VMware and reading the blogsphere – I have to admit that I hadn’t really noticed the Test Track before (I really wished I had).  Basically, you have a miniature lab environment set up which closely resembles the VCAP-DCA.  You’re presented with a question (out of 16 to select from) and given 10 minutes to complete it.  Ok, sounds like fun, we’ll give it a go!

Gopi and I get on our workstations, each with an independent instance of the lab and we get to work (in our case, racing each other with the same questions to see how we compare and who can finish with the fastest time).  I mean, after all, we are supposedly “seasoned VMware analysts for a Fortune 50 company,” so it’s really a simple race, not a challenge, right?  Well, that idea didn’t last long.

I won’t get into the details of the four questions we attempted that day – needless to say, neither of us did half a well as we imagined we should.  By the fourth question, I was a bit indignant about how arbitrary the questions seemed; how no one would use <insert technology or config here> in the real world.  The Test Track proctor, Joshua, kept getting larger and larger evil grins… perhaps actively growing a long mustache to twirl around his diabolical finger (at least that’s my warped perspective at the time – I’m sure he’s really a heck of a nice guy!).

So, with four questions down and none that I would consider passable, we finished up the VMUG sessions and began our nearly 4-hour drive back to Illinois.  Somehow the discussions kept coming back to that darned test, how much we didn’t get right, how ill-prepared we probably may be for the actual exam.  However, somehow the Test Track started a fire for the DCA… and by the end, I’ve never wanted any certification as much as that DCA!  The gauntlet was thrown down.

Study Mode

Goal: take and pass the VCAP5-DCA by the end of the year.

The goal is simple in statement – harder in completion.  I used my TrainSignal (now PluralSight) subscription to get started – Jason really has a lot of detail in those.  The biggest take-away was honestly: for anything you see in the exam blueprint, ask yourself, “How could they possibly ask me a question to test me on this?”  Get to love that way of thinking and you’ll be half way there.

Next I hit up all the vBrownbags I could on the DCA series.  Those guys do a remarkable job getting content to the masses.  Tune in and learn, guys and gals!

Finally and most importantly: get a lab built and use it.  At this stage I went through the blueprint and for each major topic I wrote my own versions of test questions.  Then I did them in the lab – over and over.  I used Chris Wahl’s PDF to keep track of my progress and hit on everything I realistically could in my little lab.

At this point, a few months into studying, I have to admit a learned a great deal on advanced configuration.  I realized that in my massive work environment, we script and write things for implementers to do, however, most of our stuff is standardized and fairly vanilla which doesn’t get you exposed to cool things like private VLANs, DirectPath I/O, advanced VDS configs, etc.  See previous discussion on your own lab to get you past this issue!

D-Day (or Test Day)

The thing you should understand about me is that I have intense test anxiety.

Example: prior to being a VMware Architect, I was a Network Engineer in a large organization.  I thought getting my CCNA would be a nice thing to do.  I boned up on the material (woke back up because it was easy) and went and failed my test.  Wait, what?  Yeah… about that anxiety.  Luckily my wife talked me into rescheduling right away (i think a week later) and I passed with 932/1000.

Back to the VCAP.  Three of us from work drove there and got signed in.  I stare the a computer screen trying not to freak out.  I had plans… I had methods.  I was going to go through the test questions, make notes, and then start implementing.  Before starting, I wrote 1 though 26 on a markerboard in preparation for stepping through all the scenarios.  So now it’s time – let’s do it.  Deep breath and start.

First question: wait, i know this!  I’ll configure the stuff and mark it off my markerboard!  Very nice.. move on.

Second question: pfff, this is pretty easy too!  I’ll do this one and then mark it off.

The first half of the exam was like that.  There’s NO substitute for being prepared my friends!  I also noted that by half way through I hadn’t even used 50% of my time!  Nice.

Next question – oops, harder… i’ll mark that and come back.

15th question… that’s on my mental list to just skip (time drain).  Mark it and move on.

By the end of my first pass through the questions, I figured that I had completed enough to pass the 300-point mark.  There was still about 20 minutes left so I went back through and filled in as much as I could on the questions I skipped previously.  When time ran out – here’s my tally… of the 26 questions:

  • I had perhaps 19 correctly answered (at least I supposed they were right)
  • 2 were unable to be completed because the lab was screwed up (probably my fault?  If I only had more time…)
  • 2 were on my list to just not do unless I had a lot of extra time on my hands (yeah, right)
  • the rest were partially completed or I wasn’t convinced that I did all the steps properly

During the test, I was in a groove and for the most part forgot it was an exam.  It was almost like working remotely on at a small VMware site (as other blogs have noted) – similar to doing about two days of actual work in 3½ hours.  And then it was over.  All this studying, all this time, all this worry – and now I had to wait up to 15 business days to hear my results.  Tried not to think about it… but how is that possible?

Two weeks later – I get an e-mail from VMware amounting to, “Please find your score report attached.”  Longest… click… delay… ever.

“Congratulations on passing the…”



Thank you to Gopi, Niran, Darrin, Nick, Mike, & Joe at work for support in studying (after-hours brainstorming, morale support, and trip to Fry’s to build out my lab).  Also, special thanks to Joshua Andrews for setting up the Test Track at Indy VMUG to whet the certification appetite for a geek!

The VCAP-DCA was easily the MOST FUN I’ve ever had taking a test (I honestly wish I could take these test several times with different questions just for the fun of it).

I hope it works out for you as well – best of luck!

2 thoughts on “My VCAP5-DCA Experience”

  1. Thanks for the kind words and link to my blog. Glad you had fun on Test Track. It’s been at VMworld 2012 and 2013 plus five VMUG conferences in 2013. I hope to get CIA and DTA kits available also.

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