18-10-13

Thoughts on the VCAP-DCD exam

I’m freshly back from VMworld EMEA in Barcelona (well less of the fresh and I will post about VMworld later) but whilst I was there I decided to avail myself of VMware’s frankly crazy 75% off VCAP exams offer. I’d been thinking about doing the VCAP-DCA or DCD for a while as the VCAP-DTA is still baking and I missed the chance to participate in the beta. Honestly, my plan was to sit the exam, suss it out, expect to fail and then put it right the second time around.

I had planned on downloading some of the excellent exam guides out there (I’m not going to name check them all, but a quick Google will see you right) and also using Paul McSharry’s VCAP-DCD guide along with the blueprint to give me a basis on which to study. As it turned out, all my well laid plans went flying out of the window as the 4.1 to 5.1 upgrade project I’m working on right now is consuming 110% of my time. Ironically, this turned out to be a blessing and a curse in equal measure, as several of the exam themes were fresh in my mind from leading the deployment.

Anyway, to the exam. The exam room was in a quieter part of the conference centre, and seated roughly a couple of dozen candidates. I went through the usual entry requirements of providing two forms of ID, signing the NDA (so don’t come here looking for actual questions) and emptying my pockets into my bag. I made a point of asking if I could take a drink into the room. I think a 3.5 hour exam with no refreshment is too much. When I sat the VCAP-DTD exam I asked the same question, to be met with a rather rude response (yes, I’m talking about you, test centre in Leeds). The answer was that I could leave my seat to get a drink and go back, but the timer would continue. I’m cool with this, as we all know hydration is a key part of sharp focus and concentration.

As well as being 3.5 hours in duration, the exam is 100 questions long. All of this is on the blueprint, so no trade secrets here. The format is of multiple choice, drag and drop and design scenarios. I recommend watching the sample video of how the design tool works on the MyLearn site, it may save you valuable minutes when you come to do it for real. The blueprint doesn’t specify how many of each you get, so I’m not going to divulge that here. Needless to say, time management is key and the design questions take longer than any of the others.

One tip I would impart is to note down on your scratch pad at the start how many design questions there are, you will be told this at the start. As you come across one and complete it, mark it off so you know how many are left in the time remaining. I found this worked pretty well for me. I’ve gotten to the stage where I really like this type of question now, I like the challenge of it and I think I “get it”.

As I progressed through the exam, I did find much of the answers to be “common sense”. If you know the difference between risks, requirements, assumptions and constraints and you know the differences between logical, physical and conceptual designs you really are half way there. But let’s make one thing clear, it’s not a totally “abstract” exam, so you do need to be experienced with vSphere and know about key product features such as DRS, HA and the like, as well as networking and storage to a reasonable degree (policy settings and their effects etc). You certainly can’t wing it, otherwise it wouldn’t be so tough!

One strategy that can work is to eliminate what you know to be an incorrect answer. And here comes another key take away – read the questions and potential answers thoroughly – on more than one occasion I felt the question was set up to catch you out a little bit. In the rush to stay within the time limit, don’t skim read the questions and answers and make assumptions. Go back and read everything at least a couple of times. That makes sense, because in the real world, we do make assumptions about aspects of a project, and if we haven’t clarified this with the client, a feature implemented incorrectly or against the business requirements can waste a lot of time and money.

I have to say that having sat a VCAP design exam before (DTD) definitely gave me an edge. I say this because I knew how the design tool works and how to read the scenario and requirements in the left pane. Key take away – when you read the content in the left pane, read it thoroughly a couple of times and then ensure you note what objects are required in the design. It may be that you may get the order wrong, or some connectors in the wrong places, but you may get exam credit for at least listing all the aspects of the design the client has asked for. Consider this approach if the design tool calls for an area you may not be so strong in, say networking. Do as much as you can, as the exam score is weighted. I can’t say for sure if you get partial credit, but it certainly can’t do any harm.

In the end, I managed to complete all 100 questions with 39 minutes to spare, which was some achievement considering my DTD exam almost ran the full distance and in the end, I was rushing to finish. As well as the key take aways I already listed, I’d also say back yourself with your gut instinct for an answer. It’s actually scientifically proven that your gut instinct it usually correct! Don’t spend time trying to talk yourself out of answer, again look at the other options and ensure you read the question thoroughly.

So in brief :-

Study resources

Scott Lowe’s TrainSignal course

Paul McSharry’s VMware Press guide

VCAP-DCD exam blueprint

VCAP-DCD Interactive Exam Simulation

vSphere 5.x product documentation (for reference, rather than required reading)

Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Design (free, good for RPO/RTO/MTD explanations)

Key take aways

– Ask about refreshment/comfort breaks in advance, in my experience different centres interpret the policies a little differently

– Manage your time. Keep an eye on the clock and note down how many “design” tool questions you have left. Similarly, if you have any issues (for example the screen hung on one of my design questions), raise your hand immediately and ensure you don’t waste time trying to fix it yourself. If it takes a few minutes to resolve, the proctor will credit you that time back.

– Read the questions and the answers at least twice, make sure you understand what is being asked and also what is being proposed, don’t skim read and make assumptions

– If you’ve sat a VCAP design exam before, you may find it a little easier second time around, call it the benefit of experience

– Back your gut instinct, especially on the multiple choice questions

Hopefully you will find these tips useful and don’t be afraid to give it a go. Also, don’t be afraid of failure. I know of a couple of very talented and experienced architects that didn’t pass first time. Sometimes it’s just understanding VMware’s particular design terminology, not that you’re a bad architect.

So did I pass? Yes I did. Not by too many, but a pass is a pass. One thing I will say is that it has already made me feel a lot more confident about my design skills as this is a tough test which validates that.

Good luck!

ps. VMware – hopefully I haven’t put anything here that breaks NDA. If I have, DM me and I’ll revise this posting.

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