VCIX = Achieved
So first things first - I've been very quiet on here over the last fortnight. This was purely down to focusing my out of work activities on preparing for the VCAP6-DCV exam, which I sat on Friday. Thankfully my efforts were sufficient and I was able to clear the exam with a score of 408. I must say I'm really happy with this as my aim was to break the 400 mark on this one. I was impressed to receive my score report within about 50 minutes via email. Certainly quicker than I'd expected. MyLearn hasn't updated yet so no shiny VCIX badge as it stands. I'm sure it will be there before too long...
This exam was probably one of the most enjoyable I've done. Challenging, yes. Too much to do and not enough time available, absolutely. This nicely reflects what you often experience in the real world and I think that's what VMware is shooting for here. Now the VCIX is done with I'm taking a short study break. I will be pushing a selection of blog posts out over the next few weeks so watch this space. While it's still fresh in my mind I thought it would be a great time to share my experiences, both in terms of preparation and during the exam itself. Let's begin...
This section is in fact decidedly light. This is because (compared to the design exam at least, which you can read about here) my preparation was minimal. I was fairly confident from the start, as I knew I'd prepared hard for the design exam. Although not hands-on this was still helpful for the deploy - reading through all that VMware Product Documentation certainly came in handy! I'm also very aware that I have worked hands-on with vSphere in admin/engineering/consultative roles for many years so I was confident in my "on the job" experience to start with. My prep was therefore centred on areas I don't get to use so often, due to customer requirements often not necessitating the use of all vSphere features.
The first step was to review the exam blueprint - no surprises here. I used this to identifying those areas that I didn't feel fully confident with. I listed these out and prioritised based on their significance relative to the overall product functionality, as well as my confidence level...
Practice, practice, practice
If you're reading this you should already know what to expect with this exam. For those of you that don't the exam consists of around 3 hours of live lab work, where you will need to troubleshoot very poorly, misconfigured environments and implement/configure various vSphere features. The questions are simply task requirements that you need to satisfy within the lab environment. These are designed in such a way that intends to emulate real-world experiences and I have to say the cert team have done a great job with this. Naturally as this is a practical hands-on exam regularly working with the vSphere product set is essential.
Whether this comes from your "day job" or working on a home lab is up to you, I think for most people it will be a bit of both. This is exactly what I did. Regardless of the approach you take you really need to know your way around the products and commonly used tool sets. I found myself using a mixture of the vSphere Web Client, C# Client, a fair bit of PowerCLI and some PuTTY to ESXi hosts/vCSA's. The best thing about this exam is as with the real world, you choose your weapon. If you're more of a CLI type, use it. If not and you can fly around a GUI, use one of those tools instead. You have access to everything you may need, for example WinSCP is available - though I didn't need to use it.
Once you identify your weak areas my suggestion is to practice in your lab extensively. Deploy, break, fix, redeploy. I spent a hell of a lot of time working with AutoDeploy and Host Profiles for instance, as I've only come across a handful of customers that have requirements that warrant the complexity of deploying it. I wasn't tested on AutoDeploy but the time spent getting deep into Host Profiles was useful.
A point I must make here is one of caution. The exam is based on vSphere 6.0 so you have to be careful with what you learn with. I have vSphere 6.5 in my lab and there are many enhancements over 6.0. This meant that in a couple of cases I was looking for things that simply weren't there during the exam. Definitely bear this in mind and ideally have your lab at vSphere 6.0 level, or a part of it at least.
Exam environment familiarity
The actual exam environment is extremely similar to VMware's Hands on Labs interface. This is excellent as you have a very easy way of getting practice. I didn't spend much time playing with HOL having used it before. Spending an hour the night before was worthwhile as a bit of a "warm up" however. To extend this further and get used to a restricted resolution I would suggest setting your display to something much lower than you are probably used to. This is because test centre monitors are in my experience not much to write home about. The difference between the native resolution on my SurfaceBook is ridiculously high. If you don't have at least a brief play at 1280x800 or even 1024x768 you may get a shock in the exam - having much less real estate to work within does throw up some odd challenges...
You can approach this exam in a number of ways and in some cases you may not have a choice. This depends on whether you are presented with tasks that are dependent on the output from others. My approach was pretty simple really... Answer anything I instinctively knew off the top of my head without hesitation. Anything I wasn't immediately 100% about got scribbled down on the whiteboard - the question number plus a brief summary.
One thing to call out here is that you need to make sure you read the question end to end before doing anything. Sounds obvious but it's easy to miss key details, so take your time before launching into the practical. This strategy left me with 13 questions at around an hour to go - just less than half. Thankfully I was able to get through most of them fairly quickly with some further applied thinking. Four questions were unanswered when time ran out...
Time management and your expectations
This leads me to another key point. The exam time period is tight. I would almost go as far to say that you should not expect to answer every question. You do better working with an acceptance that a few may be left, rather than getting stressed trying to complete everything. Focus on those that you can realistically complete in full and net maximum points. For me this beats watering down your concentration just because you'd like to take a shot at all questions. You will notice some questions are more lengthy than others. If you are left with a bunch that you haven't answered prioritise your efforts on the more extensive ones, as logically you would expect them to carry much more weight in the scoring.
This also ties into the use of documentation if you are unsure on something. If the question seems like it may be worth a fair amount of points, don't be afraid of using the docs. Yes, it is time-consuming and yes you don't have much time. If the question may be worth say 50 points, it's definitely worth spending time searching so you can complete the task fully...
One more point on the product docs is how you best search them. Most people will know this already but within the exam Adobe Reader is available, but isn't the default for PDF's. The quickest way to trawl the docs is to use Adobe's "Advanced Find" function, which allows you to search all PDF's in a folder. Target this at the documentation folder (on your console desktop) and supply your search term. The software will then search all PDF's and present you with the matches - very useful.
Due to the spec of the console machine this does take a bit of time - there are lots of PDF's. To optimise your productivity simply kick off a search then jump to another task while it completes. Hey who said men can't multitask!? 🙂
The interface and tweaks to it
As I mentioned above the exam interface is very similar to that of VMware Hands on Labs. You can still make refinements to this within the exam and I have a couple of quick recommendations. Firstly, ensure you read and adopt the guidance from the first couple of instruction pages. This explains how to work with the interface as well as making some recommendations on changing the resolution of your console machine. Definitely do this.
Another tip that worked for me is to move your question box to the left of the screen. By default this sits on the right. This is useful because majority of client interfaces have command buttons in the bottom right hand corner. By doing this you have more chance of being able to progress a task while still having the question visible. It's a minor optimisation but can potentially save you some clicking time, closing/opening questions.
As you can probably tell by now I didn't use lots of resources when preparing for this one. Experience was the main factor in success this time around. The few resources I did use are listed below and were definitely helpful, so be sure to check them out.
- VCAP6-DCV Deploy Study Guide - vJenner [Kyle Jenner]
- VMware Certification Platform Interface UI Guide - VMware Education [Joshua Andrews]
- Exam Experience - VCAP6-DCV Deploy - vBrain [Manfred Hofer]
That's about it for now, I hope this has been useful and wish you every success in your preparations.