My remotely proctored VMware exam experience

After taking my AWS SAA certification via remote Pearson Vue proctoring, I wanted to audit the experience from the VMware perspective to help validate that our customers are getting a good experience. I wasn’t sure which exam to register for, but since I’m a VMC on AWS SE, I decided to give the VMware Cloud on AWS Master Services Competency Specialist a shot. Fortunately, working with VMC on AWS every day for a year was very good prep for this exam, and I passed, earning the Master Specialist badge for VMware Cloud on AWS 2020.

For the most part any Pearson Vue exam is the same – same testing engine, same blue background. I expected a similar experience to the AWS exam. 

  • Prior to talking to a registration person, you have to complete a check-in process. After you log into Vue and indicate you’re ready to start your exam, you are taken to a check-in screen. You can input your cellphone number into the screen and Vue will text you a link, or you can just type the URL manually.  You have to take front and back photos of your ID, a photo of your face, and a view of all 4 sides of your seating area. Once you’ve submitted those photos from your phone, you can continue checking in on the website. You could use your webcam and avoid the cellphone process altogether but it would be tough to get all of the photos you need with webcam.
  • You get checked in by a registration person, they are not the exam proctor. The registration person can see you on your webcam and they provide you either chat or verbal instructions.

  • They want your desk empty – pens, pencils, headsets, everything. The only thing you should have on your desk is a mouse, keyboard, laptop if necessary, monitor, and webcam. Unlike last time, the staffer didn’t care about my laptop being on the desk and didn’t question what my docking station was.

  • You’re going to have to use your webcam to show them around the room, so be prepared to take down a monitor-mounted one or to spin your laptop around.

  • If they see or hear somebody in the room with you, it’s an instant fail. Make sure you are in a room with a locked door.

  • Unplug any dual-or-greater monitor configuration before you get into the exam. Only a single monitor is allowed. Also unplug any other monitor in the room – my homelab rack and its console monitor are in the office, so it was flagged by Pearson as a problem.

  • There is no scratch paper, no dry-erase board, your only option is an electronic notepad built into the testing software. It wasn’t a big deal for this exam but I could see this being a problem for calculations and larger design problems, at least for me – I like to write things down.

  • Unlike my last exam, the proctors were immediately responsive to chat requests for help. I tested this multiple times with quick responses.

  • The process was quite a bit smoother this time around, and it surely beats driving to an exam center.

  • Once you’re in the exam it feels pretty much like taking an exam at any other test center.

VCIX6 designation clarifications

There is a lot of confusion out there regarding the upgrade paths, the VCIX6, and underlying VCP6 requirements to achieve certification. The Certification folks are working on clarifying language on our website and accurate instructions for our customer-facing employees behind the certification@vmware.com alias.

I am writing this point from the standpoint of the Datacenter Virtualization exam, since that is the track that I am following for my VCDX attempt. If you’re in a different track, the same policy applies for your specific track.

      • If you are brand new to the DCV track, you have to pass the VCP6-DCV exam.  You can’t use a VCP6-DTM to start up the DCV track

 

      • If you are a VCAP5-DCA, you can pass the VCAP6-DCV Design exam to achieve VCIX6-DCV designation

 

      • If you are a VCAP5-DCD, you can pass the VCAP6-DCV Administration exam to achieve the VCIX6-DCV designation

 

      • If you are both a VCAP5-DCA and VCAP5-DCD, you can take either the VCAP6-DCV Design *OR* VCAP6-DCV Administration exam to achieve your VCIX6-DCV designation

 

      • Your VCP in the Datacenter Virtualization track must be valid (unexpired). VCAP5 holders with a valid VCP do NOT have to take the VCP6-DCV exam to sit a VCAP6 exam.

 

      • Passing the VCAP6-DCV Design or Administration exam extends the expiration date of your VCP for 2 additional years

 

      • Achieving the VCIX6-DCV designation will not give you the underlying VCP6-DCV certification.

 

      • The VCIX6-DCV is the only prerequisite for VCDX. You DO NOT need a VCP6-DCV certification

 

VCAP6-DCV Design exam 3V0-622 – Rescore

Update December 6, 2016

The rescore process is complete, all results have been posted to Cert Manager.

Update December 5, 2016

The batch processing at Pearson continues to fail. The certification team is manually updating all score results. This will take a considerable amount of time, but they are making good progress. The hope is to have all rescore results posted by the end of the day Pacific time on December 6th.

Original Post November 30, 2016

Exam takers who failed the 3V0-622 received a notice from Pearson that the exam was under review and might be rescored. The date in this email was that a rescore was expected by November 20th.  We are obviously well beyond that date and people are still anxiously awaiting results of the rescore. I am among those waiting for news.

I have volunteered some of my time with the certification team as a SME to help develop exam content (not for 3V0-622). It’s given me insight into just how extraordinarily time consuming it is to create a legally defensible certification exam. No portion of the process is simple. It’s quite similar to putting code into production – even the slightest change means you have to run your entire battery of testing before promoting code.  Any hiccup means re-running your tests from the beginning.

I have spoken internally with the Certification team at VMware regarding the staus of 3V0-622. They are doing everything they can to get the rescores out. However, you cannot magically make the processes work faster – the whole process from end-to-end takes 3-4 days. QA processes take the amount of time they take and cannot be rushed or skipped. Pearson has encountered a number of technical difficulties with the exam drivers and have had to run the process multiple times. Progress was further impeded by various resources being unavailable due to the Thanksgiving holiday last week.

At this point we are hoping for exam results to be available online on Friday December 2nd.

 

VMware Hands-on Labs

It always surprises me how few customers are aware of the Hands-on Labs. The labs are full installations of VMware software running in VMware’s cloud, accessible from any browser and completely free for anyone to use.

Each self-paced lab is guided with a step-by-step lab manual. You can follow the manual from start to finish for a complete look at the specific software product. Alternatively, you can focus on specific learning areas due to the modular structure of the lab manual. You can even ignore the manual completely and use the lab as a playground for self-directed study.

You can give the labs a try here: http://labs.hol.vmware.com/

VMware recertification

VMware just announced a new recertification policy for the VCP. A VCP certification expires 2 years after it is achieved. You can recertify by taking any VCP or VCAP exam.

Part of VMware’s justification for this change is “Recertification is widely recognized in the IT industry and beyond as an important element of continuing professional growth.” While I do agree with this statement in general, I don’t believe this decision makes much sense for several reasons:

  • Other vendors – Cisco and Microsoft as two examples – expire after 3 years, not 2 years. Two years is unnecessarily short. It’s also particularly onerous given the VMware course requirement for VCP certification. It’s hard enough to remain current with all of the vendors recertification policies at 3 years.

 

  • Other vendors – again, Cisco and Microsoft as examples – have no version number tied to their certifications. You are simply “MCSE” or “CCNA”. With VMware, you are “VCP3”, “VCP4”, or “VCP5”. The certifications naturally age themselves out. A VCP3 is essentially worthless at this point. The VCP4 is old, and the VCP5 is current. An expiration policy doesn’t need to be in place for this to remain true.

 

  • The timing of this implementation is not ideal. VMware likes to announce releases around VMworld, so we’re looking at August 2014 for 6.0.  Most VMware technologists will be interested in keeping certifications with the current major release, so demand for the VCP6 will be high. Will the certification department release 6 in time for everybody to test before expiration? It’s really a waste of my time and money to force me to recertify on 5 when 6 is right around the corner.

 

  • The expiration policy makes no sense in light of the policy on VCAPs and VCPs. Currently, any VCP makes you eligible to take a VCAP in any of the three tracks, and achieving the VCAP in a track automatically gives you a VCP in the same track. This is a significant timesaver for those of us who are heavily invested in VMware – skip the entry level exam and go straight to the advanced exam. VCAP exam development is obviously even slower than VCP exam development. I have doubts that the VCAPs will come out quickly enough to meet the March 2015 deadline.

 

  • Adam Eckerle commented in his blog post “I also think it is important to point out that I think it encourages individuals to not only keep their skills up to date but also to branch out. If your VCP-DCV is going to expire why not take a look at sitting the VCP-DT or Cloud, or IaaS exams?  If you don’t use the Horizon products or vCloud Suite as part of your job that can be difficult.”I agree that in some cases, this might encourage you to pursue a certification in a separate track. Before I had the desktop certifications, I might have considered accelerating exam preparation to prepare for this recertification date.  However, I already own 4 of 6 VCAPs. Even as a consultant I have no use for vCloud, there’s just not enough demand from our customers to build a practice area around it. There’s currently no business benefit in pursuing the Cloud track.

It’s VMware’s program and they can do as they please, but I hope they consider 3 years instead of 2 for recertification.

Christian Mohn’s blog has a fairly lively discussion going on, and Vladan Seget also has some thoughts and comments

More loathing of Pearson Vue … or, my [redacted] beta exam experience

This is what I get for taking beta exams. I understand. I create my own mess. But that doesn’t change the fact that Pearson Vue is spectacularly incompetent. I’ve previously blogged my strongly negative opinions of Pearson Vue and today’s experience doesn’t do much to improve my outlook.

I sat the [redacted] VMware beta exam today and there were problems with the remote environment. It took me almost 40 minutes to complete the first two questions because the performance of the environment was so lousy. Per my beta exam instructions, after about 15 minutes I asked the Vue proctor to contact VMware for assistance.

The proctor returned to say that we should reboot my local exam station, as if that had anything at all to do with the slow response from the remote lab. I asked her who told her to do that – she had called the Vue helpdesk, not VMware. I told her to call VMware, to which she replied “We can’t do that.”  By then the environment had improved from ‘lousy’ to ‘nearly tolerable’ so I gave up complaining.

After the exam I spoke with the VMware certification team and I received confirmation of the following:

  1. VMware has been assured by Pearson Vue that VCAP candidates will be able to get in contact with VMware’s support team for problems with the exam environment
  2. VMware’s support team has the authority to grant extended time in the event of an environment failure
  3. Pearson Vue has the capability to extend the exam time.

The slow performance of the environment set me back too far to recover;  I was unable to complete the exam. Maybe it will cost me a passing grade, maybe it won’t, but Pearson Vue’s failure to rectify the situation is inexcusable.

My VCAP5-DTD exam experience

I took the VCAP5-DTD beta exam on January 3rd, 2013. Like many people, I received the welcome news today that I passed the exam.

I’m laughing a little to myself as I write this post because my certification folder contains a log of my studying. I downloaded the beta blueprint on December 17, 2012, but I already had Microsoft exams scheduled for December 28th.  I did no studying for this VCAP until the day before the exam, January 2rd, where you can clearly see my feverish morning download activity. I will say though that I have several years of View deployments under my belt, so my knowledge on the engineering side was up-to-date and at the front of my mind.

VCAP5-DTD Folder

I downloaded every PDF referenced in the exam blueprint, and I already had most of the product documentation already downloaded. I am primarily a delivery engineer, but to be successful on the exam you need to put on your designer’s hat. I tried to keep that in mind as I pored through the PDFs – it does make a difference because different information will stand out if you actively look for design elements.

My exam was just after lunch and it was well over an hour away, so I left early and brought my Kindle. I continued going through the PDFs until exam time. The sheer volume of information you have to read through makes VMware design exams quite difficult. I suggest reading the answers before you read the question – this helps you identify clues in the question. There are detailed descriptions requiring 6 or more paragraphs of reading just to answer a single multiple choice question.

The GA version of the exam has 115 questions and 6 diagramming scenarios. Keep track of the number of diagramming questions you get so you can budget your time appropriately. You should not spend any more than 15 minutes on a diagram. Keep in mind that 15 * 6 = 90 minutes, leaving you only 105 minutes to answer 109 questions. The pace you have to sustain is mentally exhausting. The beta was even more difficult with 131  questions, plus the expectation to provide comment feedback on the questions.

I found the diagramming questions to be even more involved than the DCD questions.. I’d say the tool was a bit better behaved than the DCD exam, but not by much. It’s easy to get sucked in to a design scenario and waste far too much time. Remember that you’re not designing the perfect system, it just has to be good enough to meet the stated requirements.

Is It Time To Remove the VCP Class Requirement – Rebuttal

This post is a rebuttal of @networkingnerd‘s blog post Is It Time To Remove the VCP Class Requirement.

I would like to acknowledge that it’s easy for me to have the perspective I do as a VCP holder since version 3. I’ve already got it, so I naturally want it to remain valuable. The fact that my employer at the time paid for the class has opened up an entire career path for me that would have otherwise been closed. But I believe the VCP cert remains fairly elite specifically because of the course requirement.

First, consider Microsoft’s certifications. As a 15-year veteran of the IT industry, I believe I am qualified to state unequivocally that Microsoft certifications are utterly worthless. This is partially because of the proliferation of braindumps. There is no knowledge requirement whatsover to sit the Microsoft exams. You don’t even need to look at a Microsoft product to pass a Microsoft test – go memorize a braindump and pass the test. We’ve all encountered paper MCSEs – their existence completely devalues the certification. I consider the MCSE nothing more than a little checkbox on some recruiter’s wish list.

I would go so far as to say that Microsoft’s test are specifically geared towards memorizers – they acutally encourage braindumping by focusing on irrelevant details and not on core skills. Passing a Microsoft exam has everything to do with memorization and almost nothing to do with your skill as a Windows admin.

On the other hand, to sit the VCP exam you have to go through a week of training. At the very least, you’ve touched the software. You installed it. You configured it. You (wait for it)… managed it.  Obviously there are braindumps out there for the VCP exam too, but everybody starts with the same core of knowledge. The VCP exams have improved to a point where they are not memorize-and-regurgitate. A person who has worked with the product actually stands a reasonable chance of passing the exam.

Quoted directly from the blog post:

For those that say that not taking the class devalues the cert, ask yourself one question. Why does VMware only require the class for new VCPs? Why are VCPs in good standing allowed to take the test with no class requirement and get certified on a new version? If all the value is in the class, then all VCPs should be required to take a What’s New class before they can get upgraded. If the value is truly in the class, no one should be exempt from taking it. For most VCPs, this is not a pleasant thought. Many that I talked to said, “But I’ve already paid to go to the class. Why should I pay again?” This just speaks to my point that the value isn’t in the class, it’s in the knowledge. Besides VMware Education, who cares where people acquire the knowledge and experience? Isn’t a home lab just as good as the ones that VMware built.

There is a tiny window of opportunity after the release of new vSphere edition to go take the exam without a course requirement. Those of us who are able to pass the exam in that small window are the people who do exactly as you say – we are downloading and installing the software in our labs. We are putting in the time to make sure that our knowledge of the newest features is up to par. Many of us partipate in alpha and beta programs, spending far more time with the software than a typical certification candidate. Some of us participate in the certification beta program, where we have just a couple of short weeks to study for and book the exam. I’ve put in quite a few late nights prepping for beta exams.

VMware forces us to learn the new features by putting a time limit on the upgrade period. We have a foundation of knowledge that was created by the original class that we took. There isn’t enough time for braindumps to leak out there, and the vast majority of upgraders wouldn’t use one anyhow. VMware can be reasonably certain that a VCP upgrader without the class really is taking the time to learn the new features. @networkingnerd is correct, the value IS in the knowledge, but the focus is ensuring that every VCP candidate starts with the same core of knowledge.

@networkingnerd suggests an alternative lower level certification such as a VCA with a much less expensive course requirement. I think it’s an interesting idea, but I don’t know how you’d put it into practice. I’m not sure what a 1-day class could prepare you for. It’s one thing for experienced vSphere admins to attend a 2-day What’s New class. But what could you really teach and test on? Just installing vSphere? There’s not a whole lot of value for an engineer who can install but not configure.

Again quoting from the article:

Employers don’t see the return on investment for a $3,000US class, especially if the person that they are going to send already has the knowledge shared in the class. That barrier to entry is causing VMware to lose out on the visbility that having a lot of VCPs can bring.

This suggests that the entry-level certification from the leader in virtualization is somehow not well-known. While I would agree that the VCAP-level certifications do not enjoy the same level of name recognition as the CCNP, I talk to seniors in college who know what the VCP is. There is no lack of awareness of the VCP certification. I also agree that it’s ridiculous to send a VMware admin who has years of experience to the Install Configure Manage class. That’s why the Optimize and Scale and the Fast Track classes exist.

I don’t believe dropping the course requirement would do anything to enhance VMware’s market share. The number of VCP individuals has long since reached a critical mass.  Nobody is going to avoid buying vSphere because of a lack of VCPs qualified to administer the environment. While I agree that Hyper-V poses a credible threat, Microsoft is just now shipping features that vSphere has had for years. Hyper-V will start to capture the SMB market, but it will be a long time before it has the chance to unseat vSphere in the enterprise.

My VCAP5-DCD exam experience

I passed the VCAP5-DCD exam on July 25th!

I found the exam to be extraordinarily challenging. Design has never been a primary focus of my job, and much of what I learned for the exam was completely new to me. If your primary job is vSphere administration, you are in for a bit of a rough ride. Terms like requirement, constraint, risk, and assumption obviously had English meaning for me, but they meant nothing in the context of a vSphere design.

The exam requires a *TON* of reading. Scenarios are extremely lengthy, far longer than any VCP or VCAP-DCA scenario. You have to be able to quickly extract the important details. If you are a slow reader, you are at a crippling disadvantage for this exam.

For exam preparation, I relied heavily on Cody Bunch’s vBrownBag series. The Asia-Pacific version of the vBrownBag sessions was run by Alastair Cooke and covers the entire VCAP5-DCD exam blueprint. It consists of 15 1-hour sessions and they are all recorded for you to download. You can either watch them streaming, or @nickmarshall9 has converted them to MP4 format, you can download here. I downloaded all of the vBrownBag sessions and saved them out to my Dropbox. I kept two of them marked as favorites on my Droid at all times so I could listen to them while commuting.

Another resource that has a ton of awesome exam-relevant content was the DRBC Design – Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Fundamentals course. Unfortunately it’s not free, but you are in luck if you work for a VMware Partner. The course is free at the Partner University.

For the exam itself, I followed my typical method of answering questions as quickly as I could. If I had any doubt at all, I flagged the question for review and moved on. One tip for this exam is to read the multiple choice answers first – it helps focus your reading so you can spot the answer. I didn’t even attempt any of the diagramming questions on my first pass, I marked them for review and moved on.

Many people have complained about how kludgy the Visio-style diagramming tool is, and my experience was no different. I lost diagrams multiple times and I had very strange behavior with objects moving themselves around on the canvas. There is a video demo of how to work with the diagramming tool on the VCAP5-DCD site, I strongly recommend you watch the short video to familiarize yourself with the tool.