I can proudly say that after a year or so of poking at the content of the VCAP5 exams, I’ve finally gotten myself into gear and have been faithfully in hot pursuit of the esteemed VCAP5-DCA cert.  And the pursuit has already been very rewarding.  Like any exam, this one takes huge amounts of study, which equates to discipline and sacrifice.  It truly requires a sacrifice of time as this really amounts to about an eight week commitment for many.  That’s a commitment of evening and weekend hours and whatever work hours one can ethically squeeze out of the boss.  In my case, I’ve had the fortune of having some good time each day to tinker away in the lab.  Of course, everyone needs a lab.  A few weeks into my study and I thought I’d share some of the methodology that has been working well for me.

Make the Commitment

For any worthwhile pursuit or goal, a deadline is critical.  The old quote “A goal is a dream with a deadline” (Napolean Hill) is very true. Over the last year without any type of deadline, the idea of pursuing this certification remained just that – an idea.  It never gained any traction until one day not too long ago (and with the additional push of a discount promo code), I scheduled my exam date.  It is now on the calendar which makes it all the more real.  The clock is ticking, I hear it and I know I have to hustle each day to work through another portion of the exam blueprint.  Step one, make the commitment by getting the exam date on the calendar.  Then…

Define the plan

A variation of the old quote by Napolean Hill is by Harvey Mackey, “…A goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline.”  This is fairly elementary but what is the plan?  Of course time needs to be carved out as mentioned above, but what do we do with that time?  The first stop here is indisputable VCAP5-DCA Exam Blueprint.  This is a must have and this advice is Numero Uno from everyone who has walked this road before.  Know everything on that blueprint so well that you can perform each item quickly without having to reference the online docs. Since that is a massive amount of material to learn, there have to be some shortcuts to learning this.  Well… there are no shortcuts, but there are some great study guides available.  These serve the purpose of being good refreshers and concisely honing in on what some consider the most important points to know.  These are not official, but are still phenomenal guides, put together by some of the best contributors in the community.  The ones I am currently using are:

  • The vBrownBag VCAP5-DCA series.  Great videos by some awesome folks in the community.  Nick Marshall has easy links to each video aligned with the VCAP Exam Blueprint objectives here.
  • VCAP5-DCA Study notes, by one of the regulars in the vBrownbag circle, Shane Williford.  One additional valuable item he brings to the table is the CLI Study notes.  This is a one-stop quick reference to the many CLI commands needed for the exam.  Great addition!
  • The Pluralsight (formerly TrainSignal) VMware vSphere Optimize and Scale video training, by Jason Nash.  Jason is well known and rock solid in his teaching and his training series covers the entire exam blueprint.  I might add a quick plug for Pluralsight training here… If you haven’t done so already, I highly recommend a monthly subscription.  For as low as $30/month, you have access to the most incredible library of training materials, from programming to career development to infrastructure training.  I use this library almost everyday on the job, to brush up on VMware, Citrix and Cisco concepts.  Highly, highly recommended!
  • And to keep track of it all, which is part of any organized plan, I’ve been using Chris Wahl’s VCAP5-DCA Study Sheet.  Checking items off when accomplished always feels good so this gives the sense of little victories on the road toward the ultimate objective.

So that’s a lot of training and study material to work through.  How does one manage to absorb all of this in a relatively short period of time?

Exercise Superb Time Management

This is probably my weakest skill.  With all the distractions of our world, it is so easy to get lulled away from even the most well devised plans.  One of the best and surprisingly simplest tools I’ve used to keep myself on track is the Pomodoro Technique.  This is a little technique that is based on the finding that we are most effective and focused when we work in 25 minutes chunks of time.  The brain then needs a break, so a five minute break is sufficient before tackling another 25 minute focused chunk of time.  After several of these “chunks,” it’s recommended to take a 15-30 minute break.  It’s well known that taking breaks during intense times of work or focus helps the mind stay productive.  For me, the added benefit of this timed period is knowing that my one and only objective during the 25 minutes is studying. This does wonders to keep me from getting distracted.  The Pomodoro technique simply uses a clock that measures these alternating times of focus and breaks.  The tool is free for download for any device and there are many variations available.  They all use the same concept.

Another focus enabling tool I use is binaural beats.  Just do a YouTube search and dozens of these recordings will come up.  I don’t quite understand the science behind it, but apparently these are tones with out-of-sync wavelengths that are sent to opposite audio channels. When listening with headphones, these create a pulsating sound that is believed to help induce a higher state of concentration by “tuning” the brain. Whether this is true or not, the reality for me is that it helps me to tune out the distractions around me and and stay focused on the task at hand.  One can just as easily do that with any kind of ambient music… or your favorite metal band.

So there it is, a list of the tools and techniques I’m using to help me as I work toward the goal.  I will follow up with another post once I successfully pass the exam.

All the best to everyone else in pursuit of these certifications!


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