In-Depth

5 Tips for Getting VMware Certified

There are wrong ways and right ways to prepare for your tests. Here are some of the right ways.

Achieving "certified" status from any vendor can be an exceptionally helpful tool in your career. This applies to any field, but is especially true in IT. Certifications serve both the person getting certified, as well as the company they work for. On an individual level, certification can mean substantial personal growth, an increase in income, or the edge in an internal interview for a promotion. Organizationally, it can mean winning a deal over a competitor because of your proven technical prowess, or getting better pricing based on partnership level.

VMware certification is particularly helpful. The nature of a product like vSphere is that it touches many components of the infrastructure: compute, network, storage, business critical applications and more. Because of that, growth in this one area will force collateral growth in other areas.

VMware (and virtualization as a whole) has a great community, and you may even find that the area you grow in most is socially. By engaging the community to help you get certified, you'll make new friends and find new opportunities and ways to grow.

Certification (especially at higher levels) is challenging. It can require serious time and dedication to be fully prepared for the exam(s). To help provide a head start, here are five tips to set you off in the right direction. You can also contact me on Twitter if you need help. I make an effort to personally help anyone working on VMware certification at any level.

1. Start, or Join, a Study Group
One of the most surefire ways to retain material beyond passing the exam is to really engage with it. There's no better way to do this than to be involved with a group and discuss the material. Work through it together on a whiteboard; try it together in the lab. A study group will help you expose weaknesses in your skills as well as help you bolster them. Group members will all have different perspectives based on their experience, and seeing the material through those different lenses will also help you understand it more broadly and retain it better.

Study groups can (and should) be formed with other individuals from your team, your company, or your local area. It's fun and helpful to work together in person, especially with a whiteboard and some lab equipment. If you don't have local connections focused on the same area, however, there are always study groups meeting online in places like Google Hangouts. You may have to do some digging around, but you can and should find peers on the same level to study with online.

2. Engage Socially
Quite possibly the most valuable tool our industry has that far too many people are unaware of is social communities. If you can connect with 20 like-minded individuals in your community to help each other grow and learn, that's fantastic. Going even further, though, what if you could connect with thousands of like-minded individuals around the world for the same purpose?

For whatever reason, as it relates to VMware anyhow, Twitter seems to be the medium of choice. This may be the best of the five tips: If you don't have a Twitter account, create one now. Start following people who talk about virtualization, VMware, IT in general and so on. If you're already active on Twitter, start engaging with people who are tweeting about your specific certification. Search for "#VCP" if that's the certification you're working on.

3. Use Blueprints and Exam Guides
There is a vast amount of material covering VMware certification. The correct place to start wading through all this helpful stuff is the material coming directly from the vendor. These two tools will help you evaluate yourself and determine what areas need to be your primary focus when studying. They're helpful independent of each other, but extra effective when used in tandem.

The VMware Exam Blueprint is a document which lays out exactly what items will be covered. Here's an example using the blueprint for VCP5-DCV. There's no more reliable way to know what you'll be tested on than to review the blueprint. Any exam prep material not based on the blueprint is purely speculative. The Blueprints are well organized, which helps in developing a study plan and schedule for getting through the topics.

The official certification guide is released by VMware, and covers most of the material that will be on the exam. Here's an example: the official guide for VCP5. One thing to note is that while helpful, the official cert guide usually does leave some gaps to be filled in by additional study. It wouldn't require much effort if all you had to do was read one small book to pass the exam. The official guide forms a strong foundation on which you can build.

4. Build a Lab
This is more relevant to some exams than others, but all VMware certifications are easier to study for with a lab environment. A lab is somewhere you can play around with unfamiliar configurations and tools and not cause any harm. (Please, no practicing on production equipment!) There are a number of good lab guides in existence that show you how to create a nested lab in Workstation, or build a lab on the cheap with Shuttle or NUC hardware, or build a full-scale lab on server-grade hardware if that's your budget.

If you're just beginning, a tool that can help you grow almost immediately is a community-supported tool called AutoLab. It's a bundle of scripts and configuration files that will install a full-blown vSphere infrastructure for you. Within a couple of hours, you can be up and running and ready to study.

5. Set a Date
Finally, the real key to passing certifications (especially harder ones) is motivation. If you have enough purpose and drive behind your desire to certify, you will accomplish what you set out to do. Step one is determining your "why." Will this make you more money? Make you more marketable? Make your employer impressed with you? Help your company grow?

Whatever the reason, once you know why – step two is to commit. The No. 1 reason people who say they're going to certify don't do it is because they weren't committed. And the No. 1 way to fight this is to schedule the exam. Once you've paid for the exam and there's a date on the calendar, you're much more likely to stop lounging and get to work!

A generalization of Parkinson's Law states, "The amount of time that one has to perform a task is the amount of time it will take to complete the task." Without a date on the calendar, you'll study indefinitely because you'll never feel 100 percent prepared. Once a date is on the calendar and the days are counting down, you'll make sure you're ready.

Once again, the most valuable step you can take in preparing for VMware certification is to engage with the community. Feel free to start with me, and I'll help as much as I'm able.

About the Author

vExpert James Green has roughly a decade of experience as an IT administrator, architect and consultant in a variety of organizations. He's highly certified, and continues to purse professional certifications to increase his breadth and depth of knowledge. He has always been passionate about writing and speaking, and discussing the marriage of cutting-edge technology and business is one of his favorite activities. He works for ActualTech Media, www.actualtech.io.

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