Certified Kubernetes Administrator Achieved – Why, How, And All That Stuff.

I’m really happy, and relieved, to say that this past weekend I obtained my CKA (Certified Kubernetes Administrator) certification. It’s been a real enjoyable and eye opening learning experience for me. Throughout and in the lead up to deciding to taking this exam I had a lot of questions. So I thought I would talk through some of the questions I asked.

I guess firstly I should set the scene on why I decided to take the exam. I work for VMware and over the last few years VMware have been spending up big on Kubernetes IP. When I say big I’m talking like billions. This is something they are taking very serious, it’s clearly not a fad for them. Going forward it’s going to be a very big part of the VMware ecosystem. Not to long ago VMware released their integrated version of Kubernetes in vSphere called vSphere on Kubernetes, or Tanzu, or TKG maybe??? You know I’m not exactly sure, but that doesn’t matter. Before I learn VMware’s flavour of Kubernetes I told myself I wanted to learn what I call, Vanilla Kubernetes, or as the rest of the industry might call it, Kubernetes. So I wanted to make sure I understood Kubernetes before I learnt VMware’s take on it.

My experience with K8s prior to starting to study for the CKA was pretty much zero. About a year ago I deployed Kubernetes The Hard Way. I really don’t remember much more than a lot of copying and pasting to make it work, and honestly I learnt nothing. So I reached out to a few work colleagues and they all recommended a CKA course by Mumshad Mannambeth. The course is actually created by KodeKloud but can also be obtained through Udemy. No advertising here, it’s just a really awesome course. It states it’s a 17 hour course but once you factor in training labs and note taking I spent two solid weeks just going through the course material. The training labs were amazing. Real hands on environments you could get stuck into and practice commands you learnt in previous modules.

During my study the CKA exam syllabus changed half way through. I actually knew this was happening prior to starting for this certification so it wasn’t a surprise to me. The big question I’ve seen a lot of people ask, ‘What is the different between the old syllabus and the new Sept 2020 syllabus. From what I could see it’s actually changed quite a lot, though probably for the easier to be honest. Most obvious is the exam is now 2 hours instead of 3. The scope of the CKA exam also appears to have shrunk a little too and exam scoring weightage redistributed around the new competencies, particularly troubleshooting. I think there’s actually good reason for some of these changes which I’ll get into shortly.

Another common question is how does it compare to the Certified Kubernetes Application Developer (CKAD) certification. Well, honestly I don’t know (yet) so I can’t say to much on this. I’ve seen a lot of people refer to CKAD as CKA-Lite (basically an easier version of CKA). That might have once been true but I don’t think that’s really accurate with the new Sept 2020 CKA syllabus. I think this new syllabus has been created to help really set these two certifications / exams apart now. CKAD can focus on that application development side of the fence, deployments, deamonsets, pod and container management, all that stuff. While CKA can focus on more the architecture, storage, and network side of the stack. Both now distinct exams rather than CKA trying to do it all.

Getting back to my experience studying for this exam. Is the course by Mumshad Mannambeth good enough to pass? Even though the course is a year or two old now, it’s constantly being iterated on with new and relevant material for the CKA exam. At the time of writing this post the labs are currently being updated to Kubernetes 1.19 which the exam is based off. I can’t speak more highly of the course itself. While I had to do additional study outside of the course I felt it got me 90% there. The ability to revisited many of the labs and practice exams in the course throughout was a huge benefit.

The on-the-day exam process was good. The certification is through the Linux Foundation but exam is run by PSI. CKA is an online only proctored exam, meaning someone is on the other end of the exam watching you! All of my previous experience with online exams have been through Pearson. They are similar experiences but a little different. I was able to start the exam 15 minutes prior to my booked start time. The initial setup phase took about 15 minutes with the proctor. I had to share my screen, hold up my ID to the webcam, spin my laptop around the room for the proctor to see it was all clear, and read through the tutorial on how the exam works. None of this time gets counted towards your exam, the clock doesn’t start till you complete the tutorial.

The performance of the exam labs was great. No lag and no connectivity issues whatsoever. You’re give a student CLI and a number of K8s clusters to answer your questions against. It’s all fairly well spelt out and you’re given the contexts to switch between clusters for each question. I ended up using every minute of the 2 hours in the exam. Maybe 30 second at the end where I was able to stop and lean back in the chair before the proctor told me to stop and click End Exam.

Results weren’t given immediately. They aim to have the results to you within 36 hours. I had to wait till the next day for them to come through. Seeing that email say Congratulations was a huge relief. I certainly felt like this was a tough exam. It’s all relative though right. A seasoned K8s administrator would no doubt find it easier then from my perspective.

I definitely have the Kubernetes bug now.

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