Just before the start of my long awaited summer vacation, I passed my CKA exam after a long preparation period (roughly 6 months). Having a busy life added a lot to the challenge of finding time to sit down and study, but if you are dedicated enough and have a solid reason why you want to do something then you will find the time.

I have been talking to some friends and colleagues around me who also want to start with learning Kubernetes and eventually clear the CKA exam, however did not know from where to start and what study materials they should follow. Those talks are the reason why I decided to write this blog post sharing my whole experience of preparing and passing my CKA exam. In this post, I will be sharing my “why” of choosing CKA certification and the steps and materials I used to prepare in order to pass my CKA exam in my first attempt with a score of 88 (which is good in my opinion for an exam with a passing score of 66).

So, why Kubernetes and CKA in the first place?

For someone like me who comes from hardcore networking world and spent fair share of my technical experience in Infra building and design, the concept of containers just disrupted me because I had no idea about what people around me are talking about and it became a major part of discussions coming up with my customers so this when I decided I have to be part of this world, otherwise I will be left alone at some point.

I started googling about containers and came across things like Kubernetes, which was the most common term I hear in the new container world, and hence I decided to start digging more. I got immediately in love with the concepts, technology and the idea what you can build and define full infra and even application deployments in files (yaml or json) and just get this rolled out in seconds, and this when I decided I will learn Kubernetes. The first challenge I had due to my busy life, was to find the time to sit down, build my lab environment and start studying for Kubernetes. I thought about how to make the time and the only thing that worked for me was to have a deadline of a target to achieve and thats why I decided to pursue a Kubernetes certification.

A certificate is not a must or a prove to show that you have the knowledge to carry out a job (experience is) but it definitely shows that you are dedicated, able to make time to learn and keen to grow. This however in my opinion, valid for hands-on scenario based lab certification exams (CKA exam is one of those).

Kubernetes certifications are offered by The Linux Foundation and there are three Kubernetes exams:

  • CKA (Certified Kubernetes Administrator) the most common in the market.
  • CKAD (Certified Kubernetes Application Developer).
  • CKS (Certified Kubernetes Security Specialist)

All three exams are hands-on lab exams and they are open book exams, which means you do get access to Kubernetes documentations during the exam.

How I prepared for my CKA exam

My main strategy when I started to prepare for the CKA exam was looking for study material that really helps me learn Kubernetes concepts in general and not just focusing on exam topics. Below how I started:

  1. Build your own practice lab:
    • Although hands-on practice and mock labs that are included in the online learning courses that I am going to share with you later, having your own practice environment gives you the chance to break things and thus learn more.
    • In my preparation I used the below setup:
      • 3 Linux Ubuntu 20.04.4 LTS VMs with 2 vCPUs, 16 GB of RAM and 100GB of storage.
    • If you are short of resources then you can you can build a one node cluster using Minikube, see installation steps HERE
  2. Get familiar with Vim as Linux text editor. I highly recommend watching this great video to learn how to find edit YAML files using Vim – KubeAcademy how to edit YAML using Vim
  3. To learn the concepts of Kubernetes I used Udemy CKA course with practice exams this is a highly recommended course and I personally find it a lot beter and covers much more important details than the Cloud Guru CKA practice course by plural sight (which I also used).
  4. Practice mock exams, if you choose to go for the Udemy CKA course (which I highly recommend) then you get free access to three mock lab exams, I have went through those 2 times.
  5. Once you are done with the above, it is time to register an account on the Linux Foundation Certification Portal you will need this account to be able to book your exam.
  6. Practice an exam simulation on Killer.sh, you do not need to buy separate killer.sh exam sessions (if you still want then you can book session from killer.sh) the reason is that when you book your CKA exam, you get free two sessions from killer.sh included, every session is accessible for 36 hours once you start it. Please note, although killer.sh labs cover all and even way more topics than what you need to pass the CKA exam, I decided that one session is enough since its difficulty level is a lot above that of the real CKA exam and I was caution not to get frustrated before the exam.
  7. Book your exam on the Linux Foundation Portal, as mentioned before the CKA exam is an online proctored exam which means you take the exam from your home or office and you must have a webcam as the remote proctor need to be able to see you during the whole 2 hours time of the exam.

CKA lab exam environment

On June 29th the exam interface was completely changed to a remote desktop session based on VNC, which means you take your exam from a secure Linux VM which is accessed over a VCN remote session. This does not mean that you have to have VNC or other remote desktop clients on your PC to access the exam environment, you will need however to download and install PSI safe browser to access the lab environment.

The installation of the PSI browser is part of your admission to the lab exam which is done through the Linux Foundation Portal on the day of the exam and you do not need to install this beforehand.

One good news is that the killer.sh sessions that are included in the exam booking costs offer now their practice lab environment based on the new VNC based interface, so you do not have to experience this on the day of the exam.

The main downside of the new environment is that you do not get to use your own webbrowser and hence you lose any bookmarks you might have to speed up access to information (from Kubernetes documentation only of course).

The exam is 120 minutes hands-on exam and you can flag any question to revisit in case you got stuck, this is very important since if you got stuck in a task you might lose track of time and eventually land in panic, so I would recommend allocating max 5 minutes for a task and if you cannot get it sorted out then flag it for revision and move on, and once done with the rest of the questions then go back and check the tasks you flagged.

On the day of the exam

I booked my exam at 9:00AM as I am a morning person, couple of important points you need to keep in mind for D-Day 🙂

  • Admit the portal and start the admission process 30 minutes before the scheduled time (in my case 8:30AM).
  • The admission process is very lengthy as it includes downloading and install PSI safe browser, checking your machine for various things. In addition, the proctor will need to check different things in your environment, you will need to have an ID and to make a photo of it for verification. All in all it took me 45 minutes to finish the admissions process, which was a bit stressful but do not worry this time is not included in the actual 120 minutes scheduled for the actual lab exam.
  • Handy tips to make your admission process as fast as possible:
    • Functioning webcam.
    • ID card or passport with exact name as the one you used to register for the exam.
    • Ensure that you have only 1 monitor connected.
    • Clean desk and no writing notepads or other notes on the desk or around you.
    • Clean walls and ceiling.
    • Not wearing any watches.
    • Water or coffee cups need to have no labels or writings.
    • Do not cover your mouth during the exam.
    • No phones or tablets on the desk or around you.

Final words

The learning and exam experience for CKA was one of the most interesting and learning experiences I have had in a while, first because the topic is very interesting and second because of the value of the CKA certificate in the market. It is highly recommended to go through the same experience and invest in yourself, good luck!