There are two exam you'll need to pass to become an F5 BIG-IP Administrator;
The 101 exam is mandatory, you will not be able to jump ahead to the 201 exam, or the 300 level exams. You may not like that, but once you take it you will really appreciate why F5 did this. If you work with F5 on a daily basis you are well aware there is more to becoming an F5 expert than memorizing commands and configuring BIG-IP modules. True application delivery administrators / engineers know you need skills ranging from networking, server administration, security, to development. That is the key to what separates a good F5 admin / engineer, from someone who is only comfortable adding a VIP or modifying pool members. The 101 exam was built to asses foundation knowledge in most of those areas. Not so much on the dev side, but basic iRule concepts are indeed on the 101 blueprint.
Guest author Austin Geraci is a subject matter expert in F5 Networks Technology, and has worked in the ADC space for 10+ years. When he's not working with & evangelizing F5's cutting edge technology, you can find him on the squash courts, going for a ride around Lady Bird Lake, or listening to some live music in ATX. Check out WorldTechIT to read more from Austin.
The very first thing you are required to complete before you schedule your actual exam is sign up for the F5 Certification program in the F5s Credential Management System. Once you do that you will receive an authorization email from F5 clearing you to schedule the 101 exam. The site is relatively intuitive once you register. This will be your home-base for things like F5 provided blueprints, study guides, and certification logos you can use on your website / business cards. I should note, the study guides you will find on this site are not full blown / the only thing you will need to pass the exams. They are outlines and examples of the objective topics. They will include references to material you should be basing your studies from.
On the cred mgmt site you will also find an option to publish credentials, which allows you to send a certified email with your certification credentials from the credential verification services @ PEARSON VUE - note the email comes from a slightly different domain than you may be familiar with from PEARSON - CredentialVerificationServices@pearsoncred.com. This can be a handy tool to send your official creds to potential employers, boss or maybe even tease your co-workers ;).
Some people will prefer to start studying before they schedule their first exam, other will take the opportunity to light a fire under their posterior. Either way, once you're cleared to test from F5 you can go ahead and schedule your F5 101 exam at F5s Certification landing page at PEARSONS VUE. Once you're registered & logged in at the PEARSON site you will see the 101 exam under pre-approved exams, go ahead and click on it - you will then be brought to a page with the exam details and a big blue button that says "Schedule this Exam". From there you will proceed to the test center search and pick a day and time that work best for you. Give yourself ample time to prepare and review all the blueprint material. I personally like morning exams, as I feel the most fresh in the am - but somehow it seems I'm always landing an afternoon slot that works with my schedule ;). When you do take the actual exam, make sure you are rested up, fed, and stress free the day of the exam. I have a friend who actually checks himself into a hotel the day before. This might sound extreme, but if you have a big family at home, the distraction free zone might prove to be worth it. However you prep in the days before, avoid cramming - it doesn't work for these types of tests.
It's important you fully understand what you're getting yourself into before you go gung ho and schedule your exam. Review F5s 101 – Application Delivery Fundamentals Blueprint and create a plan & time-line to pass the exam. Be realistic and take it seriously, there's nothing like blowing money on the exam for a reality check, but some of you will inevitably need that motivation 😉 You can go through the blueprint and create your own study guide, or you can opt to purchase the Application Delivery Fundamentals Study Guide by Philip Jönsson & Steven Iveson. There is also a free F5 101 exam study guide put together by Eric Mitchell on university.f5.com (requires login.) What did I do? I took a good look at the blueprint, and said phh I know this stuff! I then gave some quick study to sections I haven't hit on in a while. Even though I have a good background in networking and work on F5 gear on a daily basis, I found myself pressed for time, but I did indeed pass. If you are in a similar situation, I would not underestimate the exam, take your time to prepare. I didn't have Erics guide or the paid version when I took the exam - if I were to take the exam today I would probably do all 3, shell out $9.99 for the paid version, take a look at Erics study guide, and suppliment with some of my own material.
The 101 exam wasn't designed to run you ragged with hands on questions, but hands on preparation will definitely not hurt you. If you're not working on F5s BIG-IP software everyday, I would highly recommend you set yourself up with a virtual machine and purchase a license for the F5 BIG-IP Virtual Edition. For just under $100 bucks, you can have access to practice on just about all the F5 BIG-IP modules - the Policy Enforcement (PEM) & Link Controler (LC) modules are not included. You are also limited to 10mb bandwidth, and there are some limitations with the APM module, but that's no problem for the testing you'll need it for. It was a bold move by F5, which clearly shows their commitment to building competency on their platform. You can also get a free 90 day VE trial. If you do set up a VE box, make sure you get v11.4 up and running for the 101 (not always going to be v11.4), that's what the test (at this time) is based on. Remember this is a fundamentals exam, once you go through the blueprint you will see there are a lot of topics on fundamental knowledge of Network Engineering & Application Delivery. In other words, you won't have to go crazy with hands on - but it's not going to hurt & it will help you for the 201 test.
Here are some quick tips to keep in mind when taking the 101 exam:
Allright, you made it this far - you passed the 101! Give yourself a pat on the back, but don't get carried away, the fun has just started ;). In about a day from passing the 101 you should receive an official pass letter and an authorization email from F5 clearing you to schedule the 201 exam. I'll take this opportunity to mention some people have reported failing the exam at the testing center but passing when they received their email from F5. I'm not sure what the deal with that is, I only mention this so you don't lose all hope if you fail at the testing center. Again, you can go ahead and schedule the 201 exam now, or take the time to review the 201 TMOS administration blueprint and study to fully assess the time frame for the task at hand. At the time of publishing this article, the only public F5 201 study guide is the one completed by the gentleman and scholar, Eric Mitchell, also available on university.f5.com. I used this Study guide and filled in some of the lighter sections with my own -I passed the exam. I was more mindful of the time crunch this time, but I still cut it close on the limit. From discussions in study groups this is done on purpose by F5, as part of their assessment on you.
If you take a look at the 201 Blueprint you'll quickly see the topics cover actual administration of the Traffic Management Operating System (TMOS). You will absolutely need hands on experience to pass this exam. If you're not working with the gear everyday, and you didn't take my advice to setup that BIG-IP VE for the 101- Now would be a good time. Let me be clear, you will not pass this exam unless you have experience working on BIG-IP Software and in particular the Local Traffic Manager (LTM) module. Keep in mind this test is geared to measure your "administration" skills, particularly from the GUI. The 300 level exams will test more of your working knowledge of the CLI. With that in mind, don't rule out all of the CLI - pay attention to the blueprint and don't put 100% faith in someone elses study guide.
Here are some quick tips to keep in mind when taking the 201 exam:
You may be wondering how do I recertify my BIG-IP Administrator Certification? First, you should know your certification is good for 2 years from the time you became F5 certified. As long as you are within the 2 years, you can take the 201 exam again, or achieve F5 CTS status. Which means passing the 302, 303, 304, or 301A & B exams. To clarify further, you need to pass both 301A & B, one won't cut it, opposed to the other 300 level exams that only consist of one exam. If you let your two years pass, you will indeed need to retake the 101 exam. Make sure you stay on top of your time-line, and create a plan that leaves you plenty of time before the 2 year expiration.
Hopefully by this point you've received the victorious pass letter from F5 with the subject line "You have been certified as an F5 Certified BIG-IP Administrator!". Take some time to celebrate and acknowledge your accomplishment - you're now officially an F5 Certified BIG-IP Administrator 😉 Don't stop there, if you log into F5s Credential Management System you will see you now have access to all the 300 level Certified Technology Specialist (CTS) blueprint & study guide. Note the 301b exam will only be available for you to take with PEARSON after you pass the 301a exam. Some people opt to conquer the 301a/b first, since they just finished the 201 exam, others take a break and hit one of the other exams. There is no right or wrong here, it's all a mater of preference. Which path are you going to choose?
F5 CTS GTM Exams
F5 CTS ASM Exams
F5 CTS APM Exams
What has your experience been like with the F5 Certification program? Any tips or insights of your own you'd like to share? Maybe a question or two about the certification process? (NOT an actual cerfication question. Sharing certification exam details can result in loss of certification and expulsion from the program for life!) Well jump on in and comment below!