F5's certification exams are awesome; a good way to test and prove your skills and worldwide recognized. But they are not easy! And neither should they be. Unfortunately, because of their structure and time limits, many people struggle to pass them or simply don't want to take them. There are many people out there that are brilliant with F5's, but don’t have anything to show for it. Not to say that everyone should have the certification, but if you know your stuff and you want to show it, there shouldn't be anything stopping you. In this series of articles, I will go into the details of how the exams are developed (...as far as I know at least), and how I think you can improve your chances of passing them. With some preparation and the right mind set, everyone can have a better chance of passing these exams and show them off to the world! After all, the exams should not be a test to see if you can work under pressure (you can leave that to your boss), but instead to prove that you know your F5's!
An evangelist for anything software designed and security, and a self-described massive network geek, Alex is an F5 trainer and consultant at ABCT.net. While certified and highly skilled and interested in all things F5, he's just as happy pulling cables in a data center and designing scalable systems as he is messing around with the latest cool kids toys our fine industry has to offer.
...and why should I listen to you?
After saying bye to the railways in 2009, I picked up my old hobby of networking, by studying for Cisco’s CCNP and CCDP exams. I loved every minute of it, and loved the technology, but unfortunately, as this was the height of the financial crisis, nobody was looking for Cisco engineers that couldn’t prove they have practical experience. More than once did recruiters hang up on me mid-sentence; “Well, I can’t prove my experience, but I do have the certific….”. Even to recruiters it was clear that having the certificates on their own is not good enough.
Anyway, luckily I got employed in a small town of rural England on a European wide helpdesk that looked after basically all vendors similar to Cisco, apart from Cisco itself. And as the company had to have a certain level of certified engineers in various technologies, the deal with my manager was simple; he will keep sending me on training courses, as long as I keep passing the exams. Oh, and those Cisco certs? “Yeah, they’re nice, but only tells me that you have an interest in the technology, not that you actually know your stuff…” So, over the next couple of years I turned in to a certification monkey; Juniper JNCIS-Sec, JNCIS-Ent, JNCIS-SSL, PaloAlto ACE, BlueCoat BCCPP, Checkpoint CCSA, VMware VCP-NV, Ruckus WiseGuy, I’ve done them all… With varying levels of success and enjoyment, but one thing clear between all of them; as long as I read the book and followed the standard course, I could pass them! So when F5 brought out their new certification program, there was one sucker in particular that was kindly but firmly asked to pass the exams. Gmbmglrmlbn… stupid F5’s, I don’t like that stuff… bgmbmrrn…. Ok… (Ross, if you are reading this, I still owe you my gratitude for “forcing” me into F5… 😉
When starting to get stuck into this technology, one thing became clear early on; just sitting on training courses and reading the books didn’t make me pass them! Hmm, that’s a new one! Although to be fair, the 101 I passed roughly based on all my previous knowledge and hardly picking up a book – that already showed me the opposite is true as well; if you know your stuff, you don’t have to study! Moving through the exams and the structure, I also started to enjoy working with the kit and now I can’t leave it alone. This prompted me to move from helpdesk to presales, to training and consultancies. From someone who hated F5 to someone who’s just a massive fanboy – that’s my life… Having passed 401 and 402 and all intermediate exams (including the elusive 202!), I look back at these exams and compare them to all the other ones I’ve done, I can honestly say that these are the best structured and most worthwhile exams out there. There are exams out there that are purely paper exercises, some that are nothing more than a checkbox exercise and some that are purely there to generate cash. Not to say there are no other worthwhile exams out there, but the F5 program is definitely one of the better ones!
…so what’s your idea?
I’d like to tell you about my experiences running through all kinds of exams, and in particular F5 exams and how to best prepare yourself for them, and give yourself the best opportunity to make sure that your technical knowledge prevails during your actual exam, rather than your fears, stress and other distractions. With my lovely wife now having been infected with the F5 bug as well, and having started her own certification path – or maybe she just does it so I may finally shut up about it… - I thought I might as well write all this down.
Dr. Ken Says...
The only comment I have here is in regard to the statement, “the exams should not be a test to see if you can work under pressure”. While I believe the sentiment was well-founded, it is not entirely correct. Time constraint is absolutely an element of our assessment process; thus, some amount of “work[ing] under pressure” is inherently present.
“Expert” practitioners generally require less time to evaluate and apply their knowledge; they require less “input” in order to identify the scope of the problem, the key aspects affecting the problem, and the likely causes. As such, we have intentionally limited the amount of time on our exams to better identify those that can consistently perform within an “average” amount of time, versus those that get stuck. This is a key element of the assessment process.
At the end of the day, when an employer sees someone with an F5 certification, they should know that the individual can consistently solve problems in an efficient manner, saving time/money in the long-run. We think this adds significant value in having our certifications.
Over the next weeks, I’ll be highlighting the best ways to prepare yourself for the exam, how the exam development process works, how this helps you better understand the exam, and how to deal with time pressure. I will keep my technical recommendations to a minimum, simply because there are lots of good resources available out there that can help with that, and I rather focus on various areas of the “softer” side of the exam. Of course, if anyone DOES want to talk more about the technical side of it, I’m all ears!
I hope these articles are useful, and just as a disclaimer; all notes and opinions in these articles are mine and mine alone. Hopefully you (and F5?) agree with them, but if not, please do not hesitate to let me know.