Which VMware certifications should you invest in?
IT is a fast moving industry, and the current shift to cloud computing is accelerating the rate of change. With the forthcoming release of the vSphere5 VCAP exams (VCAP5-DCA and the VCAP5-DCD) I’ve been planning to study my socks off to get both exams under my belt. I’m sure I’m not alone in struggling to make study time, particularly as my day job doesn’t tend to cover all of the material either because we’re only Enterprise level licensing or because we don’t use all the features. On top of that I’d like to update my VCAP-DCA study guide which will consume a significant chunk of time.
This serious case of study contention has made me revisit my priorities. The VMware ecosystem has evolved considerably over the last few years and there’s considerable buzz around VMware View and vCloud Director (not to mention the whole Cloud Foundry and vFabric ecosystem). Maybe these would be better areas to focus on? As John Troyer said about certifications “You don’t have to collect them all!” but it does make me wonder – which VMware certs are most likely to benefit career progression?
VCP or VCAP?
First some facts. The VMware platform which evolved into vSphere was launched in 2001, the first VCP exam was available in June 2003 (@susangude is VCP#1), and the first VCAP exams were launched seven years later in August 2010. Nine years on and the statistics are well known – around 60,000 VCPs worldwide and approximately 600 certified in each of the two VCAP tracks (so 50 VCPs for every VCAP!).
After the first year and a half there are now approximately 1200 VCAPs – in comparison the VCP program had approximately 7000 worldwide after its first 3.5 years. It’s taken quite a few years for the VCP to become mainstream – I got my VCP3 back in 2007 when it was a highly sought after and well paid cert but since then, although the demand has increased, the value has dropped. Will we have to wait another few years for the VCAP certification to gain traction in the marketplace?
Alongside my ‘What’s new in the VCAP5-DCA blueprint‘ blogpost I ran a survey asking whether people thought the VCAP-DCA exam was worth pursuing over and above the VCP (if you provided feedback, thankyou! If you didn’t, now’s your chance – it’s on the right). The results from 60 respondents (so far);
- 65% think the VCAP-DCA is worthwhile (peers and employers already recognise its value)
- 35% think a VCP is sufficient
My audience are mainly technically savvy VMware users and this is a very small sample size but it’s interesting that nearly a third of the respondents aren’t convinced of the VCAP-DCA’s value over a VCP.
A quick search of Jobserve listed the following (and I got similar results from ITJobWatch and cwjobs);
- 685 jobs with VCP in the specification
- 4 jobs with VCAP in the specification
While not scientific it’s not surprising – the VCAP represents a more select group but also a more limited set of jobs requesting it! Of course if you can offer more than the entry level VCP (even if it’s not asked for) then you’re giving yourself an advantage over your competition and that distinction is what many are after with the VCAP exams. Career progression in terms of getting a new job may not be the main motivation of course – VMware partners, solutions providers, trainers, and even bloggers want to assure their customers that they have the technical knowledge to do the job (although whether a certification does that is obviously open to debate).
I spoke to Paul McSharry, a VCI working in the UK, who observed that most people take the VCP to help them get a job, whereas they take the VCAP out of passion for the technology. Personally that’s true for me – I like the challenge and find certifications a good framework to learn about a product.
The VCP5 was released almost simultaneously with vSphere5 while the VCAP5 exams are due to be available in the next few months – nearly a year after the release of the product (and the VCAP-DT hasn’t seen the light of day at all!). With VMware planning to release a major update every two years I think the delayed release of the VCAP exams will hinder their adoption by employers. As soon as a new release hits the market companies will need skilled candidates to ensure continuity of support and if the certifications aren’t even available then they won’t make it into job specifications. I’ve personally seen a few jobs advertised in the past year asking specifically for vSphere5 experience including Enterprise+ features but they can only reference the VCP because the VCAP isn’t available.
Despite both my poll and the job boards implying that the VCAP hasn’t achieved significant market penetration yet, I suspect it’s just early days. I know when I’ve recruited over the last eighteen months I’ve struggled to find candidates with significant real world experience and I’ve heard a similar message from my peers. If the demand is there, they will come, eventually! I believe VMware need to release the VCAP exams much sooner if they want people to continue to invest their time and money in getting certified. Just like the VCP I believe there will be a sweet spot where it’s in demand but not so common that salaries will drop – and those who certify early will reap the benefits.
Desktop virtualisation (VCA-DT, VCP-DT)
Surely this is in demand, this is the year of virtual desktops don’t you know!
VMware’s VDI solution is View, originally released in December 2008. The desktop virtualisation certification track was announced in January 2011 and to date only the first two exams (VCA-DT & VCP-DT) have been released (the advanced VCAP-DT exam is still pending). Despite the popularity of desktop virtualisation a search of Jobserve revealed a complete absence of a single job spec requesting a VMware desktop certification. Of course that doesn’t mean it won’t impress an employer looking for someone with knowledge of VMware View (and there are plenty of them) but it does imply that the certification has yet to work it’s way into recruiters requirements.
I’ve not seen any official figures from VMware but this VMware forum thread implies there are already over a thousand certified VCP-DT candidates. That puts it on a par with the VCAP exams given that its been out for a slightly shorter period. There’s been some uncertainty over the entry level cert, the VCA-DT, as initially it was a prerequisite for the VCP-DT but it was replaced a few months later with the VCP. The VCP5-DT exam has also been released with no sign of the VCA5-DT.
Like the VCAP exams it’s probably too early to make conclusions about this new certification track. Certainly desktop virtualisation shows no sign of abating, even if it also shows no sign of dominating the market in the way some predicted. Because this track builds on the ‘base’ VCP cert it allows candidates to distinguish themselves from the masses while expanding the range of products they support, plus the exam is cheaper and shorter than the VCAP. I think getting yourself certification and, more importantly, experience in View would likely be more valuable than the VCAP track for many people.
Everywhere you turn there’s cloud computing. At VMworld in August 2010 VMware released vCloud Director, their solution for managing multi-tenant cloud infrastructures. As one of the more recent product suite launches it’s not entirely surprising that there’s no publically available certification yet but one is in the works. There are three official VMware vCloud training courses for the latest version and a beta of the certification exam was run at the recent partner exchange in February so I’d imagine it’ll be out by the end of the year if not sooner. If you look at the entire VMware product range the evolution is clearly in the management stack – Configuration Manager, Chargeback Mgr, Orchestrator, vCloud Connector, vCloud Service Connector, vCenter Operations and the entire vFabric ecosystem.
With all the buzz around cloud computing and the apparently strong uptake of vCloud Director I think any exposure to vCD, and certification when available, is probably the most valuable VMware skillset of all, certainly looking forward to the next eighteen months. Of course vCD is part of a large technology stack so you’ll probably need some foundation knowledge (or certifications!) before you can really claim to be a vCloud expert.
———-UPDATE 1st Sept 2012 ————
At the recent VMworld 2012 conference in San Francisco VMware revealed a revamped set of certifications including an expanded Cloud and desktop track. Apart from more exams the advice in this article still stands – I think desktop and cloud are the growth areas worth focusing on for certification.
Best of the rest (VCDX, vExpert)
What about the VCDX I hear you ask? The VCDX shows just how hard it is to measure the value of a certification. With less than a hundred VCDXs worldwide it’s certainly an elite group that carries great weight within the industry, yet a job search reveals hardly any mentions and those that do tend to specify ‘VCP or VCDX’ which makes a mockery of the requirement. By their very nature internet job sites are really designed for the mainstream, the 80% of jobs which don’t require highly specialist skills. In any industry the top positions are filled by going directly to the people they require – they already know who they are. On the same token it’s impossible to get meaningful statistics on salaries because of the small sample size. My impression is that those with a VCDX can pick their job of choice and that’s worth a lot in my opinion. To quote Chris Kranz from Kelway when asked about the value of his cert;
I think of it like a conservatory on a house, it won’t add much value, but it’ll make it sell quicker. Chris Kranz, VCDX#47
…although I think a conservatory is probably cheaper and quicker to finish! Incidentally I think the delay in releasing VCAP exams has a knock on impact on the VCDX – given the product lifecycle and the time required to complete the VCDX the cert is almost out of date by the time you’ve got it.
Last but certainly not least is the vExpert which is an interesting case. It’s NOT a certification but that doesn’t mean you can’t set out to become one in much the same way – study the ‘blueprint‘ and recognise the track which suits your strengths. It is different from the other certifications in that it’s not about technical ability and there’s a key concept – giving to the community with no expectation of reward. There were people who weren’t nominated as vExpert’s this year not because they hadn’t contributed enough (that wasn’t in dispute for several of these well known people) but because they didn’t feel it was right to apply for something that’s essentially recognition of work you’ve done on a goodwill basis. The vExpert is also about sustained effort, rather than a one off test. I think that with the rise of social media (Twitter, forums, blogs, Linked-In etc) this sort of public exposure is equally if not more useful for career progression compared to a certification on a CV. It’s a bit like buying a car – while an MOT is only valid the day of the test a full service history tells you much more about the overall story of that vehicle. I’d stress again that the vExpert recognition has always been given to people that contribute to the community – it’s a vote of thanks and no more. There’s always the risk that if people abuse the system it’ll lose whatever market value it actually has. With social media you also need to be careful what you post – it could work for or against you and once it’s published you can’t take it back!
Personally I suspect that having a vExpert award on your CV may be more compelling to many employers than a VCAP certification. After all there are only 430 or so vExperts compared to over a thousand VCAPs and there’s a public directory just like the VCDX. Ideally you’ll have both!
For many the choice of certification will be driven by their current role or requirements, time available, funds available, and technical aptitude, and most importantly their passion or commitment to improving themselves. Obviously I’ve only touched the surface here – maybe this will be the year of Hyper-V, maybe OpenStack will dominate the cloud computing landscape, or maybe RHEV will come to dominate the hypervisor world (hey, anything’s possible!). It’s quite likely that certifications from other vendors will add more value to your career than a narrow focus on VMware technologies, but covering all the available options will have to wait for another blogpost! You could always attend the London VMUG on the 17th May where Neil Mills, from specialist virtualisation recruitment agency MillsHill will be covering just that – “The vMarket – Skills in Demand for the Next Five Years”.
I’d love to get your views on which certifications you think have the greatest potential to boost your career, so I’m running another poll;
Finally, if you’re feeling bad that you can’t keep up with the new products, versions, and the resulting certification exams you can at least take solace in the fact that you’re not alone – VMware’s certification team are also suffering;
The VMware Certification Program is currently experiencing very high volumes of cases because of record-breaking exam volume in February of this year. Please expect to wait 15-20 business days for new certifications to be added to your transcript.
I guess that’s partly why the VCAP5 exams still aren’t available and vCloud certificaton has yet to be announced!
VMware’s list of vCD resources (good collection)