The Certified Kubernetes Administrator exam is notoriously tough. Unlike many technical certification exams, which often have a multiple-choice structure, the CKA takes an entirely hands-on approach. Candidates prove their real-world Kubernetes skills by performing tasks in the terminal.
In Acing the Certified Kubernetes Administrator Exam, author Chad M. Crowell shares his advice for IT professionals preparing to obtain the CKA, a Kubernetes certification offered by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation. Crowell, who's also a Kubernetes subject matter expert at digital consulting firm Raft, designed the guide to mimic the exam environment, with practice problems covering concepts from the basics of setting up a Kubernetes cluster to diagnosing complex issues.
In this Q&A with TechTarget Editorial, Crowell discusses the benefits of getting a Kubernetes certification and shares his tips for CKA exam preparation, including how to study for the most challenging topics. For a sample of the book, read an excerpt from Chapter 8 of Acing the Certified Kubernetes Administrator Exam, where you'll walk through a practice CKA exam question on troubleshooting a Kubernetes issue using log data.
Editor's note: The following has been edited for length and clarity.
You mention in the book that you first started learning Kubernetes in 2017. How have you seen interest in Kubernetes change over the time you've been working in this area?
Chad Crowell: I've seen interest grow exponentially -- so much so that companies are having difficulty finding candidates with Kubernetes expertise. The CKA certification is such a sought-after requisite skill metric as companies try to fill and skill up their workforce.
What motivated you to write a guide for the CKA exam?
Crowell: I wanted to provide an interactive, hands-on way of preparing for the CKA exam. When I started learning Kubernetes, the docs were hard to comprehend, and the interactive guides were sparse.
I filled this book with 74 exam exercises. The exercises require you to practice the skills that you will need the most for the CKA exam, which consists of performance-based tasks and problems to be solved on the command line running Linux.
Early in the book, you mention that some readers might be asking themselves whether getting a Kubernetes certification is worth it. Could you elaborate on the benefits of getting the CKA certification over just having work experience with Kubernetes?
Crowell: For the exam taker, the benefits to getting CKA certified include an all-around knowledge of the Kubernetes landscape. In your duties at work, you might be troubleshooting or configuring storage in Kubernetes, but you don't necessarily get to work with backing up and restoring etcd, as an example.
This exam tests you on the full landscape so you can have confidence that you're a well-rounded Kubernetes expert. The way in which you are tested is also unique in the industry, as you must put your knowledge into practice in the command-line terminal.
Finally, there's no doubt that having this on your resume is a huge advantage in the job market. I would assume you could ask for more compensation based on it.
In the book, you note that the CKA isn't an introductory certification. How much experience with Kubernetes does someone generally need to do well on the exam, and where does the CKA usually fit into someone's career path?
Crowell: As well as having a general understanding of containers and what Kubernetes does for containers, I would suggest a person have at least three to five months of hands-on daily practice with the kubectl command-line utility to do well on the exam.
The CKA usually fits into the role of a sys admin. The candidate would have been administering workloads and managing infrastructure for several years before jumping right into Kubernetes.
What would you say are the most important skills or concepts to focus on when preparing for the exam?
Crowell: Linux and containers are the most important skills to have when preparing for the CKA exam.
Kubernetes is a platform that orchestrates containers, so knowing that containers are ephemeral by nature and knowing the difference between a VM and container is helpful. Knowing Linux and the directory structure, especially for logs, will help for the exam as well.
Practice navigating the filesystem as well as knowledge of daemons and using Vim will all better your chances of acing the CKA exam. It also wouldn't hurt to have some distributed systems knowledge, like the sidecar pattern.
Which topics tend to be the most challenging, and what have you found to be the best strategies for tackling them?
Crowell: The most challenging topic is troubleshooting, and it weighs in at 30% of the exam.
The strategy I recommend is to have a decision tree in your head of what to do when a problem presents itself. For example, if a pod is not running, first check the logs for any useful information; then describe the pod to view the events; then look in /var/log/containers on the node where that container is scheduled to. I have two decision tree diagrams in Chapter 8 that walk you through this process.
As you note in the book, the CKA exam is known for its fully performance-based approach. How do you recommend that test takers prepare for the practical nature of the test?
Crowell: Utilize a lab environment, whether it be a local kind cluster or killercoda.com.
You can't prepare for this exam without getting in the terminal at least once per day. This is why I have 74 exam exercises in the book. It's to get the reader used to running the commands in the terminal.
The more practice you do, the better prepared for the exam you will be. It's also important to take advantage of the practice test provided by killer.sh, which is free with an exam voucher.
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