Certifying as HDP Certified Administrator

Let’s talk about certification. The thing by which you try to show potential employers and customers that you actually know what you are doing at work. My only experience up to last Tuesday with IT product-related certifications was with Oracle’s Certified Professional program. I’ve been OCP for the database from 8i to 11g plus I’m 11g Database Performance Tuning Certified Expert. But all these exams were mainly multiple choice and to really test your knowledge the exams often contained some obscure stuff that you would rarely use. I’ll never forget the question about v$waitstat in one of these exams… well, I digress.

OCP wasn’t exactly embraced by all Oracle DBA’s either. A lot of experienced DBA’s saw it more as a way for inexperienced DBA’s to show they .. knew how to learn lots of facts about Oracle databases. Companies with lots of inexperienced DBA’s loved it, hoping that this would entice customers to invite their otherwise green “medior” DBA’s.

An exam that actually tests if I can do my job?

Last Tuesday I did the Hortonworks Data Platform Certified Administrator exam. And this is completely different beast: you get an environment with a HDP 2.3 cluster and 8 assignments: install this, repair that, grant this, secure that. It’s like.. actual work. It’s the stuff you’re supposed to be certified for. Great that you know by heart – for example – exactly what parameter enables Resource Manager high availability. Now could you please.. just enable Resource Manager high availability? (I’m really hoping this is not some kind of alternative HDPCA exam question that I’ve accidentally revealed 🙂 . I swear it wasn’t in mine.)

Do you want to do this in Ambari (the “Oracle Enterprise Manager of the Hortonworks Data Platform”) or command line? You decide! Do you need to check documentation or Google it to solve that issue? That is not a problem. Just like the real world. Because that’s how it works. Because you don’t know by heart what parameter enables Resource Manager high availability. Because it’s stupid to learn these facts in 2017.

So I like this way of certifying. Kudo’s for Hortonworks to have the confidence in their exam environment and coming up with these assignments. I know from experience with Oracle courses I have produced that demo environments on some days simply do not do what you want. And it takes a lot of time to make them perfect.



Another good thing: you can do the exam from home or work (does Oracle already have that now?). Now rule 1 about doing exams from home is: we do not talk about how you do exams from home. Probably. Long story short. All you need, is your computer (with a webcam) on an uncluttered desk (which rules out my desk. I’ve used the table in the living room), a fast enough Internet connection and a room where you are the only human being. (I noticed they didn’t say anything about pets. Maybe that’s an idea. Make the parrot talk hdfs commands to you.) Also it might help you to have a portable mirror in the house 🙂 . To see under your laptop in case your webcam is attached to it.



Doing exams at home is rather convenient, but here we get to the little matter of bandwidth. You need a fast Internet connection. The exam instructions call for a 5 Mbps bandwidth. I easily met that demand for download (40 Mbps) but fell short of it for upload (3.5 to 4 Mbps). You can test this for yourself at http://beta.speedtest.net/run .

Here was my experience with that: the environment appeared extremely slow. Every.. command .. I typed … took … more … than… 10 … seconds … to … appear. Every browser click. Every window I moved. Every command I typed (Luckily I’m a pretty disciplined blind typist if I must). I’ve used slow connections before in my career. But not with this kind of time constraint (2 hours).

Was the fault in my connection (that would be strange, given that I’ve rarely had problems with bandwidth before)? Could a little less bandwidth result in these enormous waits? Were there problems on the exam environment? I’ll never know. But this slowed me down enough that it was really hard to finish all 8 assignments in time. And the instructions stated I needed 7 correct ones to pass. In the end I finished only 7 assignments and I wasn’t exactly sure about one of them.

My advice:
1. Check your bandwidth beforehand. If only to be sure the problem is not at your side.
2. If you encounter the same issue, better to tell the proctor this environment is unusable, because you’ll need to be efficient in the extreme to be able to pass your exam in time otherwise.



But how do you prepare for a practical exam? What to expect? First of all: you might not need to learn all parameters by heart, but you certainly have to know your theory. Make sure you understand the concepts. Googling everything during the exam will take too much time and you might end up short.

Hortonworks has a list of topics you need to know. You can learn about these topics from the documentation or from Hortonworks University.

Hortonworks University is not free. The content in the current version is a little dry, but the upside is, you can learn more efficiently, because all topics are there in a couple of courses. I happen to know some improvements are on their way.

Also make sure you’ve tried the practice exam environment. It’s a HDP 2.3 cluster available on Amazon Web Services. You have to pay to run it, but not that much. I would really recommend it, because it has the look and feel of the exam environment. It has a few assignments you can try out. These are a bit easier than the real deal, but it gives you an idea about the way they formulate things and what kind of things they ask of you. The environment is also useful if you want to test things out while you’re studying.

Pay attention on how to connect to nodes and what tools you have available. It will be similar to the real deal. One thing I’ve struggled with on the practice environment, was how to become root. You start on an edge node as user horton from which you can connect to the other nodes, but there you can’t su to root. Instead you ssh directly to root on those nodes.


In summation

I like Hortonworks’ exams much better. Despite the connection issues, I managed to pass the exam. I can now call myself Hortonworks Data Platform Certified Administrator. I may now carry this badge .. on LinkedIn and Twitter.

If you want to become HDPCA too, you now know what to do.

About Marcel-Jan Krijgsman

In 2017 I made the leap to Big Data after 20 years of experience with Oracle databases. I followed courses on Hadoop, Big Data Analytics, Machine Learning and Python, MongoDB and Elasticsearch.
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