My (online proctored) VMCE 2020 experience

Right before my vacation I reached a goal, which was actually already on my list for 2019. I tried and managed to get the Veeam Certified Engineer (VMCE) certification in the 2020 edition. This was also my first online proctored exam. So in the following I would like to tell you why it took so long since my Veeam Configuration and Management training in 2019 and what experiences I made with the 2020 exam in the „Remote Edition“.

In June 2019 I visited the VeeamOn Forum Germany in Wiesbaden. At one of the exhibitor booths I became aware of the company qSkills from Nuremberg, Germany. qSkills is an independent training provider specialized in delivering high quality training in the areas of IT and IT management. Here is the link to the website of qSkills. They had a special discount on their Veeam trainings for the event participants, which made it easier for me to justify the training to my managers. So in October 2019 I attended the Veeam configuration and management training in version 9.5 U4. Initially I had planned to do the certification almost immediately after the training. But then I found first hints on Twitter about the release of version 10 of Veeam Backup & Replication in the first quarter of 2020. This is why I decided to wait and see what changes version 10 will have on the certification process. The year 2019 thus ended without being certified as a VMCE.

On February 18, 2020 I attended a veeam-centric workshop of our preferred distributor. Coincidentally, Veeam Availability Suite v10 was released on that very day. I took the opportunity to talk to the Veeam System Engineers (SEs) present about possible changes in certification. Here I learned about the (preliminary) plans to present a new VMCE course and exam at VeeamON 2020. Based on this information I have spoken with our Veeam partner management to evaluate to what extent it will be possible to achieve the 2020 certification with the Veeam 9.5 U4 configuration and management course. At first I was (understandably) put off until the official availability of the 2020 course and exam. So for me it was once again a matter of waiting. Finally the new course and exam GAed and I was able to receive the necessary information: It is possible to obtain the VMCE 2020 certification by completing the 2020 exam within one year of attending the 9.5 U4 course. And so I had a new deadline: October 2020.

And then there was COVID-19. Taking an exam at a test center was not an option in the first weeks and months of the pandemic. Therefore it was necessary to wait one more time. As the number of cases decreased, the situation eased a bit and the deadline approached, it was time to deal with when, where and how I could take the exam. As if by destiny, it was at this time that the announcement was made that the VMCE exam is now available on Pearson VUEs online proctored platform. Soon the decision was clear: VMCE 2020 will be my first online proctored exam.

After this somewhat longer introduction we come to the probably more interesting part: My experiences with the online proctored VMCE 2020 exam.

Part 1: Read the blueprint

Like for the VMware VCAP-DCV Deploy exam, there is a blueprint for the VMCE 2020 exam. If you are also interested in the VMware certification you can find my experiences here. Veeam calls this single source of truth the VMCE 2020 exam specification. Here you can find all information about the exam you need for your certification. Starting with the scope of the exam (50 questions, 60 minutes + 30 minutes for non-native speakers) to the required passing score and the objectives covered. What I really like about the specification are the links to the individual objectives. With these you can work on each section independently of the training material.

Part 2: Learning and preparation for the exam

Since attending the course is a prerequisite for taking the exam, the course and the associated training materials are a very good starting point. In my case the training material was based on version 9.5 U4. Therefore, in preparation for the 2020 exam, I used the Veeam Help Center to learn the theoretical basics of the new features. Practical hands-on experience with version 10 of the Veeam Availability Suite (Veeam Backup & Replication and Veeam ONE) in addition to the theoretical knowledge does not do any harm. In retrospect, I would even say that I would not have passed the exam if I hadn’t regularly dealt with all functions of the Availability Suite due to my daily business. So if you are also thinking about getting certified, I highly recommend that you gain hands-on experience with the Veeam Availability Suite products. No matter if you use the Community Editions and gain experience in your Homelab, the test environment of your employer or (of course only in coordination) parts of the productive environment of one of your customers, do yourself the favor and use the given possibilities.

To test myself in terms of my VMCE knowledge I took the practice exams before after my studies. I can recommend three pages:

  1. The official Veeam Practice exam (Veeam ProPartner access required) by Veeam
  2. Practice Exam: Veeam Certified Engineer VMCE v9.5 by Rasmus Haslund
  3. VMCE v9.5 Practice Exam by Rhys Hammond

Some of you may wonder why I took the practice exams before I started studying. There is a relatively simple answer. Since I have been working with the products of the Veeam Availability Suite for several years now, I assumed that I could answer some questions correctly even without learning. At the end of the practice exams you will get an overview of the correct answers but – in my opinion much more important – an overview of the correct answers per module. I have used this overview to identify the areas I should focus on while learning. And this is exactly where the links from the exam specification come into play. For the areas in which I had weaknesses during the practice exam, I reviewed the training materials and the corresponding content from the Help Center to improve my knowledge regarding these objectives.

Veeam recommends learning until you can regularly answer 90% of the questions correctly. With regard to the 70% correct answers that are necessary to pass the exam, this is certainly not a bad recommendation.

Part 3: Registration for the exam

Registration for the VMCE 2020 exam is available through Veeams ProPartner site and then through the Pearson Vue site. Before you can decide on a date, you have the choice to take the exam in a test center or as online proctored exam. As mentioned before, in the current situation I decided to do the exam online proctored. Familiarize yourself with the special requirements of the online proctored exam so that you won’t be faced with a nasty surprise on the day of the exam. More about this in the next section.

Part 4: Take the exam

In the confirmation email you will find a link to start the exam. This link will take you to the Veeam branded Pearson VUE portal where you can manage your exams. You have the possibility to start the exam 30 minutes before the actual appointment. I strongly advise you to take advantage of these 30 minutes and be at your chosen exam location early. Why? Very simple: I needed about 20 minutes to complete the check-in process. For those of you who have not yet taken an online proctored exam, I would like to briefly describe the individual phases of this process.

  1. Starting the exam through the Veeam branded Pearson VUE portal.
  2. Download and start the OnVUE online proctored exam software.
  3. Receive and open the link on your smartphone to start the preliminary steps of the check-in process.
  4. Take a photo of your face with the front camera of your smartphone.
  5. Take a photo of your driver’s license/passport with the front camera of your smartphone. The passport document must be on a dark surface.
  6. Take pictures of your room from all directions.
  7. Upload all photos and wait until you are contacted for further steps or the start of the exam.

Actually a pretty straightforward process. What I had to struggle with were the photos of my driver’s license on a dark surface. I decided to take the exam in an empty office with a lockable door and blinds. Usually these offices are used by external companies or auditors. The offices are empty except for the desk and office chair, the actual desk is empty and it can be ensured that no one else enters the room or looks in from the outside. But exactly these advantages then became a challenge. The office chair was the only dark object in the room. Since the photo had to be taken with the front camera of the smartphone, I ended up sitting on the floor and struggled to take the photos of the driver’s license lying on the chair. After a few attempts it worked out after all. Unfortunately the quality was probably not sufficient. Therefore I was contacted by phone to take a photo of my driver’s license again. In the meantime I had put the smartphone together with the driver’s license out of reach in my backpack. Therefore I first had to ask via chat if I could remove myself from the webcam without endangering my exam. At least this time I was able to take the photo with my normal camera so I didn’t have to make a fool of myself in front of the webcam. In the end, I had finally made it and I could start with the exam. From that point on it was identical in handling to the GUI I knew from the test centers.

Part 5: The exam itself

The exam is a classic multiple choice and multiple answers exam with 50 questions. The questions are distributed according to the percentages from the exam specifications. Of course I can’t go into the questions here but I don’t think I’m giving too much away when I say that the exam is not only about backup and restore but also, as the name of the product suggests, about replication. Apart from that, the exam is a good mixture of general questions about backup and recovery and product specific questions.

The questions themselves are not complicated or formulated in a particularly mean way. Nevertheless, you should take the time to read the questions carefully and not choose your answer directly by the presence of the first keyword. Especially with the additional 30 minutes for non-native speakers, the given time was not a problem at any point. Even if you don’t work several hours a day with the Veeam products you shouldn’t have any problems with time.

A disadvantage compared to a test center is the missing possibility to make notes on certain questions. It is currently not allowed to have pen and paper on the table during the online proctored exams.

Wrap-up

What lasts long will finally be good. This or something similar is what they say in Germany. After almost 12 months I finally made it and successfully completed the VMCE certification. Especially the fact that I did the certification for the first time in form of an online proctored exam made the whole thing exciting. I personally like the fact that more and more vendors and partners give me the opportunity to take the exams from where I want to. Even if this possibility comes with the one or the other challenge, it is still a welcome alternative to a visit to the test center, especially in times of a pandemic.

I also think Veeam’s approach to enable 2020 certification for candidates who have recently attended the course based on version 9.5 U4 is great. Last but not least I don’t want to deny you the nice badge which is waiting for you after successful certification.

VMCE 2020

In addition to this, there is another useful benefit: Prioritized access to the outstanding Veeam technical support via an individual support number.