The What, Why, and How of the Docker Certified Associate (DCA) Certification

The What, Why, and How of the Docker Certified Associate (DCA) Certification


Many people have asked me about the DCA (Docker Certified
Associate) certification. What it takes to get it, what are the benefits, and how much of it my Docker Mastery and Swarm Mastery courses cover.

Update, March 2020: I just got word that it was silently updated to include Kubernetes, an updated Docker Enterprise version (I'm assuming 2.x), and new question types. Note that all online prep guides for the DCA are now incomplete. I haven't updated this guide yet to reflect those changes. Official updated study guide (v1.1):

First, what is the DCA?

"Docker Certified Associate" is Docker Inc’s first professional certification, in what we’ll assume will eventually be a series of certification levels (hence the “Associate” name). It’s 55 multiple choice questions meant to test your knowledge of Docker’s enterprise toolset, including Docker Engine, Swarm Mode, Notary, Docker Trusted Registry, and Universal Control Plane. That's the full Docker EE product suite, meant for businesses wanting a secure and supported container platform for their datacenter and cloud. If you’re successful, the cert is
good for 2 years, then you’ll have to retest (I assume).

They first offered it to insiders like Docker Captains as a beta in September 2017, where we had to take 110 questions, and I got a 93%, whew!

Then they offered it to DockerCon 2017 EU attendees onsite, in
October. We got a t-shirt and lapel pin for passing!

Now you can take it remotely from your computer. Do note the
restrictions below on testing environment.

What is this certification good for?

From Docker’s site:

“professional certification program for the Docker Enterprise
Edition (EE) platform.” and also “Designed to validate professionals with 6 to 12 months of Docker experience.”

So that means this is not a generic best practice test for containers, but rather a product certification for properly implementing and supporting Docker EE, which is fine. A generic industry test isn't the type of cert Docker should have made anyway. This is a vendor certification, just like a Microsoft or AWS cert. A subset of it is on basic Docker concepts of images, containers, and registries. The rest is on Swarm, Notary, Trusted Registry, and Universal Control Plane, which are valuable if a team is interested in using orchestration, code signing, and paid Docker products. I'm a fan of all that. I've seen the positive effects the Docker product line has had on DevOps teams first hand, so I personally think the DCA is great.

Since it’s new, I can only speculate what its true value will be to employers and the industry.

It’s a quality test program, run by Niamh O’Byrne, who previously ran the certification program for AWS. Skills, yo! So I’m betting we can expect more good things from her team.

I would expect this certification to add value to any resume of someone focusing on cloud and container technologies, even if Docker EE wasn’t the tool they are using. It would show a solid understanding of a stack of tools that do a similar job to something like Kubernetes or Mesos.

That may sound odd, but I treat it this the same way I know someone with a basic Cisco CCNA knows networking and someone with an AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner knows basic cloud services.

How Do I study for the DCA?

I’ve used Docker for 3+ years and studied for about 15 hours before taking the DCA, even though I use and teach their tools daily.

I felt it was a fair and thorough test, that didn’t have some of the confusion or trickery that I’ve seen in lesser quality testing. Thanks Docker!

Their cert page has a link to their study guide, which is the only thing I used to prep for the test.

Since then, this guide from DevOps Academy on GitHub and this guide from Evalle on GitHub look to be the best free resources that complements Docker’s official DCA study guide.

The guides focus on these topics, which Docker says are the basis for the 55 questions:

**Exam Question Topics**
Orchestration 25%
Images and Registry 20%
Installation and Configuration 15%
Networking 15%
Security 15%
Storage and Volumes 10%

If you can't use the latest Docker tools locally, you should use the free Play With Docker for the open source tools and then get a Docker EE Trial to learn all the extra features and finer points of the business tools.

Remember, Docker expects 6-12 months of real-world Docker platform use, so if you don't have that, expect to study twice as hard.

Will my Docker Mastery and Swarm Mastery courses help with preparing for the DCA? Yes, but they are not a "DCA Prep Course." I teach the current tools in a way that is consistent with Docker's documentation, guidelines, and best practices. That means you can expect my course learnings to be inline with the test. However, I don't yet teach Notary (the image and content signing tool), nor their Enterprise Edition products DTR and UCP...

My two courses will get you over 50% of the way ready for DCA, but then I'd suggest going through each topic in their study guide and ensuring you understand the ins and outs of each feature they list.

Note, when you take the test: The “online proctor” will require you use a specific browser, turn on webcam and mic, be in a quiet place, etc. They will have you turn the webcam around and show the whole room, and require you remove everything like phone, paper/pen, or distractions from the room!

Good Luck!

What Other Container Certifications are there?

I’m not a certification expert (even though I’ve had over 30 in my career), but I know of two others that focus on containers. The Certified Kubernetes Administrator, and the Red Hat Certified Specialist in OpenShift Administration, which both look similar to the DCA but using a different stack of tools.

Have you taken any of these certs, or other cloud or container certs, and have opinions on their value? Hit me up on Twitter and give me the scoop.