/ chef

Chef Certification

A few weeks ago I started tackling the Chef certification exams that have been made available. After completing all five of the AWS Certs (not including betas!) - see below - I wanted a new challenge to work towards. In this post I am going to try and break down my experience of the process so far and my thoughts on continuing it.

AWS Hall of fame Elite list

The current certification track for Certified Chef Developer is broken down into multiple "badges". Each badge has 1 or more exams and you have to have obtained each badge in order to get the title/cert. Also, the badges are transferable and required for yet to be released tracks.

So far, I have passed two-thirds of the Certified Chef Developer track and I am looking to book and sit my last badge soon (maybe after writing this). The track consists of the following:

  • Basic Chef fluency badge exam (Completed, 87%)
  • Local Cookbook Development part 1 (Completed, 80%)
  • Local Cookbook Development part 2 (Completed, 100%)
  • Extending Chef Part 1 (TBC)
  • Extending Chef Part 2 (TBC)

I have been working with Chef since day 1 of my time at Cloudreach, from updating existing recipes in simple cookbooks to writing custom resources to build AWS Infrastructure or spending 3 months living in New York City to up-skill a team on how to use Chef within their organisation. I would like to think my experience with Chef is both broad and deep in complexity levels, thinking this, it felt like it was time to put my money where my mouth is and solidify my knowledge by completing the first lot of Chef certifications.

With this in mind, I set off on the path and got my first exam booked.

Basic Chef Fluency

This badge, as it is named, aims to test you on your basic chef knowledge - take a look at the exam scope here and you will see there is a large number of areas that this first badge covers. My advice here is that the scope is fairly accurate. Whilst I won't (and probably can't) go into detail on the content of the exam, I would suggest making sure you are comfortable with every aspect of the scope. I found there was a question or two that covered more or less everything listed.

The pass mark for the exam is 70% and I was able to achieve 87% with some re-reading and a bit of knife command remembering. The exam is made up of 40 multiple choice questions so you are going to need to 28 correct answers to pass.

I would recommend digging through knife commands, especially those you are less sure about and make sure you know what they do and when to use them, on top of this, understand the components that make up the Chef platform - such as organisations, roles, data bags and of course cookbooks.

Overall I found this exam to be the right level of challenging and it does make you think about some of the more obscure areas that you might not use day to day.

Take a look at the details for this exam here

Local Cookbook Development Part 1

Next on the list, Local Cookbook Development, part 1. This exam had was setup in the exact same way as the first. Multiple choices, 40 questions, 1 hour. The difference here is that the pass mark jumps up to 80% and you must pass part 1 to even be able to book part 2. Ouch.

The focus on this exam is on cookbook development (derr) so this time you are thinking more about Berkshelf, versioning, cookbook components and dependencies rather than general knife/chef usage. The format of the questions are the same and are along the lines of "given X recipe, what is the outcome" etc. Basically, know how to write a good cookbook that you'd be happy releasing to the community Supermarket and also how to debug it if it broke.

It took me two attempts to pass this, eventually getting exactly 80% - phew! Practice makes perfect I guess :)

Part 2

Part 2 was full of issues. I'll go over the content of the exam as before and then cover what went wrong below...

The format of this exam is different to before, moving away from a theory multiple choice exam and going into the practical area. I believe this is the best way to test someone on their chef skills as it shows what they know in practice but also in a more real situation. In this exam, you have access to the help files of the various command line tools you need to use as well as access to docs.chef.io (although javascript appears to have been disabled so the functionality of search is restricted) - Much more like how I would work at my desk.

It took me three attempts to complete the exam (notice complete, not pass - more on that later) and on the third attempt when I got to do the exam properly, I must say I found the exam



Yup, that's right. The exam basically gave you skeleton cookbook and your job is to make the cookbook do what it's supposed to, following some instructions given to you. I felt more than comfortable with what was being asked of me and so was able to get on with it without worry - which is a great feeling to have during a professional exam!

The efforts clearly paid off here as I was able to pass the exam with a cheeky 100% - Whoop!

Tips for this exam would be the same as Part 1, except this time you are putting it into practice.

With part 2 completed, I got an average of 90% for the badge in total and was able to check it off my list.

Extending Chef

To be sat. I am looking to sit this soon and I'll make a new post once I've passed it to go over it. Watch this space.

The good, now the bad and ugly.

Hopefully, the post so far has given some decent insight into the exams and what you might need to do to pass them. I wanted to focus on that purely and separate my thoughts and issues on the exam process to a separate section. I love using Chef and encourage people to use it daily but I think it is important to make people aware of what went wrong for me to educate others in case it happens to them.

Having come from experiencing the AWS way of certification examination it was hard to come into this process without some expectations and assumptions as well as hoping for improvements to the process (I'll cover my experience with AWS exams in a future post) compared to AWS - Things such as getting instant feedback on passing or failing, a breakdown on how well you did and being able to book, sit and finish an exam in a professional and controlled environment are all areas I had hoped to see coming into the process.

Starting the process by booking the exam through Chef's partner's website (PSI), I was faced with a clunky & slow website but it got the job done. Having booked the exam, I was now ready to study and sit it.

The first exam started without issue. I was able to follow the steps given to me on the PSI Exam website - You get to sit this in your own environment, which is awesome and much more convenient than going to an exam centre. I went forth with the exam, completing it in about 30mins I think. Once completed, I had the usual "I hope I passed. Oh no. time to find out" moment I get at the end of any cert... only to be informed that I had to wait 2 days to get a result. I was disappointed by this as I had booked exam 2 for the following day and intended to use my result to aim what I needed to do for the next.

I was able to get my result early through Chef support but when I got it, It was only a % mark with zero breakdowns on how I did (I had hoped for an AWS-esque breakdown at least). This was pretty annoying as the pressure of passing the exam is normally over when you get your result. Waiting for the result and then getting no breakdown doesn't really give you much to work with to improve on.

After moving on from exam 1, I started on the Local Cookbook dev exams. Part 1 was error free and now used to the no instant result, I asked Chef support again to get my result which was helpful. Failed the first time (booo) so sat it again. Passed. Yay! The next part though was initially full of issues...

I started the exam as before - being ready 15 minutes early and ready to go. Long story short, the exam environment was broken. The VM was super slow (turns out I was given a VM in Australia - hence the lag...) and some of the things I needed to do the exam were not installed as they should have been. This was super frustrating but I pushed forward and completed what I could. I was unable to fully work on my exam due to the software issues so I was expecting some missing marks from the exam. Once completed, I got in touch with Chef support who gave me my result (I had failed which was not a surprise) and I started the discussion to get my exam environment investigated, promised it was fixed I re-booked.

Part 2. Attempt 2. After the previous attempt, I expect to be able to do the exam again in a now working environment. I was wrong. I tried to start as before and this time I was unable to even start the exam. The VM provider was unable to provision my VM and PSI had no information about it (I figured it out by getting in touch with Chef directly) - 1 hour later I had to give up on waiting and had to reschedule for the third time.

By this point I was starting to think "what's the point in doing it again" but I looked past the issues again and rebooked. 3rd time luck as they say which couldn't be truer. This time, I was able to do the exam as I should have been able to the first time - A working VM that was now working at a decent level. I had an hour to do the exam and finished it in 35/40minutes, feeling pretty good about it, I got in touch with Chef once more to ask for my result. This time it was 100% - boom! It would have been a little awkward & embarrassing if I failed it this time, after all that fuss! :)

Moving on.

So hopefully people will get benefit from my breakdown so far. The aim of the post was to educate others on the process for the exams, not to bash the issues but I do think it is important to make people aware so if it (hopefully doesn't) happen to someone else, they know they are not alone! If anyone finds themselves in a similar situation, get in touch with Chef Support and speak to someone who deals with certifications.

Let me know what you think and if you've sat the exams yourself, how you found it. As mentioned before, I'll either update this post or write a new one once I've completed the Extending Chef badge - hopefully without more problems.

Watch this space
 Neil

Neil Stewart

Neil Stewart

Cloud Systems Developer at Cloudreach. Passion for DevOps and Cloud Infrastructure development. AWS Certified in 5 areas and working towards Chef certification. Apple lover and general tech enthusiast

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