How the CKA Exam is Changing in 2020 with Kubernetes v1.19

I’ve been slowly working towards CKA and there is a significant change to the curriculum with the recent announcement from the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) that the Certified Kubernetes Administrator (CKA) exam curriculum will be updated in September 2020 to cover Kubernetes v1.19. The v1.19 curriculum is a huge change from the v1.18 curriculum I’ve been studying and I prepared this comparison to help with my studies and hope it provides some clarity to those in a similar situation as me.

Kubernetes v1.19 hasn’t been finalized yet but there will certainly be new features, added commands, and others deprecated as part of the update. But that’s not the only change —  the exam curriculum is also changing a lot!

Drilling down into the new, condensed domain knowledge sections we find:

Cluster Architecture, Installation & Configuration – 25%

  • Manage role based access control (RBAC)
  • Use Kubeadm to install a basic cluster
  • Manage a highly-available Kubernetes cluster
  • Provision underlying infrastructure to deploy a Kubernetes cluster
  • Perform a version upgrade on a Kubernetes cluster using Kubeadm
  • Implement etcd backup and restore

Workloads & Scheduling – 15%

  • Understand deployments and how to perform rolling update and rollbacks
  • Use ConfigMaps and Secrets to configure applications
  • Know how to scale applications
  • Understand the primitives used to create robust, self-healing, application deployments
  • Understand how resource limits can affect Pod scheduling
  • Awareness of manifest management and common templating tools

Services & Networking – 20% 

  • Understand host networking configuration on the cluster nodes
  • Understand connectivity between Pods
  • Understand ClusterIP, NodePort, LoadBalancer service types and endpoints
  • Know how to use Ingress controllers and Ingress resources
  • Know how to configure and use CoreDNS
  • Choose an appropriate container network interface plugin

Storage – 10%

  • Understand storage classes, persistent volumes
  • Understand volume mode, access modes and reclaim policies for volumes
  • Understand persistent volume claims primitive
  • Know how to configure applications with persistent storage

Troubleshooting – 30%

  • Evaluate cluster and node logging
  • Understand how to monitor applications
  • Manage container stdout & stderr logs
  • Troubleshoot application failure
  • Troubleshoot cluster component failure
  • Troubleshoot networking

My Top Changes to CKA 2020 for Kubernetes v1.19

For CKA 2020 covering Kubernetes v1.19, the CNCF curriculum team greatly simplified and streamlined the curriculum and this also created a need to reallocate domain knowledge points. The domain knowledge categories were reduced from 10 to 5 and the percentage allocation for each category was also changed. The v1.18 curriculum was useful and detailed but that also made it a bit overwhelming. So where are the major differences?

Less Focus on Building Kubernetes Clusters

This is a great step forward as this certification’s focus is administration tasks like designing a cluster, installing masters and nodes, locating release binaries, and running end-to-end tests from the previous exam isn’t critical especially when…

Kubeadm Is the Way

In practice, I believe kubeadm has been the way for quite some time but now the exam reflects that reality. “Kubernetes the Hard Way” (which is still an excellent source to learn) is a corner case and nearly everyone is installing and managing Kubernetes via kubeadm anyway for simplicity and efficiency. Knowing how to build Kubernetes from scratch isn’t necessarily important so this is now reflected in the CKA – kubeadm is the standard!

Security Removed

Security had it’s own section in the curriculum and accounted for 12% and now it’s GONE! The only trace of security that I can find is RBAC as part of Cluster Architecture, Installation, & Configuration but the remaining items don’t appear anymore. Community members have stated that the remaining security components could be rolled up into other knowledge domains but with a condensed curriculum now, it’s hard to tell. My take is that security was separated out of the CKA exam into the Certified Kubernetes Security Specialist (CKS) exam that is being release in November 2020.

Exam Time Reduced to 2 Hours

Current and previous versions of CKA provided 3 hours to complete the exam. Again, browsing community threads from those that completed the certification, most finished in 2-3 hours depending on their level of comfort with k8s and their preparedness for the exam. Personally, I’ve taken many certifications in my professional career and have never utilized the full time allotment but your mileage may vary.

Increased Emphasis on Troubleshooting

While the elements of troubleshooting are very similar between the two exam version, there’s a much greater emphasis on it in v1.19. It’s worth up to 30% compared to only 10% for v1.18. There is a marginal increase due to absorbing the Monitoring/Logging section but still represents a heavier weight on the overall exam. I’m a huge proponent of the expansion of the troubleshooting section as it’s fundamental to what administrators of any system deal with on a daily basis.

Still to be determined is the number of questions on the CKA 2020 exam. The current version of the exam has 24 questions.

Overall, I really like how the CNCF Certification team simplified the curriculum and score allocation with this new exam version. Working through the changes from the CKA v1.18 to CKA v1.19 curriculums has been helpful to me to identify additional things to learn or that I should have a deeper knowledge on (troubleshooting in particular).  

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