So - I said I’d make a start on taking some IT certifications in 2020… and actually I’ve started the year with not just one but TWO.
And it was an Okta special offer on exam fees that pushed me over the edge. Normally an Okta exam is $250 - but there was a discount code in December/January dropping the exam fee to just $50 per exam… cheaper than the Okta premier practise exams ($75) - and cheaper than the standard retake fee. ($100) I have money in my training budget - and support from my team - so I decided to go for it.
It turns out the Okta Certified Professional Exam, rather than being a straightforward introduction to Okta, is actually a pretty in depth qualification. You need to know a LOT about Okta to pass. So when I passed at the beginning of January I was pretty chuffed.
As a result, I wasn’t too bothered about taking the Administrator exam - as really - the Professional Exam had been challenging and I’d learned loads… but the discount code meant it was still just $50 to try the next exam. So just $100 for both exams - rather than $250 to take one. At which point I figured I had nothing to lose - and booked the Administrator exam for the 31st of January.
Time to get studying!
I actually started preparing for the Okta exams over the summer. Okta have a basic intro to Okta video series of lectures and slides - which are a good introduction to the product. Then there are study guides for the professional and administrator exam… which are basically links to Okta documentation, knowledge base articles and setup guides.
Okta offer more structured training - but it’s EXPENSIVE - $2400 at time of writing… - way more than my training budget will stretch to - so I decided to do things the hard way by reading through the docs and playing around in an Okta test environment. Anyone can sign up for a free Okta Dev account to play around in - which is a great way to gain familiarity with the product, without messing around with settings in your production environment!
The docs are a mixed bag. There’s lots of information presented to you - but they don’t feel like exam prep resources, instead they are real documents that you’d use when setting things up in a dev or prod environment… full of links to other documents and troubleshooting guides - which can be a real rabbit hole, leaving me with a lot of browser tabs open at once, and a lot of things to try to remember.
I tried to take notes on what I thought would be important - but it was hard to work out what exactly Okta expected me to know. Everything I guess…
The Okta exams run through a proctoring service offered by Examity. I didn’t know what to expect when I sat down for my first exam at the beginning of January. But basically you sign into Examity at your scheduled exam time, and then you’re joined over video conferencing (Zoom on my first exam - and GoTo Meeting! for the second) by a proctor.
It’s their job to both read you the rules - to check your working environment is free of distractions, bits of paper or other things you may have exam notes on, and to keep an eye on you whilst you struggle through the exam. You’re not allowed to leave your seat - and no-one can join you in the room. Your camera and microphone must remain on at all times. In both exams there are 60 questions and you get 90 minutes to answer them all.
Bizarrely Okta also insist you can’t wear a sweater. So taking the exam was a chilly experience!
Okta exams use a system called Discrete Option Multiple Choice (DOMC) - which differs from regular multiple choice - as you’re only presented with one option at a time.
I understand what this system is trying to achieve - it makes it harder to just guess at answers, and you can’t use the other multiple choice options to help narrow down your choices…
… but it’s pretty soul destroying in a real exam. It’s like playing exam minesweeper. You click on an answer that you think is right… then either the question “explodes” and you’re asked no more questions, or you’re asked some more questions.
From the practice exams, generally it’s when you get something wrong that the question “explodes” (although sometimes one right answer is enough to complete a question) whereas if you choose a right answer, you’re usually asked a few more questions, and choosing a subsequent wrong answer makes the question “explode” and you still get zero marks.
Being asked a second question at least means you got the first one right… which then makes getting the second (or third) question right even more important. Like one of those movies where you’re defusing a bomb - and the wire cutting sequence is all important…
But when you are struggling to work out what the question is getting at - and make a guess because you have to choose something - and then BOOM - the question is gone - you’ve scored zero marks, and don’t get a chance to show you DO understand the topic - you just weren’t entirely sure of the question… it just makes you want to smash things. Or at least swear a little bit. But not too loud, because your proctor is still on the video call, listening to you struggle…
I also have no clue how they work out the scoring or what the pass marks are… But the end result is, I really do feel like I have a much better understanding of Okta as a product, of how it interacts with other identity services like Microsoft Active Directory, and LDAP, and also a better understanding of the Identity and Access Management (IAM) domain.
It’s also a relief to have passed, and to know I’ve no more studying to do for a while… until I start looking at the Google Cloud Engineer exam resources!