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Guide to Kubernetes Certification in 2024: Path, Exams & Cost

Guide to Kubernetes Certifications

Learning Kubernetes equips you with an in-demand skill that improves your DevOps employment prospects. To prove your knowledge, you should get certified by taking an exam based on a formal syllabus.

The certifications discussed in this article are respected across the software industry. They demonstrate you’ve committed to mastering the vital aspects of using and administering Kubernetes. Even if you’re not planning a career change, following one of these courses will focus your learning and prevent you from overlooking vital topics.

We will cover:

  1. What is a Kubernetes certification?
  2. Should I get certified?
  3. Types of Kubernetes certification
  4. Guide to Kubernetes certifications
  5. Preparing for Kubernetes certifications

What is a Kubernetes certification?

A Kubernetes certification is a guided training course that teaches you specific aspects of how to use Kubernetes. At the end of the course, you complete an exam that certifies you as proficient in your curriculum. You can use your certification to demonstrate your skills to employers, co-workers, and partners.

The five main Kubernetes certifications, CKAD, CKA, CKS, KCNA, and KCSA, are offered by the Linux Foundation and were developed with the CNCF. The courses are recognized across the industry as a good indicator of professional competence in using and managing Kubernetes.

Should I get certified in Kubernetes?

You should consider getting certified if your role relies on Kubernetes, you’d like a new position that involves it, or you need to attest to your clients, customers, or partners that you have experience in effectively using Kubernetes. Certification might be less relevant if you only use Kubernetes casually or as a secondary part of your role.

Becoming certified means you’ve followed a proven curriculum to completion, including the Kubernetes best practices essential for safe and efficient Kubernetes use. Certification can also help you guide your own learning by providing a clear progression pathway that aids measurement of progress.

Even if you don’t plan to get certified today, referring to a defined curriculum as you learn Kubernetes will ensure you’re covering essential topics. You’ll be able to get exam-ready more quickly if you need the accreditation later on.

Types of Kubernetes Certification

Kubernetes is diverse enough that there are several different types of certification available, covering the three main roles you’ll encounter:

  • Using Kubernetes – These developer-oriented courses cover how to interact with Kubernetes and deploy applications into your cluster. This is the right type of course if you mainly use clusters that are already provisioned for you.
  • Administering Kubernetes – Administration courses focus on the operational side of Kubernetes. You’ll learn how to deploy a cluster, manage its nodes, configure the environment, and take control of networking. They’re ideal for roles where you’re primarily working with the cluster itself rather than the applications within it.
  • Securing Kubernetes – Kubernetes security specialists require additional skills to understand where threats can arise and how to mitigate them. Security certifications provide vital instruction on how to harden your cluster, reduce container vulnerabilities, and protect your supply chain.

It’s best to start with the type of course that matches the role you want to work in. You can always complete additional courses to further enhance your skills.

Guide to Kubernetes certifications

The three main CNCF-supported certifications are CKAD (Certified Kubernetes Application Developer), CKA (Certified Kubernetes Administrator), and CKS (Certified Kubernetes Security Specialist). A fourth certification, KCNA (Kubernetes and Cloud Native Associate), provides conceptual knowledge about cloud-native applications. Later in 2023, another “associate” option was launched, KCSA (Kubernetes and Cloud Native Security Associate), which expands on KCNA with additional security content.

How much does Kubernetes certification cost?

CKAD, CKA, and CKS each cost $395. They’re assessed through a two-hour online exam where you complete several real-world Kubernetes tasks in an interactive command line. Two attempts are included in the price. Once you’ve passed, you receive a PDF certificate and digital badge that are valid for three years.

The exams currently use Kubernetes v1.27 but are realigned each time a new Kubernetes version arrives. The updated course is typically launched within 4-8 weeks of the Kubernetes release.

Here’s what each of the courses includes.

Certified Kubernetes Application Developer (CKAD)

CKAD is orientated towards engineers who build, deploy, and configure applications using Kubernetes. It gives you the skills required to successfully run apps in a Kubernetes cluster.

The CKAD curriculum includes topics such as how to use multi-container Pod patterns, manage storage with volumes, perform rolling updates of Deployments, access logs, and use ConfigMaps and secrets. It also covers how to use services to set up networking between applications and the outside world.

There are no prerequisites before you start the CKAD course, but basic familiarity with Kubernetes will be helpful so you have background knowledge to support your learning.

Certified Kubernetes Administrator (CKA)

CKA is intended for system administrators and cloud engineers who deploy and manage Kubernetes clusters. It provides the essential skills required to operate Kubernetes in production environments.

Kubernetes administration involves ongoing work to maintain your cluster’s health, optimize performance, and troubleshoot any issues that occur. CKA’s content includes learning modules that span all these areas, including how to manage cluster storage, configure different networking types, protect resource utilization, and configure role-based access control (RBAC).

CKA is a good way to extend your career prospects if you’d like to move into a DevOps role with Kubernetes. There are no specific prerequisites before you enroll, but you should have some existing experience using Kubernetes prior to taking your certification. This will let you appreciate the real-world context around Kubernetes usage and administration, in addition to the theoretical elements included in the course.

Certified Kubernetes Security Specialist (CKS)

CKS is a specialist certification for Kubernetes security experts. Because Kubernetes security is intertwined with administrative best practices, you must already hold the CKA certification before you can enroll onto CKS.

Security topics covered include how to benchmark your cluster against the CIS standards, how to restrict your cluster’s exposure with access controls and network policies, the correct use of OS-level security features, and best practices for building secure container images within a safe software supply chain.

CKS also equips you with skills that allow you to investigate security issues within your cluster. You’ll be taught how to detect threats as they emerge, identify different phases of an attack, and perform analytical investigation to determine the spread of intrusions.

Becoming CKS-certified demonstrates you have a comprehensive awareness of the threats that face Kubernetes clusters and how to mitigate them. This can reassure potential employers that you’re a competent Kubernetes administrator, able to offer all the skills needed to support production workloads.

Kubernetes and Cloud Native Associate (KCNA)

The KCNA exam is a slightly different form of Kubernetes certification. It’s a more foundational course, intended to help pre-professional candidates advance their familiarity with Kubernetes.

Whereas CKAD, CKA, and CKS specifically focus on Kubernetes, KCNA has a broader curriculum. Kubernetes still comprises almost half of the subject matter, but 20% relates to the fundamentals of what container orchestration is, why it matters, and how the different components relate to each other.

The remaining content covers the basics of selected cloud-native concepts, such as autoscaling and serverless, as well as how to instrument your applications for observability using Prometheus. The final portion considers ways to deploy cloud-native applications, including the use of CI/CD pipelines and GitOps solutions.

The KCNA exam costs $250. Certification is attained by passing a 90 minute exam that uses multiple choice questions. You should consider enrolling on this course if you’re beginning to move into DevOps or a cloud engineering role, or want to support your existing knowledge with a rounded understanding of the cloud native ecosystem. It’s a good precursor to the CKAD or CKA certification.

Kubernetes and Cloud Native Security Associate (KCSA)

The upcoming KCSA course is designed to provide high-level knowledge about the security requirements for safe use of cloud-native infrastructure and Kubernetes clusters. Its modules cover topics including the 4C security model, the threats that affect different Kubernetes components, and how to harden your environment using techniques such as audit logging, network policies, and Pod Security Admission rules.

KCSA won’t be generally available until the third quarter of 2023. A limited access beta is already available; participation and successful qualification will earn you the full KCSA certification badge when the course is launched.

Preparing for Kubernetes certifications

After you’ve chosen your course, it’s time to start preparing for your exam. The best way to approach any certification is to follow the candidate guidance you’re provided with when you enroll. This will detail the curriculum, suggested learning resources, and any instructor-led sessions you can attend.

Here are some simple pre-exam tips:

  • Check the course curriculum – Avoid revising irrelevant subject matter by double-checking that topics are actually included in the exam. Although going beyond the curriculum will extend your knowledge, it’s usually best to focus your resources on passing the exam first.
  • Get familiar with Kubectl – You’ll need to use Kubectl to carry out the exercises in your exam. Getting familiar with it first, including any time-saving shortcuts, will save you time during the exam. Check out our Kubernetes cheat sheet.
  • Memorize key processes – Commit the most essential processes and tasks to memory so they become instinctive. You can use mnemonics, notes, or simple associations to retain key pieces of information.
  • Practice in the exam simulator – CKAD, CKA, and CKS use Killer.sh to host their exam environments. You can access simulated practice environments to test your knowledge and experience the examination system before you enter it for real. This can save valuable time when you start the exam.
  • Follow the official exam revision guide – Make sure you’ve read all the instructions issued by the course provider before you start the exam. Guides for CKAD, CKA, CKS, and KCNA are available from the Linux Foundation. Ensure you have a suitable space to complete the exam where you won’t be interrupted. Prepare your ID cards so you can quickly verify your identity at the start.

Finally, remember not to rush or stress, either during your preparation or the actual exam. When you sit the exam, you should feel as though you thoroughly understand each topic and are confident you can utilize your skills.

Check out also: AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional [Cheat Sheet].

Key Points

Kubernetes certifications are training courses that include a formal exam component. The four courses available at the Linux Foundation issue certifications that are valid for three years and are respected across the industry.

The best course for you depends on how you use Kubernetes and which roles you’d like to apply to in the future. The CKAD is ideal if you mainly focus on deploying apps to Kubernetes and intend to remain as a developer. CKA, optionally augmented by CKS, is a better fit when you’ll be administering an organization’s clusters.

Getting ready for a certification? You can prepare by checking out some of our other Kubernetes articles, here on the Spacelift blog!

See also how Spacelift helps you manage the complexities and compliance challenges of using Kubernetes. It brings with it a GitOps flow, so your Kubernetes Deployments are synced with your Kubernetes Stacks, and pull requests show you a preview of what they’re planning to change. It also has an extensive selection of policies, which lets you automate compliance checks and build complex multi-stack workflows.

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