An Introduction to CNCF K8S Certifications

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An Introduction to CNCF K8S Certifications

Prove your expertise with container manager Kubernetes with the CKA and CKAD certifications, detailed here with tips on how to pass both.

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Kubernetes use is rapidly expanding and both the number of organizations using Kubernetes and the extent to which organizations are using it is steadily increasing. The data from a recent Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) survey helps to give a sense of how prevalent Kubernetes use is becoming. Notably, 84% of respondents reported that they used containers and 78% polled were using Kubernetes. Even though it’s just over six years old, Kubernetes has clearly developed a strong and growing position in the industry. 

To help further develop the Kubernetes ecosystem, CNCF has created a number of rigorous Kubernetes programs and certifications. Broadly, CNCF’s goal is to build sustainable ecosystems and to encourage the growth of cloud-native open-source software. The Kubernetes certifications are one way that CNCF achieves this goal.  

CNCF has two certifications available for IT professionals--the Certified Kubernetes Administrator Program and the Certified Kubernetes Application Developer Program--and one certification available for organizations, the Kubernetes Certified Service Provider. 

These certifications offer a number of benefits to professionals that work with Kubernetes, including a competitive edge, the potential to earn a higher salary, and the chance to develop important skills. For organizations, the certification offers increased name recognition and instant status as a highly qualified Kubernetes service provider.  

To help you determine whether these certifications are right for you or your organization, here is an overview of these Kubernetes certifications available as well as some tips and best practices for earning them. 

Certified Kubernetes Administrator (CKA) Program

The Certified Kubernetes Administrator (CKA) Program was developed by CNCF in collaboration with the Linux Foundation. The primary goal of the program is to further develop the Kubernetes ecosystem, but more specifically it’s aimed at expanding the community of Kubernetes administrators. This, in turn, will lead to an increase in the number of organizations and industries using Kubernetes. 

Earning this certification helps IT professionals deepen and develop their knowledge of Kubernetes while also letting Kubernetes admins quickly establish their credibility and value. This makes them more competitive in the job market, more effective at their job, and more valuable to their organization. For businesses looking to hire, this certification makes it easier to quickly and effectively hire the highest-quality professionals.  

This program is centered around a hands-on, command-line environment, working to ensure that administrators have the necessary skills to perform all Kubernetes admin roles. The curriculum is open-sourced, and there are plenty of free resources to help with exam preparation. 

To earn this certification, individuals must pass an online test that involves solving problems from a command line. A practical exam, it’s focused on the skills required to be an effective Kubernetes administrator. The key domains covered by the exam (and the weight they’re given on the exam) are: application lifecycle management (8%); installation, configuration and validation (12%); core concepts (19%); networking (11%); scheduling (5%); security (12%); cluster maintenance (11%); logging and monitoring (5%); storage (7%); and troubleshooting (10%). 

Tips for Earning the CKA Certification

Given the status that comes from this admin certification, it’s not surprising that it takes extensive knowledge and hard work to earn it. When preparing for the CKA program, knowing the specifics of the exam and what you’ll be asked to do is an important first step. 

It’s a 3-hour exam that has 24 questions. All questions are practical, and to pass, you must earn a score of at least 74%. You take the exam on your own computer at home; it’s remotely proctored by CNCF, who records your desktop and records through your webcam and microphone throughout the exam. You can only have two browser tabs open during the exam: one is the exam and the other is the official Kubernetes documents site. 

Some things you’ll want to keep in mind as you prepare: 

  • It’s essential to know the key building blocks you’ll need when deploying an app to Kubernetes. Specifically, make sure you are comfortable with containers, pods, jobs, replica sets, daemon sets, deployments, services, secrets, config maps, and volumes. 
  • Make sure that you’re comfortable and efficient using Kubectl. This will be used in every part of the exam as you build, edit, or debug items in your cluster. The Kubectl cheat sheet, part of the Kubernetes docs, is a good resource to help with prep, giving you the confidence that you’re ready for the exam. 
  • Because the exam is thorough and timed, it’s key that you are comfortable creating Kubernetes objects quickly. 
  • Questions are weighted based on their difficulty, and each question will be labeled with the points that it’s worth. It’s a good idea to initially go through the test, note how much each question is worth, and then develop a strategy that prioritizes questions based on their weight. There’s no right or wrong way to do this; some people prefer to quickly tackle the easier questions while others prioritize the more heavily-weighted difficult questions. Whatever your plan, pay attention to how much questions are worth and have a strategy for how you’ll prioritize them. 
  • Practice a lot. As part of your practice and preparation, complete Kelsey Hightower’s Kubernetes the Hard Way a few times to ensure that you fully understand it and have internalized it. Additionally, you’ll want to complete all of the tasks available on the Kubernetes documents page. And, reading Kubernetes in Action by Marko Lukso can help to round out your preparation.  

Certified Kubernetes Application Developer (CKAD) Program

The Certified Kubernetes Application Developer Program, also developed by CNCF in collaboration with the Linux Foundation, aims to expand the Kubernetes ecosystem through standardized testing and certification. It is specifically geared towards ensuring that app developers are skilled and knowledgeable in Kubernetes. According to CNCF, the exam provides evidence that participants can “design, build, configure, and expose cloud-native apps for Kubernetes.”

Individuals participating in this program should be comfortable using an OCI-compliant container runtime, cloud-native apps and architecture, and programming language. Like the CKA exam, the CKAD exam is in a hands-on, command-line environment. It covers the key domains of core concepts (13%); configuration (18%); multi-container pods (10%); observability (18%); pod design (20%); services and networking (13%); and state persistence (8%).  

Tips for Passing the CKAD Exam

The CKAD exam is 100% hands-on with Kubernetes. It’s a two-hour test with 19 problems. Getting plenty of experience with Kubernetes is the best thing you can do to ensure success. Additionally, there are a number of free courses that provide a good introduction to some of the key concepts, including Udacity, Udemy, and EdX. 

Your preparation should also include thoroughly reading and understanding the official Kubernetes documentation. These resources essentially provide a comprehensive manual that discusses the key ideas, provides tasks to complete, and helps to give a deep understanding of the main Kubernetes concepts. 

In addition, reading Kubernetes: Up and Running will help to provide a strong foundation. Beyond this, the best thing you can do is practice. Take advantage of tasks and sample exercises to ensure that you have adequate hands-on experience to successfully earn the CKAD certification.  

Kubernetes Certified Service Provider (KCSP)

The Kubernetes Certified Service Provider (KCSP) designation is available to qualified service providers with extensive experience helping organizations adopt Kubernetes. If an organization has this certification, you can trust its team is able to offer support, consulting, professional services, and training to help with the implementation or expansion of Kubernetes.  

The purpose of this certification is to ensure that all organizations get the Kubernetes support that they need. KCSP businesses will be placed on the Kubernetes website, acknowledged as a leader in helping organizations adopt Kubernetes, and will instantly gain increased name-recognition in the industry. In order to qualify as a KCSP, an organization must have three or more engineers that have passed the CKA exam, a business model that includes putting engineers on-site and that supports enterprise end-users, and be a CNCF member. 

As there is sometimes confusion about the relationship between the CKA program and the KCSP designation, it’s worth noting that individuals can earn a CKA without being part of KCSP. In contrast, however, businesses seeking to be a KCSP must have at least three engineers that have earned the CKA certification. 


In a recent CNCF survey, 97% of organizations surveyed predicted that their Kubernetes usage would increase in the coming years. As Kubernetes usage steadily expands, there is an increased need for individuals and organizations with the expertise necessary to help adopt and develop Kubernetes usage. The above designations are an effective way to develop those skills and to gain a competitive edge in the industry.  

certification, cka, ckad, cloud, cncf, kubernetes, kubernetes certifications

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