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Kubernetes and Cloud Native Associate (KCNA) Study Guide

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KCNA. Interesting choice for a new technology certification acronym. Why? Well, when you search for this term for the first time via Google or Bing, most of the results will refer to a national news agency in Asia. But no, nothing to do with that. The Linux Foundation eleased the Kubernetes and Cloud Native Associate exam in 2021, and even if the acronym can be initially a bit confusing, the name is not at all random. The exam and certification name is a very clear and direct reference to the two main topics of study, and the starting point for millions of learners and adopters. This is, the increasingly rich cloud native ecosystem, and the central role of Kubernetes as key technology enabler.

It makes sense. Containerization is quickly becoming the new normal for big and small technology companies and developers around the world, and technologies such as Docker and Kubernetes are “nonofficial” standards for most of the adopters out
there. A powerful movement that is not new. The Cloud Native Computing Foundation was created in 2015, but companies like Google have leveraged cloud native technologies since the early aughts. That said, it is a complex area of highly technical knowledge that requires a lot of practice, effort and upskilling. But it also requires the creation of new learning and training resources, easy-to-read documentation, and more simple ways for professionals to learn and then adopt cloud native tools. This exam is part of the equation for that to happen.
But hey, this is not really a hurdle. I still remember the first time I heard about cloud native. It was during a job interview, and I naively thought that my interviewer meant something like general cloud computing. We will discuss the difference (and relation) between these two terms later, but it is clear that I was missing something big. At that time, I was well versed on cloud technologies because of my data and AI projects, and I was of course aware of the existence of something called Kubernetes. But this old school telematics engineer had missed the first years of the container revolution and his main reference of virtualization techniques were the traditional VMWare-ish virtual machines. And new communities such as CNCF (Cloud Native Computing Foundation) were still unknown to me. A lot to catch up with…
However, the promise of something similar to virtual machines (VMs) but even “better”, lighter, and super scalable was very tempting. In addition to that, my curious nature and willingness to learn helped me connect the cloud native dots with the building blocks of the data and AI ecosystem. “Do you mean that I can deploy resources as new iterations or different versions of AI models, whenever I need it, in a relatively automated way? Are you telling me that this is how big companies are doing it today?”. I still remember the words from some friend in the videogames industry, who was leveraging containers to deploy AI models, several times a day, to release new features or to just test alternative model versions. Too new, too exciting, I couldn’t let it go.
Fun was about to start, but I quickly realized that Kubernetes wasn’t a simple topic. Technical knowledge of its architecture, networking, security, managed options from hyperscalers, different pieces from the same puzzle… This was the next step for my
engineering degree in Spain, except that no professor explained this to us because it was just too early. Also, I had lost part of my command line ability, and abandoned my arduous exploration of Linux-related topics. Years before, I used to stay awake during the night to try to find a way to replicate in Linux Ubuntu some cool function‐alities from Windows, participate in forums, try new open-source software, debug new tools… but most of these things were gone. Instead, I was just a cloud-enabled adopter looking forward to making sense of Kubernetes, Docker, and other topics.
I had to find a way to start my cloud-native journey (in parallel with a few other certification topics I have been “devouring” during the last years), so I took a pragmatic and kind of lazy approach to avoid the most technical parts, and to focus first on the cloud-native ecosystem and community. That decision led me to learn more about CNCF and its actors, the open source governance model, cool projects beyond the omnipresent Kubernetes, and the levels of maturity and incubation. Such a discovery. A community full of talent, willingness to teach and collaborate, existing resources, etc.
Besides that, my research helped me find amazing technical evangelists and industry experts, a great source of knowledge and an amazing way to learn from the best. I also tried to understand the history of things. Who created Kubernetes? How did this tool become so relevant and necessary everywhere? And why? (note: the official Kubernetes Documentary and its part 2 are a must, and a great option to get some initial answers). Then, I organically started to explore all technical topics and connect more dots. It was challenging, but feasible to learn with a good study plan and learning material. The initial version of the one you will see in this book.
Coming back to the KCNA exam, I remember being very excited when I first saw the scope and topics that the CNCF folks chose. But why was this exam necessary? Why would someone want to take it? Well, basically the KCNA is the best to demonstrate an initial knowledge of Kubernetes and cloud native topics, and a great opportunity for the community to create content for those who are willing to learn and evolve. Finally, a fundamentals, associate-level certification that would allow more people to join the movement, regardless of their previous background.
Up to then, the only available options for learning and certification required very advanced Kubernetes knowledge. Concretely, the Certified Kubernetes Administrator (CKA), Certified Kubernetes Security (CKS), Certified Kubernetes Application Development (CKAD). Quite a bit too long walk for people who are still trying to crawl. But the CNCF and Linux Foundation Certification teams nailed it, and they released a great exam that, even if it is not the easiest one, helps a lot to bring new folks and generate great career opportunities for fresh and experienced professionals.
Perfect timing, great opportunity. Some time after the beta exam release, we started to see more and more cool learning resources from cloud native professionals. Even myself, I prepared some 101-level KCNA exam prep sessions with O’Reilly Media, and the Open Source Summit LATAM. I consider myself a pretty good lecturer, but that was a fairly hard topic, and a difficult one to simplify. My main goal wasn’t to deliver the perfect session, but to find a teaching approach that would get people closer to cloud native and Kubernetes, regardless of their professional background and technical ability. To be honest, I’m a bit biased because I have been teaching big data and AI for business-oriented professionals for a while. If I could explain those topics, I had to make it happen for this one!
Some months later, serendipity brought me to THE O’Reilly team working with Kubernetes-related authors. Concretely, the team that had managed previous book publications for other Kubernetes Certification topics, including the wonderful study guides that so many professionals had used before to prepare their CKA / CKAD / CKS certifications. And I was really willing to put some thought and time into designing something that may help KCNA candidates to 1) learn about Kubernetes and the cloud native ecosystem and landscape 2) pass the exam and leverage it to get amazing career opportunities. I wanted to prove that even the most challenging topics can be explained in a way that will help all sorts of professionals up and reskilling.
The rest is history. The wonderful O’Reilly team gave me the opportunity to sit and write the book. A relatively light guide for candidates to understand what to learn, in a pragmatic and simple way, but also as the starting point for their new cloud native journey. A pretty difficult task if we keep in mind that I do several things in my professional life (i.e. working at Microsoft, teaching, international speaking engagements, etc.). But all this was totally worth it. I like the topic a lot, and I love teaching and writing content. Being a book author is one of my main personal goals, and the KCNA is a highly relevant and scalable area of study and work. Let’s see if this passion can be translated into a great and useful resource for young and experienced professionals out there. If this book helps just a few of them, I will feel very satisfied. Same as when I teach to a small group of students. Contributing to create a new generation of cloud-enabled professionals is very cool. Please enjoy it.

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