Preparing for Splunk Certifications

When it comes to preparing for Splunk Certification exams, there are two questions I see in the Splunk community this post will address:

  1. “I’m going to take the ____ certification test. How should I study?”
  2. “What is the ‘secret’ to passing the cert exams?”

In the post, we’ll advise studying techniques and provide the “secret” for passing Splunk Certifications… and, along the way, you’ll get better at using Splunk.

Note: This information is current as of March 2021. Please check the Splunk Training website for potential changes.

Step 1: Determine Splunk Certification Course Prerequisites

First, review the requirements for the certification. Namely, do you have to take any Splunk Education courses? I recommend the education courses for all certifications, but I understand if experienced Splunkers want to focus their education budgets on new topics or advanced classes.

Head to Splunk’s Training and Certification Page and select Certification Tracks on the left menu. The details for each certification list if the classes are required or strongly recommended (coursework will increase understanding of the concepts and make a pass more likely).

For example, select Splunk Enterprise Certified Admin to open the details and then select the top link. In the description, it states: “The prerequisite courses listed below are highly recommended, but not required for candidates to register for the certification exam.” Ergo, you do not have to take the classes (though you probably should).  

The Splunk Enterprise Certified Architect lists that the prerequisite courses through the Data and System Admin courses are not required. This means the only courses required for Certified Architect are: Troubleshooting Splunk Enterprise, Splunk Enterprise Cluster Administration, Architecting Splunk Enterprise Deployments, and the Splunk Enterprise Practical Lab.

Step 2: Determine Required Splunk Certifications

The same website, Splunk’s Training and Certification Page will also list any certification requirements for taking the certification you wish. For example, to obtain Splunk Enterprise Certified Architect, you must be a current Splunk Enterprise Certified Admin and a current Splunk Core Certified Power User.

To find which certifications are prerequisites for the cert you wish to take, on Splunk’s Training and Certification Page, click on Certification Track and then navigate to the particular certification you want to review.

Step 3: Review What Topics the Exams Cover

One of the most common questions I see and hear is, “What is on the Test?” Fortunately, Splunk publishes an exam blueprint for each of its certification tests. Splunk’s Training site lists these blueprints in the Splunk Certification Exams Study Guide, along with sample questions for most of the tests.

Let’s investigate the Splunk Core Certified Power User:

Splunk’s Test Blueprint states that this is a 57-minute, 65-question assessment evaluating field aliases, calculated fields, creating tags, event types, macros, creating workflow actions, data models, and CIM. Whew, so it spells out the main topics and explains them in more detail before giving out the critical information: exactly what topics are on the exam and the percentage of those topics on the typical exam.

We learn from the document that 5% of the exam deals with the topic “Using Transforming Commands for Visualizations” and further shows two elements: 

The topic “Filtering and Formatting Results” makes up 10% and has elements:

  • Using the eval command.
  • Using search and where commands to filter results.
  • Using the fillnull command.

The exam continues by listing out the ten topics of the exam and their elements. If a candidate is going to pass this exam, they should be knowledgeable on the topics listed. Bonus: if the candidate is good with these topics, they likely can perform the job as a Splunk Power User/Knowledge Manager.

Step 4: Review Material, Focusing on Unfamiliar Topics

In Step 3, we found what topics are on the different exams. Now comes the big question: how do I prepare for the exams?

1. Gather your study material: 

If you took the Splunk Education Classes, get the class docs. Those are great at taking cumbersome topics and presenting them in an accessible method.

Splunk Docs has exhaustive details on the variety of exam topics.

2. Practice on Splunk Instance(s):

We can read until we’re bleary-eyed, and that may be enough for you, but I find people learn better using a combination of reading and practice. If you have a laptop/desktop (windows, Linux, or Mac), then you can download Splunk—for free—install it on your system, and use that for practice. The free install works great for User, Power User, Admin, and Advanced Power User. For ITSI or ES, the best approach is to use a dev instance (if you are lucky enough to have access to one) or the Free Trials from Splunk Cloud. Other exams work best in a private cloud or container system (after all, it’s hard to learn how to use a cluster if you don’t have a cluster). 

Back to our example for Splunk Core Power User: 

Grab the Fundamentals 1 and Fundamentals 2 course material, have a Splunk instance installed, and open a web browser. Then, go through the exam blueprint one topic at a time. In this example, we’ll look at “Describe, create, and use field aliases.” The Fundamentals 2 course material explains what a field alias is and provides examples of its use. You can also supplement that material with the Splunk Knowledge Manager Manual section on Field Aliases. Run through creating field aliases in your Splunk instance until you have the topic down.

Then you can move on to the next section, find the relevant course material/documentation, and practice.

The Non-Step: Or, The Elephant in the Phone Booth

I need to address a question that gets asked far too often…

Q: “Dumps. Where do we find them?”

A: “Don’t do that.” (though sometimes the language is much more colorful)

Q: “Why not?”

Answer 1: Splunk Certification strictly prohibits using dumps, and their use is grounds for being banned from taking Splunk Certs. That’d suck for someone making Splunk their focus to limit their career by never earning any certifications.

Answer 2: The goal of certification is to prove the ability to use the product, not the ability to memorize test questions. If you tell an employer that you have the Power User Cert, it comes with a promise that you have the skills. Don’t be the person faking it. 

The Cert Secret

Finally, the “secret” method for passing Splunk certs: Find the topics and study thoseSometimes the best secrets are the obvious ones.

Best of luck in your testing!

Lean on Splunk for your Remote Work Insights

In Security Tips for Work From Home (WFH) Life, we explored guidelines on how to efficiently and safely set up your work from home environments. The individual colleague has the responsibility to ensure they’re maintaining a secure remote-work environment. Looking past the individual worker, companies are now tasked with ensuring a good remote work environment for their colleagues to stay productive and secure. How can organizations get these critical insights? Let’s jump into Splunk and see your company can monitor the safety and performance of your remote workforce.

Splunk Remote Work Insights (RWI)

In light of COVID-19, Splunk has released the Remote Work Insights (RWI) Application. This free-to-download application contains reports and dashboards that provide insight into the critical applications your organization is using to keep the business running. Along with application management, the RWI solution gives immediate insight into business performance and network security. As we get through this pandemic and beyond, the Splunk Remote Work Insights solution will help your business monitor the success and safety of its remote workforce.

This Splunk application can be added to Splunk to increase your security posture and provide critical insight into how your applications are being used, who is using them, and from what locations.

Figure 1 - Splunk Remote Work Executive Dashboard
Figure 1 – RWI Executive Dashboard

When you open up the RWI application, you’ll be dropped into the Executive dashboard view. This dashboard is an aggregate summary view of all dashboards within the application. The major purpose of this dashboard is to provide the CTO/CIO or a data center of critical insights into remote business operations. RWI gives visibility into your company’s critical applications and how they are performing and being used.

Be the VPN Champion

VPN Login Activities dashboard shows where your colleagues are logging in from, the success/failure rate for these logins, and the top login failure reasons. This dashboard is a one-stop shop to audit your VPN activities. The data shown here is from GlobalProtect, but any VPN logs can be integrated into these dashboards.

The Global Protect VPN Login Activities dashboard is key for insights into VPN activities of your remote colleagues. In this example, you have a workforce that’s fully based in the U.S. Now, check out that top panel… there are some workers accessing the VPN client from China, if this is unexpected, you may have a breach on your hands!

Figure 2 - Global Protect VPN Login Activities
Figure 2 – Global Protect VPN Login Activities

Zip-Up Zoom Operations

The Zoom Ops dashboards show an aggregate view of your organization’s Zoom metrics. Looking at this dashboard, you’ll gain visibility into historical metrics and real-time information on active Zoom meetings. You can even see what devices the meetings are being accessed from, the types of meetings being conducted, and metrics surrounding the length of the meetings.

Figure 3 - Zoom Ops Dashboard
Figure 3 – Zoom Ops Dashboard

The following data sources were used to populate these dashboards:

  • GlobalProtect VPN
  • Office 365
  • Zoom Video
  • Okta Authentication
  • Google Drive
  • Webex
  • Slack

The external threats facing organizations are greater than ever. With the shift to a remote workforce, it is crucial for businesses to have these insights into their day-to-day operations to protect the safety of their organization its colleagues. Paired with all applications your organization uses today, the Splunk Remote Work Insights Application can dramatically increase your organization’s visibility into application performance. Interested in learning more about the Splunk Remote Work Insights solution or looking to implement the application? Contact our Kinney Group team of experts below.

Recruiting for Splunk Expertise- What Do I Need?

Splunk Recruiting - What do I need? Kinney Group Blog Post

Recruiting for Splunk Expertise – What Do I Need?

As a Talent Acquisition professional for the past 20 years, I’ve seen that the requirements of a role and the day to day responsibilities of that role are often mismatched. How often have you seen an Office Assistant role that requires a Bachelor’s degree or an entry-level Customer Service role that requires 3+ years of customer service responsibility? In many cases, the best talent may not apply to the opportunity because the ‘requirements’ are not met by the best candidate. In addition to roles like Sales or Customer Service that exist at almost every organization, the phenomenon is common among highly-skilled technical roles also – like Splunk expertise.

A quick Splunk job search on Indeed.com returns over 7,500 active postings. As I reviewed some of these listings, several require an Architect level candidate, including required certifications. However, the duties listed are more in line with a Splunk PowerUser or Splunk Administrator candidate, which requires a significantly different skillset than a Splunk Architect. In today’s tight labor market and with Splunk skills in high demand, over-hiring can be a costly mistake for your organization both in the cost of the role remaining open and the competitive salary that will need to be offered to secure highly-skilled talent.

Splunk Level Analogy

When determining the level of candidate and actual requirements of your next Splunk listing, think about it in terms of plumbing. Would you call a Certified Plumber if you wanted to change the fixtures in your bathroom or if the toilet was backed up? According to TheSpruce.com, in their August 2019 article, there are five times you should call a plumber: (1) rapid water supply line leak, (2) no water available, (3) rapid drainage line leak, (4) sewer line leak, and (5) a natural gas leak in your water heater. Personally, I’d probably add a couple more to this list because I’m not a fan of ‘dirty jobs,’ but most of the time, I’d agree. I can manage an overflowing toilet, replacing a washer, sealing a leaky pipe, or changing the shower head. Additionally, if I don’t have time or interest in these projects, I can hire a general handyman to take these tasks off my hands.

There are times that you need a high-end Splunk Architect or Consultant (think Certified Plumber) in your environment. However, there are many day to day tasks that you simply need a PowerUser or Admin-level candidate (think DIY or handyman) to fulfill. Splunk is designed to be user-friendly and allow teams to ingest and use their data in meaningful ways without the assistance of a Splunk Architect. Hiring the right level of candidate is a more cost-effective solution and may contribute to increased retention as the candidate can grow within your organization as they grow their Splunk skillset.

What Splunker do I need?

PowerUsers are able to build advanced searches and utilize the core features in Splunk to create dashboards and reports. They are skilled in SPL commands and how to levy them for efficient Splunk searching. Splunk Admins understand that better searches and slimmed dashboards can greatly improve performance. They onboard new data sources, install and configure Apps/Add-ons while configuring and optimizing the Splunk components, ensuring high availability and high performance. Additionally, they configure alerts to proactively address issues with Splunk servers, highlight key data points, and further expand the Splunk use case(s).

When you truly need an Architect or Consultant, you can hire the experts from Professional Services Partners like Kinney Group. These projects might include implementation of Splunk Premium Apps like: Enterprise Security, ITSI, and UBA, new Splunk installations, migrations, or architectural scaling and optimization, and other more advanced project-based tasks.

Kinney Group’s Expertise on Staff team is available to help determine what level of candidate you need, as well as provide contract staff to fill the gaps in your hiring cycle. We’ve been recruiting and training Splunk talent for the past 5 years. We have built an impressive team of Splunk professionals who work with a bias-to-action providing a customer-centric approach on mission-critical analytics and automation projects. We offer Splunk Training, Managed Splunk Services, Expertise on Demand (Splunk support team), Expertise on Staff (Admin/User), and Professional Services (Architect/Consultant).

Expertise on Staff

Much more than staff augmentation, Kinney Group offers true Splunk expertise. Unless a staffing firm has both expertise and experience specific to Splunk, the best they can do is provide a candidate that has Splunk on their resume.

Since 2013, Kinney Group has delivered 500+ Splunk service engagements to commercial and public sector organizations, big and small. Kinney Group has developed applications on the Splunk platform and helped customers “turn data into doing™” with the Splunk platform. Kinney Group knows how to acquire Splunk talent, validate their expertise, and enhance their Splunk skills with specialized training and support. Traditional staffing doesn’t even come close.

Kinney Group’s Expertise on Staff (EOS) for Splunk service provides organizations with a compelling option for adding Splunk expertise to their teams. Whether an organization is expanding its Splunk team or looking to replace Splunk expertise that has departed, the EOS for Splunk service can provide immediate results.

Expertise on Staff for Splunk powered by Kinney Group