Friday the 30th of October Rutger and myself got the great news that we both passed the VMware Certified Design Expert (VCDX) defense! What a trip it was! In this blog post I would like to take you through my experience of the whole process…
For the ones not familiar with the VMware VCDX program, here’s a quick introduction…
VCDX-DCV requires enterprise-class vSphere and data center virtualization skills. This elite group is comprised of design architects highly-skilled in VMware enterprise deployments The program is designed for veteran professionals who want to validate and demonstrate their expertise in VMware technology.
Certification is achieved through the unique design defense process, where all candidates must submit and successfully defend a production-ready VMware Solution before a panel of veteran VCDX holders. This process ensures that those who achieve VCDX status are peer-vetted and ready to join an elite group of world-class consulting architects.
All in all it is a pretty time consuming track which goes back to the days where I was learning for the VMware VCP5-DCV certification. After that I went ahead and aimed for both VCAP5 certifications (soon to be replaced by the VCIX exams). Just about a year ago, I actually decided to step it up a notch and go for the pinnacle of VMware certification being VCDX!
However, It did take me up to 6 months to actually start with my application. If I would do the whole thing again, I would definitely started way earlier with it than I did. Oh well, once up & running I managed to stay focused and put in the effort required.
I’ve talked to a fair amount of current VCDX holders over time and always knew I wanted to be part of this. I wanted to know if I could do this. What was the worst that could happen, right?! To fail perhaps? Then I would go for a second chance. No shame in that.
Well, they are cliches because they are spot on, right?! A lot of the community folks are talking about the same important stuff when it comes to prepping for VCDX. Some noticeable to my experience are the following.
- Know your design – Sounds familiar? Well, it is important! During your defense you’re talking about your design and all over sudden, a panelist might just asks a minor detail in your design. It is good that you then can actually answer correctly, right? 😉 I had some occasions where I was not entirely sure what to answer, so went ahead with the “I am not sure” or “I do not know”. I figured that was a better answer then talking possible BS.
- Listen to the panelists – I kept this in mind during my defense. While doing so, I noticed that the panel was looking for specific answers to their specific questions. Don’t ‘over fluff‘ your answer. Stay on point as this will allow you to have more scoring opportunities!
- Check partner (wife) support – Because of the time required to prep your application and defense, it is said that you do not have the time for your family any more. I partially disagree on that. I’ve managed to work on VCDX and still have the weekends off. So yes, there is a lot of time involved, but certainly not the full 24 hours a day / 7 days a week. I worked on my application and defense prep during the evenings minus the weekends. Keep in mind; my choice of design was one I did almost 2 years ago, so I was not able to work on it during the normal working hours. Having said this; the pressure (especially the period prior to the defense) was noticeable in our household. My wife, kids & family have been massively supportive the entire time!
- There is no perfect design – 100+ times. That must be the amount of times I’ve checked my design, and still there were some errors in it. This is why peer reviews are important, because you will get ‘blind’ to your own design.
- Find a mentor – Experience is invaluable, so hook up with a mentor who has fond knowledge of the VCDX process. I was lucky enough to meet Frank Denneman in the early stages of our preparation. He helped me with well-founded feedback on my design and doing some defense mocks which were good experiences!
- Form a study group – One of the most important ones imho. I had the pleasure of peering a lot with Rutger Kosters because we were working on the same customer site during our VCDX prep. That helped. Other than that we had several meet-ups with our other study- teammembers being Michael Wilmsen and Leon Scheltema.
- Backup slides – There are many different approaches when it comes to creating your presentation for your defense. The presentation will enable you to give context to your design. Mine was about 10 slides. I did however included the most important diagrams from my design as backup slides. I even got to use some of them. My advise here; do just that -> create backupslides with diagrams from your design. If something is not included, use the whiteboard to convey your thoughts!
Friday the 23th of October, defense day! I flew in the day before to avoid any travelers-stress, delayed flights etc. I had a good nights sleep and a killer breakfast. I was ready to go!
Walking to the VMware HQ in Staines, the nerves did kick in when my time slot was near as you can spot on the photo taken just before my defense. 😉
I remember saying to myself it was no matter of live or death (reminder from Chris Colotti’s blogpost) and soon after I entered the room, most of the nerves faded away. I was in the ‘bring it’ mode!!
After a short introduction, we kicked of the 75 minutes of the design defense. Some 3 slides in, the first questions arose from the panel. The 75 minutes just flew by! During the defense I had the feeling my design left some, critical, easy targets open. Immediately annoyed by myself for overlooking those prior to my defense! But okay… stay sharp, keep listening and answer correctly. In the end it was a intensive but enjoyable time!
Now comes the 10 minute break. I used that to get a drink and to clear my mind. The design scenario was next so I checked myself for being ready. I was. In my experience this section went pretty well as the minutes flew by. In the end I had a whiteboard full of conceptual input, a logical overview and other information regarding the customer case.
Without further adieu we then went ahead with the troubleshooting scenario. Although I sometimes struggled to keep my process structured, I kept asking questions to prevent myself from being silent. Once again the whiteboard was used extensively. In the end, with a minute to spare I choked a bit. Luckily I then spitted out a summary of the areas I covered and in which direction we should look for a resolution.
That was it. Nothing more I can do at this moment but to take a cab to Heathrow airport. That is where I called my fellow study mates to recap my defense experience. During my telephone call with Rutger it hit me; I knew now where the issue was (regarding the troubleshoot scenario). 🙂
I felt it really could go either way. I knew I could do better in the defense and knew how to strengthen my weak points in my design. Although I did hope that I scored enough, it felt comforting that I knew where to ‘up’ my performance.
Wow the time between the defense and the famous e-mail containing the results was exciting! In the road to VCDX I always imagined the moment where I was to open THE e-mail. It was as I imagined, never felt so pumped to open an e-mail to read the following;
I was over the moon! All the hard work led to this! How cool to finally look at the VCDX directory and see my own mugshot on it!
To conclude this post
I find the whole process to be one the most awesome learning experiences I ever had! And having said all the above, obtaining VMware VCDX does not mean you’re Mr. Know-it-all. The learning continues!!
A big thanks goes out to the people behind the VCDX program, my mentor, my employer and my study mates!
All I can say to the VMware enthusiasts considering to obtain the VMware VCDX title >> Go for it!! Make it happen! It really was a blast. Looking back I learned a lot and had a wonderful time getting there.
If applicable; I would like to help you by using my VCDX experience and my lessons learned.