My VCDX Journey – VCDX #175

“It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to the VMware Certified Design Expert community. Your VCDX number is 175.”

That email was the culmination of a goal that I had set for myself 21 months prior, with 12 months of continuous effort to accomplish.  It still, 3 weeks later, has not completely sunk in that I met my goal.


Why Did I Do the VCDX?

I get this question a lot from people due to the work and number of hours involved.  Really, it was purely a personal goal.  When I joined VMware in December of 2012 and I learned more about it, it was a challenge that really spoke to me.  Did I have what it takes to be one of the select few to hold the VCDX?  I wanted to prove to myself that I was.

A big side benefit of going through the VCDX that I did not expect, the amount I learned in the process.  It is really immeasurable, so much so that it has drastically changed the way I talk to my customers in a pre-sales role.  Everything from methodology to getting into the weeds on some the tech, I took a lot away from this experience.  It was a lot of effort to complete this goal, but it was worth every bit.


A Lot of People to Thank

The biggest thanks, without a doubt, must go to my amazing wife.  She supported my goal from the start, all of the late nights studying leading up to the VCDX, then into the design work and through two defenses.  To top it off, after failing my first defense, she canceled our family vacation so I could focus on a second attempt at the October defenses.  I could have absolutely not done this without her support.

A special thanks has to go to Sean Howard (VCDX #130) who was my unofficial mentor.  He helped me starting with my VCAPs, then I assisted him on doc review and mock defenses through his VCDX.  This experience was invaluable in completing mine, along with his constant assistance along the way.

A thanks to my official mentors Tom Ralph and Matrin Hosken, both of you helped to provide valuable insight that helped me through the process.

Cambridge Defenders.  The study group of 6, of which I was the only one not to pass (Boo!).  Joe Clarke, Robert Quast, Niran Even-Chen, Agustin Malanco, and Joseph Griffiths.  Our prep was fun, but not nearly as fun my mock defense with being grilled by 5 VCDX’s!

Palo Alto Defenders.  Jason Shiplett, Rob Nolan, and Jason Shiponik.  With additional help from Derek Seaman.  That was a great weekend guys and those mocks were tougher than the real thing.

Also to everyone else who did doc reviews and mock defenses in their spare time.  Thank you!


What’s Next?

Lots of nothing!  This year has been a blur… On top of the all the VCDX work with two defenses, we were renovating and selling our existing home, then building our new home.  In between defenses our house sold early, so we had to cram our lives into storage units while we moved to a temp location until our new house is ready.  So yeah… I am going to sit back, take it easy, and start working on my website to give back to the community.

I have been asked, “VCDX-NV Next?”.  To which I will quote my wife’s response to that inquiry, “I will punch you in the face.”  Needless to say I will consider it sometime next year, but taking a bit of break, for now.


VCDX Mentoring

UPDATED – 02.18.15 – As a panelist I cannot be a mentor, but it does not me I cannot be an adviser.  If you are looking for details on the VCDX, talk about the experience, or just general architectural discussion, please contact me.  I am more than happy to help!  See my Contact section for details.


Next Post Coming

My first piece in paying it forward to others working towards the VCDX is all that I learned in going through it and two defenses.  What I learned in my first attempt, how I applied that to my second defense and improving myself.  I hope all that I learned and all that I went through will help others in their journey to obtain the VCDX.  Watch for it as it will be coming very soon.


VCDX Defense – From Failure Comes Growth

I had planned to start my blog site once I completed the VCDX successfully with my attempt last week at Cambridge, but unfortunately the defense did not go in my favor.  Though instead of letting the defeat drag me down, I am going to embrace it and all that the failure taught me.  With anything in life there is a risk of failure, but with failure comes new experience and continued drive for success.

What I learned from the last 7 months of my VCDX experience and my failure.

Don’t go at it Solo and Try to Have Fun!

This part should not shock any of you as it repeats pretty much what every blog on the VCDX process has ever said… Get a study group and get it before you submit your design for the application.  Now the reason I say to get a group going before submission is that you will build up knowledge of each others designs, help with things you may not see before submission.  My study group was the reason why I was not a blathering mess on defense day.  The mock defenses and peer reviews you will do are invaluable.

In the final 5 days leading to the defenses, I spent many days locked away with six other defenders, 5 of whom managed to snag their VCDX numbers at Cambridge.  Many late nights, tweaking each others presentations, responses, and going through made up scenario’s.  Things got so slap happy on Sunday afternoon when our design scenario mock of IT on the USS Enterprise, turned into us playing the panelist answering the questions in drill sargent voices.  Things like, “What is the budget for this project?” were responded to with, “‘Merica Son!  There is no limit!”

For that moment the stress slipped away and we were having fun.  That is something that people forget a lot about in this process, myself included.  Yes it is a big undertaking, yes it can be stressful, but most importantly, have fun.  In the end I made some great friends and relationships that will go on for a long time.

I will say I spent WAY too much time on the stress side of this equation and not the fun side, which definitely made it harder at times.

Bore Non-Technical People with Your Presentation

One thing that us technical folk like to do in our presentations is to show off the tech.  The presentation you give to the panel as per the blueprint is to be “Executive level”.  In using people who don’t live and die by vSphere, it helps to get their insight into their content and test your ability to explain things they don’t understand right off the bat.

I found some of the best feedback I received on my presentation were from people who were either non-technical or non vSphere people.

Post Defense

At this point I have yet to receive feedback from my mentor or the official letter, but when you walk out of that room you will know where you screwed up.   In my case, I focused very heavily on items I didn’t need to and skipped some of the basics.  You will play questions over in your head, thinking things like, “Son of a *****, why did I say that and not this!”

My suggestion to you… Once you walk out of that room, no matter if you think you aced it or blew it, go and brain dump your defense.  Write down all of the questions your panelists asked you, where you think you went wrong and could have answered better.  If there was a risk in your design that you missed that they pointed out, write it all down.  This way if you end up failing, you now have your blueprint of corrective action.  In my case there I don’t think I need a lot of changes to my design, I sadly just had some really DUMB answers to some REALLY basic stuff.  Knowing that, now I know what I need to work on between now and October.

When you get your feedback letter, hopefully it is helpful and you have even more things to improve on.

You May Fail the Defense, but Failure Brings Experience

One VCDX panelist told me weeks before my defense, “There is no shame is failing the defense.”  While there won’t be shame, you will be mildly grumpy… Take my word for it 😉  What I will say for the VCDX is that brings something that no other certification exam I have done over my career does, that being true knowledge you will continue to use.

With most certs, you cram the knowledge in your head like any college exam, forgetting it shortly after.  While the VCAP’s are practical exams, there are certain things I have already purged from my memory ( Auto Deploy Syntax, ugh! ) because I would just hit up Google in the event I needed a refresher.  The VCDX is the only one I have run into that is different from all of the rest, as the knowledge you gain will be something you continue to use for the rest of your career.  You will start to truly think in forms of risks, requirements, and so on.

Even in other circumstances… As just this evening my wife was talking about getting a double oven in our new kitchen when I asked, “What are the business requirements for a double oven?”  Side note, I don’t recommend this kind of response as I should have been thinking, “What are the risks to my well being in me asking her this question?”

I can honestly say it has changed the way I talk with and consult my customers.  Working for VMware they send me to lots of training, sales and technical.  While all of it does some varying value, nothing can compare to what I have learned in the last 7 months prepping for my defense.  I may have failed my first go at my defense, but what I have gained in the journey has made it very worth it.  It is something I would do all over again knowing the outcome, without a doubt.  It has not only made me a better architect, but a better consultant for my customers by embracing the method VCDX is based on.

Final Thoughts

For those of you who are interested in taking the VCDX, my question to you is what are you waiting for?  I will warn you that it is not for those without drive, determination, and stamina.  Plan for it to take up a large portion of your life for a considerable amount of time.  In my case, most nights and weekends for ~7 months.  Though I will guarantee you that in that time you will learn more than you have ever have and you will be better for it.

Have fun, enjoy the ride, and find some study buddies to enjoy it with.  Even if you do fail, learn from it and try again.

To the panelist, see you in October.  There is a VCDX number with my name on it! 🙂