My journey towards VCDX certification started back in mid 2010. After completing the prerequisite exams I submitted a Virtual Infrastructure 3.5 design that I designed and implemented at the company I was working for before going back to consulting. My design was accepted and I defended in Boston in November. I didn’t know what I was in for, I thought I knew it all and that I was going to breeze right through my defense, boy was I wrong! Needless to say I was unsuccessful. I also made one huge mistake, I didn’t take in what the panelist were trying to pull out of me. Meaning I left no better then I went in which is the worst thing that can happen, even if you’re unsuccessful the defense is a great place to learn your weaknesses and improve on them.
There was one more VCDX 3 defense and that was at Partner Exchange in February of 2011. This time I submitted a design that I was in the middle of implementing for a hospital system who was moving from Hyper-V to vSphere 4 and also implementing View. This design was rejected during the administrative review process, I don’t remember the exact wording that was used but basically it said that my design was rejected because it wasn’t my own work. While untrue, what they really meant was I used my companies standard systems engineering report template which has a bunch of our terms and canned graphics in it, and since I didn’t give credit to the author my design was rejected. Key takeaway, anything you use in your design that isn’t 100% yours make sure you give credit to the author! So I lost my last attempt to defend before the VCDX 3 was retired.
For the VCDX 4 track the VCAP-DCA and DCD are the prerequisite exams, but for anyone who had passed both the admin and design 3.x exams only the DCD was required. I took and passed the DCD as soon as it became available and I was able to get the exam scheduled. I started working on my next design which I decided I would be completely fictitious. I felt my design was pretty solid and I submitted it and it was accepted to defend in Palo Alto in August. When doing a completely fictitious design without the customer constraints or SLA’s or RTO/RPO’s you tend to loose sight of those items (or at least I did) so when I was asked about it during my defense I didn’t have a good answer, and so I received a poor score in those areas among some other things I did like choking during the troubleshooting scenario and thus I was unsuccessful again. I did take some good things away from this defense though, I learned where I was weak at when talking designs through, I learned how poorly I was at white boarding my ideas and the fact that I tended to get stuck over explaining certain aspects of my design as I wasn’t communicating them clearly enough.
I started working on my next design pretty soon after I received the official word that I was unsuccessful in Palo Alto. I decided to somewhat ditch the fictitious design and just modify a design to incorporate all the aspects in the VCDX Blueprint. I felt this was a good balance as I had real customer objectives for what they expected out of the environment with RTO/RPO’s and I was able to make up the rest to fill in the blanks. I submitted the design and was again invited to defend, this time in Singapore. My defense was on a Thursday afternoon but with the time difference and being the first time I had flown that far I wanted to get there a few days early to adjust, which I feel was a big help. During my defense I felt great, I was answering all the panelist questions clearly, I was able to get my design and thoughts onto the white board, I was confident and I felt everything but one thing I said went really well. The design and troubleshooting scenarios also went really well in my opinion. I thought for sure that I had nailed it this time. About 10 days later I received the email I was expecting, but not with the results I was expecting, I was unsuccessful once again. It seems that with that one thing I said I shot myself in the foot. While due to the NDA of the defense I can’t say what it was, but its result was the panelists couldn’t ask me anymore questions about that topic so I wasn’t able to reach a passing score in that section. My initial reaction was to throw in the towel and just give up. After I cooled off a bit I realized that this was fair, I didn’t receive passing marks for all items in the blueprint which is required to be successful. I think this is probably one of the reasons “scores” aren’t given to candidates, it doesn’t matter how well you do in one area if you blow it in another you won’t be successful. I decided I wasn’t going to give up and would try again.
I received the news about the Singapore defense on a Tuesday evening and the deadline for design submissions for the next defense was the following Monday. Luckily the design I just defended is a good enough design it just needed some minor tweaking and most importantly it needs me to not stick my foot in my mouth again. I was able to make the changes I felt it needed Thursday evening and reviewed everything again Friday and Saturday before submitting it. I’ve received word that I got through the administrative review and my design is now going through the technical review and I’ll know if I’m invited to defend in Germany by December 23rd.
So what have I learned about the process so far that I can share, besides it’s probably the hardest certification I’m ever gong to attempt? First know your design like the back of your hand, you don’t have it with you for reference, which due to time constraints is a good thing, so you have to know every detail about it. Next make sure you’ve covered everything in the VCDX Blueprint, if you didn’t in your design make sure you have answers for all the areas when you’re asked in your defense. Review all the tips Brian Rice is posting in the VCDX community. Don’t be afraid to say I don’t know, this isn’t a bad thing if you can say where you would go to find the answer. Likewise during the design and troubleshooting scenarios, you are allowed to ask the panelist to look up information for you, you just have to tell them what document to look in for the information. Have a strategy for how you’re going to prepare for your defense, make out a list of some kind to keep you on track. I use Evernote and also the Reminders app in iOS 5, I keep all my notes about what I need to remember in Evernote for easy reference wherever I’m at and if I’m driving or at a client site or otherwise not able to look up something that just came to me I’ll ask Siri to remind me later that evening to research that subject and then I document it in Evernote. In preparing for your defense try and hold a mock panel, if you can’t ask some friends to review your design and just email you their questions, this will get you thinking about what the panelist might ask. Practice white boarding your design, at least for me I don’t do it much so drawing out my design and other things I could think of as practice helped for when I was in my defense. Finally when you leave the room no matter if you feel like you’ve just aced it or like you just blew it, remember the experience, remember what the panelists asked you especially things they ask you and then ask you in a slightly different way as this is probably an area you need to work on for your next attempt. Good luck to everyone going for the VCDX, it’s a rough journey but one I feel will be well worth it when I’m successful.