Two weeks ago on Tuesday in Barcelona I had the privilege to take part in my VCDX defense. It was very exciting experience and I want to share it here. It was the culmination of very long process which has begun sometimes in December almost three years ago when I achieved my first VMware certification – the VCP 4 exam. That is when my ambitions to achieve the highest VMware certification started.
However it took me almost two more years to achieve VCAPs DCD and DCA. I blogged about those exams here and here. By then I started working for VMware Professional Services and was waiting for the right project which would result in VCDX level of design. And this besides the consulting experience is the most important thing for achieving the VCDX. Although it is possible to write a fictitious design during your spare time, it has some pitfalls. First of all, writing a good fictitious design is hard. There is a whole article about it here why. The main reason is that the person who comes with fictitious design probably did not go through a real VCDX caliber design and is not experienced enough. And then there is the problem with time. Writing a design takes a lot of time and then you also have to write the supporting documents – operational guide, deployment procedures, etc. And to write that during your free time takes a lot of commitment.
I was waiting almost another year till the right project came. It was a big vCloud Director project. vCloud projects which usually consists of two vSphere environments – the management and resource and there are plenty of opportunities to show your design skill. From the beginning while working on the project I wrote all the design materials with the VCDX in my mind. For example I tried not only to document the design decision, but also explain why they were taken. I went far beyond what the project required and was creating additional documents during my free time that were not in the Statement of Work just for the sake of certification. The design has been reviewed by my PSO colleagues and obviously the customer, which helped to find any mistakes or inconsistencies. John Arrasjid estimated that it takes on average about 40 hours of extra work on an existing design to submit it for VCDX defense. I would say that number seems pretty conservative to me, as this is the most laborious part of the process.
Meanwhile I passed VCP and both VCAPs exams for vSphere 5 and since the project was vSphere 5 based I applied for the new VCDX version 5 which defenses were held for the first time (although there are already many upgraded VCDX5s). When I learned that my design was accepted and I was invited it means the design scored enough points to be considered passable. I just had to present it well, answer any questions and then do well on other two parts of the defense, which are 30 minute custom design and 15 minute troubleshooting sessions where the panelists act as customer.
Although I have read all the FAQs on VCDX community forum and seen the recorded 1 hour VCDX defense simulation session from VMWorld website I was glad to have the chance to participate during 4 hour VCDX boot camp lead by John Arrasjid which was held just two days before my defense on Sunday. In my opinion the boot camp was incredibly useful especially for the custom design and troubleshooting parts. Not only we were told about the format of the defense, what to expect, but also received many tips, things to do and things not to do. We went through two retired scenarios for each session and were given valuable feedback.
For the design defense the candidate is supposed to prepare short 15 minute PowerPoint presentation with executive summary of the design. While I was preparing it I wanted to include all the blueprint sections however there was no way I was able to fit that in 15 minutes. Instead I created presentation that had 26 slides, covered all the topics included all the important pictures and had also some hidden slides in case. It was still so long even if I omitted all vCloud Director parts that were not directly relevant to vSphere design (my design had about 160 pages without the other documents like implementation plan, installation guide, operational procedures, validation plan, etc.)
One tip you get during the boot camp is that you have to know your design. And not only the parts you had written, but also the parts that were designed by someone else. In my case the Cisco UCS compute design and Nexus 1000V configuration was done by Cisco architects so I spent a lot of my preparation time there. Just rereading the whole design once again was useful as I forgot some details even though I wrote it just couple of months ago.
You do not get to know who is in your defense panel before you enter the room. When I saw the panelists I was humbled. They are obviously all VCDXs but for example I had also 13 year VMware veteran on the panel who is considered storage expert and writes books on the topic. You do not get chance like that every day to speak to these guys for two hours and let them comment your design which they read.
I told the panel right away that my powerpoint presentation is quite long and that they should interrupt me anytime to ask the relevant question. And the timing was almost perfect. I finished the last slide when the 75 minute time was up. Although that might seem as pretty decent amount of time and even though I was trying to speak fast and to the point it went by very quickly and I felt I could talk about the design for much longer.
Then you get 15 minute break outside when I chatted with the other candidate doing the defense at the same time next doors. Then they call you back and the custom design session starts. It is not that easy as it might look, mainly because the problem presented is not fully described and you have to be able to get a lot of info from the panelists who represent the customer. Do not jump straight to the design, get the requirements from them first. The time is a real constraint here and it helps to have experience asking customers the right questions. The time is really short so I also tried to concentrate on those parts of the design that would show my skills which I could not in the first part of the session. In my case it was storage.
Then you go straight to the troubleshooting scenario. It is only a 15 minute session where again the panelist represent the customer and a problem is described. Do not make the mistake to focus just on one area where you might think the problem is. Start from the big picture, try to eliminate all the possible sources of the problem – storage, compute, network, and then dive deeper and again try to eliminate different components. The panelists are looking for systematic approach not for shooting in the dark.
And then that is it. I was told to wait up to 10 days for the result. I was pretty spent after 2.5 hours of constant talking being alert and trying to look smart, but at the same time I was thrilled and satisfied that I came all the way to this point. I knew that even if the result would be negative it was worth it.
The wait was actually longer than 10 days and after constant email checking the VCDX Design Defense Results Letter has finally arrived – I am VCDX #99!