TheSaffaGeek

My ramblings about all things technical


Leave a comment

VCDX Preparation Advice

Yesterday I ran  face to face VCDX Mock sessions for three people defending their VCDX at the Dell EMC offices in Brentford. During the NDA permitting discussions a number of questions came up around the outlines of VCDX designs,advice for the design scenario, things to read/watch from others who attended who are looking to submit soon and I thought I would put out a quick posting around the advice given to hopefully aid people also looking to submit soon.

  • What does a VCDX design look like?
    • I get this question often and I know a large number of other VCDX do as well. People might not have seen a “VCDX Level” design before and so are unsure what they need to produce. It is highly unlikely a VCDX will send you their submission as with the invested time as well as the high likelihood of their customers name and information being in the submission. But one portion that is possible to share is the table of contents so people can possibly understand the flow (in my personal opinion) a good design should have. I have pasted screen shots below of my table of contents from my actual VCDX-DCV submission and there is also the blog posting Derek Seaman posted a while ago around this exact topic. Every person and design is different but outlines like Derek and I’s are relatively the outlines most DCV designs follow that have a good flow from conceptual to logical to physical and cover all the pillars.

imageimage

  • How do I prepare for the design scenario as I’ve spent 98% of my time preparing for the design defence portion?
    • I’ve seen this ALOT and depending on your experience this can be where a lot of people fail their defences (I base this on having done design scenario mocks with people but obviously have no actual proof in the real defences). I made this mistake in my first VCDX attempt and even though I had done ones at customer numerous times before, due to the time constraints a relatively unusual way you don;t know anything about a customer and design before doing a design workshop this can be a new skill to learn but one I now use for most customer engagements I have. The way I learnt and prepared for this for my second attempt was:
      • Have a “script” you plan to follow to ask the right questions early on to gleam the information you need and how to manage you time to cover all the pillars in the time allocated for the design scenario. The best method IMO is one blogged about by Rene van den Bedem. Rene created this when he was preparing for his second VCDX attempt and i was preparing for my first.  The questions and whiteboard layout are a great idea and allows you to collect and record information whilst allowing the panellists to see your thinking and your very important whiteboarding skills.
      • Stemming off of Rene’s method above Larus Hjartarson who had Rene as his mentor took the method one step further and blogged about it here. I used Larus’ method in my second defence preparations and recommended it highly yesterday as it allows you to really show your skills and get your diagrams logically drawn up on the whiteboard by the end.
      • Get yourself a whiteboard and practice it again and again and again. there are a number of example design scenarios out there that you can use and adapt. I would use some as a starting point but would change the answers i was expecting the panellists were giving me or changing the answer they gave me half way through to practice how I could look at what i had written down and drawn and change it due to that requirement change. Certainly practice talking about what you are doing on the board and continually ask questions to try gleam out information but make sure you have good reasons to ask those questions as sometimes the panellists who are role laying as customers might have to email someone to get the answer to your question.
  • VCDX’s are floating brains and I’ll never be that good
    • Some people think that to obtain the VCDX you have to be an unachievable rockstar who can provision via mindcontrol and whilst there are some big names from the community who are also VCDX certified what I tell people is that all these people were in the same place they are but with work and dedication they learnt and practiced and proved they had the skills and knowledge to obtain the VCDX. From yesterdays mocks a number of the guys who are looking to defend over the next few defences said what easy going and normal people the four VCDX were and whilst that’s very nice of them to say I feel it lends itself to the point that people who have passed the exam are no different than anyone else and that anyone can pass it with time and effort. I give the same advice to those defending that they have to remember that they belong in the defend room and that the panellist were at the same place they are and to think of them as their peers. 99% of VCDX are really nice humble people who are really happy for more people to join the ranks and try with what spare time they have to share the knowledge and help those looking to pass it realise that it isn’t an insurmountable mountain. But no one will carry you and what might come across at points as someone not being willing to help is that for you to learn the most and really get value out of the journey (more about my feelings about doing it for the right reason here) you need to do it yourself and by someone carrying you it won;t help you nor the program to have “paper” VCDX even though the defence should make this pretty clear.
  • I’m waiting for the right project to come along before I start working on my VCDX submission
    • I hear this one often and certainly see it quite a bit on slack channels I’m part of as well as twitter. I don’t believe a perfect project will ever come along, there are certainly projects that can cover a good portion of the bases but I know a number of VCDX including myself who supplemented existing designs they had done to fit the blueprint or to show their architect abilities and a number of VCDX who merged a few projects together as if it were one so that they could still speak to real experiences they had around the designs and not have the challenge of remembering a fictional story. There are also a number of people who passed with fictional designs but even for these they state they related back to previous project they had been on where customers asked for the portions. I recommend getting started right away especially due to the timeframes it might take you to build a design if you are doing it in your spare time.
  • I’ve got a wife/young kids/I travel a lot/I have a full time job/all of the above
    • I hear this often and I do hear where people are coming from but for me it is like anything people state they want, how badly do you want it as if you realistically want it bad enough it’s amazing what time you can find to do it. When i was preparing for my second VCDX attempt i used to watch two different YouTube videos https://youtu.be/scr2PrcDxEo https://youtu.be/Ofo2lv9-nVY to remind myself and question myself how badly I wanted to pass it and also due to my having failed the first time and that I couldn’t bring myself to not complete what I had started. When i did my first defence i had a six month old daughter who would only sleep 3-4 hours a night, I have a wife, I had a full-time job on a challenging project and I needed to do things for myself so I didn’t go insane but i found the time to submit and for my second time I was flying to Rotterdam and was out there for three days a week on a high profile project but I made the time to study on the plane and trains back and forth each week and studied in the hotel room. I studied and worked on my design an hour before work started and after my daughter went to sleep. I’m not saying I’m anything amazing at all all I am saying is if you realistically look at your time you’ll find opportunities to do it and lie the Eric Thomas video I mentioned above you question yourself do I want it more than X and very often you’ll work out what’s really important whilst still spending time with significant others in your life, working successfully and not burning yourself out.
  • The more I learn for the VCDX the more I realise how little I know
    • Welcome to the club. As I covered above about doing it for what i believe are the right reasons the VCDX journey will expose you to so much technology and options and people who have experience in so many things you might have little to no experience in. You will learn LOADS along the path to VCDX and I will be honest with you even after passing the VCDX I realised how little I still knew and how much I still had to continually learn. The below image explains this for me perfectly

image

    • I have massive imposter syndrome around being a VCDX and I have spoken to numerous others who say the exact same thing. I’m not sure if it will ever go away and I think it’s a very common thing so if you think being a VCDX means you know everything and don’t experience the feeling of having to “fake it until you make it” then it just is not true, no one can know everything and everyone is having to continually learn new things and there will always be people who know things better than you do, it’s the profession we’ve chosen to be a part of. A great piece I saw recently about imposter syndrome from Neil Gaiman is the below:
    • imposter

If you are looking to do the VCDX then I would highly recommend it, certainly speak to your significant other around the work that needs to go into it as it does take dedication and depending on your progress for a submission package and your skillset can require you to spend time learning but with dedication and work it is certainly achievable.

Good luck on your journey and I hope some of the advice above helps.

Gregg


Leave a comment

My First VMware Certification #vExpert NSX

The VMware vExpert NSX program is running a community blog series and this post is about my first VMware certification.

Why did you decide to take your first test and what was your motivation?

I had been allocated to look after the VMware 3.5 estate of my old company and decided that trying to pass the VCP3.5 was the best way for me to learn VMware. I followed this up with the VCP4 which had been released around the same time in quick succession to help me learn what was coming in the next version.

What was your journey for the first test?

The VCP3.5 was my first one but due to me doing the VCP4 almost immediately after the journey actually merged covering both which I blogged about on my blog here https://thesaffageek.co.uk/2009/12/02/vmware-certified-professional-vsphere-passed/ . VMware was very new to me then but the community was in it’s relative infancy in 2009 and twitter had a small but hard-core group that I loved being a part of and learning from some of the famous pioneers like Scott Lowe, Duncan Epping and Frank Denneman to name but a few. My preparing for the exam started off my interest and now continued link to writing up the study resources (Part 1 and Part 2 ) I used for the exams which became very popular and actually led me to getting my first vExpert the year after.

Were you nervous, how did you study?

I was very nervous as I actually mentioned in my posting for VCP4 as the technology was very new to me as I had up until that point been a Microsoft fan boy having done the MCP’s and MCSE’s and virtualisation plus what it could do was in it’s infancy (at least in my opinion then) . How i studied for it had been covered in the blog postings I mentioned earlier around the VCP4 (Part 1 and Part 2 ) and the methods I followed then I still follow largely today around using multiple techniques to learnt he material such as books, podcasts, CBT and good old lab time. I also had much more time then to read blogs announcing the latest features or what people were having issues with and how they fixed them. This interest in learning what issues people had and how they fixed them as well as trying to help people with issues drew me into the VMware communities and which led me to become Master status and being asked to become a VMware communities moderator.

How did it benefit your career as well as your community?

Immense amounts as just reading the posting around my passing the VCP4 reminds me how much I’ve learnt over the time from doing those exams as a junior IT Technician freshly “off the boat” from South Africa to a Cloud Practice Solution Lead and VCDX #205. The community involvement was what really got me excited and I made some great vFriends whom I am still very friendly with as well as countless others from VMUG’s to VMworld’s to Twitter to the communities to now being part of the vBrownbag crew that I learnt so much from in the early days. The VMware community was amazing then and even though some people have moved onto other things that ethos is still around and is something I personally try give back to the community.

Knowing what you know today, what are some of the pain points in this certification that you can share with your audience?

It varies based on the level of the VMware certification you are going for. For the VCP it is now much easier to learn about the technology as there is a sheer abundance of resources out there to learn from whereas the amount in the 3.5 days was much less although the suite of products and amount of features were much less then so I think it balances out somewhat. As with any certification it is about spending the time understanding it and for me as I’ve mentioned before I sometimes find different methods of learning it helps explain it better as sometimes reading page after page of a book can make you lose focus but a video by the vBrownbag where you hear it from someone in the community can keep your interest much more and maybe even explain it in terms you would have never thought of.

 

If you are going for the VCP6 then why not have a look at my study resources page and good luck on the journey. If you told me in those VCP3.5 days that I would be a VCDX doing enterprise level work like I am now I would have never believed you. Also with so many paths such as NV,DTM and CMA the amount of amazing technology you can learn to advance you career never mind the integrations with Openstack, AWS and Azure it’s still an exciting time to being doing virtualisation.

Gregg


Leave a comment

VCDX Spotlight – Johan van Amersfoort

Name: Johan van Amersfoort

Twitter Handle: vHojan

Blog URL: vHojan.nl

Current Employer: ITQ Consultancy

VCDX #: 238

How did you get into using VMware?

In 2005 I was working as a field engineer and partly responsible for R&D related stuff. Especially when testing out new software, it was an challenge to constantly reinstall desktops to a clean state in that process. So we started using VMware Workstation. And that saved us with a lot of time that could be wasted in reinstallations. Now we were able to create snapshots, whoohoo!

Early 2006 our management decided that for a new infrastructure we needed to consolidate our servers and because of our experiences with VMware technology, vSphere was chosen. That was the same year that I executed my first vMotion. A game changer!

What made you decide to do the VCDX?

A couple of things to be honest. First of all, there are too few architects focussing on EUC solutions. As VMware is more and more aiming on taking over the Digital Workspace market, proper knowledge and experience of architecture is needed to achieve that goal. At VMware as well as partners. So I decided to have a part in that and go for it.

Second, I wanted to gain skills as an architect. In the past couple of years I designed quite a lot infrastructures, from vSphere to vROps to Horizon View and Workspace ONE. Every design got better and better, but I wanted to take my skills to a next level. And VCDX-DTM was the way to go.

And third, I don’t have a bachelor or master degree in IT because I disliked long-term education. In this case I was working on something that I really enjoyed and gave me a lot of energy. So when finished, it validated my skills as an architect and that was a great feeling.

How long did it take you to complete the whole VCDX journey?

In total it took me 14 months from the first day at the customer until the final email from the VCDX program that I passed.

What advice would you give to people thinking of pursuing the VCDX accreditation?

A wise man (or whatever it is) once said: “Do, or do not. There is no try”. And that is probably the one thing that kept me focused. Especially when things went bad. And most of us know that you will go through hard times. So before you start, be absolutely positive that this is what you want.

Also, it has a low WAF which needs to be compensated with boxes of chocolate, roses and romantic dinners.

And of course, enjoy the journey. Because even in the hard times it is still a lot of fun!

If you could do the whole VCDX journey again what would you do differently?

I would contact a mentor much earlier in the process. After delivering my PSO documents to the customer, I continued working on these documents for the application until my first mock defense (3 months prior to the application date). During that defense my complete design got roasted so I had to rewrite 231 pages so it was panellist-proof (although no one really knows what that means). I would probably not have used the PSO kit if I could start all over again (which might happen if I want to go for DCV or CMA).

Life after the VCDX?  How did your company respond?  Was it worth it?

ITQ Consultancy is one of the most awesome employers in the world. We invest in knowledge to share knowledge. And now they have the first VCDX-DTM in the Benelux in their presence (next to Sjors Robroek, VCDX-NV and Marco van Baggum, VCDX-DCV). And they are really proud of this achievement.

After passing the defense, I took a couple of months off of studying. But I want to focus on one of my weaker competencies, networking. Mainly by aiming for both Cisco CCNA and VCP-NV certifications.

The journey and certification made me a better architect. So it was definitely worth it!


9 Comments

VCP6-NV (2V0-642) Exam Experience

Last week Friday after a few weeks of studying I sat the VCP6-NV (2V0-642) exam. I decided to do the track as I wanted to update my knowledge around NSX and it was also something I realised i wasn’t as strong in as I probably should be after my unsuccessful VCDX-CMA defence last year October.

The exam is based on NSX 6.2, comprises of 77 multiple choice questions and is 120 minutes long. The resources I personally used for the exam were:

  • The Pluralsight course by Jason Nash were brilliant in covering NSX basics and more advanced topics:
  • The VCP6-NV Official Cert Guide was an amazing resource and goes into great detail about so many topics. I read this on my trains back and forth each week between Zürich and Bern and I would highly recommend the book even though it covers the 641 exam.
  • Lab time. I spent a fair amount of time playing around and learning in an EMC vLab as well as numerous VMware Hands on Labs getting my understanding of the differing components and interdependencies. I know the exam isn’t hands on like the VCIX but to get my head around some of the concepts, building.modifying and deleting portions helped me understand some of the main features of NSX and has hopefully laid a good groundwork for a possible future VCIX-NV attempt.

The exam was fair in the questions it asked, finished all the questions and reviews with about 45 minutes to spare and I passed with a respectable score. The exam is certainly achievable if you do the above resources and understand them. For me the mix os the book by Elver, the videos by Jason and my hands on practice worked really nicely as I feel each one filled a gap the other left and also my attention span for reading books deep in technical details isn’t my strongest attribute.

What has passing the exam done for my career?

Knowing NSX as I mentioned in the beginning was important for me to understand the whole SDDC ecosystem, strengthen it for my VCDX-CMA and be able to advise my customers on the correct solutions as well as have the ability to review NSX designs by NSX SME’s. It has already proved beneficial in discussions with customers and has also saved me in a troubleshooting issue where I would have probably spent much much longer trying to fix an issue.

For those looking to take the exam, good luck.

Gregg


2 Comments

Why do you want the #VCDX certification?

A recent twitter comment or should I say declaration by Craig Kilborn reminded me that I wanted to write a posting about doing the VCDX for the right reasons (Disclaimer: this is my opinion and if you disagree then that is perfectly fine). Also I am really looking forward to the posting Craig is going to put out as he was and still is one of the most prepped people I know for the VCDX defences yet sadly failed it.

image

When people come up to me at conferences or VMUG’s and chat to me about my VCDX journey and my achieving the VCDX certification and state they are looking to start the journey towards getting a VCDX number I always ask them one initial question: Why do you want the VCDX certification? The VCDX and path has been an amazing experience and learning curve for me and I know many many others and I personally feel you should do it for the cliché reason of “for the journey and not the destination” as the amount you need to learn and the breadth of not just technical skills but also public speaking, white boarding skills, stress management skills and the biggest one I had – realising how little you actually know and still need to learn is the best reason to do it. I know I ruffled a few VCDX feathers on a Geek Whisperers podcast appearance I did where I stated that getting the VCDX won’t always mean you will get a top role at VMware or get that six figure salary or automatically get that promotion. But the skills you have learnt and perfected along the way to obtaining your VCDX might bring some of those. I still believe this and if you do it for those reasons you might be disappointed once you get your number.

I use certifications to force myself to learn new technologies and for me the VCDX track was something that was going to push me to learn VMware technologies to a level only a certain amount of people globally had “proven”  this level of knowledge. What I didn’t realise was that the VCDX was going to force me to not just know VMware technologies to an expert level but also all the supporting technologies around it and how the VCDX requires people to have a very strong holistic understanding of all the technologies in a solution and how differing decisions can/would have impacts on the success of the design/solution. So even though this might sound a level that is daunting to you (it was certainly for me and to be honest it still is a work in  progress due to the ever changing landscape of IT) the amount you learn about all the supporting technologies, from people also aiming for the certification as well as the community around it is priceless and for me has been the main “prize” of doing the VCDX.

Last year October I defended a vRealize Automation design I had done in my spare time for a real world customer along with the infamous Rene van den Bedem and Andrea Siviero to hopefully obtained my VCDX6-CMA. I was ultimately unsuccessful in this attempt but gained an untold amount of experience not just from building a VCDX level design for vRA along with the required supporting documentation but again realising where there were gaps in my knowledge that needed to be filled. One of these was NSX where I knew a certain working level but in hindsight I naively  should have realised the amount NSX played a part in our solution and even though the defence was about vRA the impacts on the decisions and design we had made for NSX was a direct influencer on if the solution succeeded or failed. From this I have been up skilling on NSX and last week Friday I passed the first step in this by obtaining my VCP6-NV. I will also most likely resubmit for my VCDX6-CMA in the future because 1. I seem to be a masochist and 2. I fully believe a quote from a video I used to watch in prep for my VCDX-DCV second defence of “Pain is temporary, it may last for a minute, or an hour, or a day or even a year but it will subside, if you quit however the pain will last forever” and I can’t help myself but want to complete what I started or else I am accepting the failure. From needing to better my knowledge of NSX I have seen a direct impact and benefit to my role as a Solution Lead in Dell EMC’s Cloud Practice and the methods I learnt and used for my DCV and CMA submissions have proven untold benefit on the deliveries I have had to produce on projects I have worked on.

I’ve possibly been as clear as mud in this posting but my main personal thoughts and opinions about wanting to go for the VCDX are:

  1. Do it as it has been an amazing learning experience and continues to be for me.
  2. Don’t be afraid to fail it as for me it has been the best way to truly show me where I need to be better.
  3. Do it to be a better architect and have a more well rounded knowledge as the IT landscape is forever changing and you never know when one of those supporting technology skills will maybe get your foot in the door to a new exciting opportunity
  4. The community around the VCDX is amazing and 98% of VCDX’s are more than willing to help you along your journey but you have to take the initiative as no one is going to carry you. As Rebecca Fitzhugh a relatively recent VCDX wrote about, a good mentor never coaches you but challenges, encourages and provides “wisdom” when needed.
  5. There is a fair likelihood that once you achieve the VCDX your company and/or boss will have no idea what it really means and most recruiters are more excited about someone being a vExpert than a VCDX but the skills you learnt in the journey towards VCDX will be what might get you that new role or promotion but don’t do the certification for those reasons as you might be disappointed that not much changes initially if possibly at all once you get a VCDX number. It’s actually one of the reasons I ask “ Life after the VCDX?  How did your company respond?  Was it worth it?” in my VCDX Spotlight postings as for most the change is minor and might only happen a fair time later.
  6. There is a substantial amount of personal time and effort that goes into the journey and if you don’t use it for all the lessons along the way then once you achieve it you might be saddened by what is behind the Wizard of VCDX’s curtain.

If you are realistically aiming for the VCDX(You have the VCAp’s/VCIX in your chosen track or are on the cusp of having them) then I run a VCDXPrepGroup slack channel where people also aiming for the VCDX can work together and where we have almost a dozen VCDX mentors covering all four of the tracks. Message me and I’ll add you to the group but be warned the group won’t give you anything that will break the NDA’s and you won’t be supplied people’s VCDX submissions so you will have to put in the work, the group just provides the platform to get some valuable feedback and link you to fellow VCDX Wannabe’s.

Lastly good luck to those that defended VCDX this week (a fair few from the slack group) and for those aiming for future defences good luck on the journey.

Gregg


Leave a comment

VCDX Spotlight – Rebecca Fitzhugh

Name: Rebecca Fitzhugh

Twitter Handle: @rebeccafitzhugh

Blog URL: technicloud.com

Current Employer: self-employed

VCDX #: 243

How did you get into using VMware?

I was voluntold! I learned VMware while serving in the military. My direct supervisor instructed me to upgrade an ESX host; I had no idea what VMware, ESX, or virtualization even was at the time.

What made you decide to do the VCDX?

It seemed like the next logical step. I had achieved multiple VCAPs and VCDX was next. It was more of a self-validation than anything. I also hoped that it would help open up doors in order to take my career to the next level.

How long did it take you to complete the whole VCDX journey?

A little over three years. I attained both VCAP certifications on v5 in 2013. As for actively pursuing VCDX, it took 10 months. I began rewriting my design (had briefly started the previous year) with my VCDX partner in February 2016, submitted in May, unsuccessfully defending in July, resubmitted in August, and succeeded in November.

What advice would you give to people thinking of pursuing the VCDX accreditation?

If you are considering pursuing the VCDX, I would recommend doing a self assessment and evaluating your strengths and weaknesses. Work to shore up the weaknesses because as an architect you must be well rounded in many technical areas. Secondly, practice public speaking. Your soft skills matter as much as your technical expertise. And lastly, set realistic goals for yourself and find a study group that will hold you accountable.

If you could do the whole VCDX journey again what would you do differently?

Generally speaking, I wouldn’t change much. Failing was a huge learning experience and helped me get a clearer understanding of what the panel was looking for. I would spend more time up front doing mocks with more people and working on my presentation earlier.

Life after the VCDX?  How did your company respond?  Was it worth it?

My company was super supportive because I own it! Ha! As for post VCDX life, it has mostly returned to semi-normalness. But, I would say that the process and my preparation have changed my perspective and how I approach the design process. I’d say it was worth it for the personal growth and the people you meet along the journey.


2 Comments

VCAP6-DCV Design Objective 1.1 on the #vBrownbag

Last night I decided an hour before the planned time for the first vBrownbag VCAP6-DCV Design Objectives series to pull together a presentation and take on the objective. Jason Grierson had partly put his hand up for the objective but was unable to complete his before last night but agreed to join me on the broadcast and it worked out a life saver.Unfortunately due to some very poor hotel Wi-Fi I had some issues getting my presentation to show on the broadcast and so Jason stepped in to go over the parts he had done for the objective and did an unbelievable job and then I presented mine afterwards so we managed to have two VCDX’s covering the one objective so hopefully it brings extra value. My presentation from the broadcast is below

The recording of the session is also below

 

Gregg