Yesterday after ~450 hours of blood,sweat and daily mock panels I defended my VCDX design at the Frimley United Kingdom defences. The experience was much more pleasurable than I thought it would be and my panel were all really nice guys and I could tell they were asking me questions to try help me show my knowledge and strengthen portions where possibly my design was weak. Unfortunately when I woke this morning and checked my emails and after asking my wife to open the attachment due to being too nervous myself to do it ,it stated I was unsuccessful in my attempt.
I was certainly hoping I would crack it first time and be able to prance around like a pony at the next London VMUG with my VCDX shirts,caps,blazers and new tattoo (I’m joking on the tattoo but the rest I can’t deny I may have done ) But all jokes aside I really learnt a substantial amount and can say without a doubt that I’m a much better architect than when I started the journey and it showed me where my knowledge needs strengthening for my resubmission in the future. I don’t think i’m going to resubmit this year for a few reasons, one being that you have to pay the entire submission fee again and I just don’t have $1200 lying around to do this but more importantly I am just looking forward to spending time with my family as I’ve been spending all my evenings and weekends for the past 6 months working on my VCDX. I will however resubmit and give it another go as I didn’t think i was miles and miles off and with more prep and strengthening in certain areas I could get it the second time around and there are numerous super intelligent current VCDX’s who only passed the second time.
There’s loads of great advice out there but i felt there wasn’t a large amount of portions from people who have failed and I can certainly understand the desire to crawl under a rock after finding out your result but i wanted to put out something around what I felt helped me for the defence yesterday as well as what I’m going to be starting to slowly go through in the next few months for my resubmit next year. However Rene van den Bedem one of my study group buddies and a newly minted VCDX #133 from the Frimley defences (without a doubt deserved) beat me to the punch on most of them in his posting this morning. So I’m going to list additional portions and complimentary portions around resources and things i felt are needed:
- Try put in a design that is as real world as possible. I know this isn’t easy, especially as most companies are now 100% virtualised but there are loads of projects around creating a new environment for a new exchange environment or a new department in your company and how you designed it which i’m certain can meet most of the VCDX blueprint requirements. Also if you are going to fictionalise portions don’t try and put in too much as real world customers need to operationally maintain this after you leave and if you have done some no doubt amazing custom configurations but they mean when an upgrade is due you have to change half the environment then you will be called up on this.
- Eat,sleep ,VCDX ,repeat. As you can tell by the hours I estimate I put into my submission ~450 and the hours Rene put into his two submissions ~1000, the VCDX is an all encompassing goal where you have to be willing to spend your evenings and weekends for months and months working on the design and there will be loads of points where you feel like giving up and you question why you decided to do this (mine normally came when it was warm weather outside and I was sat trying to decide on VMware security settings). BUT the amount I have learnt from it I fully believe and have already noticed tangibly has made me a better architect and forced me to gain new skills.
- Join a study group ASAP. For this submission I had it planned in my head from almost the middle of last year when i passed my VCAP-DCD that i was going to go for the VCDX. I coaxed a whole bunch of guys I know from the London VMUG to put in their interest to defend this year at Frimley which partially resulted in there being two defences in the UK this year Unfortunately due to time blurring by I ended up being the only one to submit for the April defence but I created the EMEA VCDX Study Group after getting the idea from the guys who defended at PEX and was able to gain loads of feedback around my design from people with various backgrounds and thereby strengths in different areas and had a few trial by fire mock defences. I also had a core study group of Rene and Bobby Stampfle who were both also defending at Frimley and so we worked together and did webexs almost daily for three weeks and really learnt a substantial amount from each other and even did a face to face practice this past weekend to calm our nerves and try make the defence not as scary.
- Gain help from the best. I’m fortunate enough to know quite a few current VCDX’s and as is the case with the VMware community everyone is really happy to help out where they can. I got a few current VCDX’s to review my design and not hold back on the feedback as what these guys will find you can bet the panellists will find also.I know there is a plan by John Arrasjid around the academy X program and how this will help people nearing the end stages of their VCDX designs to gain some 1 on 1 help from current VCDX’s and I was getting ahead of myself and planning to ask to be part of this when I passed my VCDX as I knew the sheer benefits this has. I will certainly be working with as many top people as possible as well as my EMEA VCDX Study group.
- Go to a VCDX bootcamp and watch the online videos and the vBrownbag VCDX videos. These are really helpful and I attended the bootcamps at VMworld Europe last year and the one last week here in the UK. the one at VMworld was certainly a lot better possibly due to the amount of VCDX’s in the room and so the role playing for the two scenarios was much more beneficial than the one I had last week. I’ve refrained from ranting about why as I don’t think it was as helpful but I would encourage the time keeping of the VCAP bootcamp prior to be much better so that it doesn’t severely impact the VCDX bootcamp.
- Keep your knowledge up to date and start your design right now. For the VCDX i submitted a design I worked on over two years ago and so with a lot of my current work being around vCloud and vCAC I was rusty on some areas and needed to refresh them. Rene listed loads of top books and I did a selective few of these due to time constraints to refresh my memory on advanced HA and DRS portions and storage. I think if I had slowly kept my skills up around reading tech books like I used to the sheer amount of things I had to refresh on wouldn’t have been as much and possibly made a lot easier. Also I got asked by quite a few people about if their older designs were good enough. I’m certainly not the expert around what is and isn’t VCDX level but what I would highly recommend is getting started on your design even if you still have VCAP’s to finish as it is a very long process and the more you spread it out over time and the amount of times you go through the better design you will have in my opinion.
- It isn’t as scary as you think. I was a bundle of nerves for weeks before my defence but once I got in and met the moderator (i’m not sure if i’m allowed to make public the names of my panel etc so I’ll refrain from it in case) who I knew very well as well as almost my whole panel so it really felt like another VMUG or customer meeting but in front of my peers who were all really friendly rather than these levitating vBrains who sit on great thrones. The panel are there to tests your skills and will ask questions to try help you to prove your skills where maybe you haven’t scored very well and are certainly rooting for you to pass whilst being very professional. They will challenge your knowledge but the thought that they are out to catch you out with crazy abstract questions is a total myth (maybe it’s just something I had in my mind)
- I’m disappointed without a shadow of a doubt that I didn’t pass it this time but I’m certainly glad I did it and I would recommend the journey to anyone looking to try force themselves to the next level. As I’ve stated I’m going to take a breather to recharge and spend time with the family but I will give it another go and fully believe that with more planning I can do it next time.
Good luck to all of those defending this year and hopefully you have a better result than me.