My ramblings about all things technical

Extra VCDX Experience achievement unlocked


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 Winking smile ) 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 Smile 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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)
  8. 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.


24 thoughts on “Extra VCDX Experience achievement unlocked

  1. Gregg – Thanks for posting your experience and sorry to hear that you were not successful. Next defense will be the time for you.

  2. Great write up. I am sure you will achieve next time.

  3. You are the man Gregg. You will nail it next time. Thank you for posting this write-up. Let me know if/when you are ready to do another VCDX study group. Count me in.

  4. I’m glad you’re going to re-submit one day. It took me 3 attempts to be successful, and with each submission I learnt a lot. The journey is just as productive as the result, but, as you have already mentioned, don’t forgot your family. Your eventual success will be a lot easier with their support! Best of luck. Shane

    • Thanks Shane. I’m certainly not giving up and I’m really taking it as a journey to learn more and try push myself to the next level. Yeah i need to invest some time into the family portion of the work life balance but knowing myself I’ll probably start to slowly update my submission in a few months time in prep. It’s also very reassuring that so many top people have failed it the first time and as Matt van den Beld said, he failed it first time and now is a double VCDX 🙂

  5. Great write up Greg. It’s a great achievement to be accepted to defend a design, so you’ve definitely made an important step forward. It’s validation that your design had a material chance of being successfully defended, even though there may be areas to improve for next time.

    One bit of advice I give during bootcamps and encourage candidates to do is listen very carefully to the questions that you are asked from the panel during all stages of the defence. They ask them for a very specific reason and in a specific way and there is always a strategy to it. If you can learn from the questions and ask yourself the same types of questions, then you can pick up on the areas where you were weak, and improve your design and chances of success.

    Every design has weak points, every design has areas that can improve, there is no such thing as a perfect design. It’s important to understand where you are weak and look critically at those areas for improvements. But the defence isn’t just about the design you’ve created, it’s about being prepared to be dropped into any organisation anywhere and being successful at producing a design for any type of customer.

    It’s really important to practice the design and troubleshooting scenarios as well as the design defence. You can go backwards as well as forwards during all stages of the defence process. Having your study group come up with weird and wacky realistic real life requirements, with perhaps some incomplete or inaccurate information, and some wacky yet realistic and real life architecture design troubleshooting scenario can help your chances of success. Especially with the mix of backgrounds.

    VCDX is not only a very deep certification but it is also a very broad enterprise architecture certification. Understanding the linkages, impacts, risks and assumptions across this broad range of things is a real challenge, especially when it’s not all technology, but people and process as well. Let alone to the depth that you are tested to during the defence. But as you’ve already discovered the journey is well worth the effort.

    I think the more you go through this journey the more you realise how much you don’t know as well. There is always more to learn. I think you definitely have what it takes to be successful. So take a well deserved break and pick it up after you recharge your batteries. I wish you all the best for your next attempt.

    • thanks for the advice Mike!! I’ll certainly look for more critical feedback around my design well before the submission deadline for my next defence and ensure I shore up any problem where possible and strengthen my knowledge where maybe i’m weak.

      The two scenarios are certainly something i plan to practice more for next time. Personally I know I made a silly mistake which I noticed I had made before the end of the design scenario but I think the damage was done by then and I should have challenged what was told to me more. for the troubleshooting I think i solved one of the problems but learning more about all the different places and things for each tier where problems may occur and what to look fr is something I’m planning to spend a fair amount of time trying to learn.

  6. Great article mate, shame you didn’t pass first time but you often learn more by failure than success. I’m going to write an article about how I’ve had that situation from a project point of view as I think it’s good to show the good, bad and ugly.

  7. Personally I’m just amazed you made enough time to learn and submit with a young family – I’m in a similar position and haven’t been able to, so good work! Success is just a combination of aptitude, attitude, and perseverance and you’ve got all three.

    • HAHAHA yeah it certainly wasn’t simple with a small child who has only just turned one and is also the reason I’m not resubmitting this year as I now want to spend that time with the wife and little one. It really comes down to having a very supportive other half and also trying to cut out everything else that isn’t required as I barely watched tv or socialised for these past months and also for the daily webinars with Rene and Bobby we ran them as work finished for me and before i had to collect the wife from the train station.

      We i said eat,sleep,vcdx,repeat I was being dead serious as I think to do it right it has to be almost all you think about in your spare time and i woke up and fell to sleep countless times running scenarios through my head and answering possible mock questions. That’s why I say start your design right now so that you can keep that balance and before you know it you may be half way there

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  9. I think a VCDX experience itself is an achievement. I congratulate you on it. Very much pleased to read you experience. Like many others, I’m sure you will crack up next time.

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  12. Super write-up Gregg. I’d like to congratulate you on the effort you put in, its very inspiring and although you didn’t get it on this attempt you should feel proud of the efforts. Look forward to reading about your next attempt once you’re up for it 🙂
    Best wishes.

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  14. Hello Gregg, Could you update your link to my blog please? Cheers, Rene.

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