My ramblings about all things technical

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VCDX Prep Advice Series – The Mentor/s

For every VCDX round, I normally run unofficial face to face mock as the last hurdle and prep for all those defending the VCDX that round in the UK and for anyone wanting to come to assist with the mocks and learn from them. I have run these for a number of years and have got really great feedback from them but last year alike to so many things I was unable to run any due to Covid and who knows if I can this year. So I thought I would do an updated series of postings around the advice I normally give in these mocks, advice I give in the VCDXPrepGroup slack channel I founded and run and link to postings where I summarised previous advice. I will break the series into distinct areas along the path to VCDX to try help people wherever they are along the path *NOTE* All advice here is keeping within NDA’s and despite me now being a VCDX panellist it is the same as when I wasn’t one.

I want/need a mentor but how do I find one?

VCDX mentorship splits opinions as I know of several VCDX who did the track without a mentor and there are people like myself who had a few mentors to help me with advice and mock with me once I had my design submitted and I was getting ready to defend.

The first and official place to look for a VCDX mentor is at VCDX.VMware.Com and select the mentorship flag. I would recommend not limiting it just to people within your geography and time zone as I personally had one mentor in Australia another in Saudi Arabia and another in the USA. I personally believe having a few gives you different perspectives, naturally each will have skills in different areas and it allows you to have catchups possibly in your morning but their evening when they have time outside of work to chat with you.

Another great place is to ask on Twitter and add the VCDX hashtag to your message as not all people who are willing to mentor have the flag on the VCDX page as many don’t want to let someone down by saying they can mentor and then feel they can’t allocate the time to assist.

One of the main reasons I created the unofficial VCDX Prep/Study Group slack channel is to allow people to be in contact with many people who are mentors both officially and unofficially as well as people who are also aiming to obtain the certification so that ideally their questions are answered. Also akin to myself, there is VCDX panellist in the group who can give generic NDA permitting advice.

The role of a mentor

Mentors are naturally VCDX who have chosen to set the flag for being a mentor and are not panelists as panelists are not allowed to be mentors due to them knowing the scoring rubric used for the scoring of the designs for invites to defence and scoring of the defences.

There is no official guide for being a mentor and therefore each mentor will give the best advice and guidance they can give whilst base it on what worked for them personally and if they have been a mentor for a while then what advice they gave previous mentees who have succeeded. This again is another reason I created the study slack group so that different perspectives could be shared as there are many ways to pass and you have to work out what works for you.

Below to ideally clarify some views I’ve seen over the years of people being upset that they emailed a mentor and they didn’t respond or they did but the person felt the mentor didn’t give them the level of guidance they had hoped for I have listed some points around mentorship in no particular order:

  • Mentors are not there to walk you through every single piece of your submission and handhold you, you have to own your design/submission and the best mentors, in my opinion, direct you in the right direction and let you learn or else you’ll get to the defence and fail as you don’t understand half of the design because you didn’t learn it on your own.
  • Mentors have a day job and are very likely to have a very busy and demanding job never-mind they also want to have time with family etc so if a mentor can only do a few hours a week with you then you as the mentee need to utilise that time to the best of your ability to get the most out of it. Again, this is why having multiple mentors is beneficial IMO and why the prep/study slack group is helpful as you can ask a question and a whole host of mentors based in all time zones can give you advice.
  • If you don’t use Twitter then I would recommend getting yourself an account just to maybe tweet out asking for a mentor and seeing who might be available to assist you. Sometimes people don’t set themselves as mentors but are willing to privately do a review for you or a few mocks.
  • The design and submission are yours and all VCDX and those who have defended have signed an NDA so they can tell you their experience but can’t tell you about the design scenarios etc. There are ample blog postings out there from myself and numerous others that give generic advice that should help you prepare more than enough to pass but this is your journey no one else’s and like someone training for a marathon people can give you advice of how they trained and prepared but it is your race. 
  • I have had people ask to join my slack group and normally what I ask is if the person is really aiming to defend within the next twelve months as the group will be what you make it, no one is going to run after you to ask you to do mocks or send out your design for review before submission. 
  • Linked to the above if you want a mentor to review your design don’t send it for review a few days before submission as I have done far too many reviews where I have had to review the submission in a very short space of time and it’s heartbreaking for me and I’m sure other reviewers to find issues and then feed that back which stresses the person due to submit even more to try to fix it.

All the above is my perspective and from my experience, I know people who never had a mentor and passed and I commend those people but I believe if you can practice and prepare yourself before submission and before defence then why wouldn’t you take that opportunity. I know how stressful it was to send out my design for review as you worry people will look at your design, find an error and think less of you (this is how I felt at least) but rather you find those issues now than your design not being invited to defend or you are found out in the defence. I see sadly far too many people only defend once as they have burnt themselves out and can’t bring themselves to submit again.