TheSaffaGeek

My ramblings about all things technical


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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.

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  • 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

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    • 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


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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.

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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


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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


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VCAP6-CMA Design achievement unlocked

yeahbuddy

This morning on my second attempt I passed the VCAP6-CMA Design exam. For those that aren’t sure what the exam is it is the VMware Certified Advance Professional –Cloud Management & Automation Design exam. The exam is a 3 hour exam where you have to answer 23 questions consisting of a variable number of drag and drop as well as Visio style question all around vRA 6.2 design.

I’m not going to break any NDA’s around the exam so please don’t ask. What I will do however is list here what resources I found helped me the best to pass the exam this time around and will add these resources if they are not there already to my VCAP6-CMA Design study resources page and also give advice keeping to the NDA that I feel would have possibly helped me pass the first time.

  • The VMware Cloud Automation: Design and Deploy Fast Track course is really great and certainly fills in any gaps in your knowledge that you might have. I was fortunate to be able to do it due to having access from my work white labelled as VMware PSO. The course is good but if you have been doing enterprise level vRA designs for a number of years like I have it can be very slow at points!!
  • The the vRealize Automation Reference Architecture from VMware was brilliant when i started learning vRA and it is still true. One word of advice is to not only spend time learning vRA components which are obviously important but also what supporting technologies are required for certain functions and capabilities to be possible (NSX, vRB, Endpoints, vSphere etc etc) .
  • Remember the exam is currently based on vRA 6.2 so all those fancy features you get in vRA 7.x aren’t possible during the exam so you need to know how it was done previous to those features if possible at all. A great resource I used to remind myself how it was done in vRA 6.2 was to  read the reference architecture i listed above.
  • This ones a biggie and i used two different resources for it, it is the various roles in vRA and what permissions each gives you. Sam McGeown’s mindmaps were the first I used as well as Grant Orchards mindmaps. Knowing what each role does and what permissions it gives is extremely important and maps directly to VCAP6-CMA objective 4.2. Remember a good design is all about giving the least privileges possible.
  • This one I didn’t expect to have to learn as much about and ties into point number two, I read the NSX Design Guide as design objective 3.5 mentions NSX but the amount of NSX knowledge needed for the exam was certainly much more than I expected so for my second attempt i made sure I was prepared.
  • This is part of the study resources for the exam but the amount of application services weightage amazed me so make sure you have read and fully understand all the capabilities and requirements of vRealize Application Services.
  • Last one that is weighted more than I expected is machine extensibility which ties in objective 8.2.

The exam is certainly worded strangely and one bit of advice that i stumbled across during my second exam is that if the text in the question seems to be a repeat of an earlier one and the options to build it don’t match then try click the wide option for the question text and it might bring up the correct text for the question. Good luck if you are planning to take the exam and for me it’s now onto prep for my VCDX6-CMA defence in just over a week.

Gregg


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VCDX Spotlight: Byron Schaller

Name: Byron Schaller

Twitter Handle: @byronschaller

Blog URL: vbyron.com

Current Employer: RoundTower Technologies

VCDX #: 231

How did you get into using VMware?

I started with VMware Workstation in 2000 when I was writing code for a living. I started working with ESX in 2005 with version 2.5.1. VMware products became my main focus with the release of VI3.

What made you decide to do the VCDX?

This is complicated. Mostly the challenge and to prove I could. In seeking validation, I ended up gaining far more. I’m easily twice the architect now compared to when I started.

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

I completed my VCAP-DCD in February 2014. I guess I was passively preparing from that point until I began in earnest writing my design in May of this year (2016). I submitted in July and worked on my deck from the day I submitted until 2 days before I defended in September. In all I probably spent 200 hours this summer between writing, revising, and raw study.

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

Three points:

1. Get a mentor.

2. Get a study group of people you respect and trust. Mine was fantastic and I’m sure we will be friends post VCDX for a long, long time.

3. Understand your use case. What the workloads you are running on your clusters actually do for the business matters. Understanding the business impact of the applications leads to justifying design decisions. If you design an infrastructure for it’s own sake without taking this into account, I’m almost sure you will fail the defence.

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

I would have used a real use customer design. Mine was entirely fictional. The upside is I’m pretty sure I’m one of the only folks to pass on the first attempt with an entirely fictional design and without working with a partner(s).

The downside is that it made the process significantly harder. I had to make up all my performance and sizing data and make it feel real. That was very hard, and I still think I could have done a better job of it. If I had those numbers collected, because they were real, it would have saved me significant time.

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

My goals around learning include knocking out all 5 AWS certs by the end of the year and then starting on my VCDX-NV.

My company has been pretty great about everything, however with Rene (VCDX #133) as my boss I would expect no less.

In the end was it worth it? Yes. Would I do it again? Yes.

The friends I gained and the skills I cultivated were well worth the effort. Without a doubt the VCDX journey changes you in ways few things can.

Byron


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VCDX Spotlight – Kiran Reid

Name: Kiran Reid

Twitter Handle: Apollokre1d

Current Employer: Bank Of Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ LTD

VCDX #: 225

How did you get into using VMware?

I started back in 2009 when my previous employer started a large datacentre consolidation project. I quickly did my VCP to ensure I was the main resource on the project.

What made you decide to do the VCDX?

I really wanted to further my knowledge after doing the VCAPs. What I liked about the VCDX program is it makes you stronger in so many different technology areas.

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

About 13 months once I had passed the VCAP’s.

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

Try and enjoy the whole experience, especially the defence. When you stand in front of that panel it is an amazing feeling thinking about where you were when you started the journey and where you are now.

We always find excuses not to do things, for instance, my current employer has strict polices preventing us from emailing stuff out of the bank which meant I had to recreate all of the design documentation at home as well as fund the entire process myself, but this was important so I did not let any of that get in the way.

If your excuse is “you’re too busy” consider this… my mentor has three children all under the age of 6 but still woke up at 5am twice a week (due to the time difference) once my defence was accepted to help get me ready. He did all this while working on his own second VCDX certification and working full-time for VMware… If he found the time we all can 🙂

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

For someone not from a consulting background I should’ve practiced the design scenarios a little earlier on in the process.

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

This has been one of the best experiences in my career and I am really grateful to the VCDX program and community. After a short break I am very much looking forward to completing the VCDX-NV track and helping others achieve their numbers.


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VCDX Spotlight – Lior Kamrat

Name: Lior Kamrat

Twitter Handle: @LiorKamrat

Blog URL: http://imallvirtual.com

Current Employer: Microsoft

VCDX #: 230

How did you get into using VMware?

I’ve started from the early versions of GSX and Workstation 5.

Back then when all the virtualization stuff was new I felt that this is a game changer. At first, it was just for fun but later it helped me a lot during my career.

What made you decide to do the VCDX?

Personal achievement and career opportunities. When I started to be more active in the vCommunity and saw all the other VCDXs getting recognition and becoming “virtualization smarter”, I just knew I wanted that.

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

From the first VCAP cert which was DCA until now, it took 3.5 years.

The VCDX process itself took me around 2 years.

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

I have a few advises but if I can minimize it to two it will leave your ego outside the door and the second one is you should truly be honest with yourself and don’t be afraid to learn from your peers.

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

Generally speaking, I wouldn’t change anything except of my time management in the preparation for the first defence. I wrote an entire post just on this topic alone.

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

Well, since I am working for Microsoft know when really cares about it 🙂 . No one really knew what it’s like to be on your VCDX journey.

It was worth it big time. It is a great feeling to know you didn’t break under the entire thing. I am excited to see how this can be leveraged.