VCDX Experience

My VCDX experience.

Well first off I passed VCDX #201.
When attempting my VCDX I found reading other peoples experiences encouraging and helpful so here is my attempt at paying that forward and maybe others on the VCDX path will find what I have written helpful in someway to their journey.

The Design.
The key to the whole VCDX journey. A good design opens the door. but don’t confuse a good design for a complex design. This has been said many times Its always better to have a real life design to base the one submitted for VCDX on, while a completely fictional design is fine and many people have passed with a fictional design, when it comes to justifications you know without thinking all the ins and outs of the reasons to why be it political, policies or technical.

From the moment I submitted the design I was worried…. was the design good enough, did it have enough in it, it felt just too basic, It was a little quirky and unusual but at the heart of it, it was very very simple. And being based on a real design it had real constraints some of them very political and specific to the internal policy and environment of that client. And I was re using allot of infrastructure already in place I was worried that it wasn’t going to be good enough.

I was very wrong, As long as you know what you would have done differently if those constraints where lifted your on the right track.

The Preparation
If anything I think I over prepared, I submitted in December 2014 for PEX defense in Feb 2015. I was accepted to defend at PEX but due to not being able to get the time of work even though I did give 4 months notice (we wont go there) I was unable to attend.
This was both a blessing and a curse, Some would say more time gives more time to prepare, This is true but for PEX the design was fresh in the mind, I was ready to eager to go for it, Have to wait until June meant another 5 + months of being neck deep in vCAC, Application service, vRO and the massive DevOps project I was currently developing. Everything but what my VCDX was based on.
So I studied, I reached out to many other VCDX’s to lend a hand and have mocks with. I started and lead a study group which met up over webex 3 times a week, all to the point where I nearly burnt out.
This was my own doing, travel and accommodation was coming out of my own pocket and the wife really would not have been happy if I had to submit again so I wanted to get it first time. looking back on it and if I had to do it again a more relaxed approach would have been much better.

The best thing I did was to take a step back and put the whiteboard marker down and walked away for a couple of days. If you end up like I did take a break its no good if your not enjoying it.

Personally I found going over design scenarios useful to me. But you should know your weaknesses. I knew straight up the presentation should be ok, ive always been a pretty good public speaker and have a knack for winging it. I was a 100% VMware BAU resource or a number of years and VMware troubleshooting was my life for more than halve of my career in IT so the troubleshooting scenario I thought I would have been ok at. But the design scenario was something I knew I would be weakest in.

In the real world you generally know your client what they want to achieve conceptually giving time to plan and architect all the questions you need answered, then you have time to review those answers and in some cases can take days or weeks worth of effort to produce just the requirements constraints, assumptions and risks. In the VCDX-DCV you have 30 minutes and I knew I would struggle so that’s what I worked most on. But no matter what cover all the areas when preparing but just spend a little more time on where your weakest.

The Defense
This wasn’t as scary as others had made it out to be, it was actually fun, I knew my design and I knew it well, The time flew by, the timer went just before flicking to my last slide. Not trying to come across cocky in anyway but it felt easy, too easy. I was generally worried I had screwed up so bad that the panelists didn’t have a need to dig further.

Like I mentioned previously I knew the presentation was most likely my strongest part and I did wing it a number of times when they asked some curly questions, And i did say “I don’t know” 2 times, afterwards I think I knew where they were going but at the time I think I should of asked for clarification as I wasn’t really 100% sure what was being asked.

No one knows everything don’t be afraid to say I don’t know, I did.

During the presentation I did have about 40 backup slides for just in case questions and alternate design choices but in the heat of the moment I got onto the white board and started drawing, I think this got me some brownie points I didn’t rely on the slides and while it did eat up more time I think it comes across as I generally knew what I was talking about. Anyone can spin up a pre canned slide. I did use 2 of these slides but at the time I think I chose well in when to use the backup slides or draw. This is something you cant prepare for do what feels write and flows better for you at the time.

Design Scenario
My weakest part, well what was my weakest section. Coming back in after 10 minutes rest felt like coming back onto the field after 10 minutes in the sin bin, had time to cool down but refreshed and eager to go again.
I was read the scenario and off I went asking questions gathering data, I made sure I was talking 100% of the time, the panel knew every thought that went through my head (except for the “is the time up yet” one).

What I can say is the mocks did help but nothing i did really prepared me for what I was given. I was able to get a good amount of requirements and constraints down. And I talked to the panel like I would a client asking them to clarify if it didn’t sound correct. I think it was a little messy and looking back on it there is many many things I would have done differently but at the time I did the best I could do.
The 30 minutes did feel like it went longer than the 75 minute presentation.

Troubleshooting Scenario
So ill start off with no I didn’t solve it and after the fact I think I know what it was but wow what a curly one, Actually it was down right mean and unless you had experienced the exact issue there would be zero chance in solving it in 15 minutes. but that’s not what we are there for we are there so the panel can see how we break down the issue.

This was the home stretch 15 minutes to go until I could go have a beer, being a little rattled by the design scenario I was ready to make it a strong finish. The issue its self narrowed the stack that I was to break down, I asked questions I drew the environment on the board, I wrote everything down that the panel replied with. at the end of the 15 minutes the whiteboard was a troubleshooting map, again a talked the whole time everything I was thinking.

After Its all done
mmmm so I was on a high for about 10 minutes then the old hindsight kicked in, why did I do that, why did I say that, I should of done that. This is what went through my head and im sure most people would be the same. but I still felt positive while there were things I would have done differently I still felt like I did well. and the beer tasted good!!

Advice
My advice is very simple for those looking to achieve the VCDX certification.
1) Don’t over design, keep it simple.
2) Do a mock with a group of people identify where your weakest in and focus just that little bit more in that area.
3) There is plenty of study resources on the net one of the more popular ones being Rene’s comprehensive guides and VCDX resources on his site vcdx133.com. But remember they are guides allot of the time its what worked of that person or are general in nature, take the advice use the material but do what feels right and flows well for you. what worked for me may not work for you. make it your own.
4)Don’t over prepare, take a break leading up to the defense go in fresh not burnt out.

Cheers

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