Operation codename ‘VCDX’ – Complete

By | September 8, 2017

I haven’t maintained this blog as I would have liked, over the last 15 months.  However, there is good reason for that (not an excuse though), as I joined VMware Professional Services in February 2016, with plenty of customers, engagements and travelling to keep me busy.  On top of this, I was also in the middle of moving home.  AND on top of that, re-building my home lab which was dated and needed a major overhaul, to support my requirements for testing for customers and engagements.

Finally, I’ve been working towards the highest level of certification at VMware, the VMware Certified Design Expert (Desktop & Mobility), and I’m delighted to say this week I received the result that I had ‘Passed’ and I’m VCDX # 261

I’d like provide an overview of my own journey towards this goal, and really illustrate that there are many different paths to achieve this, and there’s no such thing as starting too early (or late)!

Where did it start?

I became aware of the VCDX program probably 5 years ago, when I first started taking the VCAP exams, but never really targeted VCDX properly or committed to this until October 2016.  There are a few reasons for this and everyone has their own reasons.  I had both design and deploy VCAPs (v5) in the bag, for Datacenter and Desktop Mobility, a couple of years ago, but didn’t feel ready to make the jump! I upgraded both to Version 6 in early 2016, to re-focus on the concepts and refresh myself, and the obvious next challenge was staring me in the face and wouldn’t go away!

Back in 2015, I started to watch many of the VCDX vBrownbags and Bootcamp videos (see Youtube), to understand the process, framework and what’s involved. Conceptual, Logical and Physical was still something fairly new to me, despite covering these in both VCAP exams.

However, I worked on a vRealize Operations design for a global Telco company early in 2015, and my approach to the project, requirements gathering and documenting the design, was my first foray into actually following the VCDX methodology.  I’d worked on vSphere and Horizon designs before, whilst documenting the design and decisions, but now I really started taking things to the next level. There were several other projects (large and small) between this time and October 2016, where I continued to follow this path and worked on trying to master the different aspects from architectural skills, customer interaction and workshops, project methodology and documentation etc.

In October 2016, I was assigned an engagement around vSphere and Horizon Suite, for 4000 users across two datacenters, where I thought this had everything in scope from potential architecture needs, interesting requirements, technology and project phases, to take this forward and use for a VCDX submission.

March 2017 Submission

During the engagement, I continued to hone my skills and approach, I try and do this regardless anyway.  I tried to work efficiently and smartly, to ensure I produced not only a high-quality documentation set for the customer, that met their business requirements first and foremost, but also kept me on track to use the documents for my VCDX submission.

All documents needed taking to the next level for the VCDX submission, there is no doubt about that (see blueprint). I’d planned to submit in March 2017 and was on track, having worked on the design and implementation for the past 3-4 months, and also taking time out over the holiday season in December, to ensure the documents met every point on the blueprint.

At this stage, I reached out to the community and used the VCDX directory to find a mentor, after recalling a few conversations between ourselves on Twitter previously.  I probably didn’t ask for a review of my design soon enough, but the biggest challenge I had initially, was the layout of all the relevant sections and telling a story that flowed and didn’t have the reader all over the show.

I didn’t manage to get over the line in March, due to the demands and priority of my day job, beyond this I just wanted to rest and switch off from technology to re-charge for the next day!

Keeping the Faith – June 2017

I re-assessed my position and decided to try for June, however I found it difficult to get back into the swing of working on my submission, due to a 4-5 week lay off. Probably a mistake and keeping the momentum going is critical in hindsight.  Ultimately though, I think this helped as I pretty much did 75% of the work between October and March, then hit the ground running to finish off the submission from late April to June.

I’m not sure I’d have been able to drill myself into the ground constantly over a 1-6 month period, so the break in-between helped without doubt.  It kinda felt like it was a couple of mini projects put together in my spare time, to get the submission together. I continued to reach out to the community for a couple of design reviews, just to make sure there wasn’t any huge gaps I’ve missed, which can happen when you stare at the same design for months! You fail to spot weaknesses or, you don’t know, what you don’t know etc

A few late nights proceeded, and I recall submitting around 3am (UK\BST) Saturday, with about 4\5 hours until the actual deadline (00:00 PST).

Waiting for application results – What to do?

I took a breather for a week, but as advised by many other successful candidates through blogs and other guidance, just continue like you’ve been accepted to defend. It’s not over confidence, it’s just being prepared and smart.  If you want the VCDX, you have to do the presentation anyway regardless of whether you are accepted or not, therefore you might as well start now.  That was my analysis of the situation anyway.  Therefore, I began putting my Presentation together.

This is much more time consuming then you’d imagine, well it was for me, as my design was fairly large and complex.  Trust me, you’ll want to keep tweaking this and adding to this after your mocks.  Absolutely, start early on this, get all the key content and details into your slide deck (Appendix).  Make sure the first 15-20 slides, are high-level, business focused.  Ask different VCDX’s to review or feedback after your mocks, 3-4 people feeding back is a minimum really.

Although a little uncomfortable, you have to practice this in a room, several times, talking out loud and making sure everything flows.  The first time I ran through mine alone, I tweaked various elements, I couldn’t get off the ground presenting it!

Also, during this time, I began to really dig deep into my design and walk through section by section, to try and think like a panelist and ask the questions you feel you might get asked.  Some of these are fairly easy to know, because if you’ve done something outside of normal recommendations, you’ll likely be asked about it.

Refer to this excellent blog post and series guide by VCDX133.  I cannot speak highly enough of this content, I used it extensively over the past 1-2 years.

Application Accepted – Now what?

From the word go, within a day or two, begin contacting your mentors or colleagues to setup mocks. Consider if you are in different time zones and plan accordingly.

Your mileage may vary, but I planned two mocks a week, because I wanted time to consider and amend my design\presentation accordingly. Also, by mocking with 3-4 different VCDX’s, you’ll be exposed on some areas of weakness, that you require time to go away and consider, refresh your knowledge or delve deeper into a topic.

If I had 4 mocks in one week, with all the feedback and other items that could be exposed, I would have found it overwhelming to deal with and panic would likely set in.

Defence Week

I’m based in the UK (London), and requested a defence in Staines (VMware HQ), but due to a shortage of candidates for DTM, I was invited to defend in Palo Alto, if I wanted to. Of course, it was a choice of travelling or waiting until the next round of defences, but there’s no guarantee come December, I could defend DTM in Staines.  Therefore, I planned the trip to Palo Alto.

I arrived 3 days before my defence (Sat 19th), as I needed a few days to adjust to the 8-hour time swing, because I needed my brain to be somewhat useful, come Tuesday 22nd (D Day!). I’m someone that needs my sleep and cannot get by with 4-5 hours sleep a night! 🙂

On Tuesday at 9am it was my turn.  I arrived at Palo Alto HQ and was greeted by the friendly moderator for the defence.  I also crossed paths with another candidate (NV) in the waiting area, who was based in Palo Alto, and having a quick chat with him helped to settle some of the nerves floating around the system.

From a defence point of view, I can’t go into detail, but I will say the panel were friendly.  As I setup my presentation on the provided laptop, I had a few goofy issues such as my USB was not detected (really??) and annoying Office activation wizards etc. I didn’t detect any frustration or ‘let’s get started now’ vibes from the panel.  Overall, the atmosphere was good throughout, and I felt the questions were fair, relevant to my design and there to help me.  I’m not just saying that either, as I fed this back to a few of the chaps who provided mocks to me, before the result came through.

The time does absolutely fly by, for both the defence and design scenario.  I had an idea of where I needed to be for both parts (consider your strategy), and used the timer a few times throughout for a checkpoint.

The Dreaded Wait

This term was coined by Johan van A, after we touched based about my experience, and it’s absolutely true now I look back. The first few days, I just kept going over and over the questions, my answers and I should have done this or said that. I can be quite harsh on myself at times, and look for absolute perfection.

Whilst in Palo Alto, I took the opportunity to see more of California, so by doing other things it helped keep my mind off the result, but it was never far away in my thoughts. As the days go by, you sit back and think ‘I did this well, maybe it wasn’t so bad’ and start to feel you may have some chance of passing, but it quickly switches back to ‘did I do enough?’, but it’s highly dependent on what the panel are looking for and nobody knows how the scoring works.

Arrivals – Result

I spotted a few comments on Twitter about other candidates receiving their results, so this obviously meant the email was due imminently!  The email came in ‘VCDX-DTM Results’ via the Outlook pop-up and I clicked upon it without hesitation.  For about 3-4 seconds, I just saw a block of text and couldn’t decipher the info! My vision was dazed, and I then spotted a 261 number and that was it, Operation codename ‘VCDX’ complete!  Anyone who saw my Tweet with a classic Tiger Woods fist pump, knew exactly how I felt at the time!

Thanks

Firstly, to the mentors (you know who you are) that helped me with design reviews, silly questions or conducting mocks! I owe you all a beer or 10 sometime!

To those who passed congratulations to me on Social media, which is greatly appreciated.  Also, there is wealth of great resources by many in the vCommunity, which has helped greatly in my preparation.  There are too many to mention, but a Google search will throw up some brilliant content.

My advice is to consume this all, literally.  Take everything in, all the words of advice or different tips or guidance, and consider how you can apply this to your submission (if you plan to), and not only make it great in terms of point scoring, but unique to you and your overall style. 

What next?

I plan to give back accordingly (blogs\mentoring etc), and will start with a few blogs soon, therefore stay tuned!

  • Continue the learning cycle, goes without saying!
  • vCommunity Give Back – VCDX blog posts
  • Upgrade to VCDX-DTM v7
    • VCAP7-DTM – DONE!
  • Double VCDX – DCV??
  • Sport (watch and play) & beer!

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