Planning – Pre-and Post Submission
Below are few tips around strategy and planning from my preparation. There are many effective ways to tackle any problem or project, however being organised, knowing how to prioritise and forming a strong plan of action, is vital in this process.
Work the Plan
With the countdown to the submission deadline (1 month out), I started to become overwhelmed with how much I still needed to do, what was outstanding, what needed improving? Therefore, I took some time to sit back and create a really basic spreadsheet, with different columns.
- Estimate LoE (Level of Effort)
- Time Range Available
- Total Time Available for VCDX (on that date)
The biggest benefit here was once I defined this, I was able to relax more because I had my actions noted down, and I knew I had more than enough time to work through these. Basically, if I had slipped up because of time, it was no else’s fault apart from mine.
At this particular time, the above plan mainly included finalising the different documents for submission.
I kept another really basic Word document, whereby I had the major sections of the Architecture and supporting documents outlined, and when I found an addition or improvement needed, I listed this down. It allowed me to ensure I covered all parts of the design document and didn’t forget anything important. Because some of these documents are large, sometimes you don’t time to make the change across all the documents to align everything.
Once I’d made the change at a later point, I just did a strikethrough of the bullet point. Basic stuff but this doesn’t need to be complicated!
I had the fun of working on my submission right up until deadline, I recall submitting around 3am (BST), with around 8 hours to spare. Not a recommended of mine, to run that close to the deadline!
After I submitted my applications and documents, this really boiled down to a few areas:
- Walkthrough your design document – Refresh yourself on design decisions and begin to pick-out points of interest or questions the panel could ask.
- At same time, polish any cosmetic issues (formatting, spelling, grammar).
- Create a v1.1 document (improves quality of document if re-submission needed).
- Don’t spend too much time on this, just little fixes here and there if needed.
- The goal of the above is to know your design even better than before and start critical thinking around which areas the panel may uncover. Perhaps you’ve done something out of the normal or against best practice? This will more than likely get picked up, along with other interesting requirements or constraints.
Mock questions – Begin to build a library of these. Many other candidates used Quizlets (flash cards) for this. I found myself jotting these down in MS OneNote and by the time I’d finished, I just created different sections and read through these a few times.
I managed to pick-out a few questions that were present in my mocks, but the majority I missed, because the mocks (4-5 different VCDX’s) were random in the sense each mock just happened to focus on different stuff. This shows the importance of mocks, that’s probably an understatement!
If you get the time, other tips would be continuing to work your plan, focusing on any outstanding items such as weak areas or refreshers for specific tech.
You may get time to consider your presentation before knowing whether you’ve been accepted. I didn’t start this until after the decision (I was accepted), although I had a rough outline (idea) of how I would get started and the template and style, I was going to use.
You’ve been accepted – Now what?
Ah, great news, one step closer than yesterday, one step closer to the goal! A few thoughts:
- Day 1 – Contact mentors and begin to schedule your mocks (consider time zone differences and the fact mentors also have day jobs).
- Update your Plan – It’s now called ‘Defence Countdown!’
- Work the Plan (see previous sections).
- Identity areas to research
- Add in time for your mock sessions
- Add in time post mock to review, update and research!
Note: I believe this last point is critical, if you take 2-3 mocks in quick succession or without reviewing after each and improving you presentation, you could quickly become overwhelmed, swamped and utterly confused. I knew I’d get hammered on my mocks, so wanted the time in-between to make the necessary improvements to my design, presentation and knowledge!
- Create a Webex account or similar to record the session and audio of your mocks. Listening back to your mocks is vital, you’ll be too jazzed up to recall the questions.
- I reviewed and listed out all the questions I was asked during the mock.
- I then went away and revised my responses or researched the topic further.
- Allow a few days in-between mocks to perform this
- Try to arrange a face to face mock if possible, with colleagues or through the community. It’s not critical, but delivering in person is much different to Webex’s.
- If you present regularly in your day job this certainly helps. I always find if I know the content really well, my presentation just goes much smoother.
- If travelling overseas to your defence, with a big-time difference (5+hrs), try to arrive 2-3 days early and adjust to the time zone.
- Keep it high-level – 3-4 key requirements, constraints, risks etc.
- I learnt this through my mocks, I had too many listed for each section to begin.
- Show the mapping back to the conceptual design – This design choice because of this requirement or constraint etc.
- I had a small table showing some of the conceptual mapping points for each slide.
- Know your slides, don’t chop and change at the last minute. You should know most of the content slide by slide.
- I wasn’t great at following this advice and constantly tweaked my presentation, this doesn’t really help.
- Try to include slides with the necessary diagrams, you may not be asked around many of your backup slides, but it saves time if you’re asked about a specific area, rather than using a whiteboard. You’ll lose time and point scoring opportunities.
- Know your navigation system (Appendix menus). Again, I tweaked until the last minute, but eventually managed to memorise this and where my backup slides were stored.
- You need a smooth navigation system to find backup slides quickly AND then to return to the original point of your presentation. Otherwise time is wasted!
Last 24-48 hrs
I just focused on the presentation, nothing heavy technical wise, I either know it by now or I don’t.
This was just a case to try and balance the effort, so maybe you aren’t doing more than 4-5 hours across each of the last 2-3 days? You don’t want to peak and burn out (fatigue) just before D-Day! That’s the approach I took to the last few days.
Quick note – Have you presentation available on a couple of devices and in powerpoint and PDF format, just for assurance! I plugged my device into presentation laptop in the room, and at first it wasn’t recognised! Oh goody (stay calm)! Unplug and re-insert and Windows behaved accordingly! 🙂
D-Day – It’s time…
After months of work and preparation, it’s now time to step forward. You are close, you are one step further than you were yesterday. You’ve got this, you’ve prepared thoroughly, you know you stuff, you’ve left no stone unturned in your preparation, this provides assurance you’ve done everything you can. No regrets!
Now go stand up with calmness and assurance, and deliver your masterpiece (presentation). It truly is, I haven’t personally ever created a presentation with some much content, that I worked for many, many hours on!
It’s a cliché I know, but try and treat this like a presentation to colleagues or a customer. The difference here, is that the panel are more than reasonable and set out to make you feel comfortable, this is a great benefit and helps you perform. Good luck! 🙂
You can find the rest of my VCDX Nuggets series here. More posts to follow!