It has been almost 3 years since I first set my eyes on the VCDX certification. I moved from being a VMware customer to a Partner 2 years earlier, and had my ‘Design Mojo’. I was ready to step up to the next level of certification and show what I could do on a larger stage. However, there were a few obstacles in the way. I needed to obtain both my VCAP-DCA and VCAP–DCD certifications to qualify for the VCDX. And of course there was work, life, marriage, and all of the other things I needed to deal with on an ongoing basis. Fast forward to August, 2012 and you would find me typing furiously during the week prior to VMworld. The submission deadline for Barcelona-VMworld Europe defenses was that Friday night at 3:00AM (eastern). I worked tirelessly to get my application completed and fell short. I missed the deadline and vowed not to miss another.
I took a month off and began again in preparation for the PEX13 defense. I made it that time and was lucky enough to score an invitation to defend in February. I studied my design constantly, preparing for the defense. However, I did not do a ‘Mock Defense’ or ask for feedback from my peers. I was pretty secretive and wasn’t interested in feedback. Those decisions hurt me significantly, as I was not prepared for interaction as part of the defense. Additionally, going in ‘cold turkey’ was a source of apprehension. I think I set myself up to fail by trying to do the whole thing alone. In the end, I did not make the grade at Partner Exchange.
After another month off, with black rain clouds circling my head, I got back into the swing of things and started again. I took the feedback that was offered by the VCDX Defense Panel to heart and began redesigning my application. This time I did things different. I participated in 4 Mock Defenses. I acted on a Mock Panel for 2 others. I sent my design to peers for review. More importantly, I took good notes on every question that was asked in both Mock defenses and Peer reviews. I went through the entire list of questions and wrote out my answers to each question in line. If the answer was complex or needed more background, I would find a blog post, whitepaper, or book citation to list within my answer and link to the site.
As part of my study program, I reviewed my design, I reviewed my presentation, and most importantly, I reviewed my question list and answers. Where each question had a link, I followed it and reviewed the source. While I needed to know my design and presentation in precise detail, it was my question list that prepared me the most when it came to my state of readiness. If you can answer questions from your peers regarding a design, you gain a level of comfort and preparation you cannot reach by simple review. Take the time to see something from another point of view, and you open your mind to new possibilities.
With a renewed sense of enthusiasm and a better approach to preparation, I went into my VMworld13 VCDX Defense full of self-confidence. My preparation strategy was validated when I walked out of the Defense room. I felt that I had nailed it. Regardless of the outcome, I was 1000x better prepared for my second defense than my first run. In the end, I was granted VCDX #112.
With all of this behind me, my advice to prospective VCDX candidates is to take the time to involve yourself with your peers. Ask your peers to review your design. Do plenty of Mock Defenses. If you don’t have other VCDX candidates in your area, use WebEx or Google Hangouts to do your Mocks. Set up a rotating schedule where one person defends and the others act as panelists. Do one defense each night for a week, so each person gets a dedicated night to their design and input. Ask for criticism, and take it to heart. Nobody should design in a vacuum. Interaction with your peers will help your preparation better than anything else. And most of all, “Just Do It.”