On the VCDX Defense

I’ve been thinking about how to write this post since last Friday afternoon after I completed my VCDX defense panel. Even now, a week later, I’m not sure that I have the right words to use.

After many long hours of preparation on the application and the submitted design, after days and weeks of waiting, after hours spent reviewing the design, and after reading numerous tips and tricks from established VCDXs, it all culminated in the defense panel. There, in the defense panel, I would have to stand before three knowledgeable, established design experts and defend the choices made in the design. I’d have to explain why I chose block storage over NFS, why Fibre Channel over iSCSI, why blade servers vs. rack-mount servers. I’d have to explain why I chose the LUN size I chose, and I’d have to defend the zoning that controlled the presentation of those LUNs. Clusters, cluster sizes, features enabled or not enabled, networking layout, VM density on the LUNs, projected IOPS—nothing was safe from their inquisition. And yes, I’d have to explain why the design used NetApp storage instead of EMC storage. (It was a customer requirement, i.e., a design constraint.)

Surprisingly, when the time for the VCDX defense panel arrived I found myself a lot more nervous than I had expected I would be. After all, this was just a friendly conversation with technical peers, right? In many ways it could be viewed that way, but the underlying purpose behind the conversation was ever-present: there was a reason I was there standing before these three people. It wasn’t just “shooting the breeze” with friends; there was a purpose there. It wasn’t just bouncing ideas off co-workers or industry colleagues; there was a reason for the conversation. It’s not that the panelists did anything to cause this feeling; they were completely fine, very courteous and quite friendly. (In case you’re wondering, I’m not going to disclose who was on my panel. They are welcome to disclose if they so choose, but that will be their decision.)

Looking back on it now, I realize that I should have gotten better control of my nerves. I spoke too quickly. I rushed through questions that probably deserved more explanation. I forgot details about my design. I got tripped up by relatively simple questions. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I wasn’t pleased by how well I performed—or didn’t perform—in the VCDX defense panel. I was upset that I had been thrown off and that I wasn’t able to recall all the details from my design. For a few hours after completing the defense panel, I beat myself up over how things had gone. But it didn’t take me too long to make peace with not having passed. I knew that if I had not passed, the experience was still worthwhile as a learning experience. Even if I hadn’t gained the VCDX certification, I’d still gained knowledge and experience. And hey, there was always another chance to defend at VMworld, right?

After returning home from Las Vegas, I spent the week thinking about what I would write after I’d finally gotten my results. I tried to prepare for the questions like “How in the world could Scott not pass?” I thought about explaining that the defense panel was only doing their job; they were preserving the value of the certification. After all, if the bar is not held high, what is the value of VCDX? All the while I secretly hoped that the result would be something other than what I was confident it would be.

And so it was that as I was driving my kids to a church youth group function tonight—after a long and unproductive day working with some rather stubborn equipment in the lab—that I received an e-mail from VMware. The first line of the message was this:

Congratulations! You have achieved the VCDX3 certification. Your VCDX number is: VCDX39

Unbelievable! I’d passed! I was so excited. I’d hoped for this result, but I honestly did not believe that I had managed to pull it off. I immediately called Crystal to tell her the news. I think she might have been even more excited than me.

Having now been through this entire process, what advice do I have for aspiring VCDX candidates?

  • As many others have stated, know your design. If I had only one thing to change about my entire process, this would be it. You should know it forward and backward: every detail, every choice, and every reason behind the design.
  • Don’t be too nervous. I allowed my nerves to get the best of me, there’s no question. I also don’t doubt that I would have done better had I not been so nervous. (As a side note, it’s interesting to me that I can stand up and speak in front of large crowds and not be nervous, but standing in front of those panelists really threw me. Odd.)
  • Understand the impact of your choices. As Duncan pointed out in this recent blog post, it’s really about the impact. Be prepared to discuss the reasons for the decisions in your design and the impact of the decisions in your design.

That’s it from the latest VCDX to join the ranks. I’ll post another update later with more tips and tricks that I learned from the experience, but those are some that jump to my mind immediately.

Have a great weekend!

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  1. Brad Hedlund’s avatar

    Congratulations Scott! You probably did much better than your own perception of yourself that day. That’s typical of a highly intelligent person.

    You are inspiration for folks like me who are a little scared of taking the VCDX plunge.

    Thank you for sharing your experience, Mr. VCDX #39 :-)

    Cheers,
    Brad

  2. rbrambley’s avatar

    Congrats Scott! I appreciate the candid recount of the obviously nerve racking defense.

  3. Jason Boche’s avatar

    Scott, however you THOUGHT you did, doesn’t matter. You did it. You were born to work in technology. You were born to be a VCDX. Congratulations to you (and Crystal as well).

  4. Paul Richards’s avatar

    That’s great news Scott, congratulations! Job well done. This has inspired me to pursue the VCDX.
    Congrats again!

  5. Russell’s avatar

    What’s up VCDX buddy!

    I’m glad to see you made it through.

    One protip for others looking:

    If you treat the panel just like your customers (just happens to be more knowledgeable than usual) it is a lot easier to defend without wracking your nerves.

  6. slowe’s avatar

    Thanks to all for your kind words. I appreciate it!

  7. Simon Seagrave’s avatar

    Congratulations Scott on becoming a VCDX Scott!

    Also, thanks for a really well written post – you have inspired me to start the ball rolling in working towards mine.

    You realise there’s a book title in this ‘The 39 Steps – to becoming a VCDX (#39)’. ;)

    Well done!

  8. Duncan’s avatar

    Congrats Scott.

    I think I can disclose that I was part of Scott’s panel. I think I can also say that up till now everyone I’ve seen was more nervous than they expected they would be.

    Although the panel is fair it is still intimidating to defend a design and get questioned on every detail by people who you know have at least as much knowledge on these topics as you have. (And maybe more…)

    Again great job Scott.

  9. Hany Michael’s avatar

    Congratulations Scott! I expected nothing less!!
    As Jason said: “You were born to be a VCDX” :)

  10. Travers Nicholas’s avatar

    Congrats mate, well deserved!

  11. Brad Maltz’s avatar

    Congratulations, thats awesome.

    I read your experience and , just like Jason’s, I had a similar experience. Those 3 people in that room made me a ton more nervous than a group of 200 or 400 people. I got the same great news last night and have been on a high ever since. Enjoy it :)

  12. Chad Sakac’s avatar

    Scott – congratulations. A good blend of self-awareness, self-consciousness, humility and pride is a good thing :-) It leads to ongoing efforts to learn, expand, improve – and it’s that journey that’s the thing.

    Personally I had no doubt :-)

    Congratulations, and don’t feel weird about the NetApp thing. Surprisingly, often even as EMCers’, if the vSpecialist crew shows overwhelming VMware awareness and knowledge, customers that are heterogenous ask us questions about non-EMC stuff.

    The fact that you did it well, is, IMO a VERY good thing.

    It’s good to be able to answer thoroughly and correctly (and not in the competitive sense, but in the “here’s how you can get the most out of it, but I defer to company _____ as it is their product). I’ve found that in the end, it’s good for the customer, good for EMC (over the long term, those little “non-competitive” displays of skill end up being an important factor in their decisions)

  13. Tony Harvey’s avatar

    Congratulations Scott. I agree with Brad, one, of the characteristics of really good people is they always think they’ve done worse than they have.

  14. Tony Harvey’s avatar

    And I managed to spell my name wrong in the last comment. It’s Saturday can I use that as an excuse.

  15. Dave Convery’s avatar

    Yes, congrats Scott!

    So are you saying they lowered the bar for you? I think not. Your professionalism will always shine above whatever nervousness you experience. I know what you mean though. I stood in front of about 500 people at VMworld 2008 for a VCB session. It was NOTHING compared to sitting in front of the five (I had observers) VMware Masters of the Universe, even though they were as non-intimidating as they could be.

    Dave

  16. slowe’s avatar

    No worries, Tony, I fixed it for you. :-)

    Thanks to all who have responded, I really appreciate it!

  17. Eric Sloof’s avatar

    Thanks for sharing your experience and of course congratulations Scott. You did a great job. I’ve passed the Enterprise and Design exam and still have to do the defence your story is of great value for me.

  18. Maish’s avatar

    Well done Scott, definately well deserved

  19. Ionut Nica’s avatar

    Congrats Scott, a great achievement for sure.
    Can’t wait for the “tips” blog posts they will go straight to my bookmarks folder.

  20. William’s avatar

    Congratulations on your achievement. I could not imagine, with your knowledge, not passing the defense portion.

    Your tips ( and many others from our community ) has saved me endless hours of headaches.

  21. Unexpected’s avatar

    Well done Scott! And congratulations!

  22. Jason Boche’s avatar

    @Dave Convery Haha @ VMware Masters of the Universe – mind if I use that in the future? I had 7 in my defense, 3 panelists and 4 observers. I was like “OK, I don’t have enough handouts for everyone. Didn’t know there would be this many people here, I was only expecting 3 but I brought enough for 4 just in case. FAIL.”

  23. Arron King’s avatar

    Congratulations on a job well done Scott!

  24. Chris Dearden’s avatar

    Scott congrats ! – without revealing too much detail – what sort of scale was your design based on ? ( ball park host count would be fine )

  25. Josh A.’s avatar

    Congratulations Scott!!

  26. Ian K’s avatar

    Congrats Scott. It is well earned that three of your peers have given you the public notification of your skills and abilities.

    Thanks for sharing your experience.

    Congrats to Mr VCDX #39.

  27. vChick’s avatar

    So as soon as I go change my depends, we all have our work cut out for us. I see more and more vSphere being implemented on a daily basis. Keeping the rules/requirements, ect.. Is turning into quite the challenge. Thanks for the info.

  28. Marty Lonergan’s avatar

    Having seen you present I have much respect for your innate ability to connect with the audience and articulate the most important features of any technology . Congratulations on your VCDX, you deserve it.