Welcome back to another edition of The Road to the VCDX – A Candidate’s Stories! Last week I posted the first part of this series in an attempt to save you some time, searching, and possibly even frustration while you start or continue your VCDX journey. Today, I present to you 5 more helpful tips that I have learned on my path. With that, we will jump right in! P.S., you are welcome! 🙂
#6 – Technology Stacks
This was a fairly big discussion earlier within my study group. The fact of the matter is that you, as a VCDX candidate, are NOT particularly responsible for designing a complete end-to-end data center including MPLS circuits between locations, firewalls, core and TOR networking, as well as your DCV infrastructure…unless your project and requirements dictate this, of course. You may need to configure switchports a certain way or ensure that your bandwidth requirements can be met by existing networking infrastructure, but you do not need to implement an entire new network stack as part of your design. However!…You SHOULD know how your design influences changes to the network, how changes to the network could affect your design, and logic behind existing configurations in the current network infrastructure. To further my example, let us relate this to the VCDX-EUC. An EUC candidate should be aware of and familiar with the underlying DCV components of the technology stack. Again, they should be aware of how changes to the at the vSphere level (and layers below) could and would affect their EUC design. This logic follows through down to the physical compute and network layers as well.
#7 – The Paper
Ah, the architectural design document. This is, by far, the most time consuming part of your journey and as I described before there is nothing quick about this process. That said, if you find yourself hitting a bit of writer’s block, analysis paralysis, burnout, or any and all of the above, know that it is normal. It has happened to myself, just about every member of my study group, and a large portion of the VCDXs that I have been introduced to as well. At the end of the day this is a certification and your mental health is way more important than obtaining this number. Do not be afraid to take some time away from your design to refresh. I can tell you that when I first started I was working on my submission a few hours a night, every night. I got burnt out after about 4 months and stepped away for about 2-3 weeks just to refresh. When I did, I came back ready and swinging.
#8 – Flaws
This is a quick one – every design has and will have flaws. Every decision that you make to remove a flaw introduces at least another new one. Do not get stuck in a loop where you are trying close all of the flaws in your design. You will be there forever and over time it will feel like you are not making progress. Instead, understand the impact of the decisions that you make and how things would be different is you chose another route for that choice. This will help show your mastery, which is something that you will need to display.
#9 – Design Decisions
Make sure that you can tie each and every design decision back to a requirement. While this certification is technical in its roots, it does not mean that you need to enable and utilize every little feature available to you. In fact, this is an architectural certification so the bottom line is that you should design to meet customer’s requirements and nothing more. A simple example for depiction – if the customer’s SLA for all workloads is 90% and you include the use of VM Fault Tolerance in your design without some sort of constraint that dictates this technology is required, then you have over-engineered the solution. Does it work? Yes. Will it suffice their requirement? Sure, but it also decreases manageability, performance, increase administrative overhead, and more. vSphere HA would have done just fine in this case.
#10 – Resources and Community
Being a first-timer and attempting to acquire your VCDX all on your own without the help of anyone else deserves a standing ovation, but seems extremely difficult. It is not impossible, but it probably would be a lot easier with the help of the community, which might I add, is very welcoming and willing to help. Since I jumped into to the community I have met so many new people who all have the same goal in mind. I have been invited and taken part in many mocks (I will discuss this more in a bit) and gone over many designs of others; some great, some needing work or advice…and that is okay! It is what the community is there for. I fully expect to get beaten up by my peers when I start calling for assistance with mocks. In fact, I already have been…a few times (thanks, Luis. I am still bruised 🙂 ).
Mentors are a huge part of this. Get one. They have been through the trenches and survived. They know what it takes to get to the finish line. Granted they can only guide you so much. They cannot help you create or write your design, but they can help ensure that you stay on track, follow the blueprint, and that your thought process behind design decisions, etc. is correct. They do not get paid for this and they are taking time out of their personal lives to try to help others succeed so please keep that in mind when you sign up for this. With that said, a HUGE shout out to Paul Cradduck for everything that he has done for me so far as my mentor (yes, even the last minute cancellations, Paul! 🙂 ), Szymon Ziólkowski, and to every single other mentor out there. On behalf of the entire VCDX candidate community, thank you all for your time and efforts. If you are interested in acquiring a mentor, you can fill out and submit this Google Form. I would highly recommend that you at least have an idea of the project that you want to put on paper before submitting it. This will get you invited to the official Slack channel where all the fun happens.
“Paul, earlier you mentioned ‘mocks’. What the heck is that?” Simple – it means a candidate is ready (or close to being ready) to defend their design in front of a real panel. To prepare better, they schedule mocks with the community, usually many of them. The invitees act as the panel and as the candidate is going through their presentation the “panelists” will start asking questions about their design. This helps in multiple ways – A) it helps you break the nerves of presenting in front of an audience, which is part of your defense, B) it will give you many different perspectives on your design. Flaws and considerations that you may not have even dreamed up can be brought to light, and C) since you only have 75 minutes to present and defend your design it will help you deliver more efficiently. 75 minutes seems like a lot of time, but really is not. Especially when your trying to cram so much information into it and you have to keep stopping to answer questions, which is what you want. Questions means answers, and answers means potential points. Potential points means potentially passing, and potentially passing is the name of the game.
Study groups are amazing for this! I am one of five members of a study group from various tracks. We have NV, EUC, and DCV. The upside of this, for example, is maybe the NV (not trying to say anything, Kyle!) guys are not as savvy with vSAN and may have legitimate questions about that portion of my design; my point is there are different perspectives involved. We meet once a week and discuss individual progress, road blocks, concepts, thought processes, and sometimes we even do scenario mocks since none of us are ready for design mocks. For me, even though three of them are on the other side of the world, they all have become friends and not just “other candidates”. Right now, I need to give another shout out, but this time to my group. Thank you all for helping me get to the point where I am at! In no particular order because they can be sensitive and I am not trying to hear about hurt feelings in our meetings (I kid, I kid!) I need to thank:
These guys are awesome and are always willing to help. With their permission I have provided links to their social media so that you can connect with them.
VMware holds VCDX-related workshops regularly. Attend some of them and you will be able to interact with other candidates, VCDXs (both mentors and panelists), and even the man himself, the legend – Karl Childs! These workshops are a great resource to take part in. When I first started off, I found myself attending just about every event that they scheduled. As I got into the groove of things, I weened myself away from them in order to focus more in completing the task at hand. One of my favorites was the Office Hours, which was hosted by my new found friend Mark Meulemans. The main difference between the Office Hours and other workshops is that Office Hours was extremely informal and had no agenda. It was literally candidates, Mark, special guests of other VCDXs, panelists, etc. and open-ended conversations. Candidates drove the agenda talking and asking whatever they wanted. Granted, the special guests can only divulge so much information, so do not expect to join and find the meaning of life or some cheat code to automatically pass the defenses. On the other hand, the other workshops are agenda and topic focused and stay within the scope of the workshop. Both are still valuable and worthy of taking part in.
We will let this information marinate with you. As always, if you have any questions feel free to reach out to me. Otherwise, stay tuned for the next part in the series! In the ‘References’ section below you will find the aggregated list of important links thus far. At the time of writing, these links were all active. If you witness a broken link in the future, please contact me and I will gladly edit the post to update it.
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