VCDX Preparation & Tips - Phase 2, Caffeine

22 Oct 2013 by rayheffer

On the morning of the defense I head straight for the coffee shop and order a double shot latte, then a biscuit and another coffee! I’m not a morning person, but my defense was due to start at 9am so a good intake of caffeine was much needed to get me through the day ahead. Following my last blog post about the preparation I thought I’d share the experience of the actual defense and the structure of the day. Due to the NDA I can’t reveal the specific content of the defense itself, but I can talk about the process and what you should expect.

When I arrived for the defense I was greeted by the VCDX moderator and I must add that he was fantastic in making sure I understood the schedule, had plenty of coffee and he’s such a cool guy I was able to relax. When it’s time to go into the meeting room you’ll get called in and given a brief of what’s expected. The first thing on your list is to present your design, and the clock starts counting down. 75 minutes remaining…

Design Defense

You might think 75 minutes is plenty of time to present your design, but with some kind of warp in the space time continuum it goes very quickly indeed. During the design defense itself expect to get interrupted and questioned by the defense panel on some of your design decisions. This is the core of the VCDX certification, being able to remain cool and articulate your design and answering questions whether obvious in your design document or not. I’d strongly recommend purchasing a copy of the VCDX Boot Camp book as this is the closest source of information you’ll find on the VCDX process and I must have read this over and over. I mentioned this in my previous post, but I need to say it again… Make sure you practice with a mock defense, especially if you’re not used to presenting a technical design to a small audience. There are three panelists, one moderator and sometimes any number of silent observers in the room too. It’s not as stressful as some have made it out to be, but if you’re not used to presenting in front of a customer then you might find it unnerving. I just treated the panelists as if they were my customer during a typical day at VMware.

Design Scenario

Before you know it you’ll have a quick coffee break and you’ll be presented with the design scenario, and the clock will start again at 30 minutes (45 minutes for Cloud or DT). This role-play is your opportunity to prove to the panel that you can talk to your customer and gather the information you need to create a design. Don’t worry, you won’t be expected to create a fully fledged design in 30 minutes as that would be crazy, but imagine it’s your first design meeting with a customer and you need to get what you need to start formulating a design. If you work in a consultancy role then you should be familiar with a design methodology, gathering requirements, capacity planning, creating conceptual, logical and physical designs, build and test, and so on. Sound familiar? It should do as this is what the VCAP-DCD is based upon, therefore my advice here is to fully demonstrate what you’d do in the real world to start creating your design. Use the whiteboard or flip chart provided, ask lots of questions, talk through your thoughts and if you are asked a question you’re not sure about then tell them you don’t know. There is nothing worse than trying to bluff your way through, the panelists are already experts!

Troubleshooting Scenario

This part was probably my favorite bit. Having worked is support roles in the past, and managed infrastructure support teams I have a pretty analytical approach to troubleshooting (if I say so myself!). You’ll get 15 minutes (30 minutes for Cloud or DT) and like the previous sections, this is your opportunity to ask the panel lots of questions in a customer role play situation. I’d like to add that the panelists are amazing and the role play scenarios, and this really helps as I almost forgot I was doing the VCDX and was back with a customer! You don’t need a sixth sense to do well here, but you will need to break down the scenario, clarify on some areas and tell them what you’re thinking so they can see how you’re trying to pin-point the cause of the issue. They don’t want you to jump to a conclusion within a few minutes, but see a logical path to finding the cause. If your time is up and you haven’t found the cause of the issue then don’t panic! They simply want to see that you have a logical and ordered approach to finding the source of the issue.

My Top 3 VCDX Secrets

Don’t get excited, I’m not about to reveal anything that would result in me getting hunted down from breaking the NDA!

  1. Visualize your success. If you close your eyes at night and see VCDX written after your name then make this priority and work damn hard at it! You’ve got to see yourself achieving this, then make sure you do everything you can to ensure success.
  2. Don’t burn out. Whether you are working on your design or preparing for the defense panel, make sure your schedule includes some down time. Relax, read a book, watch some movies. This might sound contradictory to much of my advice, but think about a balance. If your mind is relaxed, then you’ll feel more confident and this will picked up by the defense panel. If your stressed out then you’ll just argue with friends and family and do badly on the day.
  3. Peer support. This final tip is very important. Try not to do this on your own, as there are plenty of communities out there (see my previous post), but also friends and colleagues that can review your design or perform mock defense panels. Heck, I even talked to my personal trainer at the gym about presentation tips as they do nutrition seminars every week! Whether it’s your boss, technical colleagues or your friends then ask them to help you along the way.

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