VCDX Study Plan - No Excuses!

Posted on 20 Apr 2015 by Ray Heffer

VMware Certified Design Expert (VCDX)

Starting my day as usual, I make a coffee and check Twitter to see what folks are up to. I notice some tweets about sacrifice, lack of sleep and the struggle finding time for VCDX study. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this, and I want to deal with this head on. No more excuses!

No matter what our goal, it seems that the obstacles life throws in front of us simply get in our way. In particular you have it worse than others right? I mean, where the hell do these people seem to find the time?

Lets take a look at some of the excuses I hear, then we’ll deal with each of them. By the way, keep the conversation going on Twitter! #VCDX

  1. I’m just too busy with the day job.
  2. I have kids!
  3. I don’t have a design to use / it’s out of date.
  4. I have blogging to do!
  5. I don’t have a mentor.
  6. My dog ate it.

Excuse No.1 – Too busy with the day job

We all have bills to pay and mouths to feed, and for most that means working like crazy and travelling… a lot. Back in 2012 a friend, colleague and fellow VCDX (@ady189) asked me if I was going to pursue the VCDX. I was very quick to answer.

“No, I just don’t have time for that right now.”

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Becoming a VCDX is more than just impressing a panel of experts and creating a quality design. It starts with the mindset. At that time I was working in PSO. I was on the road for up to 5 hours some days and staying away in a hotel during the rest of the week. My weekends are incredibly valuable as I have two young daughters which miss me like crazy when I’m not home.

How to deal with it:

A man is but the product of his thoughts. What he thinks, he becomes.

I realized that I was talking to customers every day, working alongside project managers, account managers, technical support staff, application owners, suppliers and vendors. All of these people are contribute to what we do as architects. You can easily become so wrapped up in your job, and the world you live in each day that you push the VCDX plan to one side. It turned out I just needed to think a little differently.

I started thinking like a VCDX before I had even started the application process.

So I pulled out the VCDX blueprint and I decided to take key parts of the blueprint and associate them with stuff I do on a daily basis. Availability, Manageability, Performance, Recoverability, and Security. I started asking more questions. I even remember standing in line at Starbucks and asking what they would do if the coffee machine broke down! This unearthed a robust and detailed disaster recovery plan for Starbucks! Did I read it all? Of course not! The point is that you need to start thinking like a VCDX. Read the blueprint, blogs, and Twitter posts (#VCDX) to see what others are talking about.

If you are one of the lucky ones that gets to work on a design during the day then you should already been living and breathing that VCDX blueprint and adopting the mindset already. If not then plan your time and find a mentor or study buddy (see the end of this post). Take advantage of the fact you work in IT and start thinking of how your design may look. Can you get your hands on build and test plans? Have other systems been implemented with a design you can look at? Learn from mistakes of the past and think about how you would do things differently.

Excuse No.2 – I have kids!

My daughters were 2 and 4 years old at the time and very demanding when I started study for the VCDX (they still are very demanding!). I was working away from home almost every week and the weekends were pretty busy with keeping them entertained, swimming lessons, dance, and day trips. It’s the same for all of us. That leaves the evenings. But we all need downtime!

I think it really comes down to this. Take advantage of when you are working away from home and make time to work on your design. I spent many evenings in the hotel, headphones on, cold drink (preferably water!) and focus on my design document. I love video games so that what I reserved Friday nights were for. I managed to strike a balance of spending time at the weekend with the family and study for the VCDX. It’s tough, but not impossible.

If you don’t work away or you tend to get home late in the evenings then it is even more important to prioritize and create a study schedule. No IT certification is a walk in the park. Spend a least two evenings a week on your design.

Excuse No.3 – I don’t have a design to use / it’s out of date.

If you don’t have a design then I would question whether you are ready for the VCDX yet. If you are just concerned that you don’t have a design that is up to scratch then remember that it’s not about creating the ‘perfect’ design. Start off by creating a design template of your own (conceptual, logical, physical) and then see what you have already and identify where there are gaps. A conceptual design shouldn’t take too long if you have a solid set of customer requirements. Map your design document against the VCDX blueprint.

This is the crux of the VCDX and shouldn’t be an excuse.

Excuse No.4 – I have blogging to do!

Really. I am one of the worst offenders of letting my blog get out of date. For some of us it is a sacrifice we have to make.

Some other bloggers use their blog to share ideas for the VCDX. It is a great way of starting the conversations over design decisions or getting opinions. If your blog is taking up too much time then you simply need to prioritize and let it go for a while.

Excuse No. 5 – I don’t have a mentor

Neither did I. Now we have to help you find a mentor. I admit there isn’t many and I myself opted out so I could become a panellist. At the start of my journey I decided to find a study buddy. Would it surprise you if I told you my study partner wasn’t a VCDX? More on that in the section below.

Excuse No.6 – My dog ate it!

I hope your dog isn’t sick!

Realistic Time Plan

Ultimately we need a realistic time plan to pull this off. Weekends are often out of the question, but explain the importance of the VCDX to your family and see if you can strike a balance. Take turns with family life to get a few hours on weekends.

Don’t forget that downtime and relaxation is just as important. If you overload yourself then you’ll burn out and make mistakes. When it comes to defend your VCDX design you’ll find that all that time stressing over it didn’t pay off and some of the simplest mistakes may surface.

During my time in PSO my calendar was jammed. Monday was reserved for business travel (even nights) but I managed to plan Tuesday and Wednesday nights for working on the VCDX design, Thursdays were free to do as I please and Friday nights were for video games. Saturday and Sunday nights for family time.

Take advantage of your working day to relate to the VCDX. Capacity planning, customer requirements meetings, pilot and proof of concept builds, test plans and so on. These activities should be part of your working day if possible.

Always get enough sleep.


If you can buddy up with someone on the same journey, it will provide enormous advantages.

A spotter at the gym will support you during your weight training. You support each other, resulting in motivation and significant gains.

My study partner was noticing details that I overlooked, and more importantly giving me the motivation to push forward and stay on track. Your study buddy could be a colleague, manager or family member. Don’t do it alone! Final Words

I had to make sacrifices. I used to study Japanese with a private tutor in the evenings, but I had to stop that as the VCDX was simply more important to me. I would love to play video games every night, but that still tends to be a Friday night thing. I even spend a morning or afternoon on some weekends in my home lab. The end result?

I am now a Double VCDX and love my job. I am pleased I made those sacrifices. It went beyond the certification itself. My mindset has changed and I have the confidence to question things and challenge myself further. I still drink too much coffee.

Good luck and use Twitter to keep the conversation going. I have a Tweetdeck column dedicated to #VCDX :)


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