VCDX – My Journey

I deliberately did not write my “VCDX journey” story last year, since there are a plethora of blogs with the same message (read the blueprint, it is about the journey, everything is under NDA, etc.).  Instead I started the VCDX Deep-Dive Series to shed an “NDA-compliant” light onto the process and now 12 months later I am posting this unique spin on my “journeyman” story.

VCDX Candidate – First Attempt

In 2012, I started the process as a challenge to set an example to my colleagues as part of our “VMware training” program with Global Knowledge.  My intention, take the VMware vSphere ICM, VSOS and Design workshops and sit the VCP exam.  Then I decided to test myself by taking the VCAPs.  When I started the redesign of my company’s vSphere infrastructure, I figured VCDX was worth a shot.

At this time, there were zero VCDX-level people in the Middle East and the “Official VCDX Mentoring Program” did not exist.  I did not know any VCDXs and I was not active within the vCommunity, so I just made the most of it with the people I knew locally.

Just preparing the design submission was tough, I got through the architecture design exhausted and then underestimated the supporting documentation.  I reread the blueprint and realised my logical design really did not exist and I had not linked my business requirements to the logical and physical design.

I spent two weeks before the design submission feverishly deconstructing and reconstructing my design.  I made the submission time with minutes to spare and then spent the next month fretting about being accepted.  I did not think I would make the cut, so I took a four week break from the preparation process.

When I received the “Invitation to Defend at VMworld 2013 Barcelona” email from Mark Brunstad, I was back into the deep-end.  I spent a lot of time building my presentation and practicing in front of my peers, which in hindsight was not enough.  I have to give kudos to my then VMware TAM, Shiv Diddee, for connecting me to reviewers within the region.

I went to Barcelona thinking I was prepared, which I was not.  But that is the process of becoming an Enterprise Architect, you learn from your mistakes.  Needless to say, I defended, failed miserably and was made aware of the holes in my game.

VCDX Candidate – Second Attempt

I seriously considered resubmitting for PEX 2014, but knew I needed to take a break from VCDX and recharge my batteries.  So I selected Frimley April 2014 instead, which was a wise choice.

This time the submission was a lot easier, because I re-used my design and only had to fix the issues that had been identified by the panelists’ feedback.  It allowed me to focus the bulk of my time on soft-skill preparation.

What made a big difference this time was:

  • Matt Vandenbeld – Agreed to mentor me as part of the Official VCDX Mentoring Program, which started in Q4 2013.
  • Michael Webster – Agreed to be my unofficial VCDX mentor, which was allowed under the rules of the VCDX program.
  • Joined a VCDX Study Group with Gregg Robertson and Bobby Stampfle, who also defended in Frimley.
  • As soon as I submitted my design, I did not stop and continued preparing.

On a side note, I firmly believe that mentoring has value, it is very important that the vCommunity provide guidance to individuals that have the energy and drive to become Enterprise Architects.  It is about training hard and smart, the responsibility of a mentor is not to “gift” knowledge for free, but to make sure that the mentee is heading in the right direction and not in circles.

Matt was a great help in reviewing my design, he provided a list of comments that forced me to validate the inconsistencies before I submitted.

A big wake-up call was during my first mock defence with Michael in early March 2014, where I was making mistakes and falling well short of the mark.  I talked to my wife about it and she said, “You do realise this is your final attempt?”  So I knew it was now or never.  “VCDX” was definitely a dirty word in my house.  So I immersed myself in preparation, listening to podcasts, reading VMware Press publications, Blogs, Study Group and mocks with whoever was willing.  I lived and breathed it until the day of the defence.

When did I know I was ready?  About 5 days before my defence date, I had a second and final WebEx mock with Michael and the difference was “night and day”.  I was confident and eloquent, I was able to think on my feet and make it happen.  That period of intense study was the catalyst to forging the skills that I needed to be a true Enterprise Architect.

On the 7th of April I defended in Frimley and walked out of the building knowing I had a very good chance of passing.  Your brain still plays tricks by replaying and reliving the 2 hour period, with the inevitable “shoulda, coulda, woulda”.  And on the 10th of April I received the magic email from Mark Brunstad and walked around with a smile on my face for two weeks.

VCDX-133 – 1 year later

Similar to a “single style” black-belt in MMA, achieving your VCDX is merely the beginning, not the endThis really opened doors for me and has also given me the rocket-fuel to push the envelope and follow my dreams.

I think that the Infrastructure Architecture Design world is about to open up and become quasi-mainstream.  This will be great for the industry, since there is definitely a shortage of skills for Enterprise Architecture and Strategy.  With the SDDC, the physical world has simplified, but the software systems that comprise the modern data center are very complicated.  You really have to know what you are doing, and recognise that the design, implementation and test phases are the most critical, because if you have an unvalidated, bad design, it will haunt you for years.

Here are some of the indicators of Infrastructure Architecture Design maturity:

Lessons Learned

  • vCommunity, blogging and twitter – I should have started years ago and not waited until after VCDX to begin.
  • Attend industry events – internationally and locally, build your network of contacts.
  • Be the dumbest guy in the room – associate with people who are at a higher level than you, it forces you to evolve.
  • Join a Study Group for T-Skilling and defence practice.
  • Find a VCDX Mentor to guide you and provide honest feedback.
  • Participate in Mock Defences – In person or via WebEx, just do it.

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