In movies about courtroom dramas, you will commonly hear objections from the prosecution or the defence to the judge about leading the witness. That is, the witness has to think and speak independently without live coaching or prompting. The panel-based defences for VCDX, CCAr and NPX have the same premise.
DISCLAIMER: This article is completely based upon my experiences as an NPX Certified Examiner. However, my panel training was by former VCDX panelists and moderators.
When a panelist asks a question, it has to be generic and must force the candidate to drive the discussion to address the area where the panelist wants the candidate to demonstrate expertise. There are the three fundamental questions that can be posed:
- Why did you do that? Why did you make that choice? eg. Why did you use NSX-v instead of NSX-T? Why did you use OSPF instead of BGP?
- How did you do that? How does that work? eg. How does the NSX-v management and control plane function? How did you mitigate Risk#02? How did you meet Requirement#05?
- What did you do? What is that? eg. What are the NSX-v ESG security features? What routing protocols can be used with NSX-v?
When a panelist gives the candidate a break and offers some information for free, this is referred to as “throwing a bone”. Panelists sometimes do this to keep the ball rolling and give the candidate an opportunity to recover confidence. You may think, “Great, the panelists will give me some help!” WRONG! If “bones are being thrown”, it really is the beginning of the end. In the internal chat channel that the panelists maintain to co-ordinate each defence, there will be messages like, “Wow, that was a dinosaur bone you just threw!” and “You just threw a whole skeleton!” This is not good for the candidate. When a panel has completely given up on the candidate, more “bones” are likely to be “thrown”.
In the early days of the VCDX program, there was a “mercy rule”, if the VCDX candidate was clearly unable to continue they would immediately stop the defence and invite the candidate to return another day and try again. At some point the “mercy rule” was removed and every candidate completed the entire defence regardless of performance. This can lead to very painful defences, hence, some panelists take pity and “throw bones” to give the candidate a chance to progress.
A panelist is really there to assess the skills of the candidate and not provide education, so the “mercy rule” makes sense; there is no point progressing if the candidate does not have the skills and experience to succeed. On the other hand, you can see candidates need to get their “live” defence experience from somewhere (to which many would say, with the proper role, the necessary skills and experience are earned over time). With the VCDX (and NPX) Study Group & Mentor resources that are currently available, another answer to that question is “Mock, Mock and Mock Defence again”. My personal opinion is that the “mercy rule” could be reinstated, since the resources are available for every candidate to be completely prepared.
Your objective as a VCDX/NPX/CCAr candidate is to never be “thrown a bone”. You should be able to drive the discussion and discover the areas and questions that the panelists want you to address. Remember the 5Ps: “Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. ” In 2017, there is no excuse for not being prepared for your VCDX (or NPX) defence.
If you are a candidate and you detect “bones” on your radar mid-defence, here is a strategy to get yourself “out of the rut” and regain your momentum:
- Use the whiteboard to diagram your understanding of the subject, which will increase the likelihood of inspiration to occur.
- Go back to the 40,000ft view and start dropping knowledge on what you know about that subject; if the panelist hears a keyword for what they were trying to extract from you, then they can ask you to elaborate.
- Do not waffle or make things up, stick to the facts. However, you can make educated guesses (as long as you state that it is a guess).
- If you feel you have exhausted your knowledge on that subject area, just say, “I do not know” and then describe how you would find out.
- Be comfortable with thinking on your feet under pressure.
- If the rest of your defence is a solid performance (ie. MQC), the panel will try to circle back and give you a chance to score again in that area, if time allows.