Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Part 1 : VCDX - The Saga Of The Lost Title : The Design

Last week, while I was winding up my workday, I tweeted about writing a post which would reflect my experience about my unsuccessful yet fruitful VCDX defense on 9th July 2014 in Singapore. A number of my twitter mates, replied to the tweet and supported my idea of sharing the experience with others, who like me aspire to get the title of a VMware Certified Design Expert.

While it is obvious to feel bad, this attempt of mine has given me the lesson of my life. I relate this lesson to the philosophy of an ARROW. If you notice an arrow, it is always pulled back to give it the focus and force it needs to go and hit the target.

Similarly, in life their are times when you are pulled back due to failures, but it is to ensure that you focus come back stronger and harder to hit the aim and be successful. I am in absolute awe of this analogy and will ensure that I apply all I have learnt from my mistakes and get the Title. It's not about life and death but I always believe in challenging myself. 

Just a week before my defense, I wrote about WHY I want to be VCDX, and how I got on to this journey and the quest which still continues. In that post I did mention about the importance of getting on the journey without worrying about the result. Needless to say that my thought process is still the same, however now I am wiser after that fantastic experience of preparing my VCDX design, preparing for my VCDX Defense and then actually defending my design in front of the VCDX Panelists.

The aim of this series is NOT to narrate the entire story of my journey to the VCDX defense, but I want to share the mistakes I made on the way to ensure that others who are either on this journey or want to be here in the future should not repeat these mistakes and come out successful in their quests to become a Certified Design Expert :-)

While I would have loved to write this post as a success story with a VCDX# next to my name, I believe that someone who has failed would do more justice to such a post. While I would go through the ups and downs of my experience, this is NOT an attempt to break the NDA or divulge information which might give undue benefit to someone attempting the certification. Alright let's get started with the process and for your benefit break this process into 3 Major Areas & 3 Different posts.

Part I - The VCDX Design

Part II - Design Defense Preparation 

Part III - Design Defense

In this post I will we covering the Part 1 - The VCDX Design.

The VCDX Design

The VCDX Design is the foundation of your VCDX title. As someone has rightly said, if the foundation of a building is weak, it is bound to fall one day, hence lets talk about how to build a strong foundation.

  • TIME TO DESIGN - The creation of the the VCDX design whether REAL, FICTITIOUS or REAL + FICTITIOUS should be given the maximum amount of time in the entire process. I would recommend close to 6 to 8 months before the date of defense is an ideal time to prepare a design which is VCDX Panel Proof (Nothing is panel proof though ;-) )

  • FILL THE GAPS - Most of you doing design work in the field would agree that it is difficult to find a customer who would give you the opportunity to work on all the areas of the VCDX Blueprint. In other words, I will be HIGHLY SURPRISED if someone has ever used a 100% REAL DESIGN for their VCDX defense. At the end of the day you will find GAPS in your design - FIND THEM AND FILL THEM & most importantly VALIDATE THEM to ensure they do not stand out as fictitious choices.

  • DESIGN VALIDATION - Design Validation is a key process in your preparation of VCDX. It is not only difficult to find people who can do a honest review, it is also nearly impossible that a single reviewer will discover all the holes in your design. Remember, you need to be close to the reality and hence ensure that you have atleast 3 reviewers (your design will be reviewed by 3 panelists) of your design atleast 60 days before submission and you give them atleast 30 days to review and give yourself the remaining 30 days to make changes and do a CHANGE FREEZE to the design. Remember this is the only way you can find the gaps which I mentioned in the previous point.

  • ROLE OF STUDY GROUP & VCDX MENTOR - It is needless to say that you should enroll yourself in a study group and get a VCDX mentor assigned. It is a crime if you are not doing so. Assuming you will do so, please remember that you cannot get success with a study group and a mentor if they were not involved at the right stage of your preparation. The study group will not only give you critics who can review your design decisions, but will also give you an opportunity to learn about more designs belonging to your peers. This will be your opportunity to not only help yourself by learning new things, adopting them and improving your design, but should also be seen as an opportunity to help and guide others. Similarly, a VCDX mentor cannot really help you if you have not given him the opportunity to guide you at the right time. In my opinion, you should join a study group atleast 3 months before submission and get a mentor atleast 2 months before submission (which will give you 3 months with the VCDX mentor in total). 

  • CHOOSING YOUR VCDX DESIGN - I took some time to chose my VCDX design and as you all know I could not clear VCDX in my first attempt. Honestly speaking it will be difficult to ditch your design if you fail VCDX. You would want to improve the same design, fill those gaps and come back better prepared with the same but improved design the next time. It might be difficult to create a complete new design the second time around if you happen to fall short of the finishing line the first time, hence take time to chose your design. For people looking to create a fictitious design, read this post by Niran Even-Chen, he recently got his VCDX Title and he pulled it off a 100% Fictitious Design.

  • DESIGN DEPTH - In order to be successful with your defense (which I will write about in a future post), it is important that your design speaks of your work experience and most importantly the design choices. Remember, it is important that you cover each area of the blueprint here and go from Conceptual to Logical & then Physical to demonstrate your knowledge. Well the key thing I want to highlight here is that VCDX is not about VMware and its products. It is about each area which is impacted, affected or altered by this disruptive technology, hence it is important that you know them all and have atleast Architecture Level Proficiency in these areas (e.g. Networking, Storage, Backup, Disaster Recovery, Security etc). Since Design Documentation is a great scoring opportunity and you need them all, give your best at this to score maximum. It is not necessary that your design document should be hundreds of pages, but it should have concise and complete information about your design decisions and why you took them. Avoid writing about how a feature works and best practices, instead write why you chose it and how it meets the requirements. I would suggest to create your VCDX presentation is parallel to your Design as it is a reflection of your design document. This will ensure that you have a rough cut presentation ready with all the diagrams/figures you have placed in your architecture design. This will make your design document readable and will also help the panelist to follow you easily when you present the design during the defense.

  • DESIGN DECISIONS - These are the meat of your VCDX foundation i.e. your architecture design. While you are documenting your design and decisions, it might be a good idea to document alternative options and what if scenarios and keep it for your reference as this would help you later when you prepare for your defense. If you have taken a design decision and you are not sure why you did it and how it impacts the other requirements and areas of your design then mark my words, the panelists will find it and ask you questions on that. Hence, it is important that you have a solid ground behind any design decision you have taken and are well versed with the impact of the same on the other areas of your architecture design and the related environment. The key thing to remember is that you CAN take the weirdest of the design decision, but it should meet the requirements and you should be aware of the impact. At the same time to know an alternate would be critical as well.

  • DESIGN SUBMISSION - You will get a notification from VMware Certification Team to submit your design by a date and time. The worst thing you could do is to submit your design at the last moment or very early. Life is all out balance and it applies here as well. You should neither be running out of time nor you should submit it  before you are completely satisfied. This will only happen to your satisfaction if you have had enough time to review and make changes. Having said that Design Submission is no way a well deserved break by any mean. Although you might feel that you are at the top of the world, you are actually not looking at the bigger picture. Hence a break often at this point can distract you, so focus and come back hard at your preparations.

There are a lot of other key areas which are not covered in this post, but these are the areas where I know I faulted and I saw others struggling as well. I hope these learning's will help you in your VCDX preparations. 

I will come back soon with the other parts if this short series.

Till then - Stay Tuned!!

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