Thursday, September 18, 2014

Part 2 : VCDX - The Saga Of The Lost Title : The Defense Preparation

I would like to start with an apology for getting this article out a bit late as I am getting too much to do in my new role of a Solution Architect at VMware. In my last article I wrote about my experience with creating the design for my VCDX Application. As promised, I am coming back with the part 2 of the series which would talk about preparing for the VCDX Defense and the important lessons I learned during my preparation.

Just to recap, here are the three parts of this series:-

Part III - Design Defense (coming soon...)

I want to keep it simple by quickly listing down the areas which I think are critical while giving you an insight into my experience.


  • POST DESIGN SUBMISSION - In my last post, I briefly touched upon this point. Once I submitted my VCDX design, I was relieved and decided to take a break for a few days. On the other hand I knew that I need to prepare my presentation for the VCDX defense in case my application gets selected. Before I knew, the month already passed away and I was invited for the defense. I started putting my presentation together just a week before I got my invite. This, I would say was the second BIGGEST mistake I made (The first one being the hurried submission of my application). To sum up this point, I would like to say that being a VCAP-DCA and VCAP-DCD (which make you eligible for a VCDX), it is next to impossible that your submitted design would be rejected. I don't have the numbers with me, but I have hardly seen/heard anyone getting rejected for Average Documentation. You would have done something seriously wrong if you fall in this category, but if you are reading this series then chances are that you have already learned from my mistakes ;-).... Keeping this in mind, make sure that as soon as you submit your application, you should execute the strategy of prepping up your presentation and do not let the momentum go by taking a break.

  • STUDY GROUP PLAN - While I have already touched upon the benefit of being in a study group in my last post, I would say that having a Study Group Plan in hand is very crucial. It is highly recommended that a calendar is made and agreed upon mutually by all the group members. This lock in is very important else it is very easy to digress from the topic when you do not have a planned discussion. Also, this will help the group members prepare for the day's topic and share their experiences, design scenarios, best practices and gotchas about the topic with each other. At this stage I must compliment my study group member and a great friend "Craig Kilborn". Craig was instrumental in the success of the study group as he shouldered the responsibility of leading the discussions and helped the rest of the members in the group. While creating the calendar for the study group, you should divide it into Four (4) parts, namely, Technical Topics, Mock Design Scenarios, Mock Troubleshooting Scenarios &  Mock Presentation. It is important to strike a balance between all the areas so that each participant of the group can get enough time to cover all the technical aspects, go through atleast 3 to 5 Troubleshooting & Design Scenarios and finally should be able to do atleast 2 mock presentations for the complete 90 minutes within the group. Please ensure that your group sizes are not less than 3 and not more than 5 to ensure enough time for each participant for any planned activity. Consider people from similar time zones as far as possible.

  • MOCK PRESENTATION - Mock presentations are a key to success for your VCDX defense and I was able to give 7 to 8 such presentations. With each presentation, I became stronger and discovered more about my design from the questions being asked. While this gave me new perspectives to the design, I realized that you will only gain a cent percent from a MOCK PRESENTATION if your mock panelist have reviewed your design inside-out. Remember, mock does not mean that people ask questions on what you are presenting, it means people ask you questions on what you have designed, documented & now presenting. Hence please ensure that you insist on giving mock presentations to people who know everything about your design. I did a mistake, you don't repeat it :-)

  • DESIGN CHANGES - The principle of "Only thing being constant is CHANGE" cannot fit more appropriately than in a VCDX Preparation. Even after you spend months in creating your design & presentation, you would continue to make changes on the basis of feedback, mocks, self-study and experiences. Once you have submitted your design, there is every possibility of finding a mistake in the submitted design. If this happens with you and I am sure it will, the first thing you do is NOT to PANIC. I am saying this from my 1st hand experience and trust me it is not a good situation to be in. Having said that, there are multiple ways to rectify your mistakes. Please notice my words when I say RECTIFY... Remember, I do not say cover up. A cover up would be the last thing on this earth you could do as it is next to impossible to escape from the sharp eyes and minds of the VCDX panelists. One should use the VCDX presentation as a tool to rectify the mistakes by giving a proper justification as to why a certain design decision was taken in the first place and why you decided to change it now. Sugar coating won't work here and honesty is the only option. I represented these mistakes by using an "ADJUSTMENTS" slide in my presentation deck. Having said all this, you should avoid any drastic design changes as the panel would not like to see an architecture completely different from what has been submitted for a review.  

  • PRACTICE MAKES EVERYONE PERFECT - This is true for VCDX preparation as well, however my mistake was to over practice the presentation and under practice the design scenario & the troubleshooting scenario. I realized that I was flawless and unstoppable while giving my presentation as I had done close to 8 Mocks before I finally presented, however I could have done better during the design scenario. The troubleshooting scenario was good, however it is important to follow a process in your mind else you can very easily lose points and interest of the panelists, if you are not asking the right questions in a logical way. In my opinion this comes with experience and practice. Practice more, because mostly, you would not have experience customers going into the nitty gritty of things in your day to day job of an architect. Give equal importance to all the sections of the defense and prepare well.

I hope the above mentioned points will help you learn from the best practices we followed as a group and the mistakes which I did during my preparation and make you a better prepared VCDX candidate. Will soon come out with the third and final part where I will discuss my experiences around the D-DAY for VCDX defense. 

Till then.. Stay Tuned!

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