VCDX: Defense

There isn’t really much I can tell about the defense itself without giving up way to much information so keep in mind this post is intentionally very vague.

As I mentioned in a previous post the defense itself has three distinct sessions.

The defense itself to defend the design and show the panelist you know everything there is to know about your design, including alternatives and expert level understanding of how different technologies/requirements/constraints can impact your design.

The design scenario to show the panelist that you fully understand the VMware design methodology and can use it during customer meetings. Its like a quality assurance test for the VCDX candidate design skill level for VMware.

The troubleshooting scenario is to show the panelist your technical skill level regarding the track you are going for and the method you use. The method is more about speeding the troubleshooting cause you have very limited time. There are very different technology stacks between the four VCDX tracks for the troubleshooting to focus on.

And just remember that the panelist is not there to make you fail, they are there to help you by asking questions that you can answer to increase the score (assumption on my part).

The time will fly away as soon as you start and before you know it the first section is done. Then you get a short break before the second section and before you know it that time has passed as well. Your brain will go into autopilot mode during the sections.

Then you are done. Expect to feel releaved and somewhat mentally tired. Don’t expect to run on full capacity the following days or week. It is quite normal to not remember exactly who was on your panelist.

Now only a “long” wait until the result email arrives.

VCDX: Defense Day

Before I start this post I want to emphasize on that this post just includes friendly recommendations and personal preferences and is not a bullet proof method of preparing during the VCDX defense day itself. People are different and some feed on stress. If you do, you will probably disagree with everything in this post. You have been warned.

There are most likely two scheduled times for the defenses, one on the AM (around 09:00) and one on the PM (around 14:00). I recommend at least trying to get the session that fits best to your body clock. Yes I said body clock. No I’ll not start talking about yoga and how feng shui can help (not that it couldn’t, just that I have no experience in those things).
The thing is most people have a preferred time of day where they are most alert. I’m crap at 9:00, but I’m much more comfortable after 12am and even more if I only had to take a leisurely train ride in the morning. Also I imagined that taking the train/cab/car/bus to a location I’ve never been to would not help the nerves.

As for the transportation to the defense location, that is always just a personal preference really. Google Maps was extremely helpful as always. If I didn’t have Google Maps I would get lost a lot the time when travelling. In Google Maps we trust (and hope they don’t send me into a ditch, cough Apple Maps cough).

When you arrive to the VMware offices (or the location specified in the defense acceptance email) you will escorted to a some sort of an waiting room. You can use the time for a couple of things. You could frantically go over notes or just relax. I recommend that latter one. At this point there is nothing that will stick, and there is always the risk it increasing the stress level.

Then one of the panelist comes and fetches you. You’ll have access to water in the room since the next couple of hours you will talk more than you ever have. The time is finally here.

VCDX: Days before the defense

After hundreds of hours of preparations (or at least a few) the defense day is finally near.

During the preparation there are several activities that are mentally taxing:

  • First Skill Sessions.
    • Sessions where you get to know how little you know and how much you still need to learn. Think of it as a Total Perspective Vortex, only for skill levels in IT specific technology stacks. :)
  • Full Mock Defenses.
    • Here you get a sense of how the actual defense could go. The first ones always shows some weaknesses either in communication skills, presentation slides or not knowing answers to questions.
  • Troubleshooting Mock Scenarios.
    • The first one usually leaves you with a sense of panic. It tends to be hard to change ones troubleshooting methods to accommodate a more verbal method. Also it seems strange to approach a problem from a couple of notes on slide point of view. Hard to know where to start etc.
  • Design Mock Scenarios.
    • Same goes for this as the troubleshooting scenario. It’s hard to know how to approach the problem and where to start. The first ones are usually not very good.
  • Skill Updates.
    • The amount of data that need to be processed sometimes can be hard. I must admit some of the detailed HA stuff I’ve already forgotten, but extensive cramming is not a good solution.

All these items will get easier with practice, so after a few sessions of each type, you get comfortable (enough) not to be stressed about the actual session in the defense.

As for the skill update, I recommend entering the vortex early in the process to actually know how much need to be learned and plan accordingly.

But it would be a shame if all the preparation and hard work put into the project would go to waste because of stress. So I recommend that the last days before defense are not spent frantically studying a specific topic or doing 14 hour days.

For me I spent them in London, doing a mock defense with some of the guys also going for the VCDX at that time. I can not recommend it enough to do real life mocks before the defense if possible because it showed be a couple of items that I needed to fix and focus on. A major change of the slide deck is not a good thing but perhaps a new deepdive slide to better explain topic.
Other than that I spent about 4 hours the day before just practicing the presentation, over and over. Watched TV the rest of the day.

Then the day comes and you need to travel to the VMware offices. No need to panic. Don’t panic.