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.

VCDX: Defense Preparation Timelime

The VCDX defense preparation phase includes both slide deck creation and common tasks such as skill updates, potential question creation, alternatives, deep dives, skill transfers, mock defenses and study group meetings.

When is it best to start? Depending on your mental state at the time of design document submission, right away. I took 7 days off until I started creating my presentation and working on all the other items.

Never mind if you don’t know if the design was accepted. Just start. Worse case scenario is that you spent some hours on a presentation that you will use the next time you submit the design.

It will get really hard if you know 3 weeks before the defense that you are going to defend and the presentation is still a New button in PowerPoint.

As for which item to address first I focused on the presentation first and got a good template and the layout just right while getting feedback from my mentor and the study group.

Then I addressed my weakest skills, added to my presentation and did further study group sessions, including design mocks and troubleshooting/design scenarios.

As for a specific timeline of each item, I actually went and did the thing my brain allowed me to do. Some nights I just couldn’t do a single slide in the deck. Then I logged into Pluralsight and just watched some network videos. It was all about change of pace (and learning method; Read-Interact-Listen-Watch).

The time I spent for my defense preparation were about 216-260 hours. Why the gap? Cause I only noted 216 hours and those number did not include all the time I spent going over Quizlet and reading books.

Here is a graph of the time spent on preparations:


And here is a graph of the time spent each day on preparations:


Why did I use time to account for the time I spent on the project? Cause I could. And I’m a data junkie. I just really love looking at graphs with lots of connected piece of information. Don’t judge. 🙂

This time did not include the time I spent each day learning my Quizlet cards (during transit to and from work and also whenever I could) and reading various books for skill update. That would add about 40 hours to the total number.

At the start of the journey I scheduled how much time I would spend on the project. The following graph shows the difference between these two:


I planned for 270 hours, but was only about 20 hours short if the off-screen hours were taken into account.

So do start as soon as you can preparing because every hour you can put in will help in the defense itself.