First steps into VCDX6-NV
Wow! This has been quite a journey. After I achieved my first VCDX on DCV, I was pretty soon looking at the VCDX6-NV blueprint and quietly developed the ambition of shooting for the double. I’m in the luxury position of working at ITQ so I didn’t have to convince anyone at work. I got instant and full support of my employer. I made my first public announcement on April 18th, 2018 on my blog and I started writing my design. I could use my DCV design as a foundation for this NV design but I was really struggling with how much DCV content to put in this design.
Struggling with the VCDX6-NV blueprint
The premise of my NV design was that we deployed an SDDC Foundation running vSphere, vSAN, vROps, and vRLI in the previous project and that the customer was now looking to seamlessly integrate NSX into the environment. My project was based on a real customer project but just like my DCV design, I took it in a slightly different direction than the real project and basically rewrote it entirely. I decided to take my DCV design as a foundation for my NV design and treat the DCV part kind of like one big constraint. The environment was there, the customer had no budget to acquire any new hardware and just like dealing with any other constraint, as an architect, I had to validate if the brownfield implementation of NSX for vSphere could be successful, given the constraint:
“This chapter explains how the core elements of the physical infrastructure were designed, sized and deployed in order to validate they meet the specified requirements and parameters for a successful brownfield implementation of NSX for vSphere on the SDDC Platform”
Writing the design did not really put a big strain on my personal life. I planned evenings and some parts of weekends that were non-intrusive for the family and made steady progress. Luckily, I had loads of customer conversations about NSX to lean on. The downside was that I was working in three very similar customer environments and things tend to mix up in your head. But, my design was slowly shaping into a fairly complete and consistently structured document.
On track for a September ’18 submission
I was aiming for submission in September and I was on track. With my design at maybe 90% complete, I started on the supporting documentation. I’m not going to lie about it. I think it’s crazy that an installation guide and implementation plan are part of an architecture certification. We architects normally have people for that :-). All jokes aside. I get the idea behind it, but in a real-life project as an architect, I might oversee the delivery of these kind of documents, but I would never, ever write them myself. But it’s part of the blueprint, so I doubled down and started on these dreaded documents.
Past results offer no guarantee for the future
I basically took the same approach as with DCV and delivered documents with similar structure, contents, and depth … and my application was rejected. Yes, I failed my first attempt because my supporting documentation wasn’t up to par. I won’t lie here either. Some harsh words and curses were cast upon receiving this feedback. Not a word of feedback on my design, just these dreaded supporting docs. Sigh! I took me a short while to find my motivation but I decided to take the feedback on head-to-head. The #vCommunity had a massive hand in this by the way. The amount of positive feedback and support was amazing. It really helped me back on my feet in terms of pushing forward on my 2nd try. I was flying to Las Vegas for AWS Re:Invent late November and what better time to spend on an airplane, right?
I replied to a tweet by Lance Wysong recently. He figured he wouldn’t be so public about submitting for VCDX because the pressure of everyone knowing would be a big burden …
Lance couldn’t be more wrong. Be proud about setting goals, working hard, failing, learning, etc. You WILL get massive support from everyone in the community!
Rene van de Bedem reached out and offered his help by looking at my documents and the feedback. Rene’s feedback was spot on. I scratched my home lab, deployed my DCV design and screenshotted everything for my installation guide. I initially planned to fix just this necessary stuff and re-submit asap but after talking to Rene, I decided I would take some more time to add some additional elements to my design. In all honesty, the last couple of chapters did not receive the same level of enthusiasm as the initial chapters and there was definitely room for improvement. Since I only had 1 hour for the remote defense, I needed to score as many points as possible with my application.
And that’s … where I stalled. I don’t know what happened. I found it hard to find motivation.
I was pretty busy at work. I had a lot of small side projects at home, and on and on. These were all excuses, obviously. In February 2019 I found my mojo. I don’t know what happened or what motivated me. I was talking to some guys at work who are also aiming for VCDX and I think I realized I was really, really close. I just needed to put a little bit of effort into it. I choose the next application date from the VCDX calendar which gave me roughly a month to deliver the goods. Finally!
Back in the game #VCDX
I doubled down, committed myself to the submission date and I submitted for the 2nd time as planned. The initial review was swiftly done, the technical review was fast and I got the long-anticipated email from the VCDX program that I was invited to defend in June. Funny thing is, I did not change a whole lot to my design. All documents were basically in the same shape as they were in December 2018 after I processed the initial feedback from the VCDX program and from Rene. Looking back, I could have easily resubmitted in December but I think the time just wasn’t right…
Getting the VCDX defense invitation
“Please confirm if you are planning to defend during the week of 03rd June 2019 at Staines, UK. Request you to confirm within 24hrs.”
I got this invitation on May 12th. That left me with 3 full weeks to prepare. The first thing a VCDX will tell any aspiring VCDX about the defense process is that you should not wait for the formal invitation after submission to start preparing for your defense. You need to move forward as if you are already invited to defend. Of course, I did not adhere to this advice myself. I had not prepared. I had no slide deck. I hadn’t done any mocks. I submitted my application and unconsciously kind of forgot all about it. But I also have to be honest here. I perform best under a bit of stress and time pressure. I have so much respect for guys like Chris Poter who methodically planned towards his defense date and reported on Twitter every day with #90daysofvcdxprep. That’s just not me. I would love to be so disciplined but I could never prepare so long in advance.
3 Weeks and Counting … the pressure is on!
Long story short, these 3 weeks were pretty brutal. Long hours, long days. Of course, other really cool opportunities came along such as presenting on VMware Cloud on AWS at the AWS Summit Benelux 2019, AWS Meetup Amsterdam, delivering an in-house training at ITQ, starting as a freelance teacher at Novi Hogeschool, and so on. But I had a goal and a deadline. My family was super supportive and gave me all the room I needed. My slide deck was taking shape and I was engaged with some fellow VCDX candidates on the VCDXPrepGroup Slack channel. I joined some mocks but the other guys also had to do a design scenario and most mocks at this late stage were more focussed on that, which I totally get. I participated in two mocks but needed to focus on my own preparation too. I had one final chat with Rene and he gave some excellent pointers on my slide deck. And that was it. Preparations done! I decided not to do any mocks because that would just bring confusion and uncertainty at this late hour for which I did not have any time to remediate anyway.
A remote defense is pretty weird. I had my defense planned in the morning and a customer meeting in the afternoon. I drove to the office, just like any regular business day, logged onto my MacBook and waited until 10:00. The first couple of minutes feel a bit strange. You’re talking to your screen and you have no visual cues from the panel at all. They can see you, but you can’t see them. I had to find my rhythm a bit but after a couple of slides and some questions, I got into my storyline. The hour flew by. I could pretty much stick to my storyline and with 2 minutes to spare, I had time for a final question. And that was that. I had a pretty good feeling about how it went but there’s always the uncertainty of not knowing how you are being scored so I absolutely wasn’t sure at all how I performed. And then the waiting starts. 10 business days … phew.
Unexpected fast result
And then, last Monday, just a single business day after my defense, I opened my iPhone to look something up and I saw the hugely unexpected email from the VCDX program.
“Congratulations! It gives me great pleasure to award you your 2nd VCDX certification.”
This caught me completely off guard. I had to look twice and twice more. Yes, it was not a prank it was the real deal. Up until that moment, I never opened my mailbox anxiously hoping for a result. This was really unexpected. I went through the roof! I jumped, I laughed and yes maybe a shed a small tear of joy. Wow! Double VCDX! The very first in the Benelux and, as Sjors Robroek (who was my panelist by the way) emigrated, also the very first VCDX6-NV in the Benelux. I’m in a pretty good place now!
I’m going to enjoy this moment of success for a bit and orient on my next steps in education. First, I need some time away from studying :-). I will definitely stay engaged with the VCDX program. I will pick up mentoring or even try to get on board as a panelist. I’m not sure how I could best give back to the community. I need to let this all sink in for a bit. A handful of ITQ colleagues are working on their VCDX designs so my first focus will be supporting these guys to the fullest extent.
If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to reach out!