VCDX - Thoughts on getting started and taking it further
Happy New Year! And welcome to 2014, the year where you start or complete your own VCDX journey. Below is my story and thoughts on the process that I would like to share now that I am on the other side. This will be a multi-part post that I will add to as I have the time to complete my thoughts. I hope you get something out of it, whether you are considering VCDX or already well on your way. Your comments are very welcome.
The learning doesn't stop, why would we ever want it to?
In early March 2013 I was grinning ear to ear when I learned that I had been successful in completing a multiple year journey to become VMware Certified Design Expert #106.
This section includes information on what I used in preparation for the VCDX path.
I have also include some learning's and thoughts that I had throughout the process.
I won't get into my defense experience, as this has been done very well by others. It was one of the most interesting experiences as a technology professional I have ever had, and I learned as much during the defense as I did leading up to it.
I will echo others based on my personal experience - the panelists and VCDX program leaders want you to succeed and are there to help you be successful.
The image below is something to strive for and a very welcome ending to a large amount of very hard work.
Initially my plan was to type out this section all in one go over the holidays... Once I started reliving the experience and thinking about what guidance I would give to someone considering VCDX, I quickly realized that this would best be a multi-part post that I could expand on over time.
Part 1 - So How do I get Started?
Educate yourself on what is required and how you can get there. There is an amazing amount of helpful information available online on how to get started.
The VCDX program is very unique in that there is a small amount of pre-requisites required prior to qualifying and submitting an application.
- The cost of entry is very low compared to any other architecture and design certification; and,
- There is no qualification based on who you work for, your type of role you hold, or how long you have worked with VMware technologies.
VCDX involves something difficult to achieve which is why I found it so interesting as a challenge to grow towards achieving. The key being "grow towards" - any decent goal worth having should take investment before during and after.
Question: Do you want to develop your skills so you can bring tremendous business value to your employer or clients by designing, building and managing complex VMware based solutions?
If the Answer is 'Yes' - the pursuit of VCDX will help you develop the skills to do that and more.
First some clarification - VCDX is not a technical certification.
What? Are you sure.
You can't just take an exam and become a VCDX, that is why is has significant value.
A candidate cannot (in my humble opinion) be successful in the panel defense without personal investment beyond deep technical skills. More on how to do that later, see Practical Experience below and Part 2.
Let me clarify a bit:
- Certifications are a great way to learn and be measured against your application of knowledge on a subject. Certifications are a private experience and are usually written;
- VCDX requires a deep understanding of applying technology and is oriented around creating a full solution to meet business requirements;
- VCDX involves your presentation of and explanation of your design choices to a room full of people - just like you would do as an architect and may do already to clients today;
- As a VCDX applicant you are pre-validated on your submitted design content against the VCDX blueprint and potential scoring enabling you to pass the defense;
- If your application is pre-validated, you are accepted to participate in a panel defense in front of three VCDX holders trained in evaluating an applicants performance to meet the VCDX criteria. No more typing at this point, lots of talking, drawing on the white board and thinking on your feet. You are now in "the room" having a very unique experience;
- It is not unusual for an applicant to defend more than once prior to succeeding; and,
- Did I mention that you will be preparing and then submitting a comprehensive design and supporting documentation that will be evaluated by some of the worlds top virtualization experts? If that sounds both daunting & exciting - read on. :D
VMware Certified Advanced Professional (VCAP)
The technical pieces are the pre-requisites depending on the track of VCDX you are pursuing (DCV, Cloud, EUC) - VMware Certified Advanced Professional for Design and Administration (with the required VMware Certified Professional first).
Once you have achieved your required VCAP Design and VCAP Administration certifications you are ready to take the next step.
- I personally believe that that VCAP certifications are a great pursuit in their own right and help you start to develop the skills you will need to achieve VCDX.
- If you work with the VMware technologies and are already a VCP, pursue the VCAPs! Even if you are not interested in the VCDX, the VCAPs will push you to learn more about the products and how to design and administer them better.
- They will also differentiate your skills from VMware Certified Professionals (VCPs) - There are currently only a few thousand VCAPs compared to 130,000+ VCPs. The VCP is a great starting point, but take it further and move into VCAPs.
The exams are practical in nature and involve a lot of questions, exercises and complex decision making - tough but fair exams that rely on your in depth understanding and experience. For these exams you will need to invest time to practically learn and master the items in the blueprints. Next up, Practical Experience!
There are a lot of blogs dedicated to sharing information on how to prepare for and practice the blueprint components. Seek them out, lots of good content is readily available.
I mentioned practical experience earlier. Practical experience is incredibly important as you start to apply what you have learned from the VCAPs in your career. Your mileage on this is measured based on your aptitude, effort and investment, your opportunity to gain experience, and time. No one is going to hand you the experience, you need to find it.
I have always described virtualization professionals within my organization as data center generalists. To really excel you need to understand multiple facets of the technologies that virtualization touches - compute, network, storage, management, availability and of course the business applications that are the whole point of it all.
So how do you get the experience to rapidly progress and grow? That is the million dollar question, and there are three answers I can think of:
1. Find an employer going through rapid growth and change.
Why? Small to Mid-sized businesses (SMB) are opportunities for self-starters as they don't usually have large technology teams. You will get to do a lot of everything in this scenario and if you are the person with your hand up all the time you will get to do the "new" stuff the others don't know yet, and be the backup for the other things you'll need to learn. Learning on the job is par for the course in a rapidly growing SMB. My first employer was one of these lucky scenarios, and I learned more in 6.5 years than I could have learned in ten years somewhere else. The downside is you will only know one environment, but you will know it very well as you will be responsible to run it. If something breaks, you will be getting the call at 2 a.m. You will also be the one working with the business to provide technologies that make sense to solve business problems, and that is where you want to be.
2. Work for a VMware Partner or professional services organization at a manufacturer.
Disclaimer: I work for a VMware Premier Solutions Partner. I personally believe that working for a partner is the best path available to the highly motivated passionate virtualization professional that is looking for challenge and opportunity. It is why I became a consultant and continue to work for a partner as a consultant today. Like I said, I'm pretty biased. ;)
Why? Consultants get training, get support for certifications from their employers (they know what value a VCDX brings and why it is worth the mutual investment), work with the newest technologies and most importantly work with people smarter than themselves in multiple disciplines. You don't want to be the smartest person in the room, you want to learn from the smartest people in the room about everything they know! Learn all you can! Pick a partner that is VMware Enterprise or Premier and has a good reputation in your geography for excellent consulting and professional services. The pace is fast, the expectations are high, the people are professional (and in my experience quirky and fun). You will learn business skills, presentation skills, and how to deal with difficult situations (i.e. consultancy) and lots of technologies. You will also get exposed to many environments (of different sizes) and many different ways to doing things. It will serve you well in this journey.
3. Stay the Course - Self-Starter.
You are a smart and motivated self-starter and the other two options aren't available to you or aren't the right fit - you are good right where you are. If you are already familiar with creating a design or really want to learn how to DIY this is the path for you.
You've got the current evolving experience, already well on your way to the VCAPs and you just need to polish up a little to close this thing. Now is a amazing time to pursue VCDX as there is so much freely available information to help you along the way. Consider working within the community as a way to push yourself - #vBrownbag is an excellent resource, work with your local VMUG, become active on the VMTN, there are lots of ways. Reading and doing is your thing. You likely already have a home lab.
There is a ton of information links listed above and that is just the start of what is available for you to review.
The best part about VCDX is if you meet the pre-requisites, and you submit an accepted design, you get to defend. It's been done, there are many examples in the VCDX directory.
In my experience most VCDX candidates are either a mixture of #1 + #3, #2 + #3, or are all #3.
I would highly recommend a home lab. A home lab will help you try things out, and "learn by doing". This is especially important for the VCAP Administration exams and later as you experiment and document for your VCDX Design Application package (more on partially fictitious designs later in Part 2).
You can set up a relatively inexpensive home lab with VMware workstation and a machine with a large amount of memory. Or if you have the means, set up a small lab at home with 2 or 3 machines, a VLAN and L3 capable switch and a small storage device (iSCSI or NFS) to keep the costs down, but provide maximum flexibility. VMware products are available for trial at VMware.com with an email address. Want a low noise, low energy setup? Use Mac Mini's or other small footprint desktop solutions.
If your office sounds like an aircraft carrier or you can't afford an abnormally high power bill (mine has been pretty loud in the past, I have a small SAN), family disharmony may follow. See Part 2 - Selecting the Design & Your Support Team for more information.
Some employers will provide a lab (consulting partners typically have a lab) for staff enablement, and others will let you build one out of older legacy equipment or use part of a virtualized development environment.
Partners and their consultants have access to VMware Partner Central (Partner only resource portal) and can access 90 day trial codes for most products or may be able to access internal partner labs with fully enabled product keys (NFR - Not for Resale).
Get Support from your employer to pursue the certification. Create a business case that you will present to your manager or director as to the value the training and enablement will bring to your position. You will need to develop your presentation skills, you might as well start now!
Don't have the means right now for a home lab?
You can get a lot of mileage out of the VMware Hands on Labs (HOL) which are now online and fully free!
Part 2 - Selecting the Design & Your Support Team
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