ICYMI, you can find Part I here.
Second Attempt – Pass!
The important decision to make whether I should wait or reapply immediately. Brett and I talked a lot about this over the two days following our results. I decided that I would shore up the gaps in our design (primarily our DR plan and the capacity planning) and reapply for the November defense. The deadline for application was Aug 24…that meant I had slightly less than two weeks to edit the design and reapply. Brett decided to wait because he had a lot of work obligations for the second half of the year. Per policy, VCDX partners can defend separately (however, must apply at the same time) but must be within two defenses of each other.
In case you did not know, a second defense on the same design requires a change log to be created. Check out Lior Kamrat’s blog post here.
In hindsight, it was a crazy move to reapply so quickly. Between application and defense in November, I had VMworld US, two Europe trips, and VMworld EU…translating to not a lot of time to prepare. But I felt like I had a better idea of what I needed to do and what the panelists wanted to see.
I talked to many VCDX candidates and VCDXs while at VMworld US and VMworld EU. I listened to all their advice and how they prepared. I’m grateful for the time that so many spent with me.
This time I decided to prepare differently. I was going to do it my way. I went into a little bit of an isolation; I didn’t tweet about it. I didn’t work with as many people, I kept my group small. I just focused on working with my study group. I didn’t do as many mocks for myself (I think only two or three), but I participated in quite a few mocks as a “panelist” for others. I created flashcards for questions I thought panelists would ask. And I completely rebuilt my slide deck so that the intro (or main deck) would talk more to my requirements and constraints, as well as specifically highlight my design decisions.
I went up to Palo Alto a few days before my defense to do some mocks and study with a member of my study group. Unluckily, my defense was the morning after the US election so I stayed up later than I had planned. I went over my slide deck, slide-by-slide, with someone in my study group that night. I woke up early, flipped through my main deck one last time, and then headed to VMware’s campus. While I waited for my panel, I reviewed through my Quizlet sets one more time.
Honestly, I wasn’t sure how I did. I felt more comfortable in the design scenario because I did what I normally do with a client—I wasn’t so focused on following someone else’s template. In the defense section, I felt I did ok but I could tell I wasn’t doing well explaining my networking. I got a little ramble-y in that area. I think I may have made up for that in the scenario. Either way, I was convinced I’d failed again.
To VMware’s credit, they cranked out our results much quicker than in July. I defended on Wednesday and found out my results the following Tuesday. I passed! I’m officially #243.
- Make sure your friends and family realize how much time you’ll be dedicating to VCDX.
- No (wo)man is an island. Surround yourself with a community of others doing the same.
- Join a study group. Gregg Robertson runs a great one on Google+ and Slack. Join it! But then find a smaller group who are preparing to defend around the same time as you.
- Have someone (or multiple people) review your design as you are writing it.
- Review your design and have someone else review your design once submitted. There will be gaps and errors—-find them! Figure out how to address them in your defense.
- Do mocks! Do more mocks!!
- Create backup slides in your PPT for reference, but do not be afraid to whiteboard in your defense.
- Be familiar with your slide deck. You don’t want to waste time fumbling around looking for a slide in the defense. Work out those kinks in mocks.
But you should do what feels right to you. Don’t focus on the techniques that helped others. Don’t feel the need to follow someone else’s template. Achieve VCDX your own way. Grant Orchard (#233) just wrote a brilliant post along the same lines, read it here.
Obligatory Thank You(s)
First and foremost, I would like to thank my VCDX partner, Brett Guarino, and his wife, Leann, for putting up with us working weekends and late nights and letting me stay all of those weeks in their home in Raleigh while we worked. Thank you to Brett’s managers at VMware for letting him dedicate time to this project. I can’t wait until he gets his number.
And a massive thank you to:
- My study group [#VCDXwolfpack] — Melissa Palmer (#236), Mike Burkhart, Sean Massey, Byron Schaller (#231), and Tim Davis.
- Rob Nolen (#178)
- Thomas Brown (#187)
- Gregg Robertson (#205)
- Jens Hennig (#196)
- Lior Kamrat (#230)
- Paul McSharry (#234)
- Ron Wedel (#227)
Lastly, Chris Williams, thank you so much for being the only person who responded with notes when we sent our design out for review. Your time reading our design is greatly appreciated and your notes were invaluable.