Virtual Design Master – VDM005!

TL;DR – I’m honoured to say I won Virtual Design Master Series 5! Woop Woop!

So for the longer version….

Last year I heard about Virtual Design Master for the first time from my fellow #LonVMUG alumni Gareth Edwards. Gareth was participating in Season 4 of the competition at the time, and he eventually came in with 2nd place. It was a great result for Gareth and meant the UK had representation throughout the competition last year.

Fast forward to earlier this year and I decided I would take part in the next season of VDM. I knew it would be a challenge just to fit it in around work and family, but I thought even if I stuck with it for just one week I might as well give it a go. The competition gives you a great opportunity to practice infrastructure architecture skills and to take a look at technologies you might have been meaning to play with but haven’t got around too.

Keep going with the Fast Forward button and we arrive at 2am last Thursday night, and after surviving three rounds of challenges, its the live final of Virtual Design Master Season 5. After an entertaining and nerve racking hour, with defences from the other final competitors, Adam Post and Kyle Jenner, the time came to announce 1st, 2nd and 3rd place. I’m sure this was a difficult decision as all three of the finalist had worked hard and been complimented on their designs throughout the season. With the obligatory suspense from Angelo on the creative team, the placings were slowly announced – Kyle in 3rd, Adam in 2nd, which meant I had been awarded 1st place! An unexpected but great way to complete the 5 week competition after initially hoping just to make it past week 1!

So lets take a step back, and ask; what is Virtual Design Master (VDM)? It’s basically a knock out reality show for enterprise infrastructure geeks. Over the course of 4 challenges, spread over about 5 weeks, each week the participants are given a new challenge to complete. The competition is run by a group of fantastic volunteers; Eric Wright, Angelo Luciani and Melissa Palmer. Every season there is a set of judges who volunteer their time to review the designs and decide who is unfortunately eliminated each week. This year the judges were Byron Schaller, Lior Kamrat and Rebecca Fitzhugh. Rather dauntingly for us participants was that all the judges hold the VCDX certification! A huge thanks to the Creative Team for their work in preparing and running the competition, and to the judges for giving up their time to review and challenge the submissions.

The challenges are issues on a Thursday evening and you have until Tuesday evening to submit your response to the challenge. That submission can take the form of an architectural design document, a security incident response, code examples or in the case of the final challenge, most of those plus building out an actual live environment which must be submitted for review. We did get an extra 6 days for the final challenge though, with it being issued on the Thursday and not needing to be submitted until 10 days later.

Once you have submitted, you get Wednesday to sleep (which has spawned the hashtag #wesleeponwednesdays), and to prepare for Thursday night’s live show. Every Thursday at 8pm ET, all the participants join a live recording and take it in turns to defend their submission for that week. The defence is made up of a 45 second statement (2 minutes for the final) from each contestant about their design and then 2 out of the 3 judges will challenge the contestant with some questions about their submission (although all 3 judges asked questions in the final two challenges).

Once everyone has finished their defence, and with the judges having conferred in the background throughout show, one or more of the contestants will be eliminated. Then the next challenge is issued and read out and the show finishes.

All the shows are available on YouTube and all of the designs can be found on GitHub.

For me, participating in VDM was a fantastic experience, and has taught me a great deal in a very short space of time. I would encourage anyone to throw their hat in the ring, especially any seasoned admins and those tempted by infrastructure architecture.

Thanks for reading!




  1. […] Kinda the big one really! I was very lucky to take part in the great community competition that is Virtual Design Master. I threw my hat in the ring to see if I could stay in and keep up with the workload week by week. I learned a bucket load, got to play with some cool technologies and hooked up with a great bunch of community peeps. And to cap it all off, I managed to win! Read my blog post about winning Virtual Design Master here. […]


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