An Update on My VCDX Attempt

Back in February of last year (2018), I wrote about properly starting my VCDX journey (the full post is here). At that time I had one VCAP, a project, funding, and my wife’s buy in, so I felt like there would be not better time to seriously put some work into achieving this goal. I stated then that I wanted to submit by the end of 2018. So, with just over a year since that post, how did things go?

Its been a tough year, with VCDX always being on my mind. From that post until last July, I struggled to get really into my design. I did a lot of work, and made some serious commitments such as giving up alcohol for 6 months and turning down pretty much all social invites, but I was still struggling to put any serious amount of work into my design. I started well, focusing on properly sanitising my real world design and ensuring I had collected all relevant metrics for my current state analysis. But I think the process slowed down in a large part because I wanted to follow a very structured approach, so at that time I had started with the Conceptual Design. This is one of the hardest areas for VCDX candidates to get their heads around, as it can be quite abstract compared to the physical part of the design, which is more technical and something we therefore tend to be more comfortable with. That meant it was hard to just sit down and write, as I had to think through and rationalise every requirement, constraint and assumption. I’d often write things and then come back to them and remove them, or completely rewrite elements, which can be a frustrating process. But in hindsight this was a very valuable stage, the real essence of the VCDX process.  What came out of it was something I still continued to tweak right up until the submission (hint!), but that gave me a solid foundation for the rest of my design.

July

In July of last year I took a step back and sat down to talk through the progress with my wife. Unless I made some real sacrifices and re-balanced things, it felt like the VCDX process would drag on indefinitely. My wife was hugely supportive and shared my desire to see this process to conclusion, rather than give in, so we set a target of submitting by the end of the year and she planned to take the kids out as many weekends as possible so that I could get some good solid periods of work in. I also arranged some time off from work, one week in October and three weeks over the holidays in December, to give me even more time to focus on my design. I started tracking my time with Toggl, using the Pomodoro timer, which gave me a structure and allowed me a view into how much work I had really put in each week. From July until early January this year, I put more and more time into my VCDX, and as I got closer to the finish, I took two days out for Christmas and Boxing Day but apart from that I worked full days on it throughout most of December. The following graph from Toggl shows the ramp up of work. In total, I put in 316 hours of work on my VCDX between July and early January. During this time I also sat and passed my VCAP DCV Deploy exam, so that I had the prerequisite VCIX qualification.

VCDX Hours Per Month

The upshot of all that work is that I managed to complete my documentation set and submit it in time for the January submission. 🙂 A huge milestone achieved and a huge weight lifted. At times throughout December the repetition of working on my submission had felt like Groundhog Day but finally I had hauled this thing over the finish line.

Waiting

And then I had to wait. I quickly passed the application review, which checks things like the right documents have been submitted and are in the right format. But then I had to wait for the technical review. I managed to convince myself I had not done enough to pass, that I perceived that there must be a lot of problems and errors with my document set, that I could have done more. Every email notification, especially if it was from VMware, raised my heart rate for a moment. Until finally, on 11th February 2019, I woke up to find the following email in my inbox.

VCDX Proceed to Defense

Truly one of the best emails I have ever received. Throughout the process, my goal had been to ‘get in the room’, in front of the panel, and see what happened. Just submitting was a huge milestone that I know so many people aim for and not everyone is able to achieve. But now, I had effectively ‘got in the room’, as my submission had been accepted and I would get the chance to defend a VCDX design, something I don’t think I had ever fully believed I would achieve.

I read the email, I hugged my wife, I admit, I shed a tear or two. All that work had paid off and had been worth it to get me passed this huge step.

But submitting a design and having it accepted does not make you a VCDX, far from it. The next, final, huge, stage was to prepare to defend my design in front of the panel in Staines. My defence was scheduled for Monday, March 18th.

Unfortunately, that is where the story now pauses, as I have become a minor foot note in the victims of Brexit. The workplace funding for my attempt had to be postponed until the next financial year whilst my firm, and everyone else in Europe, sees out what will happen on March 29th 2019.

Which is not ideal, but it does give me 3 extra months to prepare for my defence, time that I know will fly by. The week of defences starts Monday 3rd June. As I write this, that is exactly 90 days away. Follow my defence preparation on Twitter under #90daysofvcdxprep.

Gratitude

I am very grateful for the help I have received to get me this far. I’ve been really lucky to have the support of the wonderful VMware and VCDX community, especially from Bilal Ahmed, Dominik Zorgnotti and Rebecca Fitzhugh. Bilal and Dom have been my partners in crime participating in many discussions and reviews over the last year. Rebecca has put in a huge amount of effort and assistance reviewing and discussing my designs, especially at the Conceptual and Logical stages. Thanks folks!

I’d also like to thank Paul McSharry for his help before his VCDX move within VMware, and to Gregg Robertson for guidance and for running the VCDX Slack workspace. Karl Childs has been super helpful in answering my queries and helping out with VCDX admin. Thanks to Simon Pelham for answering my VxRail queries and helping me get my head around the VxRail sizing calculator. And thanks to everyone who helped me get my head around vSAN low level concepts, including John Nicholson, Jase McCarty, Stijn Depril, Matt Northam, Shady ElMalatawey, and Per Thorn. Thanks to Lior Kamrat for early guidance and advice, and for participating in mocks at VMworld, and thanks to the VCDX guys that also helped out with those mocks; Abdullah Abdullah, Matthew Bunce and Marco van Baggum. And thanks to Manny Sidhu and Mat Jovanovic for general advice and discussions.

At my workplace, thanks to Tim, Trevor A, Mike P, Hein, and Fengrui for answering my queries and putting up with my ongoing probing!

I’m sure there are people I’ve forgotten to thank, so apologies to anyone I have left out. Everyone’s assistance and willingness to help has been fantastic so thanks again to all that have helped me get this far. I’m sure when I get to the end of this process I will need to add many more people to the list for whom I owe a debt of gratitude.

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