Running a VCDX study group and some lessons learned

I was told that no one had ever organized all of the VCDX candidates before, so I thought I would write down what we did- combined the VMUG style of sponsored meetings with a hard-core study group. At one point, we had 15 VMware architects crammed into a conference room. It was pretty awesome.

In preparation for defending the VCDX at PEX this year, I organized all the candidates I could find into a study group so that we could do mock defenses together. We ended up doing 3 weeks of mock defenses in the run-up to PEX. I also asked for a supportive vendor I met through running the DFW VMUG to help us get a conference room with a whiteboard. Steve Kaplan from Nutanix was gracious enough to exceed our expectations- we had a conference room at the W Hotel in downtown San Francisco the weekend before the defenses. We ended up having numerous VCDXs stopping by and helping us do mock defenses, design scenarios and troubleshooting scenarios. People like James Charter (@davesrant), Tim Antonowicz (@timantz) and Mark Gabryjelski (@markgabbs) were mainstays, spending a lot of time giving constructive feedback over the weekend.

I ended up gathering 10 of the candidates for practice defenses, the majority of which passed. Each and every one of them have e-mailed me and thanked me for running the mock defenses, and they have consistently attributed their success to the numerous mock defenses we did.

Unfortunately I didn’t pass this time. I’m still waiting for my feedback letter, but I can tell you I won’t do a View design for DCV again, thats for sure. The actual VCDX-DT path just opened last Monday, so I will pursue that track now.

Here is some tips for running a VCDX study group:

  • Keep a semicolon separated list of everyone’s e-mail address. This can be quickly pasted into Webex.
  • Make everyone create a Dropbox link to their design. IMPORTANT- your design is not super secret IP that you need to hide. Obfuscate names if you need to, but the more people who see your design, the better your chance of success. Share the slidedecks too, it helps everyone if you do.
  • Make sure you keep time zones straight. Not everyone deals with APAC, NORAM and EMEA time zones, so take the time to clarify.
  • Keep an e-mail thread with the Dropbox links and e-mail addresses called “Consolidated Design List”. Use this to forward to new people and the VCDXs that will drop in and help. Consider putting the time zone next to each person’s name.
  • Twitter is your friend. Tweet often about what you are doing. We got VCDXs dropping in out of the blue all the time.
  • The amount of time doing mocks correlates directly to passing. Everyone who was involved for three weeks passed, except me.
  • Vendors have no problem helping if need a conference room. Nutanix is a huge supporter of the VCDX program, for instance.
  • Make everyone get a twitter account. Even if you don’t use it now, you will if you have the VCDX. All of the guys that wouldn’t get a twitter account got one once they passed. Save time and get it now.
  • Run, don’t walk to quizlet.com and start making flashcards for yourself. The next time I try the VCDX, I am going to make my design, my slide deck and my quizlet flash cards together.

I will be defending again at Cambridge or VMworld, so drop me a line at @bchristian21 if you are going for it. Editor- James Bowling (@vsential), fellow Texan and Houston VMUG Leader, is circulating a sign-in form for a study group on twitter, please look at the #VCDX hashtag for it. He just volunteered to all the hard work of running the next study group- sucker!

Two of the guys who passed, Derek and Sean, sent in some thoughts on passing the VCDX.

From VCDX #125 Derek Seaman (http://www.derekseaman.com/)

In no particular order:

  • Definitely need to form study groups early on, at least ~8 weeks prior to package submission. Peer feedback is huge.
  • At least 4 weeks prior to submission find multiple VCDXs to get feedback on your near complete architecture guide. VCDXs are quite busy, so need to get on their plate early to increase  the chance of feedback.
  • Don’t just rely on one or two VCDXs for feedback. Everyone has their own take, and depth of feedback. Aim for at least 3-4 in-depth reviews. This takes time so DO NOT wait to the last minute.
  • Immediately upon the invitation to defend, start working on your presentation slide deck. It is very important, and doing comprehensive backup slides takes a lot of time. DO NOT wait until the last minute.
  • At least 3 weeks prior to defense date, start doing mocks. Participating in mocking others is very valuable, as well as being mocked yourself. Don’t just mock with C level or management types. Find guys that will destroy you on a technical level.
  • Do not just rely on WebEx mocks. Try and do them in person as well, so you get a more realistic feel.
  • Do not just mock the design defense. Although that seems to have the most weight, I know I didn’t do as well in the customer design and troubleshooting, since we didn’t practice those much.
  • Mocking in person the weekend prior in the sponsored room was a HUGE benefit. Cannot understate the benefit of cramming everyone in the room, and having the VCDX ‘coaches’ in there.
  • By week 3 of the mocks you may want to shoot yourself. Hang in there….it will pay huge dividends.

From VCDX #130 Sean Howard

As far as my personal prep beyond the nightly mock ring, I did the following:

  • Made almost 500 flash cards in Quizlet and had my wife ask me them
  • Wrote out a justification and an alternative for every single decision in my design (like 100 or so)
  • Listened to all of the VCDX brownbag sessions, and VMworld 2013 sessions.   Every night just hop on the elliptical or go for a walk and listen to one.
  • Same thing for general youtube videos / podcasts from existing VCDXs (Mostafa has a good one he did with Nutanix where he expounds on a lot of stuff in his book)
  • Spent the week of PEX basically doing nothing but prepping from 9am-9pm

The listening to videos thing was probably the most helpful because over the course of 4 months I was just slowly absorbing a lot of stuff rather than trying to cram it all in.  It also requires very little discipline compared to trying to read books.

I also wish I had practiced the design scenario more.  That’s tough to do I know, but TBH I blew it off until the last week and I just got lucky I think.

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  1. #1 by Derek Seaman on February 18, 2014 - 12:20 am

    Excellent summary Brad! I REALLY appreciate your leadership, and rounding all of us up. The three weeks of intense mocks were invaluable.

  2. #2 by subnet88 on February 18, 2014 - 12:58 am

    Reblogged this on Virtual Canadian and commented:
    Without these mocks, I don’t believe I would have passed the VCDX-Cloud the first time out. Many thanks to Brad for setting these up, and keeping us on track.

    I echo that adding dedicated time to practice mock design and troubleshooting scenarios would have been beneficial, however just getting the group together was a momentous challenge to take on.

  3. #3 by Brian Suhr on February 18, 2014 - 2:19 am

    Nice write up, you guys did a great job on preparing. I added this to my list of VCDX sources.

    http://www.virtualizetips.com/2013/09/19/vcdx-preparation-index/

  4. #4 by sidbrydon on February 19, 2014 - 1:22 am

    Reblogged this on vAware.

  5. #5 by Harsha Hosur (@harsha_hosur) on February 24, 2014 - 5:17 am

    Hey Brad. It was definitely a great group that you setup and was glad to be a part of it. The mocks definitely helped me quite a bit to get the confidence to speak in front of the panelists. A big shout out to Kalen for his insane troubleshooting scenarios.. :) . 62.9 TB vmdk .. i can never forget that !

  1. VCDX Preparation index - VirtualizeTips | VirtualizeTips
  2. EMEA VCDX Study Group | TheSaffaGeek
  3. Quick VMware PEX 2014 Report » vHersey
  4. Derek Seaman: VCP5 to VMware VCDX #125 in 180 Days | Philip Hung Cao
  5. My VCDX Journey » ValCo Labs
  6. VCDX – Recipe for Success | vcdx133
  7. VCDX – Study Group Etiquette | vcdx133.com

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