As anyone who’s pursued a VMware certification can attest, holding three VCDXs is quite an achievement. We recently talked with Matt Vandenbeld — the first person to earn three VMware Certified Design Expert (VCDX) certifications — to learn the secrets of his success. (Spoiler alert: Matt really enjoys working with and learning about VMware technology. That helps a lot.)
Question: Congratulations, Matt! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your three VCDX certifications?
Matt Vandenbeld: Thank you, sure. I joined VMware about three years ago as a Solutions Architect in the Global Services Advanced Architecture Support organization. Before that I’d worked with VMware products for about 10 or so years. I earned my first VCDX certification, the VCDX-DCV (data center virtualization), in 2013, prior to moving to VMware. A year after that I got the VCDX-CMA (Cloud Management and Automation). And then in March of this year  I got the VCDX-NV (network virtualization).
Question: And of course, to even pursue a VCDX certification requires the attainment of lower level VCAP (VMware Certified Advanced Professional) and VCIX (VMware Certified Implementation Expert) certifications. So, does it get easier as you go? Were your second and third VCDX certifications easier than the first?
Matt Vandenbeld: I get that question a lot, but I don’t really have a yes or no answer. In general, I would say the experience definitely gets more relaxed, because you’re familiar with the what’s required, especially the “verbal defense” of your design, which is part of the VCDX certification process. “Verbal defense” is too strong of a term. It’s really an opportunity to explain the rationales behind your design decisions. I found it to be one of the more valuable and enjoyable parts of the process.
But that’s not to say it gets any easier. Getting a VCDX is a challenge, no question. In my specific case, I was least familiar with network virtualization. So, I found this last one to be a bit tougher than the previous two.
Question: Now for the BIG question: What’s your preparation process like? What’s your secret?
Matt Vandenbeld: Well, I don’t have any secrets. Sorry. But my approach to all three was pretty similar. I’m the kind of person that needs to commit, to put a stake in the ground. So, for VCAP or VCIX, the first thing I do is schedule the exam on the Pearson Vue website. Then I work backwards from the exam date. For VCDX, I look at the design due date, which means I’ll need to be finished with it a month or so early, so I can get feedback from colleagues, etc. etc., until I finally have a plan. For me, it wouldn’t work as well to say “I’m going start working and then signup when I’m ready.” Without a hard due date, it might not happen.
Then I do an inventory, or gap analysis, of my strengths and weaknesses mapped back to the certification blueprint. I strongly encourage candidates to spend a good chunk of time reviewing the blueprint so they can target the areas they know least about. Also, if I had it to do over, I’d likely get more formal training in each area. I took the self-study route, but that’s probably the harder way.
Finally, I think a VCDX certification candidate will really benefit from having some level of design experience with a customer. I’m not saying you can’t get a VCDX without it; in fact, pursuing a VCDX can help position you to get into a design role. I just think it would be more difficult without any customer design experience.
Question: What has getting these three VCDX certifications meant to you both professionally and personally?
Matt Vandenbeld: Professionally, I would not have the job I have today without the VCDX, period. And I really love my job. Once the VCDX on your resume, it just moves you to the front of the line. It provides a lot of recognition and credibility, and therefore more opportunity. There’s no better way to demonstrate that you know something than to get a VCDX in it.
On the personal side, I’ve always liked setting and achieving challenges for myself. I remember when they first announced the creation of the VCDX-DCV. Because it was the pinnacle certification, I immediately wanted to do it. It’s given me great sense of satisfaction, increased my confidence, and of course improved my skills as an architect exponentially. Plus, the recognition that’s come with being the first to get the triple has also been a lot of fun. It’s definitely raised my profile among senior management and clients.
Question: Any plans to get the fourth VCDX in desktop and mobility? And do you have any last thoughts for readers?
Matt Vandenbeld: I don’t have any plans to right now. Maybe someday. It’s a big time commitment. As for advice, I would just encourage people not to let fear of failure stand in their way. A lot of people don’t get certified on their first attempt and then succeed afterward. Failure is the best teacher. And if getting a VCDX was easy, it wouldn’t be worth it. So, just forge ahead. Regardless of the outcome, the experience will be positive.