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The Triple VCDXs: An Interview with Matt Vandenbeld, René van den Bedem, and Kalen Arndt

Anyone who’s entered the sphere of VMware certification understands the time, passion, and persistence it takes to earn a VMware Certified Design Expert (VCDX) certification. But only three people in the world know what it takes to earn not one, not two, but three VCDXs.

We recently had a chance to sit down and speak with the world’s first Triple VCDXs: Matt Vandenbeld (@TripleVCDX001), Staff Solutions Architect, VMware; René van den Bedem (@vcdx133), Practice Manager,RoundTower Technologies; and Kalen Arndt (@kalenarndt), Solutions Architect, Worldwide Technologies. In this article, Matt, René, and Kalen share their journeys in undertaking three VCDX certifications, how prospective VCDX candidates should prepare for their defenses, and what resources are available to prospects through the broader VCDX community.

 

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The VCDX journey sounds like an exhilarating but also intense process of dedication, learning, and self-discovery. What propelled you through the process three times?

René: The first time was all about validating my skills and knowing “ok, am I good enough to pass this?” It was a matter of putting in the time and effort and having a schedule so I could actually prepare the documentation and get ready to defend. The second and third times, I knew “ok, I understand the framework, I know what I need to do.”

MattFor me, the first time was very similar to René. I was validating that I had the skills to achieve the certification. Also, it’s a very prestigious certification and being a part of that select club was something that was definitely interesting to me and ultimately really accelerated my career aspirations. For instance, I would not have the job that I have now without my VCDX.

KalenI was working in support at VMware when I went for my first one. At the time, all of my friends had failed the VCDX and the general tone was “you won’t pass.” This was compelling to me, so I decided to pursue it. And then, during the entire process, I found myself becoming better at what I was doing. Towards the end, as I was going through final preparations, I realized that I was growing more as an individual than I had during any other certification process.

 

For the actual VCDX Defense, you’re presenting your design to a panel of experts. What was this experience like for you?

Kalen: I’m not the most social butterfly in the world, so giving a presentation in front of three experts was extremely nerve-wracking for me. But someone told me before I went in there that you’re here because you know what you know and you’ve proven yourself. And at the end of the day, they’re in the business of making more VCDXs. They’re here to genuinely help you.

René: For me personally, if I walk in front of the panelists and I know that I’ve done all the preparation, followed my schedule, listened to podcasts, read blogs, done mock defenses, consumed as many materials as I can, done my lab preparation, built the solution, pulled it to pieces, done all the failure scenarios — as long as I walk in knowing that I’ve done that, then there’s really no nerves; it’s just a matter of going in and doing my thing.

Matt: A decent part of the panel is how candidates communicate. That’s kind of an expected skill for a VCDX architect. I’ve been a panelist now for close to four years, and I can say without a shadow of a doubt, you can tell who’s done their preparation very early on. Within the first few minutes you can tell the people who have invested the time to do mock panels.

 

It sounds like soft skills play a big role in success. For candidates who don’t have customer-facing jobs, how do you recommend preparing for the soft skills portion?

René: Generally speaking, when you’re talking about the IT community as a whole, there’s a higher percentage of introverts versus extroverts. That’s just the kind of people that gravitate towards tech. I personally had a lot of problems with public speaking, and the way around that was just practice. You have to practice. Practice speaking to groups, practice presenting mock defenses, practice whiteboarding, practice drawing nice diagrams and explaining why you did what you did.

Matt: I agree with everything René said, and from my experience, there’s no community like the VCDX community. There are several groups that are organized for doing mock defenses. If you just go to vcdx.vmware.com you can find a mentor. There’s no shortage of people willing to assist you. I think all of us heavily participated in that community and still do. 

Kalen: One thing I did was I paired up with people who knew a technology in my design way better than I did, but maybe didn’t know that much about VMware. It was like an internal mentor program where we would actually help each other and say “Ok, in this technology, do this. In that technology, do that.”

 

One candidate mentioned to me that the best thing someone can do for you is to totally tear your presentation apart and that this will give you the better defense in the long run.

Matt: While I agree with that, something I want to bring up is that this is a design exam. So, while a good portion of it may be technical, a lot of our focus isn’t down into the nitty-gritty weeds of technology. What we care more about are the “whys” of why you chose this over something else, or what that decision had on the impact of the design.

 

How did you go about putting together a study group of peers?

René: Through Twitter and the “vcommunity.” A VCDX by the name of Gregg Robertson has created a Google and Slack channel dedicated to VCDX preparation. So basically, you reach out to Gregg via Twitter (@GreggRobertson5), he adds you to the Google study group and Slack channel, and then everyone communicates and collaborates there. 

Matt: WebEx is great and necessary for study groups, but one thing I absolutely recommend is presenting in person as much as possible. Get as many diverse opinions as you can. In the end, it will help you better articulate what you did when you actually get in front of the panel. 

Kalen: As far as the study groups go, I think they’re great, but many of them are very VMware-focused people that won’t have the background in different technologies. So, like Matt said, find various people. Even if they don’t know anything about VMware, have them look at your design, because they are going to ask questions that you didn’t think of.

 

We’re almost out of time. Any parting thoughts for VCDX candidates:

René: If you’re going to undertake this, passion should be the driving requirement. If you’re just doing it to get a salary increase or your boss told you to, probably not a good idea, because it takes lots of personal time and effort to get there.

Matt: The advice I give is just do it. Try to drop the fear of failure and just go for it. At the very least you’ll end up learning a lot about yourself and you’ll increase your skillsets. The process really offers nothing but benefits. 

Kalen: I’m with Matt. I grew more as an architect and consultant getting my VCDXs than I have doing just about anything else. It is a great opportunity to grow, and if you don’t pass, you learn from your mistakes and you can just pick back up and try again.

 

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