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Tag Archives: VMware Certification Preparation

VCDX Defense Tips: An Interview with Brett Guarino

The VMware Certified Design Expert (VCDX) is the holy grail of VMware certification. Those who opt to pursue the VCDX have already achieved at least one VMware Certified Professional (VCP) and two VMware Certified Advanced Professional (VCAP) certifications. They are truly VMware experts.

We had a chance to speak with Brett Guarino, a Senior VMware Certified Instructor (VCI) who recently gave a presentation at VMworld Europe on preparing for the VCDX Defense. Brett has been teaching various courses with VMware over the past seven years. Recently, he’s been preparing for his second attempt at the VCDX Defense. In this interview, he shares ideas, tips, and insights for those working toward this prestigious certification.

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Before getting into the VCDX process, tell me a little bit about why you love instructing?

The most rewarding part of it is working with students who come into the classroom and have needs. One of the first things I ask my students is “What are you here for?” I don’t think anyone’s come into my class without hearing that question. By the end of the course, students leave with something tangible that helps them do their jobs better, saves them time, makes them more of an expert. For me, knowing that I’ve given my customer (in this case the student) something to take away with them that’s going to empower their career is very rewarding.

 

Tell me a little bit about the VCDX. What’s it designed to prepare people for? 

It’s more about validating your existing skillset. The VCDX doesn’t teach you how to become an architect. However, strengthening your skill as an architect is definitely one of the side benefits of going through the process of VCDX preparation. Assuming that you go through the preparation and successfully achieve the VCDX, you’re going to learn and hone skills and tools that will ultimately make you a better designer and architect.

 

VCDX preparation requires quite a bit of time from what I’ve heard. What do you recommend in terms of time management?

You cannot prepare for the amount of time it takes. You just can’t. I’ve had discussions with several people who are VCDXs and they all say the same thing. You really can’t prepare for it. From design to documentation, to preparing for the defense presentation, you just need to plan to make this what your life is about for a while.

That being said, when you go into this type of commitment, you’ve got to let the people who are important in your life know that this is what you are going to be doing. You need to prepare your friends, family, colleagues, whoever, that for the next several months, your spare time is going to be dedicated to the VCDX. Many people are under the impression that once you’ve finished your design, you’re basically done. But actually, at that point, you have to create a presentation for the initial half of the defense, and that’s not a trivial task. That presentation is something that you’ve got to know inside and out.

It’s a simple suggestion, but I recommend getting out a calendar and setting deadlines. Know when you will have certain parts of your design finished, know when you will send them off to peers for review, build in time so that when you get behind, you have enough room to double down if you need to. For an extended project like the VCDX, this type of planning goes a long way.

 

In your presentation, one of things you spoke about was the SMART methodology. Can you elaborate on this?

SMART is a goal achievement ideology and stands for Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. When preparing for VCDX, you’ve got to have milestones. Breaking things up, knowing what will be done when, knowing which days you will be working on which things — these are all very important elements of the process. The idea is that you are going to work smart as you prepare. Taking the time to apply the SMART methodology to each of your goals will help you both stay sane and get what you need to have done when you need to have it done.

 

One of the things you hear about from other VCDXs is the importance of assembling a group or community of people to help you as you prepare. What are your thoughts on finding a group as you pursue the VCDX?

First, you want to make use of all your resources. Find out who you know that’s an expert in specific technologies. Find out who can give you their time. Find out who is really willing to help you. There may come a time as you go through your process when you’ve gathered too many people, and not everyone is actually helping you get to where you want to be. At that point, you may need to drop people. The idea is that you want to make sure the people you surround yourself with are people who are going to challenge you, tell you the truth when something’s not working, and ask you questions that you haven’t thought of yourself.

There’s also the current VCDX community. In seeking assistance from VCDX mentors, who may be identified at https://vcdx.vmware.com/ (use the Mentor Option under Optional Flags), be respectful of their time. They have full-time jobs beyond their desire to volunteer to assist VCDX candidates. Reach out to them after having achieved the VCIX certification (i.e., have both your VCAPs already).

VCDX mentors may aid you with design preparation, mock panels, etc. They should not be expected to draft your design for you. Use the volunteer VCDX mentor resources sparingly. Initially to help define design considerations (requirements, constraints, risks, and assumptions), then to review initial drafts, and finally for panel mocks.

 

How do you recommend people prepare for the defense itself? What soft skills are important? 

Public speaking. It’s one of the key things that people have trouble with, especially if they don’t deal with public speaking in their jobs on a day-in-day-out basis. When you’re standing in front of the panel, you’re going to be challenged, and you need to be prepared for that.

There are a few elements of public speaking that you really should master, things like making eye contact, never speaking with your back to the audience, and whiteboarding. Whiteboarding is a key soft skill, and few people pay attention to developing it. Learning how to stand at the front of the room, write out complex concepts on a whiteboard, and then explain it in a clear way to an audience does a lot for keeping your viewers engaged and translating your mastery and comfort level with a given subject.

Although you won’t necessarily be judged on your public speaking ability per se, having these skills in your pocket helps you establish confidence and comfort so that you can be positioned to really demonstrate your expertise and mastery to the panel.

The other thing that I would say is that part of learning how to speak publicly means learning how to guide a discussion and direct a narrative authoritatively. As the presenter, you’re going to be driving the conversation. Making sure you’re driving the conversation in the direction you want it to go will help you gain points as you present.

 

The last question is kind of a fun question, but what’s the best way to celebrate once you’ve completed your defense?

Well, my first answer is that I’ll let you know when I pass!

But seriously, rewarding the people in your life who’ve helped to get you to where you are is huge. Make sure you acknowledge your mentors, reviewers, mock panelists. And then also do something for the people who’ve made sacrifices and supported you emotionally — your spouse, your kids, your significant other. I’d say that’s a good way to celebrate as you come back to normal life.

 

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.

 

VCDX merch

 

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.

 

Threepeat!! First Ever Triple VCDX Certification Holder: Matt Vandenbeld

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-presenting

Matt presenting VCDX insights

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 [2016] 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.

Tips and Hints on Preparing for VMware Certification Exams

It’s no secret that VMware Certifications require dedication.  Whether you’re just getting started with VCA or preparing for your VCDX defense, the first step is to commit to preparing for the exams.

Everyone has their own goals for obtaining VMware Certifications.  Some enjoy the challenge of keeping their skills sharp and relevant in this fast-paced and ever-changing technology landscape.  Others seek to advance their careers or open up new opportunities. Still others may solely seek the personal satisfaction of the accomplishment.

Whatever your reason may be, we’re here to help you get started.  Benjamin Franklin once warned, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” So let’s jump in.

In this video, Linus Bourque, VMware Certified Instructor, provides guidance on how to prepare for your VMware Certification exam, regardless of which exam you plan to take.

Linus walks through the following recommendations for how to prepare:

  • Set a schedule – plan ahead, rather than trying to cram
  • Set up a lab – the practice will give you a chance to apply your knowledge
  • Study with partners – discussions will aid in understanding
  • Tap into available resources:
    • VMware Certification Forums
    • Free practice exams & exam demos
    • Use your reference materials:
      • Exam Blueprint
      • Training courseware manuals
      • Review appropriate vSphere documentation
      • VMware Press Official Cert Guides
      • Watch free, online instructional videos
      • Hone your skills with Hands On Practice

In addition to leveraging the community in VMware Certification forums for help, study tips and program questions; we suggest that you take advantage of our strong community of certification holders.  Having been through the process, they offer a wealth of excellent insight on how to succeed.  This month, we highlight advice from Ray Heffer, VCDX #122.

In these blog posts, Ray recounts the experience of working to achieve VCDX and offers tips for those looking to achieve a similar goal:

Read Part 1 of Ray’s VCDX Preparation & Tips*

Read Part 2 of Ray’s VCDX Preparation & Tips*

We hope these hints help you get started on your path to certification!

* The views expressed in these blog posts and comments of this blog do not reflect the positions or opinions of VMware. The views and technical information are solely those of the owner and have not been validated by VMware.

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