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RoundTower Blog

Running the VCDX Gauntlet

VCDX_231.jpg On September 15, 2016, Byron Schaller received a text message at 1:45 AM and awakened to read it. The first word was “Congratulations,” and with that, Byron became the 231st VMware Certified Design Expert (VCDX) in the world, on his first attempt. This recent victory brings the RoundTower VCDX count to three. There are presently only 12 companies in the world that have three or more VCDX engineers on staff.

“We are very proud of Byron,” says Andre Wu, Senior Director of Emerging Technologies, “especially for prevailing on his first attempt.  There are probably only 30 or so other people who have been able to do that. We are really looking forward to seeing the value that Byron will bring to our customers.”

Byron’s journey to become a VCDX began more than three years ago. He had already conquered the VMware Certified Professional (VCP) exam and both segments of the VMware Certified Advanced Professional 5 – Data Center Administration (VCAP5-DCA) exam. Then he began an extended period of arduous preparation, spending long days working on the job, followed by family time that seemed far to short, and late nights of study till two or three in the morning. A few hours of sleep, and he began the cycle again.

What motivates someone to dedicate this much of their life to obtaining a certification? Byron Schaller explains. “It isn’t something that anybody tells you to do. You have to just want it enough to make the sacrifices. I know for me the driving force was passion and curiosity. I think that’s what it is for a lot of us.”

Byron wanted to grow his expertise in design rather than implementation because it involves developing creative solutions to often difficult business problems. “You can help people a lot more if you are involved right from the beginning of the project,” says Schaller. Getting in at the idea phase means you can match technology and design to the application and produce a much more harmonious outcome.”

While preparing for the exam is grueling and prolonged for the applicant, defending their design before an expert panel of judges is harrowingly brief and intense. First they must submit the design documents, complete with an Implementation Plan, Implementation Guide, Configuration Guide, Test Certification Plan (covering failure, integration, and performance), and Standard Operating Procedures (covering all daily, weekly monthly production tasks). These are scrutinized by three experienced VCDX holders who are trained to be panelists. They analyze the design to determine if it has a “material chance of success,” a fancy way of saying “will it work?”

If the submission is deemed viable, the applicant is invited to defend their design by answering some very pointed questions during a 75-minute, face-to-face evaluation before the judges. Next, the judges conduct an examination of the applicant’s ability to react to various design scenarios and customer problems by holding a 45-minute mock customer consultation. The panelists may ask questions that indicate incorrect or sparse knowledge to see how well the examinee will go about the delicate task of realigning their perceptions. They may behave as though they are frustrated to see if the aspiring VCDX will adequately ease their concerns.

Byron describes the experience vividly. “They do everything possible to discover your limits. You need to come up with designs on-the-fly that are workable in hypothetical situations. They will change requirements in the middle of a scenario just to test your adaptability and reaction time. They not only look at design skills and technical knowledge, but how well you listen, respond under pressure, engage the customer and manage expectations. Your overall presence and how well you control the room. They look at every detail of your performance.”

VCDX applicants are not just responsible for VMware architecture but for storage, networking, switching and routing, security, the application stack—every aspect of data center infrastructure. Eighty-five percent of all examinees fail on their first attempt. “The judges are experts,” says Schaller. “You can’t fake it with them. One of the guys on my panel literally wrote the book on virtual storage. He’s a legend in IT and one of my professional heroes. But he wasn’t easy to get by.”

So, what is next for Byron? “Wow, I don’t know. I’m not sure it’s even sunk in yet that I’m a VCDX.”

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