On 28 February next year in Las Vegas, a group of brave IT professionals will go before a jury of their peers and spend half a day defending themselves and their technical skills. The inquisitors will pull no punches and the process will be brutal. Many of those on trial will be defeated, rejected and fly home chastened. Others will emerge with a prize just 105 people on the planet possess: the VMware Certified Design Expert (VCDX) certification.
VCDX is VMware's highest and toughest certification. Chief Technology Officer Steve Herrod has likened it to attaining doctorate in VMware.
Around 40 per cent of those who hold the certification work for VMware. Those outside the company identify themselves by number: for this piece we spoke to VCDX #66 Michael Webster and VCDX #93 Frank Fan.
VCDXs come in three flavours – cloud, data centre virtualisation and end user computing – and to attain the certification one must first hold several lesser certifications in the chosen speciality. Proceeding to VCDX is not guaranteed: one must first prepare a design for a large-scale VMware implementation, complete with business case and a project plan.
That design is assessed and, if it is accepted, applicants are then offered the chance to participate in the interactive session described above. Panellists leading the inquisition at those sessions hold either a VCDX or other high-level VMware certifications.
VMware literature about the sessions pulls few punches, stating “you will defend your application” during the trial.
Taking on a VCDX is not for the faint-hearted. Webster says achieving the certification is hard “[b]ecause you have to have a very broad and very deep skill set.”
“You need to have a very deep understanding of … vSphere, but also security, storage, networking, server design, management, operations, troubleshooting, administration, disaster recovery and business continuity, and applications. You also need to know how to implement your design in complex enterprise organisations including the process and people aspects. You also don't just submit a design, but an entire project work package including architecture, validation plans, implementation plans and configuration and build documentation. All has to be enterprise class and sufficiently complex for large enterprises.”
Webster's project was unusually complex and required 350 hours of work.
Fan, meanwhile, says he spent more than 100 hours on his application, failed at his first attempt, tried again and now says one of the key things he'd advise those seeking the certification is to make sure their families understand the commitment required. Webster offers similar advice, advising that “you should make sure your family is on board” before signing up.
Given that gruelling regime, Reg readers may ask themselves why on earth anyone would bother going for the certification, especially as four recruitment agencies we spoke to here in Vulture South hadn't heard of VCDX and declined to offer an opinion on what it could do for one's pay packet.
Webster's theory for their ignorance is that there are so few VCDXs that the certification isn't something employers are asking for yet. But in Webster's experience organisations working with VMware at scale know all about it, given that his business – New Zealand-based IT Solutions 2000 Ltd – has done very well since he won the certification.
“Being a VCDX means I've not [had] any downtime, even during the recession,” Webster, who blogs here, told The Register. “If I bid for a project against some of the big players and the customer has got to make a decision, being a VCDX lets me operate at the same level as the big guys, particularly when looking at an organisation's crown jewels.
“The impact has been pretty huge. I have had the chance to work on projects I would not otherwise have had the chance to do. I've worked around the world. I'm now the go-to guy for virtualising business-critical applications in the Asia-Pacific and Japan, and also work in Europe and the USA. I'm often called on to help large enterprises.”
Webster also says being a VCDX means good money – there's a Porsche 911 Carrera in his garage and his air miles balance is sky high.
Frank Fan was already a Manager for Technology at Accenture Australia when he won his VCDX, so has not noticed an increase in salary, but like Webster finds the certification opens professional doors. “I've seen investment banks specify they want a VCDX to work on their environment,” he says.
Fan also feels that just going through the VCDX process is beneficial.
“My confidence has increased remarkably,” he says. “I now feel very comfortable presenting in very challenging environments and doing very challenging customer proposals.” Those proposals are made a little easier by the fact that VCDXs tend to network, with Fan saying he feels “I have a network of multiple experts around the world.”
Fan also used a network to help get him over the line as a VCDX after his first application failed. “To become a VCDX, the most important thing is to be disciplined,” he says. “You must treat it as a marathon, train for it and allocate time every day. The first time I failed because I did not work with people to motivate motivate each other. The second time I worked with two others in a study group and we all passed last May.”
The amount of time needed to complete the certification and the complexity of the subject matter means Webster advises “it's not for everyone”, but he also believes that even those who don't succeed in winning the certification still gain an enormous amount of useful knowledge.
Aspirant VCDXs who like the sound of any of the above outcomes should check VMware's certification pages to learn the prerequisites for the certification, or read the books about the certification. Those who are ready to take it on will then find attending a VCDX bootcamp more than useful, as these three-hour events are designed to help candidates prepare for their final push. Boot camps typically take place at VMWorld and vForum events.
Final interrogations also take place at VMware events around the world. You or your employer will need to foot the bill to get you there and pay for food and lodging.
“My advice would be to make sure you fully understand the investment,” Webster says. “And make sure you are ready.”
If you are, the upside can be enormous. “It is a completely transferable skill that goes across all boundaries,” Webster says. “I have had job offers from all over the place, which means I can live in New Zealand and and work all around the world.” ®