VCDX: Some thoughts on requirements

What is this about?

This blog post has not the intend to define what a requirement/constraint is, there are already very good posts out there. Lately I pointed a lot of people over to Jeffrey Kusters who did an excellent job of summarising it but I included also two other good links:

What is this about?

If you are like me, coming from a pure technical background, the conceptual model of the VCDX exam proves to be the hardest part – especially since your journey starts with it and there is no shortcut around it (Rene gives good advice, as always https://vcdx133.com/2014/07/09/vcdx-how-do-i-measure-if-my-customer-requirements-are-being-met/)).  Think of the conceptual model like the foundation of a house, if it is not solid everything you build on top of it will collapse eventually (btw: It happened to me, forcing me to re-write on more than one time. Pro tip: don’t be like me on this).

Summing it up: Ideally this post forces you to realise that you need to invest time into the process of learning on how to develop a conceptual model and, with as the post has a focus on requirements, learn that they do not come out of thin air. There is actually a whole field called “requirement engineering” which has the target to gather and formulate requirements – just to give you a feeling for the relevance of this topic.

Requirement engineers have methods and techniques which you can study. Use this to build an understanding of what is relevant and how it is done. Try to apply this by formulating some solid requirements for your VCDX process (and keep that knowledge for your future projects).

Where do I start?

You know, there is always google 🙂

Seriously, (solid) requirements are needed in a lot of places, one of my favorite reads is provided by the NASA.
They have a whole book online, for free – start looking at chapter 4, the System Design process: https://www.nasa.gov/connect/ebooks/nasa-systems-engineering-handbook

Do you need to read all of this and how does this all apply to VCDX?

Heck, no you don’t need all of this! But start digging into it and you learn some good stuff – they key here is building an understanding to know why requirements are important. For instance, I like the “TABLE 4.2-1 Benefits of Well-Written Requirements“.

Also, did you consider to try to talk to people who deal with requirements on a daily basis? Do you know any project manager or software developer/architect? They might be more than happy to help you out.

Can you sum it up, what does it mean for my VCDX document?

I cannot give you a definitive answer but a few personal opinions:

  • Write a requirement like the stakeholder investing money, not like the tech nerd you are (I include myself here).
  • Don’t focus on the implementation and do not make a hidden design decision out of a requirement: Focus on what the system/infrastructure needs to achieve, not how.
  • Did you test if other people understand your requirement? Ask around, also among non-technical people. Does everybody expects the same when reading your requirement?
  • For the majority of requirements, do not use subjective adjectives, e.g. what do you mean by fast storage? People might have different opinions on that.
  • Going in the same direction as the bullet point above, can you validate your requirement in any way? (Yes, this is one reason why there is a validation plan in the VCDX)
  • Be specific, set scope and expectations: Like when you include growth in percent, is it measured from your baseline or a “year over year”-value? For how many years do you need to plan? Which areas (compute, storage, …) do you need to consider?
  • Avoid any mis-interpretation with negative requirements, e.g. must not do X or Y. The “not” might be easily overlooked and there is still room for the question what the design must do.

On the topic of how much meta-data a requirement needs, I had a table with the following information:

  • Unique ID: Allows you reference the requirement in your design
  • Description: The main matter of a requirement.
  • Design quality: More for my sake to ensure I got everything covered
  • Issuer: Who signed off on the money going into this requirement?

I won’t say it is perfect but it did the job and it may be a good starting point if you haven’t considered anything in this regard.

The end

This is not much but I hope it points candidates into the right direction. I am always open for discussion and feedback, hit me on twitter if you like!

Disclaimer: Honestly, I feel like an imposter for writing this, constantly debating with myself if I can dare to put this out into the wild as I feel that my own stuff was not stellar. However, with some support from Bilal and Chris I decided to go for it. After all, it is a topic most candidates struggle with and I was no exception.

VCDX: Thank YOU

On December 13th, 2018 I received an email: 

For me this marks the end of a chapter which I would call the VCDX journey and I have to thank many, many people for supporting me along the way up to this point.

Easily the longest supporter of my efforts has been Bilal Ahmed. In his always good natured way he managed to guide me since VCAP design-days with solid advice and motivation. Alone in the last weeks before the defense he did go out of his way to connect me with mock panelists so I could refine my presentation over-and-over in the final days before going in.

Yet another important person is David Pasek whom I contacted right after joining VMware to ask if he would mentor me. I guess without him I would still be editing and redoing my document. David is not only a sheer endless source of knowledge but has also the great gift of cutting through the noise and focus on the important parts, always able to get me back on track.

Also, thanks a lot all to other VCDX mentors who helped me along the way, like Paul Meehan, who is not only a great guy but has tons of knowledge to share and always motivated me to keep pushing. Paul McSharry who, before becoming a panelist, did a ton for the VCDX community. Per Thorn had always high quality and in-depth answers. Gregg Roberston for doing all the work with in-person mocks in the UK as well as the slack channel which both are vital for future VCDX candidates. Update: Damn, I forgot to mention Ben Mayer, in the time after submitting the docs he helped me with multiple scenario-sessions and valuable advice for the presentation.

A special thanks to Manny Sidhu for getting up at 5 a.m. (!) to attend one of my mocks and many more who donated their spare time (like Shady). The “closing call”, the last mock defense I had, was actually only about 12 hours before going into the room featuring a panel of Kiran Reid, Jason Grierson, Bilal and the future VCDX #273, Kenneth Fingerlos (to be honest, this session left me a bit shaken but it was great with some valuable lessons).

Also, here is one shout out to my favorite slack group with guys like Bilal, Kyle Jenner Chris Porter and Mat Jovanovic. It is always a great mixture of banter and solid knowledge exchange with you guys. Chris also organised a mock session during VMworld Barcelona which was a dire-needed wake-up call for me to get on with my presentation (thanks everyone who attended that session in BCN).

During all the time I was fortunate enough to have support from my employers (current and past). At VMware from Matthias Diekert, who without batting an eyelid, offered me full support by taking over travel and expenses. At my former workplace the CEO and team lead supported my efforts, too.

Last but not least … the family. Man, they say you can’t do VCDX without the family and they are right. With a second kid in late 2017 and a job change in mid 2018, VCDX was no fun in the spare time, often leaving me only the hours between 10 p.m. and 1/2 a.m. for my work. My partner supported my all the time, either by “kicking my ass” to get up and start writing/studying again or by taking the kids for a weekend out on the days before the deadline ended – just so I could work all day (and night) to finish it.

What’s next?

VCDX was a time and resource-intensive process, at least for me. Getting back to a more normal work/life balance with the notion of picking up some sports again is one of my goals for 2019.

But being in IT, you cannot stay in one spot and from a professional perspective I fell behind on my training schedule (yes, I keep one for myself as part of the goals I want to reach. If you don’t do this, perhaps Melissa might change your mind). Next priorities are to catch up with public cloud, some sort of automation and also very specific with NSX-T.

Perhaps I make it to a VMUG and find a topic to present. I always wanted to do it but so far I do not know what to talk about. Also some more blog posts wouldn’t harm, so there is another thing to do.

Adding some thoughts on the value of VMware certifications

This morning I posted about how I feel about the VCDX price increase. TL, DR: I can understand the reasons behind this, but VMware has to deliver value for the money.

Having said that, there is a bigger issue in the room in my opinion.

Essentially this tweet from Jason Nash triggered this post:

For what it is worth, I think that with VMware, the partner tier says not much about the technical skills and qualification.

As you can read here, the requirements for the highest level, Premier Partner, is essentially revenue driven. Sure, you need four VCPs but when you are big enough for a million of sales within 12 months, sending out four people on an ICM course is peanuts.

Do not get me wrong, the VCP has is place but from the higher partner level I would expect more to verify the expertise. VCP is a multiple choice exam, VCAP deployment is hand-on (you cannot braindump that) and design requires you to draw and place something (again, no braindumps here).

So why would or should a partner spend any money to certify his employees toward the “VMware Certified Advanced Professional”-level or even above?

The answer is: I do not know and I cannot see a business case for this at the moment.

Back on twitter Joe Silvagi  from VMware pointed out that there are business benefits for a partner:

 

Nevertheless, here I try to see it from a potential customer point of view.

You cannot pick an enterprise/premier partner and know that they have at least a number of n VCIX or even a VCDX in a certain field (solution competency) to guarantee a certain amount of knowledge.

This would really count for something BUT…

… VMware needs to promote their advanced certifications so these get the attention and value they deserve.

I had to explain to many people what my VCAP or VCIX actually means, customers and coworkers alike, and even what the next level with VCDX would be. For a VCDX attendee this is the worst case, you put effort into your certification in order to get benefits (from a pay increase to a new job) but if no one knows what this title is, you have a problem because this lowers your ROI

Compare this to Cisco, if you say “CCIE” everyone has an idea what you are talking about and goes like “ahhh” and “ohhh”.

This might be different in the US, but this is my unfortunate experience here in Germany.

 

 

 

My two cents on the VCDX price increase

Last week I completed my VCIX-DCV and started contemplating if I should take the long way towards the VCDX.

Currently doing I am doing preliminary outline of a project in order to give it the Paul McSharry basis assessment. After that, it is finding a VCDX-mentor who is willing to give my project a quick review and discourage or encourage me 🙂

This morning there is a lot of buzz around the vCommunity about the Certification Exam Price increase. Going from about 1000$ to 3000$ for defense seems a bit too much for many.

Personally, I was always amazed how “inexpensive” the VCDX program was.

With this certification, you aim to be one of around 250 persons in the world who hold the VMware top tier certification.

Think of it economically:

If you personally pay for it, what would be the gain of this certification?

Think of it like a student loan. You will probably get more salary or can apply for a new job at architect level. I am going out on a limb here, but in these job regions paying the sum of 3000$ is not totally off the limits (not easily done, but you should get it back over a few months).

If your company pays for this:

Your employer is probably using you and your certification to get new projects or customers. From there on this is a simple investment calculation. Split 3000$ on two or three projects and it is payed off.

Another important point in my opinion:

We are also finding ways to recognize our VCDX panelists who commit a tremendous amount of their own time and resources to support the program.

I was always wondering how many applications the panelists have to read and evaluate.

This is a manual process unlike the VCAP exams where there is one setup and a script will do the evaluation. And don’t forget this is done by highly qualified VCDX architects who have most likely other things to do 🙂

So where does it leave me?
I am still going forward with my outline, make or break won’t be the exam price for me.