VCDX Vision Quest and Mea Culpa

VCDX Vision Quest and Mea Culpa

July 20, 2015 1 By Eric Shanks

Long is the way and hard, that out of hell leads up to light – Milton

Apparently, Milton has been through the VCDX process. It is a challenge that will test your resolve and you will probably learn a lot along the way. You’ll also be glad when its over.

I’ve been good at many things in my life, but never felt like I was great at anything. I’ve succeeded  at most things I’ve attempted, but the VCDX was a goal I truly didn’t think I was capable of achieving. Chris Colotti mentioned in one of his posts that you need to decide why you’re going for the VCDX in the first place. In my case, I was doing it to prove to myself that I could do it. The process really taught me something about myself that I didn’t know. It was my own personal Vision Quest. (Queue Lunatic Fringe them song here)


My Journey really started when I joined Ahead. I was in a company that kept me doing a little less tech and I knew that if I wanted to really make a stab for the VCDX, I needed to be in a place that nurtured that type of endeavor. Working at Ahead is like drinking from a firehose. Every single day I spend working there I learn something new. I submitted my first VCDX design in December of 2014 with the hopes of defending in February 2015. Unfortunately, I was not asked to defend and here is why this post is labeled “Mea Culpa”. 




I was embarrassed about my design being rejected and didn’t talk too much about it publicly, which is why I’m apologizing. I’ve seen some very intelligent people have their designs rejected or not pass the defense stage, and I will tell you now, that if this happens to you, do not be ashamed. I work for a company that is “practically” packed full of VCDXs as well as other geniuses and failing to meet this goal on the first pass made me feel like I didn’t even fit in. If this happens to you, ignore it. I will tell you that I was very disheartened and it really destroyed my confidence not only about being able to finish the VCDX, but really question how much I knew about my day job. This was very tough for me, but I knew the only way to move past this was to finish the VCDX program. I couldn’t spend the rest of my career with the feeling that I just came up short. The failure made me even more determined to hit my goal.


I cursed at the feedback I got for a week or so before finally accepting that all of the comments had merit and that I needed to make (some/major) changes to my design. I went back to the drawing board, completely wiped out some sections and started fresh. I submitted the new design in April and this time I was invited to defend in June.

Initially I thought that preparing for the defense was going to be the downhill part of the work. I thought that preparing a PowerPoint presentation with key features of my design would be easy. It turns out that while this isn’t incredibly difficult, it was very time consuming and I went over it many times, deleting and replacing things on several occasions. In addition, I assumed that the knowledge that I currently had about vSphere should be sufficient to mount a defense. Again, I was wrong. (Are you sensing a theme?)

I went through a mock defense at Ahead with three existing VCDXs and as you might assume, they asked some tough questions. I felt that I did a pretty good job of defending my design but I wasn’t able to show a deep level of understanding of some areas. Specifically being able to answer questions quickly and succinctly . This is when I realized that I needed to study things that I thought that I already understood, just at a deeper level.

Defense Day

Show up. Be Awesome – Some Smart Guy

After going over some homemade flash cards and a lot of white papers, I felt confident that I could defend my design. I flew to Palo Alto the day before the defense and got some dinner that I didn’t think would upset my stomach the next day. I spent the evening studying my design some more and then made sure I got a good nights sleep. (This is easier said than done. It was hard to sleep the night before and was even hard for me to eat anything.)

I showed up at the VMware campus almost an hour early for fear that I wouldn’t be able to find my way around. When I got there I found out that I was in the wrong place and couldn’t find any notifications about which building I was supposed to be in once I got on campus. (VMware’s campus is a big place!) Long story short, I was 20 minutes late for my defense but the panelists were VERY gracious and didn’t give me a hard time about it. I felt terrible about the miscommunication but they didn’t hold any of this against me. The process of running across campus and showing up out of breath and 20 minutes late did not help my nerves though. Strangely, once the design defense started my nerves were gone. I was prepared and I knew my material.


TjLCimkgThe defense was over and I felt a subtle calm wash over me. I was pretty sure that I didn’t do a very good job of the design session which really bothered me because its the thing I do every day. How could I stumble over myself on that section? I was confident that I passed, and then sure that I didn’t, and then sure that I didn’t and finally confident that I’d passed. This flip flopping of certainty went on constantly for the week I waited for my results.

I hopped out of bed one morning a week after my defense and found my results. “Congratulations you’re VCDX 195”




The world meets nobody halfway. When you want something, you’ve gotta take it. – Sylvester Stallone



If you are considering a path to the VCDX, here are some quick tips based on my experience.

  • Try to find a support group to help you – Coworkers, friends or a mentor can be a great way to keep you motivated and its good to have someone to bounce an idea off.
  • Over prepare – Know your design, inside and out. Understand how and why all of the pieces work and why you made the decisions.
  • Be prepared for failure – It happens. This is a difficult task and you should not feel bad about missing the mark. If you’re not prepared that this could happen to you, a failure could be devastating.
  • Jump in over your head – If you’re going to do it. DO IT! Its an intimidating goal, but if you’re going to get it done you’ve got to dedicate yourself to it. Don’t dip your toes into the VCDX process, jump in head first.