A few months ago I participated in a ‘Trusted Adviser’ training internally at VMware. The focus of the seminar was to help us learn how to become a trusted adviser with a customer with little or no previous contact prior to the engagement. During the seminar a few things stood out as relating to the VCDX certification and defense. Similar to how we strive to become trusted adviser’s to our customers when we have an engagement, the role of a VCDX candidate (in part) is to convey credibility to the member of the panel.
Whether you are defending an architecture you designed entirely on your own or worked on as part of a team, being in command of the content is a key factor in successfully defending it in front of the panel. During the defense, you should demonstrate to the panelists that no one understands the design better than you. This is especially important if you did work on the design as part of a team — you are expected to know every facet of the design, the reasoning behind all of the design decisions made, the risk and implications introduced as if you had been the sole architect working on the project.
Demonstrate to the panelists you are the authority on the design.
Being able to effectively communicate this authority, clearly and concisely, will come as you practice your initial 10-15 minute presentation over and over again leading up to the defense itself. Critically assess your design prior to the defense by anticipating areas where the panelists may have questions or where you believe the design could have been improved if the requirements or constraints of the design had been different.
This might seem trite, but being honest during your defense is critical. It is okay to not have an answer for every question the panel asks you. We talk about this during the VCDX workshop, responding to a question with “I don’t know” or “I would need to investigate that further” is an adequate occasional response. Explain what you do know or understand about the question and then move on. Generally speaking, people (and the panelists are people) can tell when a person is being deceptive within a few minutes time.
Just be mindful of how often “I don’t know” is your answer — see above about commanding the content.
The VCDX defense day is relatively short compared to the number of hours invested in the process of becoming a VCDX candidate invited to defend. However, in that limited time you need to be consistent in your messaging and reasoning behind the design decisions you made in your design and during the design scenario. Our previous experiences have a direct impact on how we address requirements, constraints and risks inside our designs.
These experiences are different for each architect, however they are what make up our core beliefs. Be consciously aware of what your core beliefs are and let them shine through to the panel by being consistent during your defense.
Similarly to the first point, adequate preparation prior to the defense should include anticipating areas of the design where the panelists may pose questions. When answering a question posed by a panelist, be concise in your answers, avoid tangents or repeating the question back to the panel. Time is limited and having concise answers prepared for the potential questions, will help you manage the time.
Remember (generally) the more questions you can be asked and answer, will increase the probability of receiving a passing score and earning the VCDX certification.
For any potential VCDX candidates, I hope these personal insights will be helpful to you on your journey towards earning the VCDX certification.