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The Journey to VCDX 236

As of November 2016, I am VMware Certified Design Expert Number 236 in Data Center Virtualization. This is something I’ve had my eye set on accomplishing for a very, very long time.

How long? We’re talking six years in the making. I vividly remember sitting at my desk and looking for VCP information (on version 4), and found myself clicking around the certification website. I stumbled upon the VCDX certification, and said to myself “You know what? I want to do that one day.”.

I guess we really need to start before then. At that point, I had been working with VMware for about two and a half years, but I first found out what VMware was in 2006. I was interviewing for a job while I was a senior in college, and infrastructure director I was interviewing with mentioned this thing called VMware, which I Googled after the interview.

I got that job out of college in 2006, and was in one of those new college hire programs with several different areas of rotation. I spent a rotation with a team of that director’s in a team infrastructure team that handled VMware and Citrix. I went on to another rotation (Security, if anyone was wondering), and then came back to a permanent position on that team. I was hooked. I was playing with VDI in 2007, and would spend Friday nights watching VMware YouTube videos and messing around with stuff in the lab (which was three servers under someone’s desk at that point).

The team I worked on until the beginning of 2010 was responsible for both Citrix AND VMware, and I floated between both based on what the project needs were. We were acquired by another company, and in the mix I ended up full time on the VMware team. I stepped into a huge VMware environment, which led me to that fateful day looking for info on the VCP. From that point on, it was VMware, VMware, VMware. I got my hands on a UCS System in our lab when it was brand spanking new, because no one really wanted to deal with it. From there, I did our vSphere 5 beta testing on the UCS, and designed a hypothetical environment that I would never see to fruition, because things were about to change.

I was about to step completely and utterly out of my VMware comfort zone, and do something different. I became a Systems Engineer at NetApp. I used my knowledge of virtualization all the time as a SE, with many many VMware based customers, but also used my knowledge of virtualization as a starting point. At that point, my knowledge of storage was how it related to VMware, so naturally, I worked backwards and figured out the storage side, and what that actually meant to the NFS storage I was mounting (yeah, I used LUNs at times too) into vSphere. That UCS I had in my lab? Those skills came in really handy when I was teaching customers about NetApp’s FlexPod solution. Of course, my sweet spot was NetApp + UCS + VMware.

It was around this time that “vMiss” came to be. While I was doing storage day to day, I wanted to stay current with my virtualization knowledge and skill set. I found a really good way to do this to be blogging, as well as starting down the path to some of the VMware certifications, also known as the infamous VCAPs. I did this for several years, and met lots of really fantastic people. I also helped create this little thing called Virtual Design Master, but that’s a whole post of its own.

As much as I loved my job as an SE, and even though I was really really good at it, I really, really missed virtualization. I had met many of the TMEs at NetApp through, guess what, virtualization. While chatting with someone, I mentioned this, and they offered to let me know if they came across any openings in their team, which happened to be the FlexPod infrastructure engineering team. Sure enough, he let me know, and that brought me to the next step in my career. In 2015, I became a TME for FlexPod at NetApp.

Now, I was able to get back up to speed on the whole solution stack, networking, servers, storage, and of course, virtualization. I was back to being hands on building VMware environments, which meant the next step was coming. It was time.

I got my VCAP-DCA in May of 2016, and that was my final hurdle in my VCDX prerequisites. From there, I figured it was now or never, and right after that I began working on my design, which I submitted at the end of August. From there, it was the waiting (and prepping game) to see if I would be accepted or not. Sure enough, I was, and it was game on (true story, I brought a portable white board with me and hung it in my hotel room in Palo Alto while I was prepping for the defense).

Through the process, I can’t even begin to tell you how I’ve learned and evolved as an architect. There was a lot of re-writing earlier parts of the design as I progressed through. While VMware is a technology, the VCDX certification is about so much more than just the tech. It is about using technology, mainly the vSphere software suite, of course, to provide a complete solution, end to end. As we all know, a solution starts with requirements (and assumptions, and constraints), and those requirements are there for a reason. They are there to enable a customer to do something new, to gain a competitive advantage, to do more with less, to solve any number of problems they’re facing, from technical, to business, to operational.

I’ve done a lot of reflecting over the last several months (and especially over the last week while I was waiting for the results of my defense). In the 10 years since I Googled “VMware”, I’ve come such a long way in all of my technical and architectural skills. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always strived to push myself to learn more, and be better. I started community college at 14 taking computer and networking classes at night. At 16, I dropped out of high school after three years to go to college. At 20 I graduated college with a Bachelor of Engineering degree in Electrical Engineering, and entered the world of technology (and finished my Master of Engineering degree while discovering the whole virtualization thing). Then, VCDX became the “next big thing”.

I’ve gone from knowing enough about VMware to keep everything running when the senior engineer went to VMworld (no joke, I had two hosts die in one day on my first day of being “in charge”, one of them running 2.5.4), to working in a booth at VMworld teaching customers about NetApp and VMware integration. I’ve gone from wiring together a franken-FlexPod in my lab, to creating FlexPod architectures for customers.

Now, I am proud to say I am now VCDX 236.