My #VCDX-CMA defense experience

Written by Sam McGeown
Published on 19/6/2015 - Read in about 5 min (899 words)

Yesterday, I received the dreaded email

We regret to inform you that your attempt to achieve VCDX certification on June 09-11, 2015 in Frimley, UK was unsuccessful.

It wasn’t entirely unexpected, but somehow I still hoped my assessment of the defense was pessimistic and so it was nonetheless disappointing. It’s a big hit to not achieve something I have been focusing on for months and it is hard not to feel embarrassed that I didn’t make the grade. I am looking forward to receiving some feedback from the panelists and will be gearing up for another attempt in October.

Attaining VCDX is a step on a long learning journey and from the start I approached this defense as that - a learning experience. It’s an opportunity to focus and set a goal, and to push myself to reach that next step.

Design Defense

I felt that I defended my design relatively well - although the panelists exposed some issues, I felt that I was able to present explanations and reasoning behind each issue and I had anticipated a lot of the questions they did pose. Going in I felt that the defence of my design was something I should be all over, it was written from start to finish by myself. I may be wrong, and if the feedback is that I didn’t defend it well then I’ll need to reassess this.

What will I do differently?

  • Plug the gaps - where the panelists exposed an issue in my design I will re-work the solution to close that gap. Where something needed explanation I’ll expand it.
  • Not “over answer” questions - one of the things I learned from doing mocks was that I wasted time explaining things that I didn’t need to. I’ve seen advice to have a high, medium and low level explanation prepared for everything, and I think that’s a good approach. Give the minimum explanation unless pressed for more.

Design Scenario

I had not anticipated how nerves in the design scenario would affect me. The design methodology is something I do day in, day out - it’s not something that would normally cause me to stumble. What actually happened was that I panicked trying to do a whole detailed design in 45 minutes and lost the structure and method that I normally use. Normally, I would have a couple of weeks to work through the design process. Instead, I started to pull out the Business Requirements and then jumped ahead to a conceptual diagram and then moved back to start the use cases and then jumped to a physical design. Not following through the design method stopped me from moving through the design in a logical manner and I think that’s where I came undone.

What will I do differently?

  • Follow the methodology - clearly the panelists are not expecting me to produce a low level design in 45 minutes, they want to see me work through the method. They can’t do that if I don’t! Not following the method led to a random jumping around, no structure, and I doubt showed the panelists the confidence required.
  • Don’t rush in - stop, breathe, think - not for too long, but I started talking and ran down random avenues because I didn’t take a beat and calm myself.
  • Mock scenarios - I didn’t spend as much time doing mock scenarios as I did preparing to defend my design, certainly not with the time and pressure of the real defense. I’ll be getting as many mock scenarios together as I can.

Troubleshooting Scenario

Troubleshooting isn’t something that you end up doing as often when you’re working as a consultant/architect but it is something I do a lot in my lab. Having panicked in the previous scenario I tried to recover my composure somewhat for this one, but once again I think I rushed in too quickly. The scenario is not about the solution, it’s about the method - a structured, logical approach is key. I found it hard to judge how I did in this one, I did rush headlong down one particular avenue on more of a “gut feeling” than I should have, but we shall see what the feedback is.

What will I do differently?

  • Go slower - establish the facts and the basics before focusing in too quickly on what I think the problem is. The CMA troubleshooting scenario is 30 minutes long and after 20 minutes I had run out of ideas in the narrow field I had focused on.
  • Mock scenarios - again, the focus of my mocks was on the design defense and not the scenarios, something I should have prepared better for - with the timer.

All of these things are my reflections on the defense, and why I failed. I could quite easily be wrong and have completely missed the reasons I failed - hopefully the feedback will confirm my thoughts and help me re-focus on the right areas. It has been a huge learning experience, from getting my design ready to submit, preparing to defend it, and then defending. I will continue to learn and develop and push myself for this next milestone, and beyond.

People say it’s a huge achievement just to be invited to defend, and I don’t disagree, but I am more determined than ever not just to get the invite, but to successfully defend VCDX.

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