The vcdx presentation deck

As part of my mentoring activities, with the defense week approaching I have been reviewing a lot of slide decks.

Now I have seen quite a few , have experience of my unsuccessful approach and my final successful defense I thought it may provide some value to review the process in more detail as a mentor post.

As normal the first place to review is the VCDX blueprint.

This document provides the context , it states,

Concisely explain the design and justify the decisions made to create it”.
(Plan on spending no more than 15 minutes on this part.)

In my opinion, considering the above,

The VCDX slide deck is,

* A secondary presentation and defense aid
* A place to help you provide evide details and save time
* An area to show off your skills as an architect
* Provide some reminder of contents, main point prompts

However, the slide deck is not ,
* The main aspect of the design defense
* Going to have all the answers the panelists ask
* A sales document
* A typical customer facing document (the panelists are peers).

Once your design submission is in the hands of the technical reviewers, you have to spend time ensuring your know your design and plugging gaps in your knowledge or design weaknesses.

Do not waste time making fancy graphics and sales slides.

So , you are faced with a blank slide deck ahead of you, what do you do?

Have a story for your presentation.

In the real world, as a lead architect you will often be asked to just present the current thoughts and areas of a design, whether it’s at the end or in mid-flight.

You may need to

* Get the project team engaged,
* Bring  them back from a destraction that is not delivering requirement value
* Fixing a misunderstanding
* Preparing for a big activity (DR, audit, sponsor review)

As someone who knows your design better than anyone else, you should be able to

* Whiteboard on the fly key areas (i.e. Logical Components, data flow, dependancy relationships).
* Explain why a certain area was chosen for the project.
* Explain the alternatives
* Show the impact to the business , teams, and technology.

How do you prepare for this?

Start by, taking each area of the blueprint,
Create a couple of whiteboards and just think about talking for 2 minutes about them freely.

Review details about design choices, impacts and risks for each area

This is where you want to get to. For any section of the blueprint, you should be able to just chat about it freely.

The slide deck is an added benefit to give you some reminders of the areas you ar covering or useful diagrams.

Don’t rely on the slides having all the words, make it feel natural.

You may hear “You have to control the audience “.

That means, to me – get them engaged and keep them interested.

The more questions the better, its not that you have made loads of mistakes, its an opportunity to get more points.

I have seen a fair few people plan their presentation around the PowerPoint slides.
The risks with this approach for me is “You will not know if you will make it through your slide deck without being asked questions”.

This is not VMworld and questions are not just at the end. It’s a technical conversation.

When you have a story, and you are interrupted or questioned in depth within the defense, you can go back to the story and carry on. Otherwise you may get side tracked, cost yourself some valuable time, look like you have lost control and miss key areas.

At a minimum , go through the blueprint and have a slide per objective – covering the blueprint is imperative.

If you have a slide that does not directly answer something from the blueprint – ask yourself why you are bothering?

Consider practicing without slides and use the whiteboard for everything. This can help consolidate approach and evaluate your understanding of the design

Summary Tips
1. Less text is better – simple, easy to read colours.
2. Think Conceptual, then logical –  Design Choice, Why, Impact, Risk, Migitation.
3. Don’t worry about a nice “About  Me” page – the panelists know who you are. Give a quick hello and move on to score points.
4. Check each slide – if it’s on the blueprint – fine. If it’s not – Delete it
5. You are using the slide deck to prove design skills – not documentation or reference info. It is design choices, and impacts for infrastructure that is being reviewed.
6. Create a way of moving between the slides – bouncing between areas (I like a Small menu on each screen).
7. Practice delivering this slide deck on webex or other recording – remember 15 minutes
8. Review the slide deck – check for inconsistencies with design
9. Cover the weakness or risk areas of your design specifically – dont hide – show how your overcome these areas , just like in real life.
10. Have a couple of  summary diagrams for logical and physical to refer too when answering questions. This could save time
11. Don’t spend hours on the slides when you could be studying the design
12. Do not use the phase “I have a slide for that, erm erm”.

Preparing for the VCDX Defense Design Scenario

I am working with a small group, preparing for their VCDX defense and it’s mock time.
Although the majority of mocks tend to concentrate  on a specific candidate design submission,  there is another area for the VCDX candidate to prepare for – the design scenario.
This is an important area to show to the panelists that you have skills to lead a customer facing  design  workshop, and create a design from conceptual to physical solution.
Basically, get up and do a bit of adhoc design!
In the design defense section, the panelists are your peers.  They are their to validate you and ensure you have given evidence on the day combined with submitted documentation that you can go and lead a real life project.
In the design scenario, it is a little bit different,  you  are the lead architect and working directly with a  customer (portrayed by panelists).
You are there to be polite, courteous, clear and show understanding (soft skills).  However you also have a job to do, get the information for a design workshop and potential proposal post workshop meeting. All within a constrained time limit.
Develop your presentation and “go to” architect skills – it’s quite common in the real world to be given minutes to be on a sales call, technical review sessions or business meeting,  if  this is not a normal day to day task for you, it an area for  your development on the vcdx journey.
Start to develop a set of probing questions, have them ready  In  your head for the defense.
These questions should  and could be used for any solution, not just the VMware technology track you are working on. This approach is aimed to provide immediate structure, hit scoring areas, and get the conversation going.
These will quickly become your go-to questions which can give you  a picture of a potential solution or thought process (See Rene’s great post of go-to designs – you need to develop your own  based in experience and VCDX track).  
Try and cover all areas of the blueprint within these base questions.
A few thoughts that spring to mind, 
High level  and business 
  • Type of application?
  • Data loss / service tolerance ?
  • What’s main concerns for client
  • Skill set of personnel now?
  • Current contracts and vendors ?
  • Datacenter locations and connectivity ?
  • Appetite to change / any other areas?
  • Key milestone dates for business
  • Brand awareness of application
  • Competing projects?
Lower level 
  • Understanding of data flow of application
  • Components of the app
  • Sensitivity to areas (latency, location -layer 2 adjacent, IP changes , licensing, interoperability)
  • Support requirements (replicate in physical )
  • Integration points – physical world
  • Types of existing controls and methods. 
Use the  whiteboard 
This is an important area.  When I was unsuccessful in my VCDX Journey, I failed to use the whiteboard and got distracted in  the process.  When I was  successful, I created flowing whiteboard diagrams while developing  questions and progressing.  This, in my opinion, is an extremely important skill for the VCDX and really builds confidence.
How do you develop this?  Especially if this is new to you, and you have a few weeks before  you are in the room?
Using the questioning technique above, give  feedback to the panelists to ensure that you know the relevance of the question and why you are asking (they will already know – they need to see you do and you are in control).
Show  a methodical way of working & divide the whiteboard into a structure that suits you   
One example of a structure I like to use now in real life is shown in the quick whiteboard image above.
The blueprint areas (AMPRS and MVCNS) should be covered, showing conceptual, logical and if you are doing well elements of physical (you may not finish this scenario in reality).
  • Creating a simple conceptual diagram,
  • Call out requirements,
  • Call out constraints.
  • Identify  Risks.
  • Show appreciation for security,
  • Show operational impact
  • SLA impact –  Back up and recovery areas.
Follow and develop  in same manner for logical areas going deeper for each silo area.
If the customer (or a panelist) changes their mind, or contradicts themselves.  Show you have noticed it, show impact to the design at that point, verify that’s the driver or show you are  assuming that’s the driver, and illustrate the resulting  approach difference.
Overall Tips  to Consider.
  1. Unless asked, keep conceptual and logical.  Physical can be referred to in a later workshop  or discussed once you have hit the areas.
  2. Cover all areas of the blueprint – Practice this.
  3. Ask probing questions to pull out requirements, constraints, Risks and assumptions – Show a method on the whiteboard how you gather them
  4. Try and draw one conceptual high level  diagram at first  –  refer to this with questioning to expand
  5. While covering each area of the blueprint  try and draw at least one  individual  logical diagram.
  6. Don’t forget about operational management thoughts – i.e. standard operating procedures you may need, changes in team structure and potential training requirements.
  7. Control the room, but be polite.
  8. Create lots of clear but basic diagrams on the whiteboard
  9. Give explanations of not what and which button, but why, the impact and thought process throughout – its a design certification.
Useful links
Rene Van Den Bedem – Go-to designs 
Simon Long – Common  VCDX mistakes  

vSAN 6.6 Update Mindmap

The latest vSAN build has just been announced.  

Its crammed packed with new features and some really good production use cases.

As part of my learning process for client work and teaching the vSAN courses for VMware Education I have created an update feature mind map   

Hopefully it is useful for others looking at  this excited release.

vExpert NSX – My First Certification – Education path to the full stack engineer

The vExpert NSX program are running a series of community initiatives on certification and Network Virtualisation at the moment.
This is my contribution to the  first in  the series  “My first VMware Certification”.

Why did you decide to take your first test and what was your motivation?

I decided to take my first VCP  to learn more about the technology.

I was going through a transition from a Windows SME role to an engineer within the datacenter using more than one skill set.

What was your journey for the first test?

While working in a Windows team,  a VMware data centre project was started.  This was new to everyone.  The kit arrived, and the consultancy installed and left in 3 days.  Now what? No one really wanted to touch it,  and it was left to the Windows team to build “Virtual” versions of the development platforms.

I effectively learnt on the job,  making mistakes a long the way.   This I found to be one of the most enjoyable parts of my  VMware journey.  Everything was new and although seemingly scary,  I wasn’t in a production environment.  I was working with developers and have the ability to test throughout.

Having the grounding of real time on the product helped me with the certification immensely.

Were you nervous, how did you study?

I was a multi holder by the time I took my first VCP.  I was used to taking these computer based  tests – so I thought.

I was, however,  a little concerned about the other areas of the datacenter that VMware has to integrate with.

I decided to read around the subjects, go back to basics especially networking and and storage.

For example,  I had never used iSCSi at the time, being FC based.

How did it benefit your career as well as your community?

The VCP was extremely helpful to me.  It gave me a reason to step out of my comfort zone of being a Windows SME and see inside the datacenter.  I  found areas of the great interest.

From a business perspective  I studied  both the theory, and  practically used  the main features my company was using and I could manage the platform effectively.

I transitioned from Windows Engineer into the datacenter team with a focus on virtualisation.  I was fortunate to have the opportunity  to build a virtualisation team and successfully place VMware into the production area of the company datacenter.

Knowing what you know today, what are some of the pain points in this certification that you can share with your audience?

A major pain point for someone just starting out, is the amount of other technology  that VMware integrates with.

This is the actual area I still find exciting and interesting today, however it is often daunting being faced with VMware technical areas to learn and study, while still picking up the underlying datacenter concepts.
I would suggest to keep reading around the other  subjects,  listen to podcasts, and talk to other professionals in the team.  This is now even more important with concepts such as the “full stack engineer”.

My VMworld 2017 Session Proposals

It’s VMworld session voting time again.

While on a work project with a long commute I thought I would submit a few sessions this year and see how the voting goes.

The sessions in the table below are based upon a mixture of VCDX mentoring topics,  new technology enablement and the life / pains of  a vAdmin

If there are of interest please vote for me 🙂

See you at VMworld!

Session Name ID
VCDX Journey – A documentation deep dive for the submission, defense and real world. 1153
Ask the VCDX Instructors – Panel Session – Deep diving into Preparing for the VCAP, VCIX and VCDX level certifications. [1972] 1972
A vSphere administrator guide to understanding, troubleshooting & supporting NSX – it’s time to multi-silo 2143
Designing vSAN solutions for the real world – proof of concept to production – A journey to acceptance with a VCDX design methodology. 1969
Operationalizing new technology at the design phase , creating an enablement program for new technologies the VCDX Way 1974
vSphere 6.5 Troubleshooting – Technical Approaches, Tools & Checklists 1976
Click Here To Vote