My VCDX Journey – Part 4 – The Design

I passed my VCAP-DCA in late November right and dove right into the VCDX Design submission. Prior to this I combed through all VCDX defense tips and experiences I could find. I also had read John Arrasjid’s and Ben  Lin’s Book:

VCDX Boot Camp: Preparing for the VCDX Panel Defense

From all of the experience and tips I read the most important ones for me were:

Follow the Blueprint – I have read this time and time again but it is so very true. In the end, I created an outline based mostly off the blueprint to layer my design into – a Framework that covered all the points in the blueprint.

Map your Business Requirements to the Conceptual, Logical and Physical Designs – A big part of the design and the “VCDX way” is demonstrating how your design meets the business requirements of your customer.

Best Practices is a four letter word – You can’t rely on saying you made a design decision based on best practices. You must justify why the design makes the most sense based on your customer’s set of requirements and constraints. I had a lot of decisions in my design that were not “Best Practice” but I could explain exactly why that made the most sense given the requirements and constraints.

Justify all Major Design Decisions (and know all the alternatives) – This goes for both the design submission and the defense. I spent quite a bit of time understanding all the alternatives to the design so that if questioned, I knew how to respond on why a particular alternative didn’t best achieve the design requirements and goals of the customer.

Make it your Own – I picked the most recent design i had worked on since it was still very fresh on mind and seemed interesting enough to try to defend. It had some creative ways to deal with some interesting constraints that were placed upon me by the customer. Those non-standard methods were discussed quite a bit during my defense and I was very ready to defend them.

Take I – December 15th, 2014 Deadline

My first try to submit was for the December 15th 2014 deadline, a mere 2 1/2 weeks after passing my VCAP-DCD. I worked on it every night until the wee hours of the morning. Basically, I’d go home from work, spend time with my son and wife, eat, put the little guy to bed and then hit my design—rinse, repeat for 2 1/2 weeks.

As the deadline got closer, I became less confident that I could complete a VCDX worthy design submission. I had a good nucleus but I lacked the detail and the polish I believed were necessary for a successful submission—-And I was exhausted from lack of sleep and downtime, so one late night two days before the deadline I pulled the plug. I was deeply disappointed in my “failure” to produce a design worthy of submission.

It took me a few days to realize that my goal of submitting by December 15th was not realistic given my circumstances (small child, wife and demanding day job). I then set my sights on the April 1 deadline but I needed a break—Taking the DCA and DCD in less than 3 months had taken its toll on me and I needed to step away which leads me to my own bit of advice:

Take II – April 1, 2015 Deadline

Not much to write about for Take II. I started a new engagement at work with a lot of travel–despite my best intentions of using that time on work trips for VCDX design work, I didn’t work on it. I also had some personal health issues that I had to attend to (gall bladder) that also prevented me from working on my design. Again, to the above point, submitting a design didn’t align to my family and work demands at the time.

Take III – August 25, 2015 Deadline

Having missed two deadlines, I was determined to submit for this 3rd try. I started working on it in again July 2015, mostly during work trips (on the planes, at my hotel).

I took my December try which turned out to be about 75% complete and did some re-tooling to better meet the requirements for the blueprint and to demonstrate the flow of the business requirements throughout the design.

It helped that I was fresh preparing this design submission. It wasn’t on the heels of studying for the VCAPS and work & family life were relatively calm. I found a lot of errors I had made and found that my December submission try didn’t meet all the blueprint requirements. I had a lot of solid content but the framework wasn’t quite right. So I did two major revisions:

  • Created an outline of the VCDX blueprint and made a framework to layer in my design. Doing this forced me to address all the blueprint items that my original design didn’t cover. I now use this framework for all my customer designs and it has been received very well.
  • Formulated a system to track  Business Requirements, Constraints, Requirements, Risks, Assumptions and Architectural Decision Decisions throughout my design.
    This was to make it easier on me, customers and design reviewers to be able to see how my design meets all the requirements.

Now that I had a solid foundation, the design came together quite nicely and it was just a matter of making sure all the blueprint items were covered.

A few weeks before the deadline, I ramped up my efforts to polish and complete the design submission. I still had work and family demands but had some free cycles to commit. The weekend prior to D-day, my wife generously shouldered the load taking care of our son and the house while I completed the submission.

I completed everything about an hour before the actual deadline. In the end, I felt the design was pretty solid and addressed the blueprint but it did have some weak spots–I convinced myself it was probably like doing a home improvement project where you see every flaw while others do not. I was so focused on this design and knew it so well that I was acutely aware of every little bit. I already had few things I would change if this attempt was not successful but I wouldn’t stress it—I had met my goal and submitted a VCDX design. This in itself is a major accomplishment that takes a lot of time and sacrifice.

And then it was waiting time. The next few weeks seemed to crawl by waiting for my results. And at last, the results of that hard work and sacrifice came with a simple email:

Andrew Smith,

All applications for the upcoming VCDX Design Defense in Palo Alto in October have undergone technical review by VCDX-certified panelists.  This review consists of scoring each application against the appropriate VCDX Design Defense Blueprint. I am happy to inform you that you achieved a high enough score to allow you to proceed to the defense stage of the process.

Wow, that felt good. The email came at 3:30ish am my time and I just happened to wake up a little bit after that. I couldn’t even believe it—I wanted to shout out and wake up my wife—but that would have been very baaaaad. And I dare not do anything to wake up our 2 year old son since getting him back to sleep would be harder than attempting a VCDX. So I silently celebrated and attempted to go back to sleep—no such luck! It was too big of a rush.

A couple of key takeaways (aka my advice) I think that were critical to my success:

  • Don’t rush the process and have realistic expectations. Set reasonable and achievable goals, taking into consideration your family and work demands.
  • Make time and make the most of that time – Being married & having a small child most definitely impacts the time I had to dedicate to the VCDX but there was some time available if I cut out other distractions: watching TV/Sports, mountain biking, sleep<–doh!
  • Devise a framework or an outline for the design that meets the blueprint requirements. This kept me focused and organized. I can’t imagine starting a VCDX worthy design without this step.

Now I had one final hurdle to VCDX: The Defense. Stay tuned for My VCDX Journey – Part 5 – The Defense.


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