VMware VCDX hopefuls yearn for scoring transparency

Some who have gone through the battery of testing required for VMware’s most coveted and competitive certification, VMware Certified Design Expert, say the process is too subjective.

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Virtualization pros in some corners of the market are griping about what they say is the subjective and opaque process by which VMware awards its most advanced certification, the VMware Certified Design Expert (VCDX).

It's a group of elitists...for good reason: You need to know your stuff.

Bob Plankers, virtualization architect at a large Midwestern university

To begin the VCDX certification process, a user must first be certified as a VMware Certified Professional (VCP). From there, the user must pass two written tests: the VMware Enterprise Administration Exam and the VMware Design Exam. 

From the pool of users who earn all those prerequisites, a select number are invited to present an oral defense of their designs to a panel of other VCDX experts to earn the certification.

There are currently approximately 60 VCDX certified professionals in the world, according to a VCDX directory VMware published, the majority of whom either work for VMware (27, according to the directory and LinkedIn profiles) or major VMware design partners, including two each for EMC and Dell, and one each for 3PAR/Hewlett-Packard Co. and Cisco Systems Inc.

Meanwhile, virtualization pros that have sat for a VCDX defense say they wish the scoring guidelines weren’t confidential. (Those familiar with the process insist there is an objective scoring process, but won’t speak about it even anonymously, saying they could lose their own certifications.)

“I’ve personally sat through two of the defenses,” said one virtualization consultant, Chris Fendya. But Fendya says he still doesn’t understand why he failed the second time. “They talked about technologies or feature sets that didn’t necessarily apply to the software version that I used,” he said. “The feedback they provide is very high level, so you don’t know [specifics], they just say ‘needs more work on xyz,’ without a detailed explanation as to what that really means. I don’t know what I would change on my design.” 

Fendya said he won’t take the exam again. “It was a personal goal for myself,” he said. But he says he’s also not sure what the business value is of the certification, given how few VCDX architects there are in the world. 

Fendya was joined in a public discussion via Twitter about the exams by Aaron Delp, a senior manager at the VCE company according to his Twitter and LinkedIn profiles, who voiced similar complaints about the process.  “They are keeping the VCDX [numbers] artificially low. They have critical mass [and] now good luck getting it,” Delp tweeted.

Responding to a VMware insider who challenged Delp to give specifics about the evaluation process, Delp added, “The fact is [VMware] won't release anything and then you gripe at us for guessing based on what we know.” Delp did not respond to requests for direct comment from SearchServerVirtualization.com.

“It’s a group of elitists…for good reason”
While the general consensus in the market is that the VCDX certification process contains subjective elements, not everyone has a problem with that.

One VCDX insider, speaking on condition of anonymity, pointed out that the VCDX certification program is not closed to new applicants, and it will take time before a more substantial number of certifications can be granted, given the time required for the written exams and oral defense to be completed.

“The [number] of ‘defenses’ may be limited, but that is due to resource scheduling as every defense needs three panel members and usually one or two observers,” wrote the insider in an email. “So as you can imagine, having 20 defenses in a single week is already a challenge.”

Any issues this expert experienced during the exam process were chalked up to, quite simply, the exam being difficult.  “It is not a written exam with multiple choice questions where you can filter out the incorrect question. No, instead you have three VMware Experts asking you around design considerations and posing technical challenges.”

“It's a group of elitists...for good reason: You need to know your stuff,” said Bob Plankers, a virtualization architect at a large Midwestern university, who said he hopes to take the VCDX exam. “Many techies cannot handle gray areas, where there isn't right and isn't wrong, but that's the nature of system design. You rarely get to build something that's 100% technically ‘right’ due to pesky problems like money, politics, users, etcetera.”

Attendees at last month’s VMware Partner Exchange in Orlando also said VMware offered a VCDX “boot camp” with some helpful clarification on the VCDX process. The boot camp included examples of things previous candidates had done wrong and a few insights into the scoring process, according to those who attended.  

One non-VMware employee who passed the VCDX exam, Jason Boche, had some simple tips for other virtualization pros preparing to take the exam on his blog, boche.net: “1) Know your design, I mean really know it. 2) Refer to tip #1.”

Beth Pariseau is a senior news writer for SearchServerVirtualization.com. Write to her at bpariseau@techtarget.com.

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