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August 5, 2016

6

What the Hell is Wrong with the VCDX Program?

by Steve

This morning, I woke up to this in Slack:

Thank you for participating in the July 2016 VCDX Defense.

Kindly note that there is a slight delay in announcing your VCDX defense result. We would be announcing your VCDX defense result by mid of next week.

We appreciate your patience and understanding on this.

I don’t have a ton of patience or understanding for this, but we’ll get there in a minute. First, a disclaimer. I am not a VCDX candidate. I am not one of the poor folks mashing refresh on their inbox waiting for results, who had their hearts stop when they got a message from vcdx@vmware.com with a subject line of “Result Status of the July 2016 VCDX Design Defense,” only to find a “Just Kidding” message. I have been following the program for quite some time, though. I’m one of the folks that built out a sort of VCDX incubator program at my employer, and to date we’ve had five people successfully complete the VCDX process, with two more waiting for results. So this isn’t a rant born of first-hand bitterness, just indignation on behalf  of my colleagues who seemed to be jerked around at every turn throughout this process.

It’s interesting that you don’t see many public complaints about the process. Complaints seem confined to private Slack channels and Twitter DMs, where they’re less useful. I think candidates are wary of making their opinions known during the process, out of a fear that complaints might be held against them. I’m not suggesting that would happen, and I think candidates know that, but I think there’s a sense of why take the chance. I bet this would never occur to program management–they’d never do such a thing, so they wouldn’t consider that a factor in the absence of complaints, so they probably think that things are largely fine. After results finally go out, those that pass are going to be elated, and all will be forgiven. Those that do not pass will lick their wounds and blame themselves. So you have this situation where you have suppressed rage on one side, and complacency on the other.

This round of VCDX defenses hasn’t been all that smooth. Tech reviews ran late, invitations to defend were sent out late, and now results are delayed. Everything up to results I get and can sort of defend–reviewers have day jobs, and things happen. Oh, how they happen. But this isn’t an isolated event, and repeated appeals to “things happen” start to look like systemic issues if you squint.

Delaying results, though, I just don’t get. I don’t get this latest “slight delay,” and I don’t get the original 10 business day commitment either.  If scoring is at all objective, results must be calculable as soon as the defense is finished, right? No one is expecting immediate turn-around, but if you have a block of people defending over the course of a week, surely you could get results out at the end of that week if you were so inclined, right? Well, we know this is possible, because it has happened before. At VMworld 2013, VCDX candidates had their defense results by Friday night. One guy even found out on Twitter. So if this is possible, and has been done before, why isn’t it expected and the norm?

I’ve heard some people try to deflect this before, saying that they had to wait, so why shouldn’t this class, as if the post-defense emotional rollercoaster was in some way integral to the prestige of the designation. That seems silly to me, as you’d have to make the claim that the VCDXes awarded that VMworld were somehow lesser for it. I’m not buying it.

VMware asks for so much from their VCDX candidates. The least those candidates should expect in return is timely communication of their status. But that really doesn’t seem to be a priority. Why?

Look, I have enormous respect for everyone involved in this process. The candidates that put so much of their time and themselves into their applications, the reviewers that spend so much time and effort assessing those applications, the panelists who have to break candidates down and measure them, and the staff that built and maintain the program. I’ve not had the pleasure of dealing with the VMware folks involved directly, but I’ve heard only glowing things about those individuals from people who have. I believe they are all good, competent, hardworking people that only want what’s best for the program. But there’s room for improvement here, and when the emperor has no clothes, somebody has to point at his wang and laugh or he’ll never put his pants on.

VMware, it’s time to put some pants on.


Update – 8/9/2016

For the record, VCDX results were sent out this morning, within the original 10 business day commitment. I want to thank the VCDX program for their efforts there. Credit where credit is due, and all. I do feel a little bad for jumping the gun and complaining about lateness before any lateness had actually occurred.

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6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Brett
    Aug 5 2016

    Soon after I got mine, I was public about it, but it seems I was the only one (and I know at least 8 people who defended with me last week).

    https://twitter.com/Brett_Guarino/status/761565098896945152

    Reply
  2. Aug 5 2016

    As someone who used to be on the inside I know that producing the results letters takes time. Especially as you have to include feedback for any candidates that were not successful. But 2 weeks is a long time. I had to wait two weeks for my results (back in 2011), but then when Mark Brunstad took over the program, the results were much faster, either successful or unsuccessful, were available at the end of the defence week. The 2 week delay really is unnecessary and VMware needs to do more for the program. VCDX Alpha, i.e. Pat G. Please put the necessary priority on the program for the good of the candidates and your entire business. VCDX is the growth engine.. If you don’t think so, we’d be happy to help these same candidates achieve NPX, which is a multi platform certification and arguably much more difficult than VCDX.

    Reply
    • Steve
      Aug 5 2016

      I get that preparing useful, actionable feedback takes time. But I bet if they asked, they wouldn’t find anyone that would object to getting a pass/fail notification quickly, with any feedback sent separately later.

      Reply
  3. Hi Steve,

    some blunt feedback from someone who worked inside the program for a very long time.

    I get your comment regarding not meeting SLAs (10 business days). But what I do not get is this whining about getting results as fast as possible … You get results after 10 business days or earlier (if possible).

    This is all documented in the program guide everyone signed up on. So what is the problem?

    On a personal note: I have had so many occasions in my 6 plus years as a panelist where outsiders where complaining about the program without doing their due diligence what it takes to run such a program. People spend tons of hours of their own, private time to be part of it – especially if you are a panelist and have to review hundreds of pages of candidate designs, make notes, understand their though process and write down questions on the search for a passing score. Still there are people who like to write blog posts like yours. I would like you to think about what you can do to improve the program, what can you do to help run it? There is where you can be beneficial.

    There are reasons why there is an SLA for results.And I could tell you a lot of stories why there are the rules that are there today – most of them are there by the way because people wrote blog posts complaining about something.

    So please go ahead and have a chat with the VMware Certified Design Expert program manager, get the information you need to write a decent blog post.

    Alexander

    The Ironpanelist

    Reply
    • Steve
      Aug 7 2016

      Hi Alexander,

      Thanks for taking the time to reply. I really do appreciate it.

      This, in a nutshell, is the Standard Defense used to reply to criticism of the program. How dare you, an outsider, question the hard work we’ve put into this program. The program owes you nothing. It’s always “There are reasons, and we can’t talk about them.” This, to us outsiders, looks like “We know what we’re doing, pumpkin. Move along.” It’s not a sign of a program capable of change.

      You’re right, I don’t know what it takes to run a program like this. I do have an inkling of what it takes to kill one, though. Declare it above criticism. Assume that The Way Things Are can’t be changed, because The Way Things Are is fundamental to the program. Repeatedly assert that They Way Things Are is that way for a reason, and those reasons can’t be challenged, because they’re sancrosanct.

      Every time I see the Standard Defense, it makes me question whether the program is capable of the level of introspection necessary to make the structural improvements it’ll need to stay viable.

      Look, I’m sure it’s hard. Most things worth doing are.

      My question is, what are these folks doing it for, at the end of the day? Is the program run for the benefit of the candidates, or for VMware? I know it’s both, but which end is the focus, really?

      If it’s for the candidates, maybe consider treating them like people. That e-mail was remarkably tone-deaf. You’ve got people waiting for a results e-mail, you sent a message with a subject line that looked like it might have results information in it, and the body just said “Syke. There’s a delay, suck it up.” No explanation given for the delay, and not a hint of an apology. I know the intent was not to screw with people, but holy shit, did that ever look like they were screwing with people. All that hard work they do doesn’t translate when that’s how the program chooses to present itself.

      If, on the other hand, candidates are just cogs in what is otherwise a prestige play for VMware, well, that’s the difference between an Elite Program and an Elitist Program. The latter is a program that can never improve, because the people within it consider it and their efforts to support it to be beyond reproach. Critical voices are simply wrong. This is as good as it’ll ever be, the program atrophies over time, and the program slides into irrelevance. What a waste of everyone’s time and hard work.

      I think asking why results can’t be turned around quicker is fair. Again, if the scoring is objective, a given candidate’s status should be determinable damn near immediately. I understand that historically the program has delayed communicating results until all feedback had been prepared for those unsuccessful. I question the merit of this. I bet folks would prefer pass/fail news as quickly as is feasible, and wouldn’t mind at all getting details such as feedback and number assignment later.

      I pointed out that I knew of at least one time that everything, results and feedback, really seemed to be a priority and were turned around within days. I’ve since learned from Mr. Webster that there was a whole run of such speedy turn-arounds. In the last couple of years, though, delays seem to have become much more common, if not expected. Is it out of bounds to ask why?

      As for what I can do to improve the program, from where I’m sitting, not a whole lot. I don’t see myself ever making it through the program. I’ll never be a reviewer or panelist. And I’m guessing I’ve burnt any conceivable bridge with VMware Education by running my mouth here. All I can do is speak up when I see a pattern that disturbs me.

      I can tell you what I’d like to see, though. Transparency and humility. Does the program track SLAs vs actual response times? If not, start. If so, make the results public. Get a communications major as an intern to screen the outgoing e-mail. If the root of the issue is that everyone involved is doing it in their spare time, in addition to their day job, well, that’s a tough nut to crack and hard questions need to be asked inside of VMware to determine if a volunteer program already bursting at the seams can scale. And those hard questions can’t be asked if the program can’t muster some humility. My guess is that it needs more dedicated resources, but I admit that’s real easy to say from the cheap seats.

      I want to be clear that I’m not a critic of the VCDX program. I’m a supporter speaking critically about it, only because I want to see it succeed. I saw a comment on Twitter that folks were aware of the issues, and they were already working on it, but couldn’t comment on specifics. The last part is a little disappointing, but whatever, it’s their program. Thrilled to see that people are aware and engaged, and I’ll be cheering the program along from the sidelines.

      Steve

      The Aluminum Shit-Stirrer

      Reply
      • Brett Guarino
        Aug 8 2016

        “I’m guessing I’ve burnt any conceivable bridge with VMware Education by running my mouth here. All I can do is speak up when I see a pattern that disturbs me.” -Steve

        Steve,

        As a representative of VMware Education (not in the VCDX program at all, as that’s a completely different silo than my primary job role), this isn’t the case. Also, you are completely capable of doing VCDX, anyone is, and that’s a feeling I don’t think many capable candidates have but it is changing.

        You’re absolutely right in stating that the program needs criticism and your intentions are on point. Even as people, we can not accurately take inventory of ourselves in the way a third party may. Alexander is correct to ask for constructive criticism and you’re right to call attention to the program’s flaws.

        At this point, I’m just another candidate waiting on results. I do know I was told that this was one of the largest individual groups of candidates (matched in number only once before in program history) ever. That may have something to do with it, and as a candidate waiting, I agree with Alexander, we were told “10 business days” or “2 weeks” and they’re on track to deliver.

        The email, however, was a shocker and I assume it simply wasn’t proof read. The intentions were clearly good – inform candidates, “we’re still thinking of them and will update them ASAP!” It was poorly worded.

        My biggest problem with the program is hiring managers and recruiters informing me that they want “vExperts” because they’re the top of the VMware certification food chain. The people hiring and writing the checks in some very large organizations can’t differentiate between vExpert, VCP, VCAP, and VCDX.

        Reply

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