My VCDX Journey

The VCDX certification truly is “all about the journey.” I put that in quotes because you will hear just about every VCDX tell you the same thing. It’s 100% true! Starting from the time I spent with my customer, my design documentation and through defense day. It was by far the most demanding and arduous thing I have ever done. It took a lot out of me but it was all worth it in the end.

I began my design at the beginning of May 2016. For a while I felt like I had writers block. The vSphere implementation at my customer was completed months ago and I had all of my notes and other information ready to go…I just didn’t know where to start. The problem I was experiencing early on was getting focused and staying on track. So I reached out to my VCDX mentor. Luckily for me I met my mentor (Tim Curless VCDX #114) during my NSX Ninja Program back in early February and started chatting with him a bit more about the VCDX process.

First and foremost, the most important thing to do is DOWNLOAD THE BLUEPRINT! I cannot stress this enough. I turned the blueprint into a spreadsheet and used it as a checklist. The journey is hard enough so my goal was to stay organized and simplified as much as possible! My “master spreadsheet” was a big tool going forward.

I worked on my design documentation anytime I could. Balancing this with my family and work obligations had to remain top priority for obvious reasons. I invested a lot of personal time during weeknights and weekends. I didn’t “go all out” every waking hour available to me. Like I said, I have a family at home. So I had to walk away from it many times. It was good because it helped me decompress and refocus when things got frustrating. I enjoy balance in my life so it wasn’t hard walking away once and awhile.

Fast forward to August 26, 2016…literally the Friday before VMworld 2016. All of my documentation was complete and I was ready to sign, seal and deliver everything to VMware.  If you submit your docs you will see this appear on your browser.


It’s quite a relief but it was only temporary. My mentor and a few of his colleagues all recommended the same thing to me at this point in time…

“…don’t look at any of your documentation for like 2 weeks! Don’t think about it, don’t even touch it!”

I’m glad they told me this and I did exactly what they told me to do. It really helped me decompress and relax. I had family vacation coming up a week after VMworld so it was very easy to do for that period of time. So if you’re on the journey now remember this one recommendation. It’s a BIG one!

VMworld 2016 was an awesome experience. It was my first time attending the big event. If you haven’t gone…GO! I met a lot of amazing people there and reconnected with a few people from my past. Overall it was a great conference and a very productive week. When you leave you feel more excited about VMware than you did before. During the conference I received an email stating that I had all of the necessary requirements and my documentation was about to enter the “technical review” process.

The technical review process took some time so I had to begin defense preparations ASAP! I had to prepare as if I were going to receive that invitation to defend. I did not want to waste any time. Defenses were scheduled for the week of November 7th. Preparations started about a week after returning from VMworld.

Then on October 14th….the email I had been waiting for showed up in my inbox!

Hi John Kozej,

All applications for the upcoming VCDX Design Defense in Palo Alto, USA 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.


Congratulations on your progress thus far in the VCDX program!


GAME ON!! Time to amplify defense preparations and keep working on that slide deck. By no means was I an expert on creating a PowerPoint presentation. I’m a whiteboard guy. The only experience I had with PowerPoint up to this point was presenting slides that someone else compiled. So I had to figure it out. (Google magic my friends!)

Getting my travel booked was a lot of fun….NOT! I wanted to arrive and settle in Palo Alto at least a day or two before my defense. I arrived on Tuesday the 8th (yes…Election Day 2016). That was one interesting flight to say the least. Traveling on Election Day was bonkers but I won’t get into details about that. It did distract me for a little bit considering my defense was less than 36 hours away.

My defense was scheduled for 9am on Thursday, November 10th. I anticipated being more tense and stressed than I was before. I was already cramped up from being on that flight stuck in a window seat for 6 hours not being able to move much. So on Wednesday I got a massage, ate some sushi for dinner, relaxed and went to bed EARLY! I was mentally and physically on EST so falling asleep wasn’t too difficult at 7pm PST.

I got up early that Thursday morning. Ate a good breakfast, cup of coffee and left early for 3401 Hillview Ave (aka…The Mothership). First time being there. Such an awesome place and look forward to going back for a visit someday.

My defense was actually pushed back a few hours. A couple other candidates were scheduled around the same time and they had a much earlier flight than me. So I let them go ahead of me. I hung around the cafeteria for a few hours. It actually helped me relax a bit more. Then it came time for me to defend. Time goes by SO FAST during the defense. Feels like you are walking in and walking out. Blink of an eye…done!

I took a red eye flight home from Palo Alto later that night and arrived back in Philadelphia very early Friday morning. I cannot sleep on the planes so I am completely BURNED OUT at this point. I get home and walk into the kitchen and the first thing my wife Allison says to me…”I’m pregnant!” WOW!! What a week I am having! So awesome and such a blessing! She knew ahead of time but didn’t want to tell me just before my defense. She knew how tense I was. HAHA!

On Tuesday, November 15th at exactly 9:55pm (EST) the most important email that I have ever received in my career hit my inbox. My wife and I were getting ready to go to bed. We were getting a few things straightened up in the kitchen. I glanced at my phone and saw that I had one unread item in my email. The moment I saw the subject line I put the phone down and walked away. My wife saw my reaction and knew which email had finally arrived. I think I even said to her “it’s in my inbox.” We both looked at my phone on the kitchen counter and I almost couldn’t pick it back up but I quickly grabbed it and glanced at it. I didn’t even open the email but I could see the first few words in the email preview….

Congratulations! You passed! ……..

All I said to her was “I got it!” and my phone went somewhere else and we lost it. It was so exciting and overwhelming! Such a relief. My wife and I were so happy yet we needed to be quiet because our 9 month old son was upstairs sleeping. What felt like an elephant sitting on my shoulders was finally gone in an instant. I didn’t even read the email. So I found my phone so I could read the entire email to find out which VCDX number had been given to me…haha! The results of my hard work summarized by one email in what felt like a split second.

So that’s my journey to becoming VCDX #245. It is the highlight of my career and such a humbling experience from start to finish.

Lastly, I want to thank everyone who has supported me through this process. Most importantly my wife Allison. She was my rock and pushed me ever since I decided to do my VCAP exams. Thank you huney, I love you! Couldn’t have done this without you.

My VCDX mentor Tim Curless. Thank you so much for all of your help from getting me started and keeping me on track through this process. Your advice was invaluable!

To all the people who helped me with defense preparations….my mock panelists!

Michael Fleisher (Philly VMUG Leader & vExpert)
Jason Scheponik – VCDX 193
Jayson Block – VCDX 186
Ron Wedel – VCDX 227
William Holzapfel
James Joseph

Thank you guys for helping me get prepared and “beating me up” during mock defenses and all of your encouragement. Without you guys I don’t know if I could have been any more prepared than I was.

Thank you everyone!