Q&A on the VCDX Defense Session

Q&A on the VCDX Defense Session

I've received a few excellent last-minute questions from our Frankfurt VCDX candidates, and I wanted to share the answers with everyone. Interspersed below are also some good questions I received from our Palo Alto and Singapore candidates.

Q. What is the dress code for the defense?

A. You are not evaluated on your clothing or appearance. But it is still a courtesy to treat the defense like an important business meeting, because it is one, isn't it? Most candidates appear either in "business-casual" clothing (polo shirts or button-down shirts with slacks) or else suit and tie. Either choice is fine; neither choice is superior to the other. You may wear your employer's logo-wear if you wish.

For comparison: the panelists will usually be wearing VMware polos or button-down shirts with cotton or wool slacks, unless local business culture calls for something different. For example, someday we will have defenses in Tokyo, and I think neckties are likely to put in an appearance there.

To sum this up: your attire should be comfortable yet send the message that you take the occasion seriously.

Q. Can I give the panelists my card? I would like to meet them for a beer later.

A. Unfortunately, the panelists cannot socialize with you before your result is delivered, because it would create the appearance of impropriety. Also, candidates may not give panelists any items, regardless of value.

You will probably encounter your panelists at future VMware events (that is, well after your defense result has been delivered to you). Although they will be happy to chat with you, and perhaps even to share a drink with you, they may not discuss your performance or result with you in any way.

Q. I discovered some mistakes in my submission! Can I submit some kind of errata document before the defense?

A.  No. Just plan to tell your panelists about the mistakes you found and explain what you would have done differently.

Q. I know that, during the scenarios, the panelists will role-play being my customers. But what about during the initial 75-minute presentation-and-defense session?

A. They won't really be "in character" during this session. If you like, they will be playing the role of your peers, quizzing you for a review session in preparation for meeting with a demanding client.

Q.  Can I bring notes into the defense room? I want to make sure I don't forget anything!

A.  No, the only things you may bring into the room are...

----> Your presentation on a USB stick (required)

----> A printed copy of your original submission (optional)

----> A USB presentation remote (optional)

But if there are certain things you want to remember to say, just weave them into your presentation.

Q. Wait, I have certain medical items I must have with me at all times: for example, I'm asthmatic, and I carry an inhaler; or I am diabetic and need food items to help me manage my blood sugar. Are you saying I will need to leave these outside the defense room?

A. No. If there are certain items you must have with you in the defense room for medical reasons, just explain the situation to the moderator before your defense begins. The moderator may need to inspect the items in question to confirm that they do not conceal sound-recording devices, notes, radios, or other specifically banned items. The moderator may choose to specify where and how they'll be stored in the defense room. A similar procedure would apply if you carry certain items for religious reasons (for example, if you are Sikh and carry a kirpan).

Q. You say elsewhere that, for the defense session, I should prepare a presentation that would take 15 minutes or so to deliver. Do I get points for preparing a longer presentation? Or a shorter one? Or do I get points for finishing the presentation in exactly 15 minutes?

A. No, no, and no. The presentation is simply a way to give structure to your discussion with the panelists. You should expect them to interrupt while you deliver it. Their interruptions are in fact the meat of the exercise.

Q. Will the panelists ask me "trick questions" or "gotcha questions"?

A. If by that you mean "questions designed to embarrass me, fluster me, or make me fail," the answer is no. The panelists' job is to distinguish between candidates who meet the criteria for VCDX and those who do not. Making a qualified candidate appear unqualified would defeat the purpose.

The panelists will, however, ask you questions that may be very difficult. They may ask you hypothetical questions; they might invite you to speculate about why other parties made the technological choices they did; they might ask you questions that require command of a lot of detail. These difficult questions are your opportunity to display your skills. You may also be asked questions that seem rudimentary: for example, points covered clearly in your design submission. Don't be rattled either type of question; instead, make the most of them.

Q. What kind of hardware or software will be waiting for me to do my presentation on, exactly?

A. Although we make no promises, historically candidates have delivered their presentations on a Windows XP machine, not connected to the Internet. The version of PowerPoint on the machine is typically (though not always) 2003, with the Compatibility Pack installed so that it can present later versions. If you have the slightest concern that your presentation might not work, you are encouraged to bring it also in PDF.

Q. Any other last-minute tips for me?

A. Yes!

  • Minimize your consumption of caffeine and alcohol during the 24 hours before your defense
  • Get a good night's sleep on the night before, preferably in the defense location (candidates who fly in on the morning of the defense are taking several very serious risks)
  • Spend any extra preparation time you might have on knowing your design submission thoroughly
  • Make sure your PPT doesn't have any time-consuming transitions between slides
  • Make sure that all important diagrams from your submission are in your PPT, perhaps as backup slides at the end
  • In the defense:
    • use the whiteboard!
    • say "I don't know" if you don't know an answer. (Bloviating is deadly.)
    • never miss a chance to say WHY a decision was made.

Good luck! Remember that, if you meet the criteria for VCDX, the program wants you to succeed.

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