I began my NPX journey four years ago, when I first saw a VCDX give the classic slide deck covering the methodology and tips at the VMware User Group. I believe they’re still using the same deck to this day. At that time, the NPX hadn’t been created yet, and Nutanix was still a small company beginning to make waves by hiring a ton of VCDX level architects. At that time, I was on my VCDX journey, which would eventually transform into an NPX journey after I came to Nutanix and truly understood what we were doing.
I began my VCDX journey by religiously attending the VMware user group to broaden my knowledge base. Being on the customer side at the time, I knew there was a bunch of technologies I hadn’t seen, and that I’d only see the architecture we had, not what everyone else was doing. My first mistake was having common misperception that the VCDX was the ultimate technical certification, and therefore I had to have the ultimate mastery of all technical knowledge around VMware and related technologies like storage and networking.
My desire for technical mastery led to building my home lab, which is good decision. I highly recommend all architects get a lab environment to experiment with and really learn the ins and outs of the operation of their chosen hypervisor. That may be a home lab, it may be a QA environment at your employer, but find something. A lab environment is a great way to learn the tech, and provides the best place to get screenshots for operations and installation guides. For the VMware VCDX, you’ve got to pass lab and design exams first, so a lab is necessary.
For the NPX, we do not currently have a lab exam requirement, which makes your life easier. Personally, I decided to max my home desktop out with RAM and run the whole thing in VMware Workstation with Autolab. I think this is a pretty good choice in terms of work effort required and budget, but the current RAM prices make it less ideal. That said, it was more than good enough to pass my VCAP exams.
As a consultant at a VAR and at Nutanix, I was constantly on the lookout for a VCDX or NPX grade project. This was mistake number two, there’s no perfect project and frankly, any projects you’re working on today are probably NPX grade. Are you designing and deploying a new Nutanix cluster? Congratulations, you've got an NPX grade project on your hands. Yes, that’s a bit of a simplification as a 3 host cluster probably isn’t going to allow you to demonstrate a knowledge of some blueprint areas, but the core knowledge is there if it is 3 hosts or 30 or 300.
If you’re refreshing datacenter hardware or building net new clusters, you’re probably doing NPX grade work today without following the methodology, and the learning and following the methodology would seriously improve your results.
Once I came to Nutanix, my goal shifted from the VCDX to the NPX, once I understood what Nutanix was doing with the NPX program. The NPX focuses heavily on the process of distilling business outcomes into technical requirements, and the NPX documentation package reflects that. For instance, the NPX requires an operational readiness review, a migration plan, a project plan, and just an overall larger surrounding documentation and design than just an architecture document.
We are looking for you to demonstrate that a project manager and business users were deeply involved in the design process, and we know that these projects are never solo efforts but require the architect to act as a ring master of a circus, coordinating various other high maintenance performers.
We’re going to push you deeply on the conceptual, logical and physical layers of your design during the defense. We’re going to make sure you justified all your design decisions. And we’re going to make sure you truly understand two hypervisors. There’s true value in proving you aren’t a one trick pony, and that you’re capable of taking your skills and extending them to new platforms, as well as proving you can think on your feet and rapidly adapt during troubleshooting and stand up design exercises.
I spent 4 years heading towards my goal but I’m convinced that it could be done much faster with what I know now. If you’re really convinced that the NPX is for you, start by getting a really solid technical foundation in your chosen hypervisor, as well as some basic high level knowledge of security, BC/DR, networking, and other blueprint items. Once you’re at a good baseline, take an NPX bootcamp. The NPX bootcamp takes you and about 14 other architects per instructor, puts you in teams and simulates the 3-4 days of design meetings you’d expect during a project kickoff.
We then combine it with lectures covering all the items where discussions with our architects and the attendees really help you to understand the technologies and tradeoffs involved, and how people are implementing things in the real world. The final step after the bootcamp is to get assigned a mentor. The mentor can help you pick a project and get you writing.
If you’re in a sales role, the NPX project will help you to dig further into your account and interact with all the teams. If you’re in a services role, you’ll be able to create a documentation package your customer will absolutely love.
What’s the value of achieving the NPX? You’ve proved both to yourself and the whole world that you possess the levels of focus, diligence and expertise necessary to achieve a PHD equivalent level of knowledge in hypervisors, storage, networking and other related fields required to be successful in the modern datacenter. You’re also demonstrating that you have the skills and grit to fully execute a project from requirements gathering with business users to implementation and migration.
We’re not trying to create purely technical geniuses, we’re really trying to create technical geniuses who can bridge the gap between IT and the business to drive those business outcomes.
Real World Tips:
Your laziness and procrastination aren’t a reason to be mentally self-abusive
True laziness was when our ancestors would shirk tasks like collecting the firewood or plowing the field- avoiding physically hard and painful work. Modern tasks are emotionally stressful. You’re not afraid of work, you’re afraid of failure, humiliation, of putting yourself out there and you’re paralyzed by the sheer weight and size of the project. Make sure you understand what’s truly going on in your head, forgive yourself and maintain a positive outlook or the pressure will crack you like an egg.
Get buyoff from your spouse and family
You’re going to be dropping hundreds of hours on this project over the next few months and will need long uninterrupted stretches to write when you’re in the proper state of flow. I found my writing to be done in bursts of frantic activity when I was inspired, with many days or whole weeks I just couldn’t put anything on paper. When you’re in the correct mood and you’re writing good content, you shouldn’t stop for anything. Your spouse is ALWAYS the unsung hero of these projects, especially if you have kids.
Figure out how to stay sane and enjoy yourself.
The other half of this is that you can easily burn out by working and working on your NPX, in addition to your family activities. You’ve got to find something you can do to blow off steam and stay refreshed. Maybe that’s your family time, maybe that’s sitting and watching football while drinking a beer or keeping a gaming habit. Find something that works for you and use it as a carrot to finish milestones like “I’ll finish this section before I watch the game”
Set daily goals
There’s a cottage industry of folks out there ready to advise you on how to finish a dissertation, term paper, novel, etc. If you’re stuck, don’t despair, this appears to be the default state of many people. Personally, the piece of advice I really liked was to set a minimum goal for every day- write one sentence. That forces you to contemplate your document every day. I set myself a goal of doing SOME work every single weekend on it. I suggest you pick out and block out time every week or every day to invest some time on your doc to prevent continued delays.
If you are interested in connecting with others who are pursuing their Nutanix certifications, you can continue the discussion in our education forums. Let us know where we can help and let’s make 2018 your best year ever!