Has VMware Effectively Killed the VCDX Program?

I noticed a tweet recently by a person I respect, Craig Kilborn. Craig had just written a blog post about why he was pleased that he didn’t pass the defense part of the VCDX. The arguments he made in the article were cogent, and I found myself agreeing with them. They aligned with my view of the worth of the VCDX certification to me personally.

I have not traveled down the VCDX path as far as Craig has, but I find myself pondering the value of the certification today. There is no doubt that the journey towards the certification is a valid one and, more importantly, a valuable learning experience. All those I have spoken to who have traveled the path, whether they gained their number or not, have grown as IT professionals.

VCDX is VMware’s highest level of certification, and it involves a considerable investment in time. The path takes candidates from the junior VCP qualification through the two advanced certifications—VCAP Design and VCAP Advanced Administration—cumulating in a defense of a working design by the candidate in front of a panel of three already-qualified VCDXs.

When this certification process was started, VMware was the dominant platform in a new and burgeoning virtualization space. It was a key part of the infrastructure, and the VCDX could be seen to have value. However—and this is very important—the certification stalled in its growth and gained a reputation as an unpassable certification. This led to a significant drop in the number of candidates submitting designs. Further, the vast majority of initial candidates who passed were VMware personnel, leading to a perception of favouritism towards in-house candidates,

Unfortunately for VMware, by the time it had sorted out the issues with the certification, the market had moved on. This has led to there being fewer than three hundred qualified VCDXs globally, a very poor number for a program that’s been run for almost ten years.

Until recently, one of the better things about the VCDX was that it was comparatively low-cost. The total financial outlay, not including travel and accommodations for the defense, was low for an expert-level certification. It amounted to:

VMware qualifying education course $2,400
VCP exam $175
VCAP Advanced Admin exam $400
VCAP Design exam $400
Design application $300
Design defense $900
Total outlay $4,575

I am not saying that this is not a significant cost if you are self-qualifying, but it is not insurmountable. However, VMware recently announced a significant cost increase for the certification.

VMware qualifying education course $2,400
VCP exam $250
VCAP Advanced Admin exam $450
VCAP Design exam $450
Design application $995
Design defense $3,000
Total outlay $7,545

This is an overall increase of almost $3,000. Suddenly, it no longer appears to be a good value, and companies have to look to their return on investment. Further, for those self-certifying, it now effectively means a one-shot party. A $1,200 defense cycle is acceptable, but a near-$4,000 cost is questionable, especially as the certification is not that well-known among the recruitment industry and employers.

I personally know a number of VCDXs, and all are very able and capable engineers. However, I’ve asked a number of recruiters what certifications they inquire about when looking for an infrastructure architect, and VCDX was only mentioned once. TOGAF was the most-requested certification, and it is a framework qualification, not a technology one. Even more worrying was that they did not mention VMware’s VCAP or VCIX qualifications at all.

Do I think that the VCDX certification will become valueless? Not really; those who travel the path will still gain valuable skills along their journey. However, for those candidates traveling the path, it is probably best to remember that once you have passed, you risk being pigeonholed as the “virtualization specialist,” finding your chances at promotion and ability to move to new and exciting technology projects limited. You will most likely be disappointed when you do attempt to shift roles and flash your membership badge; odds are, nobody will recognize it. This is not your fault. It is VMware’s, as it has not done enough to elevate the program. It should have made the VCDX a requirement for their higher-level partnerships in order to drive adoption quickly. The VCDX workshops that were pioneered by John Arrasjid (VCDX001) were, I fear, too little too late, and the price hike for the defense will lead a lot of people to question the commitment in time and money, especially if they fail.

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