The Making of Virtual Design Master

You can blame Spike TV for this one, because in a strange way that is how Virtual Design Master got started. I’ve never been much of a regular TV watcher, but for some reason I had been told about a show called Ink Master which was about taking a group of tattoo artists from all over to come together to compete against each other on challenges given by a group of industry experts in tattooing. Having also seen The Apprentice before, I was pretty aware of the reality contest-style show formula, and it hit me that I thought we could do this for technology.

After discussing with Angelo Luciani, he was immediately sold on the idea. We would open the competition to members of the community to be able to perform challenges given around design scenarios in virtualization products. And so began the idea.

From Idea to Action: Season 1

We began working on bringing support on board for prizes. If you’ve ever gone through the process of organizing an event to give prizes away, you may already know this can be a challenge. Particularly when there is nothing more than a concept to show the sponsors. One thing was different here was that we had the power of community behind us.

Our sponsors came to us with a variety of prize options, ultimately leading to the big grand prize from which was not just a prize, but also a hosting environment for our final challenge scenario.

Another fun part of the event was that we want the design scenarios to be built based on submissions from the community. We put out a blog post asking for design scenarios to see what would come in. This was the beginning of something great about Virtual Design Master, because we received a design proposal from Melissa Palmer with an incredibly detailed storyline built around a zombie apocalypse, a billionaire investor, and a terrifying constraint that all of the hardware was manufactured prior to 2008. We knew this was going to be fun!

The challenge formula was born: Design, Protect, Orchestrate, Cloud

We would take the competitors through a full end-to-end test of skills that we knew would put them to tests that could be well beyond their comfort level. This was meant to test the ability to learn and adapt as much as it was to test existing skills.

Next we reached out to the community to find out who would be able to help with the evaluation. Before long we had Chris Wahl and Josh Atwell on our judges panel, we knew that this was going to shape up to become something very cool.

Competitors came on board, and we witnessed an incredible set of challenges, with very cool and fun designs. The participants were slowly peeled back at each challenge until we were left with our final two participants, Akmal Waheed and Jonathan Frappier. Armed with their cloud based servers, they launched themselves full force to complete their vCloud deployments. In the end we crowned Akmal Waheed as vDM001, the first ever Virtual Design Master.

That was just the beginning.

And Then There Were Three: Melissa Palmer, Creative Director

As Angelo and I began thinking of what we could do for Season 2, we asked Melissa Palmer to come on board as our Creative Director. Having been such an integral part of our first season, the design scenario Melissa proposed, and the accompanying story, told us that we needed her to be a part of this in a big way as we launched the next iteration.

We’ve been very proud to have Melissa be a part of Season 2, and as we found out, her design abilities could test the best of the IT community at every step of the way.

From Competitor to Producer: Jonathan Frappier Joined the Team

Another fun part with Season 2 was that Jonathan Frappier joined in to help with our production this time after having been involved as a competitor in Season 1. Jonathan is a great supporter of the IT community through the work he does inside and outside of the office, so this was very helpful for the team to have someone else on board to make Virtual Design Master into a bigger, better version of itself.

Season 2: Beyond the Clouds

Sponsor hunting after the success of Season 1 was a much quicker experience, and we were well on the way to building a great prize pack for the winner. What had changed this year is that where we had 6 competitors in Season 1, we were suddenly getting a great response and we now had 11 competitors heading into Season 2. It looks like we may have a hit on our hands 🙂

Super Sized Competitor Pool, and Super Sized Judging Panel

This time around we also saw a great participation from ou judges. We were glad to welcome back Josh Atwell from Season 1, and he was joined by Josh Odgers, Brian Kirsch, Andrea Mauro, and Maish Saidel-Keesing. We also had Tom Howarth join us for support because he had wanted to compete but was unable to, so he immediately jumped in with an offer to help with organizing and judging.

The story and challenges were ready to go thanks to Melissa, and we were underway. With an already impressive pool of prizes and a powerful group of competitors, we thought we were going to have an incredible season. And then something happened that wowed us in an even bigger way.

VCDX133 and the Big Prize

In a surprise move that we couldn’t have anticipated, Rene Van Den Bedem ( reached out to us with an offer of his help to the grand prize. It was more than we could have asked for: a full coverage of the VCDX test fee paired with 40 hours of mentoring towards the test. We were honored and humbled by the offer.

Now we knew that we had something big. This time around we saw our challenges being answered with a variety of technologies and methods. We introduced OpenStack, Docker, and intense requirements for the competitors. They answered with strong designs, and the judging sessions were becoming a fun online community event.

The theme of Virtual Design Master became something that we couldn’t have imagined: “How can I help?”

Each competitor who was pulled out at the various challenges immediately replied to us and asked how they could help to support the team with the rest of the competition. Competitors were helping each other in areas where nobody had experience. An online following was keeping a close eye on things and we began seeing something amazing happen. This was becoming a tight-knit group that led to the grand finale where we presented our top 3 finishers with great prize packages, including sending grand prize winner Timothy Patterson to start the journey towards his VCDX.

The team and I couldn’t be happier with the response. We put our time into this to do one thing: highlight the power of community and the great people and skills which may not have had a chance to be seen without this kind of an opportunity.


The very driver that brought you this and many posts like it was a result of the Virtual Design Master community. We started up the the #vDM30in30 blog series as I wrote about here that triggered a bunch of great content creators to jump on board.

So, with all that came together up to this point, what’s next?

Season 3: Destination VCDX, Coming Soon!

That’s right everyone, we couldn’t possibly leave this to just two seasons. I remember writing a tweet that “what started out as a competition, suddenly became a community” and this has proven to be one of the most exciting projects that we have worked on. For that reason, we are in the planning phases to re-launch in 2015 with a new website, a new set of challenges, a new pool of participants, and a massive community wrapped around it.

Thank you all for the great support in Season 2, and we will be very excited to open the doors on Season 3 in Q1 of 2015. See you then!

1 thought on “The Making of Virtual Design Master”

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.