My journey to become a CCIE
I've been interested in technology for as long as I can remember. From my early beginnings of learning how to navigate the DOS command line interface on my dad's computer while he was off at work, to building my first PC (with 8Mb of RAM!). I've always had an interest and a knack for this stuff.
Over the past decade, my interest in networking technology has grown significantly. In 2001, I earned my CCNA while working at Cisco (on contract) and a few years later installed my first 6509 in a global financial company. Several certifications followed down the road including the CCNP and CCAI. I now teach Cisco curriculum part time while working as a Senior Network Engineer for a mid-size enterprise. My drive to learn has never stopped, in fact it just keeps growing the more I am exposed to this stuff.
The time has come to take it to the next level.
Several months ago I made the decision, after some serious research and discussions with my wife, to begin studying for the CCIE Routing & Switching Exam. I started by researching and reading everything I could find regarding the exam - Cisco's official exam page, other blogs that detail how they approached the exam, podcasts talking about the exam, etc. I spent a good month reviewing my options before I finally made the decision that absolutely, without a doubt I am going to go for it - no matter what it takes.
I've written this blog post to share my experience so far and hopefully help others in a similar situation to make the go-no-go decision.
How do you start climbing Everest?
I decided to begin by studying for and passing the written exam. I figured why should I even begin to attempt practicing for the lab exam if I didn't have the theoretical knowledge to back it up. I also looked at going for the CCIP as part of my written preparation since it covers QOS, MPLS, and BGP (all on the R&S exam). For those thinking about going for the CCIE exam, here's a link to the written exam page at cisco.com: http://learningnetwork.cisco.com/community/certifications/ccie_routing_switching/written_exam?tab=1
What materials should I use?
Once I had made up my mind to go for it, I began purchasing materials. I picked up a copy of the CCIE Routing and Switching Certification Guide (4th Edition) and started reading.
I also decided to select a training vendor to partner with for the lab materials. I wanted to do this early on so I could start reviewing some of the material before the written exam to make sure I was using more than just the exam certification guide. I selected INE as my primary training provider after much research and consideration. Specifically, I purchased the CCIE R&S Ultimate Bundle which includes hundreds of hours of video training, 4 workbooks, 4 graded mock lab exams, and rack rental credits to rent their lab gear. This was totally worth it in my opinion, as the videos alone are worth the price of admission, but when you add everything else it is an amazing bundle.
I also picked up a copy of BGP Design and Implementation by Zhang and MPLS Fundamentals by Ghein - these are both fairly solid texts that can be used as a reference. Additionally, I already had copies on hand of the Routing TCP/IP Volumes 1 and 2 by Doyle.
The Written Exam
After about 2 months, I had read most of MPLS fundamentals, skimmed the BGP book (which refreshed my memory from the BGP class I took from Jeremy a few years ago), and reviewed nearly every chapter in the Exam Cert Guide. With Cisco Live 2012 a few weeks out, I started reviewing practice questions on the CD and cramming as much info into my head as possible.
First day at Cisco Live I passed the written exam. Glad too, it's not an easy test and my brain was mush until that first sip of Guinness with dinner.
Preparing for the lab - racks and schedules
As soon as I passed the written exam, I immediately started researching lab equipment. I looked at the following options:
- strictly using rented gear
- using GNS3 and dynamips for 80% of the practice and renting gear for the last 20%
- building my own lab and using real gear
Ultimately, I decided to build my own lab of real gear for several reasons which I will document in another blog post - How to Build a CCIE R&S Lab.
Also, I sat down and created an outline for a study schedule. This is actually based on one of many tips I got from Anthony Sequeira at Cisco Live - build a schedule that works for you. Read one night, watch a training video another night, lab another night, and take a night off every week - don't try to do a non-stop schedule without taking some breaks, you'll most likely burn out. Hearing his "Tony Robbins" style motivational speech was a great source of information. You can view the recorded version of this session with a free account to Cisco Live 365 - just search the session catalog for "PSOCCIE-9302 - Cornerstones of CCIE Success (2012 San Diego)"
Boot camps aren't just for the military
There are several CCIE training vendors that offer bootcamp style classes. Micronics, Global Knowledge, INE, IP Expert, and CCBootcamp just to name a few. They all offer similar training packages and I'm sure all of them have been successful in preparing candidates for the lab exam. However, some are more successful than others in getting results.
As I mentioned above, I researched many blogs and podcasts for several weeks before making the final go-for-it decision. While researching, I came across several blogs that all had nothing but glowing reviews for Narbik's bootcamp. Narbik is the instructor and owner of Micronics Training and his free bootcamp retake policy is legendary. With so many choices, there has to be a way to narrow it down and having an option to take class again for free (aside from travel expenses) is definitely a huge plus.
So, even though I purchased INE's materials, I ultimately made the decision to take Narbik's bootcamp over the others for a few reasons:
1) the glowing reviews, literally I haven't read a single bad thing about Narbik or his bootcamp,
2) I didn't want to put all my eggs in one basket, I figure getting multiple training perspectives may help me learn the concepts better.
3) the free retake policy may come in handy if that first attempt turns out to be an expensive lunch.
I am scheduled to attend an upcoming bootcamp with Narbik and I'll be writing a review in a blog post after the bags under my eyes go away from the lack of sleep during the training.
So, how long will this take?
I've heard several horror stories of people taking 4, 5, 6, and even 7 attempts to pass the lab. I've also heard the average candidate takes 700 hours of lab practice to be prepared for the exam. Either way, it's going to take some serious time and effort to get to the lab exam.
You may have noticed my frequency of blog posts has tapered off since earlier this year. Originally, I thought this would be great because I'd have ample material to blog about while studying - which I do. However, I don't have the free time to actually type it all in. Something has to give when you introduce 20-30 hours a week of studying into your weekly schedule, and unfortunately for now that includes blogging.
I welcome your comments below. If you are going for your CCIE as well, please share your experience and any tips with the community. And if you've made it this far, Thanks for reading!