Becoming a CCIE: What I have learnt

I would like to share my experience of becoming CCIE Routing and Switching v5 certified. It is kind of a “tradition” to do it and I think it can be very helpful to other people pursuing the same goal. Different points of view were very positive for me to get well prepared technically and psychologically for the day of the exam.

I would like to give you a small description of my professional background so you can understand better why I decided to go for the CCIE certification. I have been a Network Engineer (with different job titles and working on different roles) since I finished University, more than 10 years ago already. Becoming a CCIE was a personal goal since I was a student although I knew it was an achievement for the future at that time.

From my point of view, becoming a CCIE is a long process. What I mean is without my professional trajectory and all these years working on real networks with special needs and requirements, where your decisions and designs have an impact in real business, becoming a CCIE would have not had any sense to me.  In my opinion, being a CCIE does not imply knowing everything but it does mean to have a deep and strong knowledge about Networking in the real world. Have the ability to identify network weaknesses which need to be improved to build more efficient and reliable networks, troubleshoot complex scenarios with multiple technologies, move towards new standardised solutions and basically building and maintaining adaptable and responsive networks.

I passed the CCIE R&S v5 Lab in my second attempt, so I can actually compare what made the difference for me to pass this time and I hope it helps you to prepare a good plan.

First of all I was much better prepared this time, I was aware of every single detail on the blueprint. I also had the advantage of facing the exam before, the web interface experience, the size of the topologies and the level of complexity. Finally, I worked harder on a good exam strategy and this was a key point.

I have done a list of tips and recommendations that worked for me the day of the exam in case you want to try them at some point:

  • Go over every single topic on the blueprint. I did a table similar to the one below, where you can track your knowledge about different technologies and features.

    • Know about it: You have a general idea about the technology and how it works.

    • Configuration: You know the technology in more detail and you are able to configure it.

    • Troubleshooting: You completely understand any possible issues about this technology and you are able to fix them.

Topic Know about it Configuration Troubleshooting
OSPF Area types X X  

Be sure you are able to troubleshoot any topic on the blueprint. Only this way you will be prepared for anything the day of the exam.

  • Once you are a master of the technologies on the blueprint, it is time to focus on an exam strategy. The lack of an exam strategy in my first attempt made me feel insecure about my answers, waste time and being unable to complete the exam expectations. This is very very important, the exam is very intense and you will not be able to pass it unless you have a well structured and clear methodology in your mind. Some examples that were part of my exam strategy are:

    • Remember that you have to PASS the exam; you DO NOT have to successfully complete every single question. For example, I was not sure about two of my answers in the Troubleshooting section. However, I was confident about my solutions for the other 8 tickets and I knew that would be enough.

    • DO NOT get demotivated.

    • Manage your times and DO NOT get stuck. If you do not know how to fix or configure a specific technology, DO NOT panic. It is all right, you move forward and you keep going. Sometimes, doing something else helps to remember. As I said, you do not have to do everything right, you just need to pass the minimum score per section and the total score.

    • DO NOT use the 30 minutes extra time in Troubleshooting. If you are confident about your solutions after two hours and you guess you will get a good score you should pass to the Diagnostic section. You HAVE to keep track of the questions answered and the points you are collecting. You HAVE to know when your solution is valid (when it complies with the restrictions and guidelines). You will achieve this confidence thanks to practice and practice for many hours.

    • Improve your speed. The last month keep track of the time it takes you to complete a lab or solve a Troubleshooting ticket. Then repeat it after a few days and check your times again, they should improve. You can download a free tool in order to control your times.

    • DO NOT get demotivated.

    • READ carefully the guidelines, requirements and restrictions. It is VERY important to answer exactly what you are asked to in the way you are supposed to. Maybe you solution fixes the issue but it does not comply with the requirements. You will not get any points.

    • In the Troubleshooting section, use those show commands which give you more relevant information about possible faults and try to avoid debug commands. For example, if you are troubleshooting EIGRP named mode do not look for EIGRP configuration under the interfaces because everything is configured under the EIGRP process.

    • In the Troubleshooting section, DO NOT get distracted by any faults, filters or ACLs that are not relevant to the technology you are troubleshooting. Be confident and distinguish what it can be a potential issue for what you are troubleshooting.

    • In the Configuration section, READ the complete subsection before starting to configure. Restrictions or specific instructions can be at the end of the question.

    • In the Configuration section you SHOULD use notepad to improve your performance. Copy and Paste as much as you can to be able to complete the exam on time.

    • DO NOT get demotivated.

    • Remember that you will get points in the Configuration section only when you successfully complete a subsection. Therefore, read all the requirements carefully and if you do not know how to configure one of them leave the subsection and move forward. Unless it is needed for something else, for example, you need basic connectivity for DMVPN to work later on. Otherwise you can pass to the next question and go back when you complete the rest of the exam.

    • You should probably expect a less responsive CLI than the one you use in your home lab. So be aware of this possible delay.

    • DO NOT use tabbed command line tools during you preparation. You MUST get used to move between windows easily and do not get lost.

    • Be CONFIDENT of yourself. You can do it, you only need to breath, relax, read and think. You have configured core technologies dozens of times by now so you can do it quickly and spend some more time in those specifics requirements.

    • DO NOT get demotivated.

  • If you can afford it, join a Bootcamp a month before your lab attempt. I think bootcamps can help you understand you weaknesses and put you through an experience close to the exam day. Instructors can also help you to enforce and define your exam strategy.

  • I did not join any study group because it was just difficult to find the right study partner who was at the same learning point than me at that time. Some people need the commitment of a group to get motivated and that is perfectly fine. However, I am a persistent person so studying on my own was actually fine and easier for me to get organised.

  • Read different resources, books, RFCs, blogs, articles, etc. Do not trust any result you might find, test it in your home lab environment and play with technologies until you completely understand them.

In my first attempt, I remember the night before the exam was a nightmare. I was not able to sleep two hours in a row because the hotel was quite noisy and I was also thinking about possible questions, topics I did not know in depth and so on. I even dreamed I was not able to save my configurations, every time I used “wr” I got an error saying that the command was not recognized!

This second time was different, I put myself in what I call “I deserve it” mode and I stayed in a nicer hotel, I ordered some food to eat it in bed, I watched an easy movie and I had an early night. I did not do anything related to the exam, just enjoying a relaxed evening. In the morning I had a light breakfast and I walked to the exam location enjoying the fresh air.

I had the feeling this time was going to be different. Maybe I was not able to pass but I knew I had chances and I was going to do much better. So I was calm. I knew I was very well prepared, I knew I should trust myself because I worked hard and I was prepared for anything. So do not let nerves play a trick on you, do not panic once you click Begin Lab in the exam!

If this attempt was not your successful attempt, seriously, do not get demotivated. This is a very difficult and exclusive exam. So a failure is part of the process and it is NORMAL. Now it is time to learn from your mistakes and try again if that is what you really want. You have already reached far, this is the final step and you can do it!

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