This is the story on how I became CCIE# 46173
To be honest, when I look back, I do not really know the main reason behind going through all this trouble, but I can tell you the story about how I did it. It’s mostly a thriller, and some drama towards the end. I will give you an overview of the whole process including the materials used, videos watched, books read and struggles that I went through.
I think that is the right thing to do. This article is for all of you out there who are still trying to study for this exam and need some suggestions. One of the most important things for me was to gather others candidate experience and suggestions in making a good study plan and get the info about the books and stuff. This is also a perfect occasion to brag about passing the damn thing and write a bit about myself. On technology blog, this is a rare opportunity when is alright to write a self reflection.
What’s important and what is not
I must say that the most important thing at the very beginning of the preparation process is having a good study plan. This is a crucial thing that you need to do if you wish not getting off the track after a while and simply giving up the study. It happened to me a couple of times. After a month of reading those books and watching videos you forget where you were in the blueprint and, without a strict plan, you don’t know how to proceed. You find yourself a month later realising that you unintentionally gave up and didn’t study for last few weeks. Then, it’s time to start all over again.
Without a plan written on a paper, planer, calendar, your thoughts get all messy because of the blueprint being so huge. It easy to give up when you think about all the things you need to go through. For most people, the preparation will take about a year or so, if you already have an average CCNP knowledge. It’s not possible to have a detailed 12 month study plan in your head. You should have your plan on a piece of paper and it will be a perfect reference point in future tough moments.
Buy yourself a moleskine planner that fits your pocket and have it with you all the time. Sometime is good to have a piece of paper where you can write down your comments or commands that you finally comprehend in the way that it fits your mind. You will see that, although you understand it clearly, few days later, that explanation in your own couple of words could help you recall the “damn thing”. You simply cannot remember everything in that moment! It’s strange, but it’s also possible to forget about things that you previously understood.
Learning and making labs, following your plan is the best thing you can do. It is not bad to change the plan frequently as long as you stick to it. You shouldn’t have more than two days in a row without at least few hours of work.
Every lab you make, put the topics that you didn’t comprehend inside your notepad. Later that day, or tomorrow, get the videos and books about those topics and refresh your knowledge.
The next thing that’s important is to getting as much of other people’s experiences with CCIE studies and the very exam. Try not to listen to the people with all the negative connotations about the exam because is very likely that they didn’t study or attempted the CCIE lab. They will intimidate you with irrelevant stories about their “friend’s friend’s friend’s friend” who didn’t pass the exam for 6 times i a row. Try to get the experience directly from real CCIE’s, that can be very helpful. I met some guys at the lab exam who didn’t know that there is only one monitor, or that there will get a terminal without tabs, or that there is only a US layout keyboard. Not knowing there things can slow you down significantly. They failed the exam because they lost much time and concentration. You really don’t want to invest your time in trying to find out where are all the special characters on the US keyboard. Do that before the exam.
Maybe important maybe not
This is only my personal experience which can differ from yours. During CCIE Routing and Switching lab exam with v5 blueprint there was no time in TS nor in CONFIG section for drawing diagrams on paper as suggested by many mentors. These topologies are so much bigger than those of the v4 exam version, so there was really no time for me to spend time on drawing.
As this is only my opinion, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t draw diagrams while practicing your labs at home or in real lab if you think that you have enough time. It is very important to draw the topology every time you are labbing at home. Both L2 and L3 diagrams need to be done before getting to config as they will help you to “get the whole picture” about the question being asked. You will get better by thinking about real situations.
People telling you scary stories about fellows who passed CCIE after sixth attempt are not important. Very few people get the CCIE cert, but on other side majority of people go to take this exam with not enough knowledge to pass it. After the exam they will probably say that it was impossible to pass it and tell you all the scary stuff to justify themselves. It’s a normal people’s behaviour, just ignore it. There is also a lot of people with enough money to take the first attempt only to get more feedback, as they can afford it. They will get a 1600$ feedback about how it looks like and what are the sections they need to study more. These labs attempt shouldn’t be counted as a real attempt. I actually did one of those, thus unintentionally, (:
About getting those Cisco Certs
(may contain Pathetic in traces, skip if allergic)
Ok, this is about my past. CCNA in 2010, CCNP in 2011 just before I started writing my thesis for the MA. After finishing University I continued giving classes, for a year or so, for Cisco Academy in CCNA. After that, I had a year of waiting and blog/CV writing before the real job came along. I became a System Engineer at a company named SPAN which was probably the best position that I could get at that moment, considering my obvious lack of experience. On the other side, I was so enthusiastic and happy that I managed to learn all that is important in just a few months. After that, it was all about discovering new stuff about computers and networking every day. It was amazing how little a CCNP fellow with no working experience really knows about networking and computers altogether. It was like, aha, “there are more ways to make your NAT going”, or “oh, on this shitty firewall you make a static default route not a default gateway”. Small things, but, in the beginning, without precious help from my colleagues and all the suggestions they gave me, it would be a much more stressful and painful process. In this way it was a kind of fun all the time. Ok, ok, once, with a specific model of firewall, it was not fun at all, but that is just another story that I am trying to leave behind and forget (:
Since in SPAN, I found how much more there is out there. I got some MS certs as we strongly rely on MS technologies in SPAN. Also, I got also some CheckPoint and few more CCNAs but nothing too special here.
I always wanted to get CCIE, I mean, as a networking guy, shouldn’t I? It was a thing for serious people, for real experts, you know, with beige pants and thick eyeglasses, always serious. I seemed to much for me at that moment. I still enjoy a good night at a dance club, ok, not too often though. It was a thing on my list of challenges, this CCIE, but maybe in a few years.
Then, … Then I changed my mind. After a year in SPAN on 5th of June 2013 I bought INE Workbook 1 and started reading a little. It was far from real learning but I have taken it as a start of the process. I bought CCIE Official Certification Guide v4 and Mr Dolye’s Routing TCP/IP Bible. And a few months later, I got INE Workbook 2 with those serious labs inside. The wish was born and there was nothing that could stop me from getting the CCIE. Few beers “here and there” did not speed up the process, but I was fairly satisfied with my time management.
I was in April of 2014 when I really started. My firm agreed to finance my attempt to get the number. They even got me INE All Access Pass. All those videos about Cisco technology were mine!
It was all about video watching for first few months, more that 150 videos of Advance Technology Class. I think there were more that 100 hours of videos only in that section. I watched the whole Advance Technology Class. After every video session I tried reading as much as possible about the topic in order to get more info which would get stuck inside of my head. If something was too confusing, I always went back and used some of my old Jeremy Cioara Nuggets. They were so well prepared that you could easily just listen to them while running for 4 miles (7 km) and get the whole picture of how technology works. After Jeremy, the thing you should do is get back to INE video and simply catch up with all the details that Jeremy did not mention. I used Jeremy’s nuggets while preparing for CCNP. Back then, I commuted every day for three hours altogether to get to Cisco classes and back home. It had plenty of time to spent with those nuggets. In this last year, stuff like that was always in my earphones while on bike or while walking. (If you saw me on the street and I didn’t say hi, I’m sorry, it was probably because of STP inside my ears, or at least a PackedPushers podcast to relax a bit)
Ok, lets keep going. The summer 2014, was a lab summer. It was June and it was time to get to those labs. No sea, no sun, nor swimming a bit. Ok, ok, I did have some fun but I told to myself to forget about this summer and focus on learning. Hopefully, the next one will be more enjoyable. After a few weekends in the office trying to get the labs done in 8 hours, you start speaking to yourself, and I mean a lot. At least I did, I was the only person I could speak to. It was me with an Empty office and 20 putty consoles on my monitor as well as a brand new US layout keyboard to get used to. Maybe I started getting weird. I thought to myself: “I surely not the first networking guy that’s weird, right?” It was fine. I spent an average of 25 hours a week on Cisco preps.
From May till November I tried to solve all 20 INE labs from Workbook 2 not so successfully so I had to try to solve all the labs one more time – 4 hours every day after work and 8 hours on weekend. One day a weekend I was resting.
I used GNS3 to run Configuration labs. You have surely noticed that I published some of topologies here on my blog. I used INE rack time for Troubleshooting labs, 10 of them from Workbook 2. After I solved those 20 labs for two times, I bought 10 more labs with 100 rack hours from Cisco 360. I also enrolled into beta testing of new Cisco360 R&S v5 labs so I also got few assessment labs for free. Those Cisco360 beta labs were the most helpful labs I did for CCIE R&S version 5. I think they are now available for purchase. Those first 10 labs are more v4 alike and, thus, not to good for v5 blueprint lab candidates.
So, It toked me from April 2014 until November 2014 to get through those labs and it wasn’t until November 28 2014 when I failed my first attempt in Brussels. Yes, It was a stressful and shitty feeling to have failed after all this trouble. I knew exactly what I configured wrong. It was simply to late to get it the other way around then. After the second attempt which was few days ago, things were looking better. I passed the exam and now have the CCIE which is really a great thing.
Time management in the process
Nothing without the plan. I have a notepad for these things. It’s not really a techie approach but it works best for me.
I did some labs on workdays and one 6-8 hour lab every Saturday or Sunday. Each weekday I spent about 18 hours to study, three to four hours a day for three days in a row to complete one INE 8 hour lab. It’s normal, I guess, that at the beginning those labs take more time to solve. To he honest, some of them, like lab 4 took about 18 hours with a lot of errors in my config. It’s a nice pace, one lab during workdays + theory and one during the weekend, you can easily get through 8 labs in a month.
All the remaining time I was spent on theory that I didn’t really get right on the previous lab. I went to the office at weekends to get away from refrigerator with beers, TV or anything fun. It is amazing how much boring stuff starts to get appealing after three hours of working on the lab not even mentioning that there were 5 hours more to go. Every Monday, I had a notebook full of topics I needed to revise.
In the revision process which I did on Monday, I went through technologies that I didn’t configure well when on the last lab through weekend. I went through those technologies with INE Workbook 1 and additionally used books from the list below.
I love stats, not that it means something, knowing is fun!
An average of 25 hour a week for 8 months is about 800 hours of labs. If you count the theory part I did before April and INE videos “on the go”, it could easily rise to something about 1500 hours altogether. That’s the preparation time you need to invest in order to get the CCIE.
Materials, Videos from Jeremy and INE and all the books I used
I gathered all the sources that I used and made a list to share with you. I probably missed some of materials but I will update this list in future. I wanted to get the list done so you can see what it takes altogether to prepare for the exam, at least what I used. It’s always good to have a reference to all the stuff you need and the right plan to get through those materials.
Books (not necessary sorted by importance):
- CCIE Routing and Switching Certification Guide 4.0 (v5 came out few weeks ago, to late for me)
- CCIE Routing and Switching Configuration Practice LABs v5.0
- CCIE Routing and Switching Troubleshooting Practice LABs v5.0
- TCP/IP Illustrated, Volume 1: The Protocols 2nd Edition
- Ethernet the definitive guide
- Network Warrior 2nd Edition
- Interconnections: Bridges, Routers, Switches, and Internetworking Protocols 2nd Edition
- Internet Routing Architectures 2nd Edition (It’s all BGP that you need)
- Developing IP Multicast Networks: The Definitive Guide to Designing and Deploying CISCO IP Multicast Networks
- MPLS and VPN Architectures (Ciscopress)
- Cisco QOS Exam Certification Guide (IP Telephony Self-Study) 2nd Edition
- Implementing Cisco IPv6 Networks (Ciscopress)
- IPv6 Essentials – by Silvia Hagen
- Cisco LAN Switch (CCIE Professional Development)
- Routing TCP/IP, Volume I (CCIE Professional Development)
- Routing TCP/IP, Volume II (CCIE Professional Development)
- Troubleshooting IP Routing Protocols (Cisco Press CCIE Professional Development)
- TcL Scripting for Cisco IOS
- I love CBT Nuggest, Jeremy’s video are great. And now there are brand new CCIE R&S v5 videos that I heard are also great and even more detailed than before.
- INE Advanced Technology Class videos are a must. Nuggets are cool but not enough, INE is the best if you want all the details. To detailed to hear while walking, running or riding a bike. You must be seated like in a classroom to be able to follow those.
LAB and Rack time:
- INE Rack – I bought for 100$ some rack time from INE, later I got 500 tokens by getting All Access Pass. I used it only for TS as there I didn’t wanted to see config before starting the lab.
- Before starting with 8 hours labs I got some Rack time from ccierackrentals.com that was more cheap. I used those for some testing with INE Workbook 1 tasks.
- GNS3 – I made all the INE labs in GNS3, I even made some labs topologies from Configuration Practice LABs v5.0 from Cisco. I waited for Cisco VIRL but it also came out to late for me.
- Packetpushers.net it’s fun, neardish and very clever podcast and blog about networking. Includes great content and great experts as guests in every show. Huge amount of information about new and old networking technology. Hear about networking from real Experts who are denying to get totally asocial.
- Ipspace.net My homepage rightnexttoPacketpushersisIvanPepelnjak’s blog. It has a new post almost every day giving you the idea on how much things this expert is able to follow at once and how big his enthusiasm about network is. And it’s serious stuff only on that one. For a network fellow wannabe it’s a must.
- IPSpace has also a yearly subscription for Ivan’s webinars that cover all important network and datacenter topics used in real world today. It’s highly recommended not only from me but from a lot of other networkers that I know and who are subscribed to that one for years.
- CiscoDocs – While doing labs try to find all important stuff inside Cisco Configuration Guides so you can later on lab exam find them again without spending a lot of time (no search option on exam)
- On CiscoDosc Configuration Guides contain all the config examples that you need and Command Reference docs contain every single default value for every config command you wish. Remember the default value in seconds for bp scan-time? Of course not, and in reference guide is enough to open BGP and find the command “bp scan-time” it says there “The default scanning interval is 60 seconds.”
- I also used twitter and through time made a list of people that I follow containing network expert mostly on IPv6 that are very active in publishing links about interesting articles about technology.
As you know, I cannot tell you anything more specific. The lab exam is fair, without any hidden tricks and it is not too complicated, so don’t panic. When you see the INE labs, or Cisco 360 labs, they will prepare you for all sort of crazy stuff. They are sometimes really more complicated than the real deal. That’s okay, you will really learn technologies on an expert level with INE or IPExpert too as they are made to get you ready for real life not only exams.
I cannot go into more details but I hope it was helpful either way and that you will also succeed in you endeavours to get this crazy thing done.
And one last thing, I wish you good luck on the exam day. Sometimes, that’s always extra helpful.