Passed CCIE R/S on 9/19

On Monday
9/19 I passed the CCIE Route/Switch in RTP. It feels really good!

 

The last
couple of months of the journey were quite hard and I found myself leaching off
of anyone else’s success story that would share I wanted to give back with my
own story.

 

My journey
towards the CCIE began in November 2013. At that time it was simply the next
step to take since I had just finished up the CCNP. However, I had only been
out of college for about 6 months and had been working in the industry for
about 11 months. During that time I had done network support for a multi-tenant
DC environment which was a great experience but still, as you all know 11
months in the industry is a bit insulting to what the CCIE is supposed to be. I
didn’t know that at the time of course.

 

After two
attempts I got the v4 CCIE written knocked out in January 2014 and began to
plan out how I was going to tackle the CCIE. Thankfully, my employer was extremely
supportive of pursuing the CCIE since I was in a customer facing position and
provided the funds to purchase the INE Ultimate Bundle (I think that was what
it was called). It included the 2 week Bootcamp as well as the all access pass.

 

I knew that
ultimately I would be taking the v5 CCIE so I was in a bit of limbo in terms of
labs covering the new material. Since all of INE’s practice labs were at the
time were on the smaller 6 router 4 switch build, I got old lab equipment from
work and built it out at home.

From this
point I was just going through all of INE’s v4 advanced tech labs and slowly
working my way through each topic. I schedule the lab for October…which was
kind of stupid considering when July came around I still hadn’t gotten to many
topics for the first time.

The Bootcamp
was an eye opening experience. Starting at the end of July I attended the 2
week long Bootcamp with instructor Dave Smith. Dave was extremely knowledgeable
and an excellent teacher! Since many of the topics (about half of bgp, mpls,
qos, multicast, and others) were completely new to me I did my best to
understand the moving pieces of the technologies and then would go home each
evening and do the classroom labs on my own until the morning hours. The Bootcamp
allowed me to get through all the CCIE technologies at high level so that I
could start diving into how they all work together and the nitty gritty
details.

August
through October I was going through INE’s lab workbook 2 and 3 while also doing
the troubleshooting labs. On October 15th I went into the lab
thinking I could do it. I couldn’t…not at that time anyway. I finally realized
how important it was for a CCIE candidate to have meaningful experience.

I didn’t
think I bombed tshoot…maybe 6 out of 10 tickets? But looking my score I think I
did much worse. I got hung up on a couple and wasted a bunch of time. I didn’t
think I passed Diag (solved 2 and guessed the 3rd due to time) but I
did pass that section. Config was the section that absolutely dominated me.

I bet I made
it halfway through the lab before the day was over. It was just so much bigger
than anything that I had practiced on! And I found that so many sections would
have 3 or 4 tasks that were no problem and then there would be that one
requirement that just had me stumped. I walked away knowing that I absolutely wasn’t
ready; the ‘expert’ actually means expert and I wasn’t one obviously.

Since I was
getting married in January I made the decision to put the CCIE on hold for a
while. So I dumped everything that I could remember from the test so that I
could have a leg up when I was ready for the final days of lab prep again.

I didn’t
touch the books from my lab date (Oct 2014) to December 2015. During that I
time I got some wonderful work experience that was pertinent to the CCIE.
Customers came to me with topics like qos design, spanning-tree optimization,
multicast troubleshooting, WAN design, IPv6 knowledge transfers, and many many
more. I learned soooooo much about how these technologies are deployed and why
you would want to deploy them a certain way. I learned that the why is every
bit as important as the how and this was extremely important for consulting.

At the end
of 2015 my wife and I decided it was time to pick it back up. Unfortunately
when I went to look at lab dates (I like to schedule way in advance to have
something to work towards) I found out that my written had expired.

On Christmas
holidays I read through the new topics that were on the v5 written that I hadn’t
worked with before (LISP, l2 tunneling mechanisms, and a couple of others). My
thinking was that I had already covered everything else so I would just learn
the new topics and hit the boson practice tests to freshen up on the old ones.

I miserably
bombed the written attempt in January. So I decided to regroup and avoid all
shortcuts. So January through the beginning of April I went through every
single Advanced Technology video taking notes along the way and then completing
the labs after each section. This was extremely helpful! I had no idea how much
I had forgotten since the last time I had studied this stuff in detail.

I took the
written again in April (I think?) and failed again. This time I was extremely
frustrated…in my attempt to avoid a long rant I will just say that the written
tests ask some questionable questions J
Nothing new there.

So more
cramming over the next month and I passed in May (barely!).

At this time
I scheduled my first lab attempt for 3 months out (August 19th) and
started doing the full-scale labs that INE had. There were really great and
quite fun after spending so much time prepping for the written. After reflecting
on my failure the first time around I became a stickler for building all my
configs out in notepad and experimenting with what things were practical to
template out. This proved to be so helpful!

Fast forward
to August…at this point I had gone through all of INE’s Mock labs, full scale
labs, and troubleshooting labs many times each. I could get through pretty much
all of the config labs in nearly 2 hours. Full scale 3 was a struggle to get
down to 4 through…that lab is brutal! At this point I was an absolute beast at
configuring and troubleshooting!

For final
prep I recreated the topo that I had seen when I took the CCIE the first time
around. I didn’t do a good job of writing down the specific tasks and scenarios
after attempt #1 but I did manage to capture the topology so I was able to lab
that up and learn all the in’s, out’s and potential hang-ups.

Lab day came
and I felt ready. In the troubleshooting section I set a good pace and finished
everything in around 2 hours and 5 minutes. In diag I finished both tickets
easily. Config unfortunately was crazy! It was huge and when the day was over I
was about 3 tasks short of completing it (a couple of services and a routing
section). But I also didn’t get a chance to go back and review. I thought that
if I got full credit for every section that I did complete then maybe I would
have a shot at passing.

As soon as I
left the testing center my wife and I went to the beach for the weekend. I
actually got locked out of the CCIE portal that evening from checking it so
many times. (Didn’t know you could do that!) Friday evening went by with no
results…Saturday came and went…finally on Sunday evening I got the results and
they were exactly what I expected. I passed tshoot and diag and failed config.

I
immediately scheduled another attempt for 30 days out since I felt like the
only thing that I needed to get a bit better at was time management strategy.

Over the
next month I spent most of my time working on recreates of what I had seen the
first couple of times. On the weekends I would hit some of INE’s full-scale
labs in order to stay fresh.

Lab day came
again on September 19th. This time I was quite nervous…unfortunately
when you put so much work into something it’s hard for that thing to not in
some way become a part of your identity. The possibility of failing again was a
depressing thought!

I started in
troubleshooting and was blowing through the tickets…I thought I was going to be
done with that section in an hour. Unfortunately I hit one ticket that took me
about an hour to solve…it was quite ridiculous. (I suck at letting something go
without solving it). I finally solved it at the 2:05 mark and then knocked out
the next couple of tickets in 10 to 15 minutes.

Diag was
tough, like the first time I took the exam I knew I had solved the first two
correctly but simply ran out of time on the 3rd.

Config went
quite well this time…I got off to a bit of a slow start in the L2 section but
once I got past that I was a template pasting machine! I blew through the major
topics with pretty much all of my verifications working on the first attempt.
Around 2:30 I started to get a bit overconfident and maybe slowed down a bit. I
knew I was going to finish so I lost a bit of urgency, but no big deal. I
finished the final section at 3:30 (test ends at 4) so I took 5 minutes to
stretch my legs before coming back to review. I went through all the tasks
quickly and did find one requirement that I had missed so I fixed that and then
ran a final full-scale tclsh shell connectivity test. It’s a great feeling to
see everything work beautifully!

I walked out
at 3:50 thinking that maybe I had passed…I was cautiously optimistic. I wasn’t
sure on tshoot, I knew I had got the desired result on every ticket but I was
worried that I may have broke something in an earlier ticket while solving a
later ticket.

My wife and
I went out for pizza and beer that evening to try to make the waiting easier…around
6:30 I got the email. CCIE #54125! That was a fantastic feeling. The joy was
made sweeter by the difficulty of the journey. There were so many moments of
self-doubt, inadequacy, and frustration.  My ultimate fear in the process was that all
of the struggle would end up being for nothing so it felt so good to be done!
It also feels really good to come home after work and not study. It will feel
amazing to not get up at the crack of dawn on Saturdays to study.

So…all that
being said, here’s a few tips for anyone who’s interested:

1.      
Don’t let lack of experience keep you from
pursuing the CCIE…you will learn a lot of fantastic things on the journey that
will immensely help you in your job. But also have a realistic expectation that
passing is going to be much more difficult until you do have experience with
these technologies.

2.      
Don’t take any shortcuts and don’t be lazy
during the boring stuff! Watching videos and reading gets old after a while and
the temptation is to just dive into labs…this will leave glaring weaknesses.
Read, watch, listen…whatever it is and take good notes during the process! Note
taking always helps data retention.

3.      
While you are labbing type all your configs out
in a text editor (or I’ve heard people say writing them out helps). This will
greatly increase your speed and allow you to see the ways in which you can
template out configs to knock out huge configs in short periods of time.

4.      
It’s certainly possible to pass on your first attempt
but it doesn’t happen often. If you don’t pass recreate the lab that you saw
before you take it again. This will be a huge help to you!!!!!

5.      
Go through all of INE’s full scale and mock labs
many times each! You will memorize all the problems but you will become so fast
at converting requirements into configs.

6.      
Lastly…and this one is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT; pretty
much all practice labs present tasks in sequential order. The lab doesn’t do
this. You may not be able to complete an early task until you complete a task
later on. Read through the entire lab before starting and understand the
overall design so that you understand which technologies will need to be
deployed in order to get connectivity working.

a.      
One way to practice this type of stuff in the
practice labs is to group task by site rather than order. When you are building
your ISP IGP go ahead and do mpls and bgp on top of that before you move onto
the next site.

Final word
of encouragement…

If you go
through all of INE’s AT videos, labs, and then do the full-scale and mock labs
multiple times you will be ready to pass. I’m not saying you will pass, there’s
a lot of test taking strategy that goes into it but if you don’t pass, you will
be very close.

Good luck
and know that it can be done! After each failure keep pressing on and you will
get there!

 

 

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