CCIE R&S Books and Useful Links

Below is a long list of useful books and links that I’ve found in my studies for the CCIE. Many of the links go to resources on cisco.com, so you may need a CCO account to view them.

Reflections on Studying

Since this past August, I’ve been going through and studying for 20-30 hours per week to prepare for my CCIE exams. In that time, I’ve been able to pass my written exam and have continued to press on towards my ultimate goal of taking and passing the CCIE lab exam. Over the past several weeks, I’ve read articles that continue to dismiss the need for the CCIE, especially the Routing and Switching version that I’m working towards. I’ve seen some valid points, but this hasn’t deterred me.

Let me back up a bit and start off by saying that studying has never been something that I have particularly enjoyed or even known how to do properly. For the most part, my educational career involved very little studying but I was still able to get through my primary and secondary schooling with a high GPA and little effort put in. I’m not saying this to gloat, but I honestly wish I had learned how to study at that time in my life. College was similar, but I quickly found that in order to reach that level I had to put in more study effort. It was difficult, but I managed to get through it.

Fast forward to my CCNA and CCNP, and those didn’t require too much effort to get through. I’m not saying they were easy by any stretch of the imagination, but I was able to cram through about a month per exam to get through them. I worked through what I needed to in order to pass, and I passed them. I then decided to move to my CCIE with a similar approach. This is where I hit the mother of all road blocks, as I quickly found that every method in my life that I had approached for learning was not truly correct. I was studying to pass an exam, but that didn’t work for the CCIE due to the massive amount of information that one needed to actually have a complete understanding of. I first passed the written in 2013, but then fell off the wagon and didn’t get much further until a few years later.

This time around, I decided that I needed to figure out how people approached the CCIE differently than other exams. Most people who had passed that I had talked to said that the 20-30 hours per week of study time was a necessity. I discussed this with my wife and found a schedule that would permit this. I highly recommend discussing this with your significant other if you are in a relationship when you begin working towards your CCIE, as it will effect both of you.

The biggest effect that I’ve found over the past almost 7 months of studying is that I have a confidence in areas that I didn’t before. This is especially true when it comes to my career. As many people will admit, we networkers seem to struggle with the imposter syndrome more than we’d care to, and I was someone who always felt that this was the case. I knew what I was doing, but I always felt afraid that I was a fraud. After putting in the effort and work to truly understand what is in this exam, I’ve found it has given me a confidence in the work I do outside of my studies.

In the end, the single best thing that has come from studying is that it’s started a passion in me for learning and understanding how these things work. I’ve found other like-minded people to have discussions with, and I’ve rediscovered how much I enjoy learning. I’m already looking forward to what I decide to do after I complete my goal, but I hope that if you are on this same path, or somewhere else in it, that you continue towards whatever goal you have set for yourself.

Cisco Live – Why?

So, we’re sitting at five months until the starting point of my favorite event of the year, Cisco Live. Since you’re reading this, I’m going to give you my thoughts on why this is my favorite event of the year, along with how my perception of what Cisco Live is has changed since I first attended it in 2011.

At my first CLUS in 2011, I was overwhelmed. I hadn’t been a network engineer very long, and I was very intimidated by the number of extremely knowledgeable people who were all over Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. If it’s your first time attending, trust me, we’ve all been there and it is very easy to get lost in the crowd and not know what to do or where to go. One thing that I’ve learned is that the people at CLUS are extremely helpful. This doesn’t just go for the people working the event. If you have a question, look for someone with the NETVET flag on their badge. These are people who have attended at least 3 of the last 5 events, and they will help point you in the right direction.

Another evolution of Cisco Live has been that of social networking, and it has played a huge part in why this event is what I look forward to every year. The social networking aspect, mainly Twitter, is what helped me get out of my introverted shell, albeit very slowly, over several years and actually start to talk to people in person that I’d talked to online for years. If you go with co-workers, I’d highly recommend not just staying with people who you are around the other 51 weeks of the year, but rather start up a conversation with some random people. This is truly geek nirvana, and you will find someone who has the same passions as you do if you look for it.

If you decide to take the plunge and get the full conference pass, you will have a selection of hundreds upon hundreds of sessions to choose from, and you will wonder how you’re supposed to decide what to go to. My advice: Pick a couple of topics that you are very interested in, and look for sessions that hit those areas first. Maybe pick a couple that are completely outside of your normal wheelhouse. The great thing is, most sessions are recorded or have been presented at past events and are available to watch on CiscoLive365 any time. One thing that I’ve also learned over time is that if you really are interested in a topic, get to the session early and sit at the front. All the way in the front. Engage with the speakers, ask questions, talk to them afterwards. There are amazing resources, but mostly, amazing people who are passionate for technology, and to get the most out of CLUS you need to make it as interactive as possible.

I’ve been given so many opportunities because of Cisco Live and engaging in the social aspects that have come along, especially over this past year, that I still wonder how I’ve found myself involved in them. From Cisco Champions to Tech Field Day to RouterGods, I’ve been able to find an online community that just doesn’t exist where I live. I guess my closing advice for Cisco Live would be this: Get out of your comfort zone, find new people, talk to them, and make sure to keep in touch after the event.

Click here to sign up for Cisco Live 2017
(Note: I’m participating in the Social Media contest for Cisco Live 2017, so there’s an embedded link ID for me in that link.)

Year in Review – 2016

This year has been one for the record books in terms of personal and professional changes and adventures in my life. I figured that I would do a quarter-by-quarter breakdown of the happenings in the life of this introverted network engineer, since there are some months that either nothing really life-altering happened, or I’ve decided to selectively remove from memory. Here goes:

2016 Q1 – January through March

These months were probably the biggest change in life for our household, as our son was born on February 2, 2016. He is our first child and he is the bright point in every day of my life. Parenthood has changed my life, both on a personal and a professional level. I won’t get too much into the details of this, as it’s not really directly related to the technical aspects that I prefer to delve into here.

I was also accepted into the Cisco Champions program in 2016, something which I am very grateful to be a part of. This community helped open the door to many of the other opportunities and changes that happened to me this year, and I highly recommend that if you are interested in engaging with a group of awesome professionals that you look into applying.

2016 Q2 – April through June

It was around this time that I decided that I needed to get back on track and really start to finish the goal that I had set out years ago: Obtain my CCIE R&S. I originally passed my CCIE written in late 2013, but due to a series of personal and professional events, I had never attempted the lab and would need to retake the written exam before making an attempt at the lab. I decided to jump back into the fire and attended the Cisco 360 CIERS 1 class.

This was the most intense classes I’ve attended over the years, and it helped me to see how much this exam encompassed, along with finding out how little I knew. The only problem at this point was figuring out a study plan and how I was going to approach these exams. I felt lost, but luckily I would join up with a group of people I had met through Twitter and expand my connections for not only studying, but finding the motivation to push through and finish what I had started.

The first half of the year ended with an opportunity that really surprised me, an invitation to attend Networking Field Day 12 in August. This is a part of the Tech Field Day program that is run by Gestalt IT, and they put on some of the best discussions from a wide variety of vendors that run the gamut in the IT industry. The people who are involved in these are seen as leaders in the IT world and as people who have a passion for all things related to technology. To say I was humbled to be considered and invited was an understatement.

2016 Q3 – July through September

July kicked off with one of my favorite events of the year, Cisco Live. Back in Las Vegas, where I attended my first Cisco Live in 2011. If you haven’t attended, I highly recommend it, even on a social pass, because the people you will meet there are some of the best and brightest in the industry. Being a part of the Cisco Champions program this year came with some perks, including front row seats during one of the keynotes, and access to a suite during the weekly Customer Appreciation Event.

By far, though, one of the coolest things that I was able to participate in at Cisco Live was to be on a panel where we talked about using social media and how it can be used to further your career. This was the ultimate contradiction for an introvert such as myself, but I also know that getting outside of my comfort zone is the best way to grow. According to Justin Cohen, who was also on the panel, I apparently didn’t shut up once I did start talking.

Shortly after Cisco Live, I began meeting in online chats with some fellow people who were also pursuing their CCIE. This group helped me to be motivated and stay on track with my studies, and to keep me accountable. If you’re interested in working on it, I’d recommend finding people who you can communicate with on a regular basis and form some sort of study group. It’s the best thing I’ve done for my studies thus far.

The quarter rounded off by attending Networking Field Day 12 (NFD12) in Silicon Valley. I knew that this was going to be an intense experience, but until you have been there, you really have no idea what you are getting into. Every day, from the minute you wake up until you go to bed, is drinking from the firehose. I abandoned even attempting to take notes during the presentations because it was so overwhelming, opting to go back and re-watch the videos afterwards. The people I met here continue to impress me, and it was an experience that I will never forget. (And hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to repeat in the future)

2016 Q4 – October through December

A side-note to my attendance at NFD12: Tom Hollingsworth (aka @networkingnerd) said to us during our dinner before the event began that for those who were attending this the first time, it would change us and our views on many things. After I attended, I did indeed understand exactly what he was saying. I felt like I needed to find a new challenge, that I was becoming complacent and stagnant in where I was in my professional life. An opportunity opened up at my employer, a place I have worked for the past 16 years, for a new position that was being created in the company. I applied and was promoted to this position, and I finally do feel like I have a job that challenges me daily and allows me the freedom to do what I truly enjoy doing. I can’t help but believe that part of this was due to being invited to NFD12, and I’m definitely grateful for that.

Following NFD12, I decided it was time to kick my studying into gear. Before that point, I was only putting in 10-15 hours per week of study time. It was becoming apparent that if I was serious about this, I needed to at least double this. I had a discussion with my wife and we agreed on a study timeline for every week that would work for our family. If you are in a relationship and wish to remain so, you need to have this discussion with your significant other. If you suddenly start disappearing for 20-30 non-work hours per week, I can almost guarantee that it will result in either divorce or possibly murder.

Once I kicked up my study time, things really started to make more sense and I was able to schedule and fail my first attempt at the CCIE written exam in early November. However, this failure helped me to see where my weak points were and how I needed to refine my approach to the exam. I took the next month to buckle down and really hit those areas I was weak in, and in early December, I was able to pass my CCIE written.

Final Thoughts

2016 has been a life changing year for me. There have been so many people I have met through different communities, but the main ones have been the Cisco Champions, Tech Field Day, and RouterGods. It’s great to be able to talk to people who are far smarter than I am, because it inspires me on a daily basis. My final thought would be this: If you are thinking about getting more involved in the community that exists out there, do it. I love technology, but the people I’ve met are great and the motivation and desire they have helped to re-ignite in me has really helped me start a new chapter in my professional life. If you are at Cisco Live this June, I hope you feel free to say hi to me.

CCIE R&S written v5.1 thoughts

This afternoon I sat for my second attempt at the CCIE R&S written v5.1 exam after a miserable failure a little over a month ago. I’m happy to report that this was a better result, I managed to pass by a good margin this time, and I just wanted to give a few thoughts on how I think the written is progressing since v5.

I’m honestly happy to say that I believe that Cisco has made really great strides since the v5 was launched almost 3 years ago. I first took the v5 written at CLUS in 2015 and failed horribly. While I will admit that I didn’t do hardly any studying for that attempt, I do remember that the questions themselves were not written well. By that, I mean that they seemed to touch on subjects that were not well defined on the blueprint and there were a lot of grammatical and spelling errors throughout the test. There was no way that I was going to pass it, and I earned that failing score.

This year, I made the decision that it was time to really make a go at a serious attempt to obtain my CCIE. I originally passed the old v4 written almost 3 years ago (Dec 5, 2013) but due to some things that happened in life that ended up being for the best, I never attempted the lab within the 18 months of the original pass and so I knew I needed to retake the written. Shortly after Cisco Live this year, I started studying in earnest.

The structure of the written exam now, in my opinion, is much better than it has been in the past. I thought this when I took the v5.1 the first time and failed last month, and it has been improved on greatly. The topics that it hits are relevant for the most part, and I think that a lot of the input that Cisco received at Cisco Live this year was taken and has helped to create a better exam. This is a fair exam, and I don’t say that just because I’ve passed it. I believed this when I failed last month as well, it makes sense and the topics hit exactly how they should hit according to the blueprint.

My study schedule started out as around 15-20 hours a week for the first month, but due to attending Networking Field Day and a training class for work, which essentially limited my study time in August for two weeks, I really hit the books hard in mid-August. My study schedule evolved into getting up at 4am daily and getting into work to study from 5-8am on M-Fri, then on the weekends I would devote 5 hrs on both Saturday and Sundays. This gave me approximately 25 hours per week of pure study time.

My first attempt in early November was met with thinking that I was prepared, but after a fairly low score, I was able to see where my weaknesses were in what the exam was testing on. I went back and studied the blueprint item by item. I discovered that this is really the only way that you can prepare yourself to know what will be on the test. Do not trust a training provider to cover everything on the blueprint. Don’t trust that the Official Certification Guide will either. The CCIE blueprints are the best source to find out what will be on it, and my main guide has been looking through the configuration guides in the Cisco documentation site. Honestly, every answer on the test is in those documents for the most part.

This isn’t to say that the recommended reading lists don’t have a treasure trove of information, they most certainly do. But I have found such a great resource that I hadn’t tapped into until after that first v5.1 fail that I wish I had earlier. Now it’s time to buckle down and start to prepare for the lab. I’m tentatively hoping to make my first attempt at the lab in the late-May/early-June timeframe. Hopefully I can get a pass before Cisco Live and attend the CCIE party, but that’s a pipe dream at this point.

To everyone who is working towards their certification, whether it’s CCxA, CCxP, or CCxE level, keep studying. There are great resources and people out there who will help you to find motivation that you didn’t know you even had. The list of people who have been a major part of this so far are too many to list, but this is only the beginning and I’ll save those thank you’s until I have my number.

Drill Baby, Drill! (into NetFlow with Kentik)

Analyzing traffic flows can be painful, tedious, and finding the data that you need can be downright difficult at times. Over the years, there have emerged products that help you to dig through the wonderful world of NetFlow to figure out how traffic is flowing in and out of your network. At Network Field Day 12, I was lucky enough to attend a presentation from a new entry into this arena that is doing some really awesome things, Kentik.

What Kentik allows you to do is to dig through your NetFlow data in ways that I had not seen before. I will admit, before the presentation I hadn’t had much experience with this, but since I’ve taken on a new role at my current employer, I have been able to look into this product in a hands on capacity as we have been evaluating it for a few months. Full disclosure, we were in discussions to demo it before I took this position, and I had no role in deciding to evaluate it before or after I met with them at NFD12.

Over the past several weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to play around with the product, and I must say, I’m impressed. Working for a service provider, it is critical for us to see how data is flowing into our network so that I can make the best decisions on how we want to set up different peerings, CDN’s, and other services in order to deliver data in the fastest and most cost means possible. Kentik makes this relatively simple.

The main feature that I’ve had a chance to look at so far is their Data Explorer. With it, I can create queries on our NetFlow data that is sent to the server. Want to know how much traffic from Netflix has gone to a certain interface on an edge router over the past week? Simple. Want to dig deeper and analyze the different AS Paths that were taken, so you can find out if you aren’t advertising a prefix somewhere that you should be? Kentik makes it simple to pull this information from your NetFlow data.

Kentik is still relatively new to this market, but I’ve been impressed by the people that I’ve been able to work with there. They have been very helpful, and while I don’t want to present this as a sales piece, I think they definitely have something that we’re going to continue to look into. I highly recommend watching the videos from Networking Field Day 12 if you want to get a good feel of all of the aspects that their company is all about, as I haven’t had a chance to look into every aspect of their product yet.

Kentik presents at Networking Field Day 12 (#NFD12) Videos

 

Disclaimer: I was not compensated for this article or my attendance at Networking Field Day 12 by Kentik or any other vendor. I did get to listen to some really great companies talk about some amazing products and technologies, had some meals, and probably got a few shirts and bags, but that was the extent of things.

Traffic Optimization with Teridion

In August, I was privileged to be invited to attend Networking Field Day 12 in Silicon Valley. As a first time attendee, I can say that the phrase “drinking from the firehose” is an understatement to what this event is all about. One of the companies that presented to us was Teridion who bill themselves as the Waze of the Internet. Their platform takes an overview of the Internet and finds those pesky traffic jams in order to routes around them delivering content at much faster speeds than through traditional means.

The underlying premise (dear god I hope I’m using the correct one) is that the Internet is full of traffic jams that are disruptive, and there’s nothing you can do about it. With many businesses moving to cloud-based services for things like e-mail, file storage, and other mission critical applications, we’ve moved from housed- in localized server rooms to massive datacenters around the world. While this looks good for the bottom line(who wants to spend thousands of dollars a year just on heating, cooling, and electrical bills to keep these servers running?), it has moved the backhaul of information from the intranet to the Internet. Enter Teridion.

Teridion’s platform, as I understand it, essentially places virtual routers all over the cloud provider’s network in order to learn traffic patterns and see how to better optimize flows. For me, it was frustrating that we didn’t get to learn exactly how Teridion accomplishesd this.  I can understand that Teridion wants to protect their intellectual property, especially in an environment that is known for corporate espionage, but simply telling me that it just works then giving a demonstration of file transfers with and without its platform running isn’t enough to sell me. It is, however, enough to pique my interest.

The way it seems to work is that their virtual routers essentially create an optimized tunnel between their devices to give the best performance possible, even if the routing would be considered sub-optimal, because it looks deeper than the standard metrics that protocols like OSPF and BGP look at. Just because one path may be 15 hops away doesn’t necessarily mean that it would be slower than a path that is 4 hops away, and their platform appears to look deeper so that it can route traffic over the path that is the fastest, regardless of routing metrics. Again, this is a simplified understanding and I apologize if I’m completely off.

Though I don’t completely understand it, I’m excited by it. As a network engineer in the service provider world for more years than I care to mention, I like to see a company that seems like it’s thinking outside the box. Finding methods to optimize traffic flow using non-traditional means, it’s interesting. I’m interested in seeing how their product will evolve, as I think this would be something that I would enjoy seeing take off in the ISP space, with services running at edge points of SP’s to give a truly global optimization of the Internet. I’m not sure if this is a space that they’ll venture into, (or if it’s even possible) but technologies like this have the potential to change the landscape of how we view traffic engineering.

I admit- I’m still optimistically skeptical about Teridion. The concept is really cool and something that I think has a niche, and possibly a much larger potential than I’m aware of. Optimizing traffic is important as we keep placing more importance on the cloud and viewing data storage and transfer as a utility. There is a premium in improving the delivery of data, especially on a global scale. I’ll be keeping an eye on this company to see where it goes. One last thing: be your own company. That is, be the Teridion of the Internet.

Link to Teridion videos @ #NFD12: http://techfieldday.com/appearance/teridion-presents-at-networking-field-day-12/

Disclaimer: I was a delegate at Networking Field Day 12. I received no compensation for writing this, these words are my opinion and not that of my employer or anyone else.