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.

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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.