CCIE Lab Attempt #1: Reflections

So yesterday, on September 11th of all days, I made my first attempt at the CCIE R&S lab in RTP. I had my results by 7pm last night, and it was as I already knew, and I hadn’t passed. I was pretty sure of this, and getting the email and reading through my score report confirmed what I already knew. But this isn’t a post about me feeling sorry for myself, because honestly, I left there happy with how things went. That may sound odd, but I have no regrets and can only move on from here with the knowledge of what I need to improve upon.

First off, if you have never taken the CCIE lab, the stress level of the first attempt no matter how much you may try to dismiss it does exist. My nerves didn’t hit until I walked in the door of Building 3 on the Cisco campus, and didn’t go away until I left the building around 4pm. I want to thank David Blair, the proctor at RTP, and a man who serves one of the most important and probably under appreciated jobs at Cisco. He jokes around and really does his best because he knows that for the people there to take the lab, this is a day that could be the culmination of years of intense studying, or another step on the journey towards passing their lab no matter whether they pass or fail. He’s really a nice guy, and I will hopefully have more than a few words fumble out of my mouth the next time I take the lab, as I think I was so nervous that I could barely form a full sentence the entire day.

Without breaking the NDA in any way, I’d like to add my insight and opinion on the lab itself as it pertains to the R&S lab. The lab itself is straightforward. I did not find any trickery in how things were phrased, at least the one that I saw, and it told you exactly what you needed to do and within what constraints you had to accomplish certain tasks. I was pleasantly surprised by this, as I’d prepared using the Cisco 360 workbooks, which were extremely vague in a lot of their phrasing and seemed to rely on word trickery at times. This is not to say that the lab is easy in any sense of the word, because it’s not. You need to be able to know how to, in the words of the great trainer Narbik Kocharians, turn all of the different knobs and buttons to make things work.

There are aspects that you need to be able to deduce without being specifically told that you need to do them as well. There may be dependencies, ok, there will be dependencies, between different technologies and you can’t look at the tasks necessarily as the order that you need to complete them. You’re expected to be an expert at this point, and they don’t spoon feed you and say that you need to do A, B, and C in order to be able to accomplish X.

The Troubleshooting portion, for me at least, is all about time management and not falling down a rabbit hole when you can’t quickly resolve a ticket. I knew this going in, and yet I still had it happen and wasted far too much time on several tickets rather than just moving on. I knew I didn’t pass this section, but I still did my best in the following sections and didn’t just give up.

Diagnostics is the section I actually received a Pass on my scoring report in, which was surprising, and there’s not much I can say on this section other than I felt less prepared for it than any of the other sections, and it’s the only one I actually passed…so go figure.

Configuration was about what I expected as far as size and scope, but there were some unexpected things that threw me because I did not thoroughly read everything in the instructions. I’d used the Cisco 350 workbook assessments, and I can say that the CA21-25 workbook labs are a good preparation for dealing with the number of devices and tasks that the configuration section covered. Again, can’t say much due to the NDA, but it was a great experience even if it didn’t result in me getting my number.

I’m hoping to get another attempt scheduled in the next few months at the most, I want to keep the motivation and momentum going and not fall off of the studying wagon. If you’re thinking about going for your CCIE and are reading this, I will be one of many who will tell you that if you’re serious, it will require a lot of sacrifices, of time, and of energy. If you have a significant other, make sure you discuss it with them at the very beginning and come to an agreement on how your studying will impact your life, because it will. I’m a fortunate man to have a wife who has been more supportive than I could have asked or hoped, but I know that’s not the case for everyone. I wish everyone who is on their journey to obtain their CCIE, or any certification, the best of luck in your quest.