400 meters and 5 minutes between point A and point B.
Many like-minded people like my have done it before and many will do it after me. During this walk, almost 2 years of hard work, emotions and the feeling of failing crosses my mind. Contemplating my plan and my goal. Have I done it right? Should I do it differently?
The answer is just 8 hours away from that moment. And for most of you, it should be obvious by now, that I’m talking about the CCIE EI LAB exam. The 400 meters is exactly the distance between the NH hotel and the Cisco office in Brussels.
2 years ago, I started thinking about how I should change my current position as a network engineer in the world. Eager to constantly learn more and better myself on the parts I already knew in my 20 years of experience. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy, right?
The fact that I’ve been doing my work all this time, doesn’t mean the step to the infamous CCIE is easier. I’ve done many deployments based on Campus LAN infrastructures, have operated and managed large global networks and yet I’ve come to the conclusion that this did not make it any easier.
It’s not like reading 2 books instead of 6 and you’re done. My difficulty was that I knew a lot, but there were gaps to fill. A lot of gaps and I wasn’t aware of these at first. This made it much more difficult than just starting all the way at the beginning and working my way through all the materials and technology going forward. I wish I did.
So, I started the CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure Bootcamp at Orhan Ergun. A 10-week boot camp on the weekend to go over design scenarios and labs. The first few weeks it was easier, no additional study during the week was required. But then it hit me hard. The little nifty details in EIGRP stub functions, usage of different BGP features, and the effects on routing. OSPF LSA types again, my personal nightmare when I did SProute in 2019. Well, the game is on.
My known gaps
The gaps that I was aware of were SDx and Automation. Since the switch on 24th of February 2020, this was the largest change in years. So, let’s start with them. Soon I concluded that SDA and DNAC were unavailable for me to lab on my beasty lab server. So, I focussed on SD-WAN and Automation. Created various topologies with SD-WAN, deploying controllers from scratch hundred times, until I could dream it. Deployed many features to play with. During that time I combined it with the free SD-WAN training provided by Cisco Digital Learning. Even got about 32 free CE points for it together with some SDA fundamentals courses. Did the exam in Jan 2021 a day before I would move to my new house and destroyed it. The effort I spent in my lab many hours made sure this would be easy.
For SDA and DNAC, I’ve booked two practice exams for 4 hours each. I could follow the tasks or discover on my own what to do and how to do it. The pricing is very sharp and I could even book more practice labs, just for fun.
My goal was to study for CCIE EI and plan around my life, family, and work. No additional free weeks of study. I would find that inefficient as my mind can only be active and open for learning for a short period of time and for a few iterations a day. So, studying for 14 hours in 1 day didn’t work for me.
I planned my hours of study each day and kept the pace for a maximum of 3 to 4 months. Did I make it myself more difficult? Perhaps, but imagine if I was able to plan around everything, I could do another study after this as well. But let’s not get carried away for a moment. The CCIE EI is the beast to slay and this is my main focus currently.
Please read my previous blog about time planning.
During this 2 year journey, I had a few personal challenges to cope with. These are challenges you don’t know will affect your study scheme when you start your journey. And that’s no shame. But you need to be aware of the effects of it. My challenges in my personal life had caused an interruption in my study streak. When getting back to study after weeks, I found it very difficult to get to the pace where I was before the interruption. Focus issues kept me away from studying or labbing. I had really pushed myself to get to that same level again.
I changed the planning a bit and moved forward to the best of my abilities.
Sleep Eat Work Lab Repeat
After some time contemplating and asking myself if I was ready, I booked the exam 2 months upfront. Was I ready? Hell no, but I couldn’t add more to my knowledge at that point. These would be the weapons I go to battle with and slay the beast. In these months a paid attention to the exam topics and what I really knew and what not. Things I couldn’t explain to another person, I re-labbed to better understand of it. The rest was just sleep, eat, work, lab, repeat.
Booked a hotel nearby for that very day and only brought my laptop and my notes with me. Just in case something dropped in my mind.
Normally I’m very nervous when it comes to sitting an exam. But this felt different. No shivering or uncomfortable feeling. I came into the building just before 08:00 am in Brussels. Seeing that very spot in the corner next to the reception. That’s the place to be picked up by the proctor. It’s obvious the other people are also sitting the exam. You can tell from the awful silence and focus in each person. As if someone would say something, it will flush each mind and deem the exam failed beforehand.
The proctor is in and takes us to the room where magic must happen. All documents are shown and the desk for the next 8 hours is assigned. Luckily, they have the exact same keyboard that I bought 1,5 years ago to practice on.
Starting with the DES section. Unfortunately, I cannot tell you anything about it beyond this point in detail. But the feeling was weird. It did not feel difficult at first. But seeing the many possible answers, it was clear that getting points for each question would be a difficult task to defeat.
Next up: Deploy Operate Optimize (DOO). Started off really great, but it became more and more detailed and difficult as I progressed through the rest of the material. Soon I went into limbo. Looking at a problem for 20 minutes straight and could not find what was wrong or how to solve it. I choose to skip that part in coming back later if I had time left. Then I could solve a few tasks again. Until I hit the next task that was not easy to solve. Again 20 minutes have passed without a proper solution. I began to think about a contingency plan. I could stare another 40 minutes at tasks that were, at least at that moment, unable to solve. Or I could deem the exam failed and learn as much as possible for the next attempt. I choose the latter. I came to the conclusion that I needed more focus in some areas in order to solve these tasks. Back to the drawing board, it is.
Ultimately, the exam was indeed failed. I did not finish all the tasks as required and lost too much time on other tasks. So, time would be my worst enemy.
Now that I have seen the lab and know what is expected of me, I can focus more on my least-best parts. Obviously, tasks need to be completed according to the requirement. You can fix connectivity, but it won’t mean it’s correct. It needs to be very precise in order to receive points for the tasks.
I know now there is no turning back. Once you’re in the lab exam period, you need to finish. I would like to believe I will get the # number, not if, but when.
One thing I do want to share: Run your own pace. You’re competing against yourself, not others. It’s total nonsense when people tell you you’ll need to sleep 2 hours each day and study all the time. I went to BBQs, spend time with my kids, and went on vacation. It’s just a matter of planning.
Below is a list of books I’ve obtained and read. Please note that I have not read all books completely. I read the information that was part of the exam blueprint. Do what’s needed, but don’t push it.
- Routing TCP/IP Vol. 1
- Routing TCP/IP Vol. 2
- CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure Foundation
- CCNP and CCIE Enterprise Core
- CCIE Routing and Switching 4th Edition
- CCIE Routing and Switching 5th Edition
- Optimal Routing Design
- Cisco Software-Defined Wide-area Networks
- Cisco Software-Defined Access