If I can do it, everybody can do it !
Step 1 : Get information
Do you have a dream that you want to become CCIE Certified ? You’re at the right address to start here. Before you even start thinking about the written and lab, first you have to get information. Maybe you already started at : http://www.cisco.com/go/ccie for the first impression what to expect. But you want more information. Read more from persons who already finished the CCIE journey and you hope that somebody found an easy smooth road on howto pass the lab easily. You can read a lot of blogs and ebooks and I guess nobody would tell you it was a smooth and easy journey. It is a hard, long journey filled with a lot of problems. Not only technical problems, but maybe you will find problems of the social kind. If you start the journey, make sure you enjoy every minute of it ! Maybe you will pass the first time or maybe on the seventh attempt. You always should motivate yourself and have fun in everything you do otherwise you will never finish the trip.
In this blog there are some steps so that you can think what is suitable for you. There is no single solution and every person is different. If you got the capability to know a CCIE’er, just have a beer with him/her and ask about their journey.
Step 2 : Written
To become a CCIE you must pass for a written exam before you can schedule a lab. When you pass both written and lab you will get a CCIE number. Start to find the recommended reading list on the Cisco site and start reading. I prefer PDF and maybe you like to have real books. If you want to do the lab, just make sure you got all the books close to you. Everything you read right now can be very useful during the lab preparation.
My first advice will be: Schedule the written exam as soon as possible ! Then you have a date you can countdown to and there will be some pressure to start reading and learning for the exam. Without scheduling date, there will be excuses not to start. You are busy at work. You should participate in some parties. Your children are little and need your attention. Etcetera. If you have a date, you can still be social and sometimes you will have to watch less Netflix and focus on the books.
It is hard to practice on theory. There are some online testing but just start reading. Once you finished all the books and pdf’s. just start again. And again. And again until you understand everything. Do not skip anything. Of course you can pass the first time but do not be surprised if you fail the test. You must have an excellent score. If you fail the test you can do it again in 2 weeks.
Step 3 : Read
Right now you passed the written and you are able to set a date for your lab exam. Although you already read a lot for your written, there are also some reading recommendation for the lab. Some same books, some are new. Read also design guides and technotes, which are available on the Cisco site. Make notes of important configurations. What I did in the past was starting with a personal blog. Just to search my “notes”. You still can find this blog at http://cciew.joostvandermade.com The posts which I created in the beginning of my CCIE Wireless journey were not correct. But I didn’t care. I was still learning from my mistakes. Although it is a personal method to make notes, a lot of people were also those notes and I got to know some other which were also trying to pass the wireless lab exam.
And again the tip : Once you finished reading the books and notes, read them again and again. I like reading everything in PDF and then highlight the important things. This way when I was reading the book again, I just saw the important thing or things I just should read more carefully.
Step 4 : Schedule
When you got a date of your lab exam, you can schedule your personally agenda for reading and practicing. When you make a schedule, be honest to yourself. You can schedule time in the weekend but if you are full with all kind of things, you will have to make choices. One thing you should keep in mind: If you start the journey, it is very important to keep on the correct road. When your social life is suffering because of you schedule, maybe you will have to choose to stop the journey and try it a year later.
When I am coaching wanna-be CCIE’ers, we’re creating a schedule. Sometimes persons only want to spend 10 hours a week to practice. This is way too less ! To pass the lab you will have about 800-1000 hours of practice and reading. If you only got 10 hours a week, you will be more then 2 years studying. A week got 168 hours. You will sleep about 56 hours a week, so you still got 112 hours left. If you got a full time job, you still got 72 hours left each week. Try to practice each weekend for about 16 hours and during weekdays just read a lot and do some repetitive tasks. 20 hours each week is the minimum of time you will spend for practicing for the lab.
If you rent equipment/labs online try to schedule it when it is convenient for you and not when the lab is available.
Step 5 : Find study partners
You can do your journey by yourself and it is doable but when you have a companion, you will experience that the journey is easier. If a colleague is also starting with a CCIE journey you can together create a schedule and use the same equipment’s. What if you do not know anybody who is starting the same track as you? Google on forums and Facebook. There are some Facebook page which are closed groups.
Be careful whom you pick as a study partner. Make sure that they passed the written already or that the date is close. During my first CCIE journey we were with five Dutch guys gathering together. It was easy because we were in the same time zone and distance was not too bad. When I started with the wireless CCIE journey, I had a study partner in the PST time zone. This means that, even during weekdays, I was awake during the night, just to chat to them on a regular base and discuss problems that we found. Because of this, my social schedule was totally different then normal persons. Although I had two little children and was married at that time, I managed to study in the night, have some sleep in the morning and started the day with my family and did some normal thing with them. Then after dinner I started to practice again and did this to late in the night.
Step 6 : Practice
Although it is possible that you have some hands-on experience due to your job, the main focus should be practice, practice, practice. One time during a coaching session I saw that a participant was very smart, but he was very slow with typing. I advised him to have typing lessons first. When he was capable to type fast, he started to practice again for the lab. Even though you know how to configure simple tasks, just practice those tasks on a daily bases so that you can type them in notepad without any mistake.
My best practice was to have a configuration on the router with only an ip address and save this configuration on the flash. When I was starting the day, I just copied this configuration to the router and started with an empty router again. To do this every day, I got faster on the basics so that I had time for more complex configuration.
Step 7 : Strategy
You are at the lab exam and it is time to start. What will you do ? Just start with configuring the routers ? Or do you start to read the whole exam before touching a keyboard ? Do you start at the beginning and skip questions when you don’t know the answers ? You will have to think about this before starting the lab exam.
Fact is that you will get 100 points on most CCIE lab exams and you will have 80 points or more to pass. You can get points for paragraphs which contains different questions. In order to get those points, you will have all answers correct to get the points for that section or paragraph. You won’t get 2 out of 3 points when you got 2/3 correct. You will have 100% correct of that part to get the full 3 points !
With a good strategy, you can “calculate” how much time you can have for each question. You will get 480 minutes to finish the lab. You need about 60 minutes to read the exam and redraw the topology. You can use 380 minutes for the 100 points, without verification. Verification is also important and I calculate 80 minutes for verification. This will leave me with 300 minutes for 100 points. This means that you have about 3 minutes for 1 point. If you got a 3 point question, you will have to finish this question in 9 minutes.
When you failed for your first lab you will know what I mean. When I did my first CCIE Voice lab attempt and I had a look at the questions I had the feeling that the questions were not that hard. I started with the lab and when it was time to stop I only finished 2/5 of the exam ! I needed way more time. To practice on time I knew that I had to practice on the basics so that I could type everything without any thinking.
Step 8 : Make mistakes
Did I ever had an environment that was the same as the lab? No way! I was not even close. During the Voice lab, I only had two routers, some old phones and I wanted to have a MGCP gateway, H323 gateway and a CME. I could create this with the equipment I had. It was not easy and by making many mistakes, I learned a lot. During the lab, there was not nothing I did not see during my practice time. It is nice to have all equipment that Cisco advice, but sometimes it is not possible to get those all together at one time. If you do not have equipment, try renting lab time online. Have a look at dcloud.cisco.com, virl or other emulations. Some Cisco software you can run on VMWare.
Even when everything is going smooth, try to break you configuration and start debugging. Know how to debug the whole environment. If you start the debug command, know where to look. What special word are you looking for in the tsunami of information? Test every show command. Can you find information you need for debugging in different show commands?
If your configuration is not working, have your study partner have a look at it. Four eyes sees more than two! Even if everything is working, have your study partner try to break it and you will have to fix it. Even the easiest mistakes can take up to hours to fix it if you do not see it.
Step 9 : Speed
Now you know everything. Theoretically and how to configure it, you will need to practice on speed. Remember that you have 3 minutes for each point to earn. If you use the “?” after a command you have an area where you still can gain speed. Make sure that every common command can be used without the question mark behind it. Another way to gain speed is to type a less as possible. If you can shorten the command, practice it. Maybe some command are easier with GUI others can be faster with CLI. What I did was to use a stopwatch to see which way was the fastest! You will notice that you can make the dumbest mistakes during the lab exam due to stress. If you find a mistake, you will have to correct it as fast as possible. To know every command in your head, will be very convenient.
Step 10 : Pass
The last step is 8 hours and it is the hardest to do. Pass the lab! You work so hard for it and the first time taking the lab is a mystery. What to expect. How will it be?
Do not be nervous and enjoy every minute that you spend during the lab exam. You can even learn during the lab exam.
During the lunch, try to relax. Make some jokes with the proctor or other lab takers. Do not eat too heavy. A light salad, soup and some soda was good enough for me. Try not to think about the questions and do not discuss it with the others. Lunch is 30 minutes and try to relax. If you were stuck at one question, your view can be different after lunch.
The nicest part is when you got an email with the notification that your result is online. Your heartbeat will rise when you open the page and you will yell when you see a PASS. The first time I did not believe it. Even the second and third time I passed a lab it was exciting for me.
The CCIE verification tool can be found at : https://ccie.cloudapps.cisco.com/CCIE/Schedule_Lab/CCIEOnline/CCIEOnline?verify
Some names of persons who did pass the CCIE labs can be found at http://www.cciehof.com