Last week I had the opportunity to be on my friend’s Bryan Young and Brian Boyd’s podcast, Conf T with your SE, to talk about my journey to CCIE 62670. The episode was released Wednesday February 26th. I hope you’ll give it a listen and consider subscribing
I’ve waited a long time to post this
August 1st I achieved one of my goals and became CCIE #62670. This was a long road for me and I’ve been thinking about how I wanted to write this up. This will be a long write up from my start of this journey.
I started this journey back in November of 2012 when I still lived in VA. In 2012 it was the version 4 of the exam. It took me 2 attempts to pass the written. This was so long ago I honestly can’t remember how long I spent studying for it. It doesn’t matter how long it took, I got my entry pass to work on the lab. Some of the story is gone and back then I never thought I would be writing a blog.
To start with my studying for the version 4 routing and switching I used INE exclusively. I bought the workbooks, videos and bootcamp. I started spending about 2-3 hours every night after work going through the videos, taking notes and using the INE racktime to lab. I used this as my structure for about 18-20 months. In this timeframe I changed jobs and moved. Both employers were supportive of this endeavour.
I attended the INE bootcamp during this timeframe (exact time I can’t remember) This was the 2 week bootcamp down in Orlando. I met some great people who I still keep in touch with to this day. This was by far the most valuable thing I took away from the bootcamp. I also learned that the exam would be changing to version 5. This put real pressure on me to book a lab date
January of 2014 I made the trip down to RTP. I was overly optimistic going in. It was the 2 hour of troubleshooting and rest of the day config. I had a strategy, it probably wasn’t the best. Looking back I could have prepared better and used more material. It took 2 days for the results to come back. Fail. This was an eye opener for me when I was going through the results.
I was unable to reseat a version 4 exam. So I put my efforts into learning version 5 topics. These topics were more aligned to what I was working on anyways. The big things to learn were MP-BGP and MPLS. These were my weakest points when I went in for the first version 5 attempt. I also learned from my v4 take that I was terrible at troubleshooting, so I made it a point to practice this and came up with a new strategy on how to tackle it.
November of 2014 I made another trip to RTP. I didn’t know what to think of this attempt. Version 5 was not out for that long yet and people were still learning what to know for this. The exam changed to being 2.5 hours of troubleshooting, a new 30 minute Diag section and the remainder for config.
The 30 extra minutes in troubleshooting was a blessing for me. It’s the little extra time I would need to get an extra ticket done. The diag section threw me off big time. I struggled to navigate the section and when I was finally able to figure out how to find the questions and read through the material a ton of time had passed. I knew I bombed this section. The config section also surprised me. I knew there were a lot more devices to configure, but when you finally see the topology on the single monitor it was overwhelming. My strategy for config was based off the v4 and I just tried to configure and finish.
As you can tell from the above, I failed the overall, but I’ll look at the good side of passing the troubleshooting section. I took that as a positive that my new strategy for studying troubleshooting worked.
After this attempt, I had to re-up my written. In this timeframe, my son was born (Feb 2015) and I had to reset how I was going to tackle the CCIE.
The new written for v5 was a beast. There were a lot of technologies added that I had to learn again and the new evolving tech section kept beating me. I failed the written exam 6 times between June 2015 to May 2018. 2 attempts in 2015, 2 attempts in 2016, 1 in 2017 and 2 in 2018. During this timeframe I changed jobs and moved (2 times). Each of these life changing events would delay my studying progress.
I learned from the last attempts I needed a study group and started reaching out for help. I got a mentor through a program at work and I also found the routergods. This was the help I needed. I got introduced to more study material. I had a group of people who were working towards the same goal that we could ask questions to and review strategy. I took a whole new approach to studying where I gave up my weekends. I needed to get more time labbing and due to my random schedule I would study what I could at night, but Saturday/Sunday was a full study day.
I would aim to get around 20-30 hours per week of studying in at the beginning. I took a couple weeks off when my daughter was born (Dec 2018) but got right back into my study routine and even increased the weekend studying time to be both Saturday and Sunday. I added Cisco 360 and Jaziri to my study material which I helped drastically. I wish I knew of these earlier in my studies.
This entire blog came out of my studying to keep my progress public and hold myself accountable. However when I got further into this I found that I needed to remove all distractions. I removed all social media from my phones, blocked it on my laptop. I stopped tracking my time of studying because I would keep trying to do something with the data. I also added listening to the INE videos whenever possible to keep the info fresh on topics I wasn’t actively labbing.
May 7th 2019 I made a trip to Richardson. I had a new strategy that I had been practicing everytime I did a 360 lab. I kept to the same troubleshooting practice that worked for me and I learned everything I could about diag. Cisco Live videos were helpful for this and also practicing troubleshooting I think was key to understanding the diag section. I left the test center that day feeling confused. I didn’t think I passed, but I knew I was close. It thankfully only took a few hours before I got my results.
Failed… BUT, when I check to see what I failed, I passed every section. Passed every section… I met the minimum requirements for each section but not enough points to pass the overall lab. I got really good at explaining this to people when they asked how the lab went. I’d start with, I passed every section, but not enough to pass the lab.
I’m on the right path now. I knew what I was doing was working I just needed to keep the momentum. I scheduled my next attempt as quickly as I could. The P/P/P=Fail did mess with my mind though.
At Cisco Live in San Diego they dropped the news of the exams changing in Feb 2020. Boy was I happy to have my new lab date, but again the pressure of now needing to pass before February and also knowing seats were going to be near impossible to get again.
I upped my studying even more. I practiced full scale labs all the time instead of pointed labs. I worked on increasing my speed in configuring and honed my troubleshooting.
August 1 2019, another trip to Richardson. This day was different. Around 8, the proctor did not come and get up from the lobby. There was something wrong with the lab environment and took awhile to come up. It wasn’t until 10am that we actually got to the lab. I also wasn’t feeling great, my head was foggy and I didn’t sleep well. Sitting for that 2 extra hours only made me more nervous, but I kept repeating my strategy in my head. Lab starts, I take all the time for troubleshooting, but I knew I got my points. Diag, same thing, such a random amount of things to get tested on. Had no idea if I did good or not. Config… I crushed config this time. I was able to get to everything and knew I had it. I would triple check output and go back and read the task wording to make sure I didn’t read something backwards or miss a keyword. I left the lab feeling good… I didn’t like leaving feeling good. I had always left feeling either defeated or confused. Good was not the right feeling.
Now the next battle, waiting. Anyone that knows me very well knows I can’t stand waiting. I didn’t sleep well that night, kept refreshing email waiting for the results. I was up at 2am and just waiting for 5am when it would be ok for me to leave for the airport. I return the car, set camp in the airport and again, refresh email. It was about time for me to find my gate, I get my phone out to set a podcast to listen to and I see the email.
This was the most terrifying email I have ever opened. I was ready to be crushed with a fail. I open the link, I log into the lab scheduling system.
Pass. I passed! I was in the DFW terminal and I think I went into shock, almost started crying. Immediately called my wife and just said I passed. I sent a screenshot of the pass to my family to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. I was finally done!
I spent a lot of time over a lot of years working towards this and at times wondered if I should keep going. I’m very glad I kept with this and that I saw it through. This accomplishment would never had been possible without the support of my wife and family.
Words cannot express how thankful I am to my wife for supporting me on this journey. I don’t think she knew what she signed up for when I started this in 2012 or what it would really take when I learned the amount of time I need to focus on studying. She raised the kids on her own for 2 years with very little of my help and I could not have done this without that level of support.
This journey took much longer than I ever expected, but I don’t regret it. I met a lot of great people and made a lot of friends. I’m very happy to be done and am looking to see what the next thing is. In the meantime I’m going to celebrate and take a much needed break and spend time with my kids.
I am going to make this my last blog post for my lab prep and put all focus into labbing. I may still journal what I worked on, but will not hold myself to posting once a week anymore. As I run across technologies that I struggle with I may write up / youtube the topic still to try and understand them better.
Hours studied – 17.5
I worked on CA22. I did not complete the lab, but got a big chunk of the main routing completed. I skipped the IPv6, multicast and EEM scripting subsections. I also have route manipulation to figure out, but wanted to be able to focus on how to get the right answer.
I started with my strategy for the lab on how to keep track of what I’ve done and what still needs to be completed.
The day got away from me and I never got to study
I finished up CA22, for the IPv6, multicast, some GRE and EEM scripting. Everything was fairly easy. The EEM scripting has always gotten me, but what was asked was fairly straightforward. I need to practice some more of them to be more comfortable with them.
To try and get some more studying in I loaded up a troubleshooting lab, TA10. I am still not a fan of how these troubleshooting labs are written. They are confusing in the ask and don’t describe or show a problem very well.
I finished up by reviewing the pre-assessment grade from Saturday to see what else I need to work on.
Wednesday – Friday
Very light studying, not much of note
I did a graded 360 assessment lab which included a troubleshoot and configuration. The troubleshooting I was able to pass with the minimum score, there was 1 thing that tripped me up, NAT. The other question wrong was because I typoed.
The configuration was also a pass, but barely. I haven’t had a chance to go through what I got wrong in detail, but at a high level it was my sub-par subnetting math again.
Normally I don’t post 2 sundays, but this is my last post so I can put all focus into studying.
I did INE Mock Lab 1 and was not happy with how much I needed to look up. I need to continue to keep doing infra services. I also need to stop over complicating my MPLS import/export targets as I over engineered it.
The switching tasks were ok, needed to play with the spanning-tree priorities a bit to get the right result. The routing also was fairly straight forward, there was just some caveats to watch out for and remembering some of the nuances with redistributing into BGP. I did have to undo some configuration as I didn’t read ahead.
I am going to alternate between INE and 360 labs as the 360 labs are light on the infra security and services sections and the INE labs makeup for that.
Hours Studied – 12, little short of what I was hoping
I started off with flash cards again early in the morning. For labbing, I started a little later than I wanted, but worked on CA22. The start of this was very similar to CA21. The L2 was easy to work through. The L3 was very confusing as there was a lot of back and forth and additions of multiple VRF’s. After about 3 hours I lost focus and decided to call it a day. I believe the lack of focus came from the poor nights sleep.
While reflecting on how I was doing I remembered that I am not following the strategy I would do in the actual lab. For the next coming labs I will be implementing the practical lab techniques I would like to perfect.
With a fresh head I am going to revisit this lab as it was more challenging and I’d like to be able to dissect what is being asked and when.
Monday was my first day back to work and boy were there a lot of emails to get through….
I am back to my normal labbing time at night. An afternoon coffee didn’t seem to help keep me awake to get more than 1.5 hours of labbing in before I couldn’t focus anymore.
I worked on CA20 and it was getting very specific in what it wanted for OSPF which showed a lot of gaps that I had in some of the nuances of this protocol that I want to explore further.
I saved all my configurations and plan to load it up before work on Tuesday to see if some sleep will help.
I tried doing some labbing in the morning continuing with CA20. I wasn’t able to get very far due to other things coming up.
Same as Tuesday… Re-evaluated what’s possible for during the week. I’ll be doing smaller pointed labs.
I got into the office early and worked on TA05. This lab was, meh. Not all that challenging and the solutions given go against what I’ve been taught. I’ve been on the assumption of never remove config and that was the 360 solution multiple times.
I only had time for flashcards
I worked on my first graded lab, pre-assessment on Cisco 360. This lab was fairly straight forward in what it was asking. There was only 1 part that stumped me and I ended up just ignoring the restriction and at least getting connectivity.
The grade came back and I got a 73/100, 80 was considered passing. I am happy with this score and after going through where I missed, there were a couple of typos (5 instead of a 6), the redistribution thing I did on purpose and then some messed up math on subnetting.
Nothing was over surprising on what I screwed up on and where I need to focus my attention to. Since this assessment didn’t take as long as I expected I loaded up an INE troubleshooting lab which went ok.
Hour studied – 20
This was a light day by doing some flashcards
I was also informed of a free source on Coursera called Learning how to Learn. I started going through this 4 week course and immediately learned some useful tips on how to study more effectively.
The 4 most useful tips I picked up from the week 1 material was
- Pomodoro – a way to get over procrastination by doing 25 minute focused study with 5 minute breaks (rewards)
- Spaced repetition – I knew about this one and have been using this for awhile. The concept of working on 1 thing and then returning to it after a period of time. Anki flashcards are based on this concept.
- Chunking – This is a week 2 thing, but was briefly introduced. Idea around it is our brains can only do intake about 4 things in working memory. More to come on this
- Exercise – This was new for me and in turn has made the final decision on getting a treadmill for the house (my wife also wanted one).
- I know I said 4 things, but the 5th and also as important as exercise, is sleep. Sleep allows the brain the get flushed out and gives time for brain to make better connections
I started off with CA08 and was able to complete it in roughly 4 hours without having to look up anything other than NAT. I’m starting to find a groove again with the labbing and seeing where I struggle. I knew NAT would be a pain point for me, always has been.
Before bed I watched an MPLS video for a couple hours
The little one was up at 4am, so I took this opportunity to go through some flashcards. I also started on the week 2 material for learning how to learn.
At a normal morning hour, I started and completed CA09. I found this lab to be very straight forward with NAT being the thing to trip me up again. I am going to try and find time to do a deeper dive into NAT and hopefully find some videos that can help with this.
The redistribution on this lab also caused me to think a bit harder. There was a weird routing loop that occurred that looked to be a order of operations issue. Once I tracked it down and saw what was happening and playing with both tags, and administrative distance. I found that clearing the OSPF process is what helped fix it.
The lab did not take me very long, finishing in less than 4 hours. I believe I am in the easier. I was given the suggestion to work in CA21+ for more challenging labs.
The day got away from me and I was only able to get to flashcards
Due to some things that came up I was only able to get about an hour of labbing in. I was able to finish the MPLS videos and start an IPSec one. I also went through flashcards
Started with some learning how to learn and took away some interesting findings. The illusion of competence was enlightening for me and I believe this is something I’ve fallen for a lot. My main take away from this is to practice recall to see if I actually understand what I’ve read/watched.
For labbing, I did CA11. This had some “fun” restrictions that made me think a bit harder. The redistribution introduced some strange behavior, but something easy to get around once I figured out why routes were being discarded.
The BGP section showed me a new way of using synchronization and confederation on getting around having the BGP routes show up in an IGP.
Everything else was fairly straight forward and helped me with reading ahead in the lab to get answers for earlier tasks. I also found myself reading more carefully and reading into what was being asked.
Started off the day with some flashcards since the little one decided that 5:30am was a good start for the day.
After breakfast, I started CA21. I decided to move into the larger labs based off feedback from some conversations in routergods. I’ve found this lab to be much more like the real lab (from what I can remember). The lab took me about 4.5 hours to complete, including checking my results at the end. I felt very good going through this lab, there were only a few things that tripped me up because I did not read ahead and missed a couple of key details that required me to do some reconfiguration. I liked the interdependence between the different sections where I was forced to read ahead to get routing working for an earlier section.
I took down some notes on remembering some features in BGP. I ended up with a working result, but I could have configured more efficiently. There were also some fundamentals about HSRP that I had forgotten, but after refreshing through my notes I’ll revisit it. During the week I need to practice the systems management type things as there are so many and I forget about some of them.
I’m posting this early, but I am going to try and continue the VPN videos tonight and possibly lab some smaller things.