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.