My CCIE Journey

Many of our readers know that I’m now a CCIE. Indeed, I passed the lab exam in Brussels and I wanted to share with you my wonderfull experience about this special day and my preparation.

Background

In 2008, I was working for the french Air Force and didn’t really enjoyed that. I was in charge of the Help Desk of some buildings on the Air Force Base. I saw a  Cisco book and while I was reading it, I understood that I was ready to move into another career.

The more I read, the more I was excited about. Then I had a look at the Cisco Certifications and I was amazed at the multiple paths that you can choose. My choice was to know how to switch/route a packet first instead of learning how to filter a packet ;) So I was going after the Routing and Switching Path. I did thought at the time that the CCIE was a mountain that I would never climb for so many reasons (I was beginner, it will take time, it’s so hard, I’m having a baby, etc)

But trust me, the CCIE is doable. You ll have to work very very very very hard (I ran out of  “very”) to get it . There is no shortcuts for the certification. One of my main instructors (Brian McGahan from ine.com) told me that the CCIE is not a regular race, it’s a marathon.  I couldn’t agree more.

So I decided to go after the CCNA and since I was a complete “noob” ;) I bought my own lab :

  • 3x Cisco 2950 -24 Ports  to play with the spanning tree
  • 3x Cisco 3640 with NM 8A/S to play with FR and routing protocols

I took the ICND 1 first after 5 months of hard study (remember I had zero knowledge of Cisco Routers or Switches) and and I nailed it. I was so happy and so excited. But the harder exam was coming ; The ICND 2. Studying for that exam will teach you the basics of the most common routing protocols: EIGRP, OSPF, RIP.

This is a very tough exam when you are new into the industry.  After being a CCNA, I was secretly dreaming of the CCIE but it was just too far away from me at that moment.

It was logical to me to stay on this R&S Path because I love the technology so much. For example when I was studying OSPF, the book was saying that OSPF could be interconnected with more than one area but didn’t go too deep. I was so excited to learn how to use more than one area !

The CCNP was pretty straightforward for me. My lab grew and I was still studying at home until 2am on some days

I had an agreement with my wife at that time and this is what makes you know that “she is the one” . My wife has been SO supportive during my CCIE journey I don’t know how much to thank her (I don’t know how much this is going to cost me either ;) )

I continued to do my self-studies every night and that was my preparation for the exams:  BCMSN,  BSCI, ISCW and ONT.

I tried to read TCP/IP Routing Protocol from Jeff doyle for the BSCI but man there was such a gap between my knowledge and the book that I stopped reading after 50 pages. I used so many materials for the CCNP but the exams are not the same anymore so I will not mention them (they were mostly Cisco Press Books)

I took me approx 4 months per exam (studying 5 hours a day). In February 2010, I became a CCNP and decided to pass the CCIE not just to try it ;)

CCIE Preparation

There are 2 exams for the CCIE certification: A written exam and a practical lab that is the hardest of all Cisco Exams (except the CCDE/CCA).

I wanted to have a good  grasp of the theory before going to study with hands on labs, so I bought many Cisco press books and read them during 6 months, I did not touch the CLI at home during that time. In retrospect, this was a mistake, learning with the CLI helps to understand how Cisco implemented the protocols into their devices and how sometimes practice differs from the theory.

I started to read both Jeff Doyle Books from Cisco press. These books are Gold, yes I said it. They are simply amazing. Jeff and Jennifer will explain you how the Routing protocols are working in such a clear way ! I remember the EIGRP scenarios where they explained DUAL and that was just stunning !

The BGP and Multicast Scenario are very understandable when you are already familiar with them.

After these books, I read the official exam cert guide written by Wendell Odom and it was great. It has some mistakes but it was great ! I loved the QoS Section since my knowledge in switching QoS wasn’t that great. It explains how the 3560 switches implement QOS and it’s just great ! Period !

Then I took the CCIE Routing and Switching Written exam in September 2010 (took me 6 month to study that exam) and I also nailed it. I like to come to a place with a very strong preparation because I don’t like when the exam looks impossible to do. I enjoy doing “easy” exams :)

I passed the exam and I didn’t feel like I was an expert. Marko Milivojevic from IPX told me when I passed : “Now the fun begins” and man I had no idea how much fun I was going to have during the next 9 months ;)

A lot of people I know used Internetwork Expert for their CCIE journey and so after reading some feedback on the forums I decided to give it a shot as well.

I bought the CCIE 4.0 bundle. I received the 4 workbooks and many videos that I will discuss here:

    • Workbook 1 is the foundations: It will explain EACH protocol and functionnality of the blueprint deeper than the real lab. I did that workbook maybe 4 or 5 times (not in a row ;) ) to burn the knowledge in my mind.

 

    • Workbook 2 is all about full scale labs: You will find 20 labs that varies from difiiculty 6 (Kinda easy)  to 9 (Kinda hardcore ;) . My real lab was about a difficulty 7.5. There will be tricks in the WB2 that will make you think more and more during the lab. For example if the tasks says to configure only the allowed protocol to pass on this interface be sure to also allow IP protocol 41 (IPv6 tunneling) that you configured earlier in the lab ;) . I did this WB 2 times.

 

    • Workbook 3 is all about speed: in this workbook you will always do the same kind of thing : Basic L2 , IGP-BGP and redistribution. You need to do these labs as soon as possible ;) I did this WB once.

 

    • Workbook 4 is all about TSHOOT: I LOVED this one … The tickets were tricky enough and you are not allowed to use the show run command. It can be hard to troubleshoot without the show run command isn’t it ? I used it several times during my real lab exam but this was just for a matter of speed. The workbook taught me where to look and more than everything WHY something wasn’t working as expected ! This WB is brilliant.

 

    • Advanced Technology Class : Brian McGahan from INE did such a HUGE job on this … These videos are just mandatory to understand how the protocols work, especially if you are having a hard time reading the books ;)   The class is about 80 hours long and it will cover the whole blueprint. This is a sample video:

 

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5gyaImAZkbo

  • Community Forums/Lists: This is very helpful if you dont undertstand a task during your lab. there will be plenty of people in the same case as you so you will find valuable information ;) INE IEOC and IPX mailing list

I bought Ruhann’s notes from his website : Routing bits . The notes are simply amazing.  When I was doing some workbooks I was also reading the notes I printed and I carried them EVERYWHERE !!!  There are so usefull. You will always forget something and the notes will always be there when you need to remember the informations. At the end, the notes will be burned into your head and I can now tell you every examples that Ruhann wrote in his notes. I was not sure about some of them so I labbed them and now I’m pretty confident with what I learn :) This products is definitely A MUST HAVE !
You guys are going to tell me : “Ok that’s it ?”  Well no. I also was lucky enough to do 2 bootcamps:

    • Internetwork Expert 12 Days bootcamp in London: The instructor for the bootcamp was Anthony Sequeira. Anthony will explain you how to pass the CCIE lab. His approach on the “how to study” is just great. I had a great time in London and I met a lot of wonderful guys (Daniel, Jose, Frank, Colin, Gavin, Wayne, Olivier,  Joe,  Hussain etc. It was an honor to bootcamp with you guys)

 

  • Micronics Training : I spent a week in Warsaw listening to the golden lectures of Narbik Kocharian Triple CCIE ! I already did a review of Narbik bootcamp and I can tell you that this is just AWESOME. Narbik also gave me his Workbook and I can tell you that the QoS Section helped a lot for the exam ;)

My employer was kind enough to allocate some time off during my preparation. I was lucky to stay at home for 4 months (non-stop studying) .

Lab Day

I was then ready to pass the CCIE Lab in Brussels.

I went to the train station and found that my train was canceled. This was not the best way to start the day prior the exam. I jumped into another train and finally made it to Brussels. I stayed at the NH hotel which is very very expensive (200 euros for a night and you have to add 10 euros for internet) . I didn’t want to add the stress ofthe taffic jam in the morning so I took the closest hotel from the exam center.

Here is a video that will help you to make your way from NH hotel to the Cisco building (thanks to Marko from IPX):

   

When I woke up at 6:45 am I was like : “OMG OMG I’m going to pass my lab today ”

I went to the breakfast room, I had some fruits and went right away to Cisco. I plugged my iPod and didn’t talk to anybody because I didn’t want to hear any negative feedback about the CCIE lab like “Gosh this is my 4th attempt, you will see this is not DOABLE, we are doomed and John Chambers is an EVIL Person!

At 8:15 am, the proctor comes in and gives you the schedule for the day , he told me what rack  I was going to use and the rules. The computer screen is big enough to put multiple telnet session on it + the diagram. I sat my lab on Friday and the proctor told us that the results will be sent on Monday, I’ll let you imagine how tough it was to wait for a whole weekend ;)

At the end of the day I was pretty confident I had passed, I managed to do all the TS tickets with 20 mins left to spare and I finished the configuration with 1h 30 mins left. I did NOT leave the room until the last minute because I checked EVERY word on each task.  I verified my job maybe 4 times and saved the configuration maybe 20 times on each device during the lab.

I took the train back to Paris and had such a nice time ;)

The Waiting

Sunday night was awful. I went to bed at 3 am and woke up at 4 , 5 and 6:50 to check my mailbox. Nothing !

Took my wife phone that was laying next our bed and configured my Gmail account on it, as soon as the credentials were verified, I received a mail from Cisco. I jumped from my bed with my wife and saw the results: PASS

My wife cried in my arms and I was so happy we finally did it. I cant believe I’m a CCIE but my Cisco learning path is not over. I’m planning to read the whole CCDE recommended list (not because I want to pass the CCDE but rather because I want to expand my knowledge).

After that I’ll be waiting for the new Datacenter certs that should be announced at Cisco Live in the next couple of weeks. I would like to learn NXOS and master the 6500 and 4500 switches. Junos can be also a great OS to learn. I have the knowledge of the protocols, now I just need to learn the Syntax.

Also I’m planning to pass the CCIE security exam by the end of december 2012. This is a long term goal but I want multiple CCIE.

But first and foremost I need to get back home and spend time with my wife and my kid. The family is growing since my wife is pregnant again and that we are getting married next month.

I’d like to thanks all the instructors that I met and that taught me so many things during my CCIE journey but one of them is special to me. Petr Lapukhov helped me to understand some topics deeper than I really need but I wanted to know more and more … Petr without you it wouldnt have been the same. Thanks a lot man. Cannot wait to follow your path *cough* *cough*

Honey those last words are for you: ” I’d like to thank you for all you did to me during my CCIE studies. We finally did it, we are both CCIE #29410  and I can’t say how much I love you.”

Nic

Nicolas Michel

Nicolas is a network consultant at LANExpert in Switzerland. He is CCIE #29410 (R&S). When not troubleshooting networks, he spends his time swimming or playing with his sons. He jumped into the voice field lately and have the CCIE Voice lab exam on his sight. He is also dreaming of Data Center stuff when he sleeps (which mean not that often).

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