So you want to be a CCIE?

I passed the routing and switching lab in Research Triangle Park N.C in the spring of 2000.  While the content of the lab has changed, I think most of these tips still apply...

Here is my take on preparing for the lab:

  1. Group study doesn't necessarily work... most of the time, people are taking more than they are giving and you end up providing answers for people who don't want to look them up themselves.  To put it bluntly, these people are probably not serious about passing, or don't realize the commitment level required and so therefore rely on others to do the work for them.  This is not a team effort, so don't make it one.  If you don't believe me, look at the amount of folks on the various study groups versus the pass-rate at the lab.  Only 4% of all Cisco certified folks ever achieve the CCIE, so chances are if they want to study with you it's because you're showing them something they don't know yet.
  2. Do not consider yourself a CCIE candidate unless you are willing to to figure everything out on your own. This lends itself to the notion that study groups are a waste of time.  If you are serious about passing, you need to be capable of finding all the answers on your own.  Don't count on some magical study guide or book to drop the answers in your lap!
  3. Get ahold of a set of documentation... either on CD-ROM or in printed format.  I prefer the printed format since it is easier to access and read.  I don't know how many people actually sit there and read technical information on a computer screen for hours at a time, but I can't do it.   I ordered 2 sets of documentation... one for home and one for work.  I keep the manuals laying around the house (good bed and bathroom reading material) and handy at the desk.  The documentation is not just for reference.  If you are serious about passing the lab-exam, you should be pouring through the documentation as if it was your favorite reading material, feverously scrawling notes in the margins, and burning up highlighting pens.
  4. There is no substitution for the "Case Studies" and the "Network Design Guide"... PERIOD!  You should know these documents by heart.  Without saying what is specifically included on the lab-exam, I believe I can safely say that the material in these documents will be critical to passing the exam.
  5. Make your study materials purchases wisely.  Like everything else out there, there are people (including Cisco Systems) wanting to make a buck off the Certification program.  When you walk down to Borders or Barnes&Noble and see a green-bound book that says Cisco on it, don't automatically assume you need to read it to pass.  I recently reviewed a book out of the CiscoPress series that claimed it was part of the CCIE Professional Development Series... BAH!  It just contained a rewrite of a bunch of material found in other sources more easily accessable on Cisco's web-site (if you need to read yet another chapter on how to subnet an IP network, don't consider yourself a CCIE candidate).  Conversely, I recently purchased a CiscoPress book because there were just two chapters that interested me.  The point here is, review the material in these books... read the table of contents, flip through the first few pages of each chapter... if the bulk of the chapter talks about protocol headers, message format, or engineering specifications, put it back on the shelf and walk away.  This information is important, but you need to be interested in configurations... when to activate particular switches or nerd-knobs, how and when to tweak various settings, etc... Look for configuration scenarios that describe using different configuration switches different ways to achieve the implementation of superior routing and switching solutions.
  6. Don't think because you passed the qualification exam, that you are ready for the lab.  This has been stated elsewhere, but let me reiterate it.  The two tests are completely different and have nothing to do with each other, other than the qualification exam is used to weed-out those who aren't possibly ready to even begin studying for the lab.  Use it in this fashion and not as a stepping stone or pre-test for the lab.
  7. Don't study your favorite topics, study your least favorite topics.  If OSPF is your favorite topic it is probably because you know a lot about it already.  If you hate DLSw+, this is the topic you should be studying until it becomes your favorite.  If you rationalize that something is probably insignificant because you happen to not know a lot about it, chances are you are not going to be prepared for it when it hits you on the lab.
  8. The lab is not something that can be studied for with books alone.  You need to have access to a set of equipment with different types of interfaces... serial, BRI, ethernet, token-ring, and ATM at least.  The more, the better!  If you can get ahold of a Catalyst switch, that would also be helpful.  If you can't get access to equipment like this, then consider using a virtual lab, or better yet, attend a practice lab to get hands-on.  The best solution is on-the-job experience, where you are deploying equipment on a fairly regular basis either in a service-provider or enterprise environment.
  9. Don't get "what's going to be on the test" syndrome.  So many people I run into are so wrapped up trying to figure out what they have to study or what might or might not be included on the test that they intentionally gloss over things that end up being important.  Source-route bridging might not be on the exam, but the concepts in this topic are crucial to other topics like DLSw+ or other topics, that might be included.  Don't short yourself by trying to narrow down what you have to know.  Learn all of it!
  10. Have fun!  If you're not having fun during the learning process, or if you don't enjoy what you have to do to get to where you need to be, chances are, you are not going to pass and you should really consider finding another occupation.  Most of what you have to do in preparation for the lab-exam is what you need to do in your everyday networking career... keep current, stay valuable, and be open enough to consider new and improved ways to do things.

Good Luck!