As you can read by the blog title, I seem to have lost count of the hours I’ve spent studying for the CCIE R&S. I estimate by now it has been in the range of 900 to 1000 hours…. This said, I’m ecstatic to finally say that I have passed the certification on my second attempt in Toronto this week. Here is the success story of my second and last CCIE R&S attempt.
There were several mistakes I made in my initial CCIE lab attempt that I had to correct. One of these mistakes was not giving myself enough time to review all the material before the exam. The other big one was underestimating the mental endurance required for this test. To correct this, I took a week off from work and during this time, I did a full review of all material in 10 to 14 hour sessions per day. I also had a very strict sleeping schedule. Even though I was off for a week and could wake up at any time I wanted, I woke up at 6:30 AM and didn’t start troubleshooting labs until 8:30 AM. This was done to get my sleeping pattern in line with the exam date.
This change was important to me as in the last attempt after the troubleshooting and diagnostic sections were done, I was starting to get mentally fatigued and it resulted in me not doing well in the Configuration section. The problem when you always train for 4-8 hour sessions is that your brain gets used to pushing yourself only for that duration and you get a huge mental crash after that. Add to that the stress and pressure of the exam itself, it just crushes your mental sharpness and you tend to make several small mistakes that can cost you time and points.
I was originally thinking of booking my lab in RTP this time instead of Toronto since I had many issues with the mobile lab last time (as you can read in my first CCIE lab attempt here). However, I figured the advantage of knowing the location and not having to worry about all the administration details would give me a better edge for this attempt. However, this time I did make a small change to the location as I booked a better hotel to avoid the incident I had last time with the fire alarm.
I arrived at 8:00 AM at the testing center on Friday morning and there was only 3 other candidates with me. The proctor said that he was expecting a total of 8 candidates. We waited until 8:20 but they seemed to be MIA so the proctor let us inside the testing room, explained to us the rules and let us start our exam. I saw on the board there were 3 candidates for R&S, 3 for Service provider, 1 Data-Center and 1 Security. Around 10 minutes after I started the Troubleshooting section the rest of the candidates arrived but I was really too busy to even notice them.
Troubleshooting started great and was much easier than last time since the topology was fairly similar and I knew what I was getting into. There were 2 questions I got stuck on but as I practiced, I spent 2 minutes on them and skipped them. When I had finished all the other questions and came back on these I had spent 1h30 of my time and still had up to 1 hour to do these. I was crushing it. I went back to these problems and fixed one within the next 5 minutes. The other one took me around 20 minutes and realised it was something stupid that I overlooked. I did a full review of all the questions and caught a couple of mistakes I made and corrected them quickly. I decided to take the extra 30 minutes to go take a bathroom break. I washed my face with cold water and when I came back I was sharp and ready for the diagnostics section.
Diagnostic was very similar than the first time… or so I thought. I actually thought I got lucky and had some of the same questions as last time and was overjoyed. However, I quickly realised it wasn’t the case when I checked the documents. The first topology and question was the same but the problem was different. I was digging through the documents a little bit worried because the problem last time was fairly obvious to me but this time I couldn’t find it. Next thing I know I look at the clock and there is 9 minutes left and I’m still on the first question. I skip to the next question and was starting to panic. I answered the questions as fast as possible but basically made calculated guesses based on the choices they gave me. There were 3 questions and I didn’t even complete the last question when I ran out of time.
At this point the exam took me to the configuration section and I was really upset with myself. I was thinking I got at best 60% if I got the correct answers but I was as likely to get 0% since I did not have time to go through the configuration outputs to verify my answers. The seconds that came after the realization that I am likely to fail the exam were probably some of the most important seconds of my life. In that moment, I had the choice to give up and go in the configuration with a defeated mentality or to keep pushing forward and forget everything that just happened… I do not give up. Losers give up. So I started the configuration section just as if I had started the exam again… and I crushed it. I configured 80% of the lab inside a notepad and double-checked everything before pasting. Once it was in the running-config I double-checked again and even triple checked once I had finished the section. I finished the configuration section in 3h30 and had a lot of time to review. Even if I had triple checked everything like I said earlier, I still found some silly mistakes that I corrected quickly.
When I looked around me once I had finished, there was 1 R&S guy that was missing. I think he gave up. I was the first one finished and gave my drawing sheets back to the proctor. He looked me in the eyes, smiled and said “Good luck”.
The most painful part of the exam was waiting for the results. I was sure I failed. I even went on techexams forum boards and said that I thought I failed and there was maybe a 10% chance of passing due to how bad I did in the Diagnostic section. I was already preparing my study schedule for the next attempt and trying to get a spot to book a new lab. I didn’t get my results back until 2:00PM. the next day.
I wasn’t expecting to get my results until Monday since it was the weekend. I was on the train at that time heading back to Montreal from Toronto and the internet was really slow. This is when I received the email from Cisco to check the OLSM portal for lab results. I clicked on the link and could feel my heart pounding even though my brain was telling me “don’t get excited, you probably failed it”. After what seemed like an eternity, cisco website appeared with a “PASS” next to my lab date. I was looking at it and couldn’t believe it. Did I read it wrong? I clicked on the “PASS” link and it brought me to another page where my CCIE number was printed. I did it, I had finally passed.
This exam was not just another exam to me. It was a journey and a life lesson. A lesson of tenacity, of endurance, of discipline and perseverance. It has made me a better and engineer and a better person. For all of you out there pursuing the CCIE please read and remember this. Knowledge can be gained and lost but the values you will get from this certification will be there forever. I believe in you. You can do it. Never give up. I sure didn’t.
CCIE # 48240