CCDE – My journey to becoming a design guru begins now

It took me a couple of months to decide whether I should pursue another CCIE or to go in another direction. After debating between the different tracks I chose to move in another direction and dive into the design/architecture path. Today, I start my journey to becoming a Cisco Certified Design Expert.

As per wiki: “The CCDE identifies network professionals who have expert network design skills. CCDE focuses on network architecture and does not cover implementation and operations. CCDE supplies a vendor-neutral curriculum, testing business requirements analysis, design, planning, and validation practices.” This certification seems like the best choice for me right now as I try and transition into an architecture/lead engineer role.

ccde_design_large

One of the things I have learned from my CCIE studies is that you need a plan but you should also take it one step at a time. Following that mentality, I will only plan the upcoming months of study and adapt from there. For the next 2 months, my study schedule for this exam will be as follow:

Reading list:

BGP design and implementation

Optimal routing design

Definitive MPLS design

Video List:

BRKRST-2336 – EIGRP Deployment in Modern Networks

BRKRST-2042 Highly Available Wide Area Network Design

BRKRST-2335 IS-IS Network Design and Deployment

BRKSEC-4054 DMVPN Deployment Model

BRKRST-2310 Deploying OSPF in a Large Scale Network

BRKRST-3051 – Core Network Design: Minimizing Packet Loss with IGPs and MPLS

I will be writing blogs on the different technologies and topics covered in the CCDE. Hopefully this blog will stay informative and relevant throughout my journey.

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Hour 9??: The end of my CCIE R&S journey

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.

Diego

CCIE # 48240

Hour 748: CCIE material review after first lab exam

A couple of weeks have passed since my first lab attempt. Have I studied since? A couple of hours here and there but nothing as intense as before. I have not given up but my lab failure has made me question if I really wanted to pursue this exam.

This said, I have booked my second lab attempt for April 23rd 2015. This gives me a little over 3 months to start practicing and to review all the material once again. Now that I know what to expect from this exam I think I have a better chance of passing it.

In one of my last posts I said I would do a review of the material I used and how it helped me for the CCIE R&Sv5 so here it is.

Reading Material:

Routing TCP/IP Vol1-2:

These two books are really good for the CCIE Written although a lot of the content is old or better explained in the CCNP books. Some people call them the bible of routing and I can see where they are coming from. However, as a CCNP I was already proficient at routing and didn’t benefit from these books as much as the following ones.

Cisco QoS, Exam certification guide:

There was no QoS in my exam but this doesn’t mean you should ignore the topic. This book helped me tremendously at my job and during the practice labs. Who knows, maybe I’ll get some QoS on my next attempt. A must read for the CCIE Written.

CCIE Routing and Switching version 4

This book is useless. Most of the topics covered are already covered in all the other ones. I doubt that anyone would buy the v4 book now that the v5 one is out anyways.

MPLS Fundamental

I did not read the whole MPLS fundamental book but I should of. Most of the people I talked to recommended to only go through the first few chapters as they told me that you don’t need to know any of the advanced topics for the exam. My suggestion would be to read the whole book. For TSHOOT and CONFIG I had L3VPN and some of the more advanced concepts like load-balancing between RRs on the PE’s.

Developing IP Multicast Networks Vol I

In the CCNA-CCNP path you will learn almost nothing on multicast and you will need to have an expert level knowledge of this topic. This book is the bible on multicast. Read it once, read it again and keep it as a reference.

Internet Routing Architecture

This book is good for best practices and designs. It’s good to read once you finish your CCNP to get a more in-depth understanding of BGP. Not a must have but definitely a good read.

DOC-CD

This is the most important document to read out of all of them. You must read the sections not covered in the above books and that are listed in the blueprint. I recommend you read the Q&A for most core topics and understand the ins and outs of these technologies. You do NOT have the time to go read the documentation and figure out why something is broken on your lab day. It only takes 1 mistake in of the critical areas and you will FAIL the lab. The exam is based on a script for auto correction so if you fail one of the sections and it breaks multiple other sections then you will fail the lab.

Lab Practice:

IPexpert CCIE R&S Lab v4 Workbook 1-3 (not all Workbook 3)

These are the first workbooks I went through and the hardest. Marko Milivojevic made them before he left IPexpert. Compared to the real exam these were much harder and challenging. I’m thinking of redoing Workbook 3 and replacing the Frame Relay sections with DMVPN. I would say that if you exhausted the INE’s and IPexpert v5 workbooks to try these.

INE CCIE R&S v5 Technology Workbook

A ton of configuration tricks and caveats for each technologies are explained in this workbook. I learned so much from it, it’s amazing. The best technology workbook on the market for sure and a must have for future references.

IPexpert CCIE R&S Lab v5 Workbook 2 Lab 1-2

The Full mock lab workbook from IPexpert are ok but not great. They are easier than the exam and pretty short. The good thing about them is that they simulate pretty accurately the real thing by having a large topology and with the TSHOOT/DIAG/CONFIG format.

INE CCIE R&S v5 Lab Workbook 1 – 2

Similar to their technology workbook, INE’s Lab workbook is by far the best on the market. I highly recommend them to anyone doing their CCIE Lab training. These are much harder than IPexpert v5 workbooks and about the same level as the exam. The only downside to the INE material is that there is no Diagnostic section.

Cisco 360 Labs 1-10

These are very good to learn the technologies and to get better at troubleshooting complex problems. However, the Cisco 360 TSHOOT as well as the CONFIG have very small topologies (around 9 routers and 4 switches) and don’t reflect the real exam. Although Cisco made these labs, the TSHOOT labs are too easy compared to the real thing. I would stay away from these unless you are running out of material to study.

Hour 726: My CCIE v5 lab experience

This morning I got my lab results and it looks like I’m not quite there yet. I failed the exam. It was close, but it wasn’t good enough. In this post, I will be going over my first CCIE R&S lab experience and what led to my failure.

Sunday morning I traveled to Toronto for my first lab attempt. My hotel was right in front of the Cisco testing center so I wasn’t too worried about getting there late the next morning. From the moment I stepped in that hotel, I knew something was shady. A bunch of people were smoking in front of the “Prohibited to smoke within 9 meters” sign, the elevator was half broken and my rooms phone wouldn’t dial-out. Oh well, I guess it was good enough for the money I paid. I went to bed pretty late that night as I wanted to be able to sleep without waking up from nerves. I set up my alarm for 7:45AM. Unfortunately, I was awoken at 6:15 AM by the hotels fire alarm. I woke up in panic and started getting dressed. By the time I was out the door, the alarm stopped. Needless to say, I didn’t go back to sleep after that.

I arrived at the testing center 30 minutes before the starting time. There was already another candidate there. He was also going for the CCIE R&S. There was only 4 CCIE candidates that day at the testing center. Three of them were R&S and one was SP. The proctor explained the rules and said we would start in 10 minutes. I was pretty annoyed as my chair wouldn’t stay in the upwards position. I know this sounds stupid but sitting for 8 hours in an uncomfortable chair makes a big difference.

I encountered my first problem before the exam even started. I turned on the screen at the Proctor’s signal and I was greeted with the message “Windows is now shutting down…”. The same happened to one of the other CCIE candidate beside me. Once the computer started, the screen resolution was set to 800X600. It took the proctor 7 minutes to fix it, restart my computer and get me logged in. This is when I started the TSHOOT section.

The TSHOOT section had many 2 pointers questions and only a couple of 4 pointers. The first question was really easy but for some reason the switch wasn’t behaving as expected. I knew what the problem might be from the symptoms I was getting but the interface where the problem should have been at was not showing any signs of misconfiguration like the other show commands were telling me. I spent around 10 minutes on this ticket and decided to reload the switch and come back to it later. When I came back to this problem later on I noticed that the “show run interface x/x” had a different output than the global “show run” command. Very weird… I entered the proper configuration commands at the interface level and verified with the “show run” instead of “show run interface x/x”. I could now establish reachability as requested by the ticket.

The rest of TSHOOT was fairly hard, several faults and the topology was complex and misleading at times. I will be honest, I probably spent half of my time trying to understand the topology and how all the technologies interacted with each other. At the end of the TSHOOT, I had fixed all faults but because of lack of time I didn’t fix it the way Cisco wanted me to. Let me explain. There are several ways you can fix a problem in TSHOOT but not all of them are the right one. For example, if there’s an ACL blocking a certain protocol you can either:

  1. Remove the access-group on interface
  2. Add a “Permit any any” on the ACL
  3. Modify the ACL to make the protocol and its dependencies work

Obviously the way Cisco wants you to fix it is to ” Modify the ACL to make the protocol and its dependencies work”. Due to lack of time, I couldn’t fix the tickets like Cisco wanted me to. At the time, I thought the way I did it would be good enough but now I know it wasn’t.

Diagnostic was pretty easy. There was a lot to read but as soon as I had finished reading the trouble tickets I had a good idea of what the problem was. I have nothing else to say about this section, I passed it and any CCNP should be able to do the same.

The configuration section was very long and the topology was very large. I understood all the core stuff but it became clear that I might run out of time if I didn’t go fast. We stopped for lunch and at that point I had completed half of the L3 connectivity parts. For lunch we had 2 slices of Pizza. I wasn’t really hungry but damn that was the most expensive 2 slices of Pizza I’ve ever had.

After lunch, I finished all the other parts of CONFIG except for one. I couldn’t understand what was the problem for the entire exam. I probably spent 30-45 minutes on this problem trying to figure it out. This part was critical as it was breaking 3 other sections of the exam. Now that I got my lab results, I know I failed because of this. I will have to lab it up to reproduce the problem but at this point I’m thinking there was a bug with the SP device that I didn’t have control over and it probably needed to be reloaded.

I believe I encountered several bugs during the exam (probably due to IOU memory problems) and had to reload the devices to fix them. Also, access to devices was very slow. I had to click and wait up to 15 seconds for the console to pop up. The DOC-CD was slow and sent me to “This page cannot be found” several times.

My overall impression of this exam was that the topologies were complex and sometimes misleading, the devices were buggy and the access was slow. I also think that the combination of all the events that happened to me that day made the exam harder than it actually was.

Next attempt will be in February/March at RTP I think… I will have to check but I’m taking a break for the next few days to re-focus on what I have to work on. I am really grateful for everyone that encouraged me and sent me hopeful wishes.

Thanks again to all my followers for your support, I will be posting new technology blogs soon and a review on all the material I’ve gone through.

Hour 710: One Week before the CCIE R&S v5 Lab exam

I would first like to apologize to all readers for not posting any blogs in almost 2 months. I have recently accepted a position as a Sr. Network Administrator at a HFT firm and I been extremely busy there as well as studying for the lab exam.

As some of you may know, I have the CCIE lab scheduled for next Monday, Dec 8th 2014 and this will be my last post before my attempt. Here is the list of all the material I have gone through since I started my CCIE journey about a year and a half ago.

Theory:

Routing TCP/IP Vol1-2

Cisco QoS, Exam certification guide

CCIE Routing and Switching version 4

MPLS Fundamental

Developing IP Multicast Networks Vol I

Internet Routing Architecture

DOC-CD

 

Lab Practice:

IPexpert CCIE R&S Lab v4 Workbook 1-3 (not all Workbook 3)

IPexpert CCIE R&S Lab v5 Workbook 2 Lab 1-2

INE CCIE R&S v5 Technology Workbook

INE CCIE R&S v5 Lab Workbook 1 – 2

Cisco 360 Labs 1-10

Pass or fail next week, I will be doing a review of each book/vendor material and how useful they were for the v5 Lab exam. Keep you guys posted!

CCIE

Hour 265: Week 1-2 Completed

I just completed the first 2 weeks of training I planned with the IPexpert workbooks. I had previously done 3 of the labs and I removed all the Frame-Relay from my training. Because of this, I was able to compress my schedule and complete up to Lab 14 (MBGP). Also, I only did 4 hours on Sunday instead of the 8 hours that was originally planned. I might have to re-evaluate my study schedule.

Here are some of my impressions and some tips I have on the IPexpert workbooks:

  1. Already know how to configure the technologies: IPexpert workbooks are not meant to teach you how to configure basic stuff. However, they will teach you several obscure CCIE features and talk about many other ways to accomplish the same task.
  2. Have a deep understanding of the technologies: IPexperts workbooks are not meant for people who do not have a good grasp of the underlying functions of a protocol. They will mix several technologies and you can get easily confused if you do not understand them.
  3. Make your own drawings: IPexpert will have a basic L2 and L3 topology for each lab but I would highly suggest making your own. Once you get into OSPF and BGP with different areas and AS’s, it is imperative to make your own drawings if you don’t want to get lost.
  4. Read the whole Lab: In most labs, you will have several requirements that will break previous configurations. Learn to recognize and to avoid these “land mines”.

This is all I got so far, I don’t have a lot of time to blog because I am dedicating a lot of time doing labs. I will update my progress at least once per week and try to share some interesting tricks I have learned along the way.