Leadership

Advice from the experts to frustrated CCIE candidates

The road to achieving the CCIE cert is not an easy one and can cause a lot of frustration and disappointment. Recruiter Eman Conde gathered advice from current CCIEs to help those who may be feeling despondent.

After my last post about the value of the CCIE certification, I received a letter from a very frustrated CCIE candidate. I felt this cry of pain was universal enough to tell you about it and to reach out to others struggling with CCIE certification. Any certification can have it's challenges and the CCIE certification just happens to be the one causing this pain.

I decided to take this one on with the help of some friends. I have observed many others as they have persevered and, yes, even a few that have failed. But since I am not myself a CCIE, I asked several CCIE-certified friends to share their opinions and advice on the following letter.

I've spent 3000+ hours studying for my CCIE over the last three years.

I've done INE Workbooks I-III, Advanced Troubleshooting, 2-week Bootcamp, and also took the Cisco 360 CIERS 2.0 class a month before my last attempt. Add to that I've been a high-level network engineer and architect for 10 years. I've now failed the lab exam twice.

I am tired of giving Cisco my money and flying three thousand miles so they can *** me over with ridiculous requirements and an absurd time crunch. Is there anyone good enough to pass these labs without the "brain dump" materials?

I can't believe it. I work with a group of older CCIE's (all 4 digits). These guys come to me DAILY for routing, switching and SP type questions, but I can't pass the lab???

I think I need the brain dump labs that everyone is referring to. Can someone direct me to the correct vendor? There's probably no amount of money I wouldn't pay at this point to have the actual test materials.

I feel like this certification is literally ruining my life and I just want it to be over with. I'm so terrified that I'm going to get in a car wreck and die and my last thought will be that I wasted three years of my life, my kids' life, and time I could have spent with my wife trying to pass this exam.

Advice from those who have been there

Below, I have included excerpts from some of the advice given to this frustrated CCIE candidate. I think their combined knowledge and experience may help many others out there who are struggling with their certification process, whether in the CCIE spefically, or other tough certification processes.

Morgan Stepp (4X) CCIE #12603:

It's a tough journey for sure. Not everyone who starts out on the CCIE completes it. When you pass, it's more a feeling of relief than joy. My advice is to simply keep labbing. Don't give up.

Despite what you hear, the CCIE lab really is just an exam. There is no hellish torture chamber there. And despite accounts to the opposite,"bad proctors" are simply more busy than evil. Most proctors really do help clarify questions and assist in your needs.

Start a journal and outline your weak areas. Attack these item by item and watch yourself improve. Keep labbing!

Have fun with the CCIE and enjoy the journey

Terry Slattery CCIE #1026 (1st CCIE):

I can't address the specific reasons that this person didn't pass, because there's not enough information in the letter. Where were the weaknesses? Upon failure, the candidate gets a report of the score on each section, so the report tells where the weaknesses were. How did this person do on the CIERS 2 labs, which are similar to real labs?

Enough other people pass, who also write about their experiences, that I know that it is passable. Sure, it is tough and you have to be an expert. You have to know a lot of topics *cold*. Time management is paramount. There are other soft-skills that are important, such as being able to work from electronic documentation and work with Putty.

The most successful candidates follow a process for both the troubleshooting and configuration parts of the exam. This process allows them to amass most of the points that they need in the least amount of time, giving them time left to tackle the remaining tasks.

The questions this person gets at work are not at all like those on the exam.

[An instructor will have] people come into class who think they know BGP, and he asks a few questions that they typically can't answer, establishing that they really don't know everything that they should. You'd never build a real network like the designs that are thrown at you in the lab. The lab uses all the weird stuff in it to make sure that you know the underlying fundamentals. In that sense, you have to think more like the lab proctors to be able to handle the tasks.

Brain dump sites won't really help. The lab test and troubleshooting is such that even if you use the brain dump sites, you'll have to know what's going on in order to pass.

All this is clearly documented in the discussions on the Cisco Learning Network and INE web sites. The average number of attempts is more than 2, so his experience is not unusual. It is somewhat rare to pass on the first attempt.

I've seen people who have passed after 6 or 7 attempts.

There was an interesting story on CLN a few months back from someone who passed on his fourth attempt. He recounted why he hadn't passed in the prior attempts and what he had to do to finally pass. A big part of it was being comfortable enough with all the technologies that he didn't get mentally flustered. That's a big factor with many people.

Nivon Silva CCIE #19481

Dear CCIE-to-be,

I took the opportunity to read your letter and I can totally feel your pain, anger and frustration. And not because you have not passed your CCIE lab, it's mainly because you have not achieved something that you are fighting for so aggressively. Well, what can I say, this is life and nobody said it would be fair.

My CCIE journey was a lot different from yours. I did not study half the time you did and thank GOD I was able to pass in the first attempt - something that I honestly did not think could happen. I never told this to anyone, but my study journey was kind of funny, because I was working my ass off - company has relocated me into an African country with a not so good quality of life with many challenging projects in oil companies. I was struggling to end my 6 year relationship with my last girlfriend - it was incredibly traumatic....What that had to do with my CCIE - well, I was supposed to have a clear mind and spirit to dedicate my free time for my CCIE study, but I had none. My work was demanding to study and troubleshoot lots of new technologies (most not related to my CCIE).

With that being said, I found a little time to study and spent countless nights studying and trying to keep my personal life away from my thoughts. I knew I was good and capable; however I knew that this wasn't enough to become a CCIE. I finally booked the exam and I knew that I could not make any mistakes. I had two months for vacations, something that I was able to earn by working in Africa (company granted me a few privileges) - so I simply had to dedicate these two months for my CCIE....

Well, I took the lab and finished in less than six hours - I had two hours just to review the whole thing and those two hours changed my life. I was able to correct so many obvious configuration mistakes - oh man, those two last hours were PRECIOUS. Time in this exam is PRECIOUS.

I have some coworkers with the same experience as you. I have one good friend that was the very first CCSI instructor in Latin America, implemented most MPLS networks in Service Providers in Brazil, was Cisco Professional Services, and this guy passed in third attempt. I remember when he failed the second attempt, he WAS devastated. And he took the third attempt without anyone at the company knowing about it and finally the good news. So your story is not the only one - you are not the only hardcore, old dog, with-a-life, Cisco engineer who failed the CCIE exam. There are many of those out there.

Regarding the brain dumps, the question to your answer with caps is YES, THERE ARE MANY OUT THERE CAPABLE OF PASSING THE LAB WITHOUT THOSE. Sorry to say that, but do not be a fool my friend, I know countless cases of people taking these so called dumps that haven't passed the lab - I have close friends who have used it and never passed. Don't waste your money on it. The material you have used is excellent - just persevere and you will make it, trust me.

Vinu Peter CCIE #16439

What I've felt on [the] lab exam is that people tend to make mistakes while in pressure; that's what CCIE lab tests you on. So keep your cool and go ahead. I attempted twice and, believe me, I've felt the same exact way.

Adil Pasha (future CCIE)

I hear your frustration. But remember to be persistent and take a deep breath and a step back to plan properly. Yes, CCIE is very difficult and I really cannot imagine how these kids are passing in three months. But for a person with your kind of experience, it will be amazing to have the certification completed. Please do not think about paying money for brain dump labs. Even if you pass the CCIE it will be considered cheating, and your three years of effort will be a waste. Do not look at those who pass in three months. Look at your experience and knowledge. I am sure you are way ahead of CCIEs. Be persistent.

I am studying for about a year now and it is not easy to really complete the exam in one year with a full time job. Remember, we catch these guys who pass CCIE in three months within five min. during the interview, and they start from the bottom. You are not one of them. I also have 15 years of networking experience and 12 years working on Wall Street. I know the business and how to get the work done and bring up a network with quality. But as a consultant, I need CCIE especially when I change projects and go through interviews. So it is about time I have to have my cert completed.... Keep up the good work and study hard. I have a colleague who took R&S eight times and passed it on eighth time. So you are way behind him. :)

Justin Mitchell CCIE #28160

I think the gentleman needs to re-evaluate why he is pursuing the CCIE. I spent close to two years and multiple attempts getting mine. Dumps are not the way to go.

...I also find it a shame he compares himself to 4 digit CCIEs; he should actually feel honored they ask him for help. Having talked to lots of people about the exam, it has changed a lot over the last 10+ years. I earned my CCIE a little more than a month ago and while I was studying for it, ALL of those technologies were fresh in my mind. Peoples' jobs change over time and so does their knowledge.

Right now, it is his attitude that is holding him back --"I am tired of giving Cisco my money and flying three thousand miles so they can *** me over with ridiculous requirements and an absurd time crunch." Everyone knows the exam is about the ridiculous requirements and the absurd time crunch and being 3000 miles from home. It's not supposed to be easy, it's supposed to be a challenge and make you insane. If it was easy, everyone would be a CCIE.

Mohammad Tabbara CCIE #24487:

Personally, I have worked for Cisco (Advanced Services). One of my ex-colleagues was a CCIE proctor, he once told me that he met people who have attended the CCIE exam 10 TIMES!!

One day I became angry when I knew that even for CCIE Lab, there is a dump !! How ridiculous is that!!! Personally, I know more than 20 CCIE's. Some who got it using dumps and some who passed it with honor. On the other hand, I have a friend who has whatever knowledge and experience required for CCIE, and he even used the dumps, but still he was not able to pass the CCIE till now, after two attempts.

...Eventually, I believe that CCIE lost its value without any doubt. Thats why personally am going towards JNCIE (Juniper Certified Internet Expert), which has no dumps :))), thus maintaining its value !

Eman's view

Okay, it's me again and I will have to sum this up lest it become ten more pages of responses. I want you all to take a breath a simple inhale and exhale as we assume the lotus position. The CCIE certification is a hard journey for everyone. Those that seem to pass more easily than others are a source of frustration and inspiration. The average CCIE takes the lab 2.3 times (according to a source I spoke with at Cisco). What that means is the first attempt for many is just that -- the first attempt. Time management is the one thing I hear over and over again. Having a chance to review your work before the eight hours is used up is very important.

Time

Study hard, lab as often as you can, download all the material you can for free that will help you, and live and breathe CCIE until it hurts. There is no other certification like it and no group of people have had as large an impact on society as a whole as Network Engineers (notice I did not say CCIEs). There are changes on our planet driven by IP connectivity that could never have been predicted even by Nostradamus. Keep on the path towards anything you really want and you will achieve it and if you have to give up time with friends, family, and hobbies, so be it, but always cling to your God and your faith, you will survive and succeed!

About

Emmanuel Conde has the distinction of being the only CCIE recruiter promoted by World Wide Channels of Cisco Systems.

25 comments
cattytown
cattytown

 I am a four figure CCIE. I did the old two-day mark by interview lab and passed on the third attempt., and I think that lab format favoured me.

My advice to candidates is always to consider the first lab attempt a final boot camp. There are always little things that ramp up the pressure.

The stuff you know, you need to REALLY know. you need to be able to get a network up and running on V4 or 6 quickly using any of the major RPs. You need to be comfortable on ACLs. There will be something you have not seen before - the comfort with what you know gives you time to do the stuff you've never seen before.

A common comment I hear from people that pass is that time was NOT really an issue - they had spare time left at the end to check things. If you are running up against the clock, you need to get faster on the stuff you know.

I note Nivon's comments about not having the time to learn that he would have liked, because of the pressure of work and personal life. I rather suggest dealing with that pressure helped him by building the "soft" skills for CCIE - time management and working under pressure.


Paul.

ccietraininglab
ccietraininglab

In tough times, I always remember this quote, "the journey is the reward." You might know the guy who always said this but that's right, aside from hard work, you must also enjoy your CCIE Training.

vinunath
vinunath

Cisco should look for a min 5 years network exp before even allowing someone to do attempt ccie lab ... i couldnt get my head around with this "Fresh CCIE " "First attempt pass" move.

CCIE Agent
CCIE Agent

Enjoy the journey and stay true to yourself!

Iwish400
Iwish400

Thank you all for your encouragement. I've been studying for my NP for quite some time and the guys I work with sometimes tell me that I'm too slow and I will never finish (they are joking with me I know). I want to really understand the material and not just rush into taking the exam and barely pass. I think that studying the way that I am will help to build a better foundation. So again thank you because I will not continue to beat myself up because i'm taking too long.

whit222
whit222

I admire all the CCIEs for a number of reasons. I am a CDP-CCNA-MCP-CNE etc etc and pursuing a VCP. And I am a proponent of certification, education and experience. However! What the computer industry(Telcom Servers Workstation etc ) needs is the equivalent of a CPA. And technology for technology sake needs to be abandonded. That is how they keep salaries low for the majority and high for the prima donnas. I have a number of years in this industry and it is getting worse not better when it comes to employment. We let MS-Cisco-VMware etc bring out their product specific certifications and bow to them. Think about how much money you and your company have spent on certification and training. Not to mention your Time? Can we be honest? MS brings out 2008 and they change everything so you have to be certified all over again? And now Cicso did the same( I do think Cisco tests really do test your knowledge.) MS is testing you on how to take a test-not what you really know. When I obtained my CCNA Cisco had introduced a whole new method of taking the test. The A+ the last time I checked asked about Windows 95? Really? I wish grousing about it made me feel better but you and I will continue to salivate like Pavlov's dog and chase paper certification. And BTW for all you folks who complain about paper certifications - here's a surprise - they all are. Even your college degree. Its a measure. Get over it. I salute the CCIEs and wish good luck to anyone seeking certification!

khurram_mateen
khurram_mateen

TG2 I found it funny that CCIE would say that it could not be done,yet system administrator ( which i asume you are) using MS group policy was able to get it done in 20 mins. May be your hiring manager needs to get his other technical team involved in hiring - atleast give candidate the technical test more alligning to his job responsibilities.

JCitizen
JCitizen

for most of my fellow students. I followed the same advice I see in some of the posts, and did everyone of my labs and then some; and passed it the first time.

peteystock
peteystock

I have to agree with what's been said above. While I don't work with Cisco stuff, I have worked in IT for 10+ years, from Tier 1 Help Desk up to (now) Tier 3 SysAdmin -- in that time I have probably spent 10x more time TALKING about getting my MCSE than actually studying and taking exams. Personally I get stronger of the opinion, every day, that certification exams are not worth the agada, money, and time -- UNLESS you have all three to spare. I don't, especially with two kids under 6, and attempting to get my life back on track after having had to change jobs 3 times, and being unemployed myself for a couple months, over the past two years. Honestly it's more satisfying to me to figure out some esoteric problem via the excellent combinations of resources of experience, co-workers, and the internet, than pass some exam that does not reflect 15% of your real-life work. To CCIE Guy -- my suggestion would simply be to RELAX. You know what you know, and do some hard thinking about what you're trying to accomplish here. Honestly maybe you have been so laser-focused on this, you need to take a break and concentrate on what matters, i.e. your family, friends, and life outside of CCIE exams. Maybe doing that, will REALLY be what gets you back over the hump.

CareerSaverSamantha
CareerSaverSamantha

Anything worth doing in life is going to be tough, and the negative affects from not persevering will be much harder to deal with than the struggles of obtaining your certification. Good luck and keep your chin up, all! Samantha www.CareerSaver.com

TG2
TG2

I had a position where I was the "old dog" and they hired a CCIE pup ... expecting this pup to wave a magic wand and reconfigure everything. three things I suggested, and know can be done, this pup couldn't do and flat out said they were not possible. The CCIE was also supposed to be an internet expert. He was finally let go when he couldn't even come to terms with simple redirections for "time wasting" websites like twitter, ebay, facebook, and the big one "myspace". When mister WebWizard CCIE said it couldn't be done, I went back to my desk, sent an email to the manager telling him I'll have it up in 20 minutes ... and pushed to all workstations over the next 24 ... that friday the CCIE was let go and the manager was looking for a new one.. this time that manager had his three old dogs in on the 2nd round of hiring ... we picked a winner together and proceeded to rebuild a 20+ office wan. That's what Paper CCIE's get you. (the "3 month" types) Experience in the field will generally lead you around the pitfalls and mine fields. Its the next level of threat the original letter poster needs to get a grasp on. Wolves in sheepskin so to speak.

pmmrozinsky
pmmrozinsky

The grammar, misspelling and incorrect punctuation, most of which would have been caught by Microsoft Word Spelling Checker, tells me the level of intellectual maturity that these supposed CCIE test takers have achieved to date in their lives. If you have not mastered these elementary school skill sets; then how do you expect to master the skill sets necessary to be intellectually functional at the CCIE LAB tests?

rgiovi
rgiovi

I am frustrated by all certifications today. In my opinion, it's simply a way for companies to make money, period. Just because someone is certified, doesn't mean they are qualified. Passing an exam is about memorizing material, it has nothing to do with practical knowledge in real life situations, and the money being charged for these exams is ridiculous. Not only do you have to pay for the exams, but many people pay for exam prep books and courses. Then companies want to hire people with certifications - yet the people doing the hiring are not certified - and many don't even know what the certifications mean. Theory is one side of the equation, but there is no way to replace practical experience, and there is no certification that will make anyone an expert.

partners95
partners95

I have become frustrated by all certifications. If it really was about proving you are competent, the cost of taking the test should be minimal. And you should only have to pay once. A test that the average person has to pay for 3 times to pass is simply a profit center for the test giver. And having to memorize things that you rarely use is so inefficient. We are Tech Professionals after all, it is more important we know how to quickly locate the available stored info we need to do the job right and efficently rather than being able to memorize and regurgitate obscure information. It should be about competence, rather than testing being another profit center like it has become today.

kipoon
kipoon

Well, first of all the CCIE lab doesn't reflect real life situation. It only reflect how fast you can type and how much you have remembered. Do you really have to remember all commands when you are working at customer site? 1) A good engineer should be able to use all the resources available to him, be it Internet or references to old cases, to help him to fix a customer problem. But you don't have that privilege in the CCIE lab. 2) Time is a constraints. Yes, in real life you may have to race against time in some customer situation. But not 30 pages of problems. 3) The questions are misleading and the solutions are not base on best practices. There may be 10 different ways to complete one question. They expect you to do things in the most unusual way and that probably not the preferred way in real situation. Questions are misleading as well. 4) They don't expect you to think in the lab. If you think, you won't be able to finish the lab.

hyper1pua
hyper1pua

I, too, found it funny how many members by now have beaten up the same dead horse. Ooooh a CCIE doesn't know about MS group policies? Suprise, it's Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert. Do you see the word Microsoft in there? Here is a little help. NO! Snap out of it. Just because you are a CCIE doesn't mean now you know everything there is to know about IT. You are an expert in a very narrow field. So DO NOT I repeat DO NOT hire a CCIE (R&S) unless you need a infrastructure expert, a CCIE (Voice) unless you need a voice infrastructure expert etc.

jeremial-21966916363912016372987921703527
jeremial-21966916363912016372987921703527

I'll tell you what worked for me. My instructor told us we were going to spend two full days practicing configuration...and then handed us all a notebook and a pencil. For two full days he forced us to manually write every command, every switch, and what the expected output would be. I hated him with a passion, until it came time for the test. I went through the exam in record time, and was only one miss away from a perfect score.

Head_IT_Man
Head_IT_Man

Agreed Peteystock.... in fact, not necessarily even just CCIE. In Australia, so many new IT grads seem to want to run out and grab a CCNA or even a Masters in IT, yet haven't had the work experience to really contribute to their post-Graduate learnings. Someone else wrote in here, that a certication without the experience is little better than no experience at all. When there is such glut of EXPERIENCED professionals in the market at the moment, I'd go for someone with the experience and no certification before I took someone with a Certification/Higher Ed degree with no experience. I recently advertised a position for a Desktop and Network admin - I had 200+ responses for the position and possibly half of them had Masters degrees in IT with no experience. Another 40% had certifications with no experience (not even "playing around at home" experience).... the person who got the job had no certifications (although, she IS studying for them), but had a home lab, communicated well and showed willingness to learn.

CCIE Agent
CCIE Agent

In my old role as TAC manager for BANI I was able to observe the interactions of my teams as they pursued some of the toughest enterprise issues for our clients. In these interactions the big dogs with experience were the stars. I always had them in interviews to make sure of a couple of things. The candidate was a good technician and a good fit for the team. No manager I don???t care how technical should hire without getting opinions from their teams. Paper Tigers can damage a team irreparably and should be kept on short leashes until they prove themselves to their peers and earn respect.

PScottC
PScottC

Your response seems to imply that Mr. "WebWizard" didn't know anything about workstations... Well a CCIE is, as implied by the name, Cisco Certified. Doesn't mean he knows a darn thing about workstations or enterprise deployment. A workstation expert tells you which multicast application to use to deploy images, a network expert makes sure that application doesn't disrupt communications. I think that inexperience and lack of a broad foundation are causes for concern, not the fact that someone is a 3-month CCIE. I would be more concerned about a fresh college graduate who is a CCIE than I would be about a person with 10 years in the field and used a bootcamp to cram for the certification. And with that in mind I would pay that person based on their experience.

Get-Smart
Get-Smart

Sorry to be cynical, but look around the Internet. As with nearly all our society these days, literacy is relegated to text books. Proof that our federal government should keep their hands out of education, as the money wasted has made the problem worse, not better. And on the note of wasted money, back to the topic at hand. Cisco has a history of taking usable products and ratcheting up their complexity until it's beyond comprehension. I haven't attempted the certification tests, but I've no doubt they have done the same to the testing process. For the god-awful extortion fees they charge, we should pay once for testing with _at least_ one free re-take. Microsoft is on the same path: their study materials cover less than half of what's on the test, so I barely passed my exam, but again it was my experience that saved me. I also agree with other posters that certification does not equal knowledge. I've bested certified engineers many times over the years just with my basic experience. This whole ordeal is sounding like Cisco's certifications costs more than they're worth.

Timbo Zimbabwe
Timbo Zimbabwe

"These guys come to me DAILY for routing, switching and SP type questions, but I can???t pass the lab???" That's because your real-world experience doesn't jive with the make believe life in the labs. Just keep plugging away, man, you'll get there!

JCitizen
JCitizen

The lab repetition was excellent. I had done enough CLI that I just tried to memorize it, and finally did. Unfortunately, I use the GUI on cisco routers now, and couldn't remember any of that stuff anyway. I can always pull out the books or google it now. I don't need to keep my certs up where I live. But I would like to do the new security certifications.