The Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) certification is considered to be the “black belt” of networking. Currently, there are approximately 6,000 CCIEs in the world. By comparison, there are well over 400,000 Microsoft Certified Systems Engineers (MCSEs). This gives you an idea of the exclusiveness of the CCIE certification.

At this time, there are three CCIE tracks: Routing & Switching, Communications & Services, and Security. The Routing & Switching (R/S) track is by far the most popular. So in this article, I will focus on how a candidate obtains CCIE status on that track.

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If you’re thinking about getting Cisco certified as part of career path, you can download our Cisco certification guide to help you along the way.

CCIE requirements
The outlined requirements for the CCIE R/S certification seem simple enough at first glance. A candidate must pass the qualification test, exam number 350-001, and then take a two-day lab examination. Like other major certification exams, the CCIE R/S qualification test is available from Sylvan Prometric at testing centers throughout the United States. However, the two-day lab examination can be taken only at two Cisco lab locations in the United States.

While these are the only “hard” requirements, the suggested course of study is to complete the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certification and the Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) certification and to have at least two years of hands-on experience with Cisco network equipment in a complex internetworking environment. Cisco recommends crossing these stepping-stones before attempting the CCIE exam, which then qualifies the candidate to take the CCIE lab.

The lab examination is the true determining factor in the CCIE process, which is what makes this certification so elite. It has been said that the first-time pass rate for the CCIE R/S lab exam is less than 20 percent. So you might ask, “Why is there currently a seven-month wait for people who are willing to pay the new higher price of $1,250 to take the lab exam, when they have an 80 percent chance of failing?” The answer is “the rewards.”

Besides the personal satisfaction of achieving the highest networking certification that the world has to offer, the financial and career rewards for someone holding the CCIE certification are numerous. For most candidates, the starting salary of $100,000 or more is lure enough.

The CCIE certification is one of the few technical certifications where the candidate must pass a lab examination in order to become certified. The demanding requirements of the CCIE lab draw many people to it, while scaring others away. Figure A shows a flowchart of the recommended CCIE certification path on the way to the lab exam.

Figure A
Recommended CCIE certification path

Training resources
Fortunately for the CCIE candidate, there are a number of training options. As a CCIE candidate myself, I’d like to share some of the many preparation resources I have found valuable.

As mentioned above, as part of the recommended path to the CCIE, a candidate should obtain the CCNA and CCNP certifications first. Each of these certifications has its own corresponding classes and exams. The CCNA requires only one exam, while the CCNP requires that a candidate has already passed the CCNA exam and requires the passing of four more exams on LAN and WAN networking.

On the way to obtaining the CCNA and CCNP certifications, I recommend utilizing, which has some great exam preparation quizzes, and, which offers a Cramsession document for each of the Cisco exams.

Once you have obtained the your CCNA and CCNP and are ready for specialized training aimed at the CCIE R/S certification, you should consider the following companies:

There are also some great books that are considered required reading for CCIE candidates. If you want to delve into what a CCIE candidate should know, pick up one of these books online or from your local bookstore. There is a very long list of books on the Cisco Web site. Some of the best titles I have read and that come highly recommended by other CCIE candidates include the following:

Lab access
If you don’t have access to a testing lab of Cisco equipment at your office or home (many candidates buy the equipment and build a home lab rack), there are online “virtual” lab racks you can rent for a period of time. These service providers usually have predesigned labs that a candidate can practice over and over again. Some of these “virtual rack” service providers include:

  •—An excellent source for great quality labs run by some very knowledgeable people.
  •—An excellent discussion forum for CCIE candidates. Their Lab forum is very active and full of knowledgeable CCIE candidates and people who have already obtained CCIE status. It is open to people who have already passed the CCIE qualification exam and are preparing for their lab examination.

Taking the plunge
As for myself, after obtaining my MCSE+I, CCNA, CCDA, CCNP, and a variety of other certifications, I have decided that the CCIE R/S certification is for me. I went through the recommended Cisco career path from a Cisco Learning Partner and passed the five tests to achieve my CCNA and CCNP. I passed the CCIE R/S qualification exam using a variety of books and study materials. After gaining some hands-on experience in my workplace, using some of the “virtual racks,” and taking the CCIE Workshops from Skyline, I hope I am well on my way. I have my CCIE lab scheduled for August 2001.

It takes perseverance, but if you are interested in a high-level career in networking, the CCIE R/S certification is a rewarding and lucrative credential to add to your resume.

Are you interested in pursuing CCIE certification?

We look forward to getting your input and hearing about your experiences regarding this topic. Join the discussion below or send the editor an e-mail.