Saturday, March 26, 2011

Advice from the experts to frustrated CCIE candidates


Takeaway: 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.


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!

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