Blessay: On CCIE Core Knowledge Waivers. The HP fallout continues. – UPDATED

I’m betting that the CCIE Core Knowledge Question waivers is because of HP. Oh, and making money. Or the Cisco 360 program is failing.

On CCIE Core Knowledge Waivers and the HP fallout

At the Cisco Learning Network they have posted a notice that allows for the avoidance of the CCIE Core Knowledge Questions if you attend a training course from Cisco.

Beginning April 1, 2010, Cisco will allow Cisco 360 Learning Program students who attend a Cisco CCIEÆ Routing and Switching or CCIE Voice workshop to request a waiver and skip the Core Knowledge Section of the CCIE lab exam. All waiver requests must be approved by the workshop instructor. No end date for the Core Knowledge Waiver has been announced, but Cisco will provide at least 60 daysí notice before discontinuing the waiver.
During a Cisco 360 Learning Program workshop, students complete a series of performance assessments that demonstrate their understanding of the CCIE material and serve the same purpose as the Core Knowledge section of the exam. Therefore, Cisco 360 Learning Program students who use the waiver will not be required to type out answers to the Core Knowledge questions and will be allowed to move immediately to the next section of the lab exam.

Why do it all then ?

So the real question is why are the waivers being issued ? What is the business driver that drives Cisco Learning to go down this path ? They have to realise that this isnít going to be popular or fair (( although Cisco hasnít shown much market intelligence in recent times )) and it doesnít make sense to introduce Core Knowledge Questions and then waive them six months later.
My view is that Cisco Resellers are coming up to partner status certification and they donít have enough CCIEís to make their numbers. Resellers have a history of not spending enough on certification, even with joint marketing funds. And they donít want to pay the money free agent CCIEs in the market.

Cisco has just kicked HP off the team and desperately needs to keep their existing resellers ìin the familyî. Losing reesllers means losing the only path for Cisco products to go to market. John Chambers is always whining about “partnering in the marketplace” (mostly because it’s cheaper than his own sales force) and this is the downside of relying on partners.

However, Cisco mandates that each reseller will have at least a certain number of CCIE / CCNP / CCIP / CCNA ÖÖ so that they can sell and support Cisco products. I surmise that HP is on a recruitment drive to get more resellers to sell ProCurve. Iím betting that the ProCurve people will be promising the world to get resellers to switch from Cisco to HP for their switching gear. If Cisco starts decertifying more resellers right now, well, you get the picture.

Older CCIEís arenít recertifying

One of the hidden issues here is that the new CCIE v4.0 written exam is preventing older CCIEs from recertification. The new questions and exam format means that a substantial commitment is required to learn the exam material. Many people have moved into senior roles that donít have a hands on component, or even into management. The previous exam was much easier to pass (from what I hear), and I suspect that more than the usual number of not attempting to recertify.

Remember what the Core Knowledge Questions are for.

Itís worth remembering that the OEQs appear to be a strategy that stops what appeared to be rampant cheating in certain countries. Iíve heard that the pass rate in China and India was not in proportion to the other test locations. Asking questions from a very large pool of written questions means that ìadvance knowledgeî doesnít work. (And the development and preparation of the lab tasks is very hard so the pool of lab questions cannot easily be increased.)
This appears to be confirmation that the OEQs is effective at stopping cheating, but is also stopping the passing of candidates who havenít shifted their preparation to take account of the new process.

Perception is Reality

Now this appears to be a very biased outcome. You might perceive that companies like IPExpert and Internetwork Expert are being cut out of the system.

But from Ciscoís point of view, how else can they issue these waivers ? Since Cisco isnít delivering the training themselves but sub-contracting it to NetMasterclass and appointing them to act on Ciscoís behalf in CCIE training market. This requires legal arrangements between the companies. Cisco needs more CCIEs in the market to appease the resellers, but canít be seen to make it easy for resellers only. Cisco already provides significant amount of resources to CCIE Mendicants at Resellers in the form of funding, training labs, fast track programs and more. Over the years these programs have come and gone according to how Cisco is performing in the market.

Is the Cisco 360 program a failure ?

Another view might be that the current 360 program is failure. Given that NetMasterClass won the bid to provide the program for Cisco and invested a lot of time and resources up front.

A few hypothetical points that might support this view:

  • There isn’t enough students so they could be losing money. Or at least not making enough out of it.
  • Maybe the quality of the 360 program material isn’t good enough and not enough people are passing because of that.
  • Maybe the 360 program is attracting the type of people who are more likely to fail leading to complaints to Cisco about poor quality,
  • The trainers in the 360 program could pull out if they can’t make enough money

So Cisco gives them an incentive to get more students into the program by waiving the Core Knowledge. The only losers in this scenario is IPX and INE who are making a living outside of Cisco’s sphere of influence.

It’s not a real incentive anyway, since the point of Core Knowledge is to stop cheating not to test student knowledge. Since Cisco is certifying that these people aren’t cheating, it’s logically consistent.

This isnít pre-school. Itís isnít meant to be fair.

At the end of the day, this isnít publicly funded program or university for the common good. Welcome to the Real World. Cisco has commercial interests in certification and Cisco Certification is blunt instrument often used by Cisco to achieve certain goals in the marketplace. For example, the addition of IP Multicast to the curriculum is all about selling Cisco IOS features and not much to do with customer need or want. And IPv6 education is about protecting the market that Cisco is totally dependent upon in the future since no one is using it yet.
Itís worth remembering that IPX and INE chose to go their own way and not partner with Cisco for training because that suited the financial goals for their businesses. They can always sign up with Cisco 360 if they choose to.

So while I agree that this looks grossly unfair and uncompetitive, the reality is about Business. Cisco wants resellers to promote and sell their product, and if this helps the numbers, then this is what we get. If you don’t much like capitalism then you can have a good cry, otherwise, shut up and put up.

For the record, Iím not happy about this announcement. It smacks of unfair practice and nepotism. But if you donít like the rules, go and get an MBA or a degree.

“This isn’t the real world, this the CCIE Lab. Real world doesn’t apply”.


Yeah, I saw this coming. Or something like it. Many existing CCIE’s aren’t recertifying and new CCIE numbers are low. Then HP and Cisco fall out. Resellers aren’t spending money in the recession to create CCIEs over the last year or two. Obvious there was going to be a shortage of CCIE numbers. Brad Reese even blogged about it at Network World a few times.

This isn’t the first impact from the HP/Cisco split and it won’t be the last.

  • stretch

    1) Implement mini-test within test out of “necessity.”
    2) Offer waivers for said mini-test to individuals who pay for your in-house training.
    3) Profit.

    • Greg Ferro

      If you don’t like the rules, don’t play the game.

      This isn’t kindergarten, this is the real world.

      • stretch

        Me play the cert game? 😛

  • Marco Rizzi

    Thanks Greg for your extremely valuable and independent point of view.

    That 1 april sounds to me like a bad joke :-)

    Anyway, seems that nothing has changed for candidates that can’t afford a Cisco 360 training, they have simply to study hard, nothing else :-)


    • Greg Ferro

      I’d hazard a guess and say that most people using Cisco 360 didn’t pay for it themselves or didn’t pay full price (or both). It was subsidised by reseller JMF dollars or Cisco Training Credits. Can’t say for certain, but I’d reckon most Cisco Partners send their candidates to Cisco 360. The rest of us use INE / IPX.

  • Bubba Jones

    Seriously? Didn’t Microsoft have similar issues?

    Two words: Sherman Antitrust.

    Other than the obvious attempt to screw the non-360 trainers, it completely screws the people who aren’t using or can’t afford ANY training. Great lesson! Take your motivation and valuable time and go someplace else! HP is looking. Juniper is good!


    • Greg Ferro

      I am coming around to the view that the quality or the quantity of the NetMasterClass training -might- not be good enough. Another angle might be that either not enough people are passing, and complaining about the training quality.

      Or NetMasterClass is saying to Cisco “we spent $$$$ and we aren’t getting enough return on our investment” and we are about to walk out. Give us a reason to continue. Waiving OEQs is a competitive advantage.

      • Marko Milivojevic

        More exactly, unfair competitive advantage and there are both anti-trust and anti-cartel laws about that.

        Btw. this is not about us not wanting to play the game, this is about game rules being different for different participants.

        Not only do “official” students get 1/3 of the exam on the plate, they get 30 more minutes to finish the rest of the exam. You are a CCIE< you have been to a lab. You know what difference 30 minutes can make.

        Marko Milivojevic – CCIE #18427 (earned not bought)

        • Greg Ferro

          1) Of course the game rules are different. This is business where no one plays nice. Cisco owns the game AND makes the rules AND determines the play. What’s fair about that ? Nothing, except that you chose to play it.

          2) Wayne Lawson made the decision to stay outside of the 360 program. This was the risk of that decision. Obviously.

          3) I currently think that mendicants are better advised to go with INE or IPX. As vendors they are working harder and smarter than the Cisco equivalent because of that motivation.

          4) Mendicants will make their own choices. IPX has a competitive advantage too – you are cheaper because your cost base is lower. Wayne’s blog post made that pretty clear.

          The second rule of CCIE LAB is to never ask why, it just is.

          • Bubba Jones

            But Wayne’s decision may or may not be a bad one. It’s not an anti-competitive or unfair decision though.

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