How long does it take to become a CCIE from 0?

I donít have the answer but in this not so brief post I can show you how long it took me and tell you a little about my journey.

Donít read any further if your are looking for technical stuff in this post. If you are studying for some exams then it might help you to focus your efforts so read on.

How many training courses are required to achieve CCIE?

Before reading any further think about how many training courses it will take you to reach your next certification level? Push that number on your stack.

A long long time ago

Back in the olden days working on my Windows 95 laptop in a cubical laid out office, looking pretty dated in the millennium, probably the height of design in the 90ís I would sit studying for MSCE and working on Microsoft NT4 designs for customer across the UK. I would spend my life going from the office onto the motorways of Britain from customer to customer.

There was a guy who sat directly behind me back to back and he was always in the office. So chatting one day I ask what he was working on and where was it based. To my surprise he was working on a global network out of New York. ìBut you are always in the office!î I puzzled. Then he describes how he dials into the customers world wide network and the main data centre was in New York. I thought this was amazing. He says to me ìDo you want to learn about networkingî. and I said ìyesî. and that was the start of my Journey into the unknown.

CCNA ñ Sybex was my friend

I am guessing this was around July 1999, so through the company I was allowed to purchase my first networking book. I believe it was a Sybex CCNA study book. At this point I know the guy had been to Brussels twice to sit a big exam, and the second time he was successful. I also remember one of his colleagues coming back having failed and said to his manager. ìIt was tough I just couldnít type fast enoughî. The manager replied, ìGo and book yourself on a secretarial course then!î. I am thinking that sounds tough and I am struggling taking in information to go and sit my CCNA exam.


November 1999 I passed CCNA and I thought that was me done, the guy then says ìRight now you need to do CCNPî; ìWhat there more ?î. I was still enjoying it so I got the company to pay for more books, I canít fully remember but sure it was Sybex that was the main source and there was little or no Internet resources at the time.

So I plodded on the looking back it must have been the following to make up CCNP.

  • CLSC ñ Cisco Lan Switching
  • ACRC ñ Advanced Cisco Router configuration
  • CIT ñ Cisco Internetwork Troubleshooting
  • CMTD ñ Remote access

During this period I did have access to some devices, I believe it was 3 x 2600 routers, possibly only 2 but it was a long time ago.

I had CCNP by May 2000.I was delighted at this and was probably the only CCNP in the Microsoft Practice in Digital.

I had no training courses and no practical experience at all. I read books, played with my routers and ask my mentor question. I could never be let loose on a real network unsupervised.


Now my mentor managed to convince me to go all the way, and by now I knew more about the prestige of being a CCIE and heard things about retainers and big salaries. So with help from my mentor my upper management committed to continue to pay for books and would pay for the written exam.

I continued to study and done some other exams along the way and eventually got around to the written in August 2000. This appeared to be a big deal among my mentors networking peers to me it was one step closer to the LAB. I think because I was not in networking I had no realisation of what taking CCIE lab really meant. Still no formal training course.

Now it wasnít that hard to convince my management to sign up to pay for the LAB and expenses, to be fair I am not sure how serious they were taking me, after all I still had no practical experience. However taking advice from my mentor I had no chance without attending a boot camp, so I needed the company to pay for a two week camp in Bracknell or thereabouts, I think it was tutored by Kevin ????? I cant remember his name. So after arm twisting they committed to it and I started to really thorough myself into my studies.

I now has access to a remote lab with 5 routers, I would dial into Digital over 56k modem and access the lab remotely every night more or less (BK ñ before kids).

Before I knew it I had my Lab scheduled for just two weeks after my bootcamp.

Oh Boy! Did I feel like the odd one out when I arrived at the boot camp, all these guys who had been working in network for years, some had even been to the lab. ìWhat do you do?î they would ask. ìI work as a Microsoft consultantî , I got looks like I was as smouldering pile of poo.

I remember the first few days were a nightmare, I could hardly manage to telnet around the routers properly because I was so used to my fixed lab config and not use to jumping around networks. Two week passed and that was it, nothing else to do but go for the LAB.

The lab was a blur (two day lab in those days), in the morning I could not get my frame-relay to work, so I battered through and put on all the config, I had about 30 minute before lunch and I am sure at that time if I did not have end to end connectivity it was a fail and sent home. I went to my rack and examined the FR serial connection I believed to be the issue, I unplugged the connector, rotated it 180 degrees and plugged it back in. I when back to my console and sure enough IP was coming up. phewÖ At lunch I said to a proctor about the issues and they said, I should have ask them about it as it wasnít suppose to be like that. I was to scared to ask in case I got marked down.

At the end of day one I think there were 10 people left out of a starting 20 down to 4 for troubleshooting. I could not believe it when I got called back in and they said I had passed, I was euphoric, when I got back to the airport I bought the biggest cigars I could find and had a smoke, which was weird since I didnít smoke.

So from 0 to CCIE November 1999 to July 2001 (20 Months and never touching a real network)

  • 1 Training Course
  • 1 Mentor
  • 1 Mentor



As you can see I can still fail exams, but thatís a direct result of the effort I put in.

I write this to try and give encouragement that it is possible to learn lots of stuff without going on a training course, indeed I would encourage people challenge themselves to learn without being taught, this way, in my opinion leads you away from learning not just to pass an exam but to really learn the subject matter.

I now need to set my sights on my next CCIE, although I canít decide between voice or SP.

  • rxtx

    Pretty amazing that you managed without any real life experience, and in 20 months! Did you find what you learnt made sense when you went into networking full time? I’d find it difficult to pick up all that stuff without having some kind of real world grounding to see where it is useful

    • Greg Ferro

      The exam was very different in 2001. It wasn’t really attached to real life networking, more of object lesson on what not to do.

      You could still pass the CCIE exam today without any field experience in the same way that you can get an MBA with any business experience. It’s always the combination of certification, knowledge, experience and attitude that matters.

      Certification usually implies knowledge, experience implies much much more.

      • John McManus

        I believe with a passion that attitude is one the most important factor in achieving CCIE.

      • Omar Baceski

        good post,

        my experience regarding my first CCIE is almost a carbon copy from yours. Back in 2001 i started from scratch in 1999 and got my CCNA-CCNP-CCIE by may 2001, with no real life network experience. Anyway, how useful is real world experience when they ask you to configure redistribution among three routing protocols on the same router?
        Only difference: instead of a bootcamp i got 3 months full-time of practice using Cisco gear (courtesy of the local Cisco office). My boss let me stay at the cisco office for 3 months because he needed a cert guy as per partner cert requirements.

        Now, my second CCIE can’t be more different from the first. I did my SP CCIE in decembre 2008 after about one year of practice using workbooks and dynamips on the train going back and forth to the office every day (about one hour of practice a day). The SP lab was completelly different, only real life stuff, one day format, a lot of preconfigured things. The only similarity, as it was the case in 2001 with R/S, in 2008 i passed the exam with only lab experience on many of the exam topics.

        In any case, my opinion is that bootcamps are not required if you can spend some of your own time doing some practice, and in any case, if you CAN’T spend some time doing labs on your own, a bootcamp is not going to help you anyway :o)
        Bootcamps MAY be useful to some people to complement what they already know but i think you will be better of trying the exam for the same money.


    • John McManus

      Thanks, I was pleased with my performance, but don’t really have anything to compare with.

      I took me 8 year before I move away from Microsoft into Networking and during those eight years I did get get more exposure to doing real networking design and implementations. So when I eventually took the big step to use my CCIE for real it wasn’t so bad.

      I am a very tactile learner where I like to touch and feel to really appreciate a concept. So I do still spend a lot of time playing on GNS3 and my LAB when I need real performance like QoS to test.


      • Chetan B M

        does GNS3 support all the advance configuration

        • Greg Ferro

          No, according to CCIE instructors, it will get you a long way, maybe 80% of what you need to earn can be done in GNS3.

  • Dan Hughes

    Great article John..

    For me, I dithered between CCNA and CCNP for about 8 years, then spent about 2 years going from CCNP to CCIE, but that was with a lot of dedication and a very understanding wife!

    • John McManus

      Thanks Dan,

      It hard to describe to people thinking about going down the CCIE road about the personal commitment required for them and their family.

      I have an understanding wife too :)

  • Ivan Pepelnjak

    The record within NIL ( is approximately 6 months for a guy who was working on IBM 4700 terminals before joining us. Not surprisingly, he’s brilliant … and later became our technical director and then CEO 😉

    As for the “old” versus “new” exams: the old exams were tougher, as you had real troubleshooting (OK, that has reappeared if I’m not mistaken) and real interview with a proctor. The new ones obviously cover a wider spread of technologies and configuration tricks.

    If anything, with all the bootcamps, Internet and other “helpful” resources it’s probably easier to pass CCxx exams today without any real-life field experience.

    • John McManus

      6 Months, eeek.

      I was talking to a triple CCIE and asking them about the old and new format, they did mention that the R&S had “trick” you had to know.

      On my 350-001 re-certs its no coincidence that I found it difficult to pass during my time in the Microsoft Days, but over the past 4 years I have been doing networking and the last 2 I have been immersed in it. So now when recert time is coming it not such a challenge


  • Muhammad Akl

    6 months , 20 months !! i’ve spent about more than year and half to just finish my ccna and my BCMSN + BSCI following john approach just reading the books with no real experience , but at least am trying to be a fully understanding for concepts

    BTW as ccnp is now can be achieved through three tracks, i hope to get my TShoot soon


  • Sharky

    Hello John,

    i like your story. Now I am in the same situation like you. I did my relationship at an isp, but i have nothing to do with routing and networking. I can enter a job where i have much free time but it is a office job. Now I am not sure if i should find a job in the networking field or should enter the office job, where i have much free time to studie for ccnp and ccie. I am still holding my ccent and i hope in a month my ccna.

    regards sharky


    G’day jhone!
    Well I am big fan of ur bologs and articals. Professionals like u are my inspiration and mentoring way. It’s always give strenth to me when people share their carrer path, success and failer without hinding stuff and get more respect in my eyes Good on u ……:-)

    please keep it up my prayers and blessings with you always


  • Paul Stewart

    That’s very aggressive to go from 0 to IE in 20 months.

  • Elie

    Thank you for sharing your experience

    You deserve a trophy for that sort of dedication :)

    I finished my CCNA a couple of months ago and now I am preparing for my BCMSN.

  • Dennis

    My way has taken 3 years from 0 -> CCNA -> CCNP -> CCIE RS and yes! Sybex CCNA was my friend as well! This book definitely opened my mind for networking!
    The way to CCIE was thorny since I failed it 2 times!

  • Row

    Thanks for sharing your inspiring experience. It helps keep me motivated and driven to learn more and achieve more.

  • Ben Johnson

    I’d always thought at least 10 years in the industry before you go for your CCIE! Well, you’ve inspired me to just go for it – via the CCNP of course (CCNA sec completed now). There is, however, a little voice in the back of my head going: “Ah, but remember the CCIEs that you’ve worked with recently. You know, the ones who actually didn’t seem to know any more than you about what was going on…”

    Granted, it’s my [employer’s] network but hey…I want to be impressed by a CCIE who has been hired to help me, not offering THEM suggestions as to what may be the problem! I guess what I’m saying is that if it’s that easy(?) to get a CCIE without the practical experience, how much value does the qualification really have – beyond being a ‘door opener’? Is it starting to get a bit like an MCSE in that regard?

    That said, right now I could use the door-opener value as I’m seeking work in a new location and finding it hard to get my face in front of employers!

  • Shane K

    “Is it starting to get a bit like an MCSE in that regard?”

    Play a different record please.

  • Rob

    Hi John,

    I stumbled over this post a few weeks back when I was preparing for my CCNA (have it now in the bag). I find you a true inspiration. Well I’ve been in transmission and voice for the past 11 years and really want to change my profession. To that end I am studying for my CCNP at present and who knows then? Have you got any tips for someone with the qualification but no job experience? Of course all prospective employers expect the applicant to have years of experience, supplementary to the Cisco qualifications.



    PS: Sybex AND CBTNuggets are both my friends ^^

  • Ahmedsayed747

    great!! you must be very intelligent to get it only in 20 months,, will it take an incredible efforts to complete that in this period of time?

  • Adz

    you must be a genius seriously… CCNA is toughh i been studying 3 months now and im aboug 70% there but the material is huge and it is very tough but i want to be at least CCNP so i will push along! but this is very inspiring and very impressed!

  • Jaytothabee are a genius and an inspiration

  • Gulshan Rai

    Hats Off !! I am on the road to CCNP. You are pulling me physiologically towards CCIE. Thank you 

  • Zarnilaythwin

    Thanks a lot

  • Daniel Cisco Swart

    Nice Story

  • Daniel Cisco Swart

    Nice Story. But I don’t think it is relevant today. I don’t think you would be able to do it today in two years. And this shows in the amount of times John failed the written exam just to keep his CCIE certification. Even so he would still know more than me ( CCeNT,CCNA,CCNA Voice,CCNA Security,CCNA Design, CCNP and CCDP)

  • mziwanda

    hats off