Why the CCIE program is more useful than the certification itself.

About 3 years ago, when I’d first decided to go down the route of getting my CCIE, I remember speaking a colleague who had done his a year or two before, and asking him was it worth the effort. He told me ‘regardless of having the certification, the process will make you a better engineer’. When I asked him what he meant by that, he told me ‘you’ll see’, then went off the pub for the afternoon leaving the hard work to his minion (me).

Now, as my first recert is getting close, I get what he meant. There’s an awful lot of rubbish talked about the CCIE, and how guru-like CCIE’s are begged on a daily basis to move to higher and higher paid jobs.. I can’t deny, it is a door opener when looking for a gig, and sometimes clients specify they want a CCIE for a given role, but door opener is all that the certification is. You don’t get an easy interview as a result – in fact when you say you’re a CCIE, people try harder to catch you out, and you have to be better than ever to get and keep your credibility.

The reason the CCIE teaches you to be a better engineer, is not because it gives you god-like knowledge of the IOS (you do have to learn the IOS backwards, but this soon starts to slip and become out of date unless you keep it up), but it teaches you four things :


When you’re studying for the CCIE, you have to be able to come home from a tough day, go to your lab, and study for hours, day, after day, for an average of 12-18 months. You give up on your home life, lose weekends, don’t see your buddies, and so on. It’s hard – really hard, but you have to have the discipline to sit down, and get on with it. This stands to you afterwards, for example, before I did my CCIE, I couldn’t work at home – I got nothing done. Now I work at home 4 days a week and get twice as much done as when I go into the office.

Documentation and Manuals

The use of the DocCD (sorry, I’m old fashioned). I don’t remember every timer default, or how to configure every feature of the IOS. But I can find out pretty damned quick, and I never use google. You have to know the documentation site backwards to do the lab. During preparation, you learn how to navigate the documentation site quickly and effectively, and learn where everything is. In the real world, this is really useful every single day. No more searching google and hoping the answer isn’t on experts-exchange.

Attention to Details

You can’t make mistakes in the CCIE lab. One little thing can cost you the exam (the way the marking works makes a mistake on the underlying infrastructure mean that lots of questions which depend on it fail). So you have to be perfect every time. Personally, this was a bigger challenge than learning the IOS – when I did mock labs it was the dumb mistakes that got me every time. You have to work on that to a point where your planning and coding is perfect every time.


This is the big difference between the CCIE lab and all other Cisco exams. It’s not enough to know the theory. You need to be able to set up a really complex network, spot the problems, and troubleshoot them quickly and effectively when the little trap that was left for you trips up your configuration. During your preparation, you spend hours and hours every week setting up scenarios to fail, so you can troubleshoot them. This is invaluable.

Technique as powerful as knowledge

I would always recommend this process to anyone who hasn’t done it, and wants to be the best engineer they can be to do the CCIE. Not because you learn lots of cool features (although you do), and not because you’ll get a better paid job (hopefully you will), but because it teaches you how to work better, faster, and more reliable in the real world. This is why CCIE’s are still so sought after.

One Last Point

Don’t be tempted with the shallow promises of braindump sites. By giving yourself this ‘help’, you’re not giving yourself the main learning experience, you’re only passing the exam. When you’re interviewed, people will know. When you go to a job, you’ll get found out..

  • http://www.networklife.net Ben

    Great article,
    Really good to read your stories !!!

  • http://kpjungle.wordpress.com Kim Pedersen

    This article really nails it! The CCIE certification might be the goal, but the experience in getting there is really worth 10x more in my opinion.


  • Sachin Shenoy

    I completely agree with everything you say .. Its definitely the Journey which is more important than the destination itself.

    But.. Yes there is a “but” .. I also believe that in some ways the CCIE prep takes you away from the realities of a live network. People become focused on learning the obscure and at times even learning bad design practices unintentionally. For most people the focus is on passing the LAB and the LAB requires you to get the requirements working that’s it. The implementation need not be optimal or even manageable in any way.

    As long as the individual preparing for the LAB understands that there is more than one way of configuring for a requirement (Most CCIEs do) the LAB Way and the real life way and know the difference .. Then you will truly be a great network engineer.

    As I always say, you are a CCIE much before Cisco realizes it and gives you a number.

    • http://blog.olorin.co.uk Dan Hughes

      Good point. When you’re in the study ‘zone’, the first question you ask when presented with an issue is ‘what did the question ask for’. There is no ‘best practice’ in the Lab. And when you’re studying, tasks at work which are not on the blueprint are avoided..

      I think the difference is people who do this out of thirst for knowledge, find it a useful tool to help gain more knowledge, and gain a huge amount from it. Those who just want a number, just get a number.

  • http://twitter.com/matthewnorwood Matthew Norwood

    Fantastic! Loved the bit about Experts Exchange. So true.

  • Paul Leroux

    very good article. I am going through the same process as I am going for the Nortel equivalent of the CCIE.

    NCDE and NCA.

    also, I know that it wasn’t part of the article. But the financial commitment is also worth mentioning.

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  • http://mrconfigure.blogspot.com/ Seraphus

    Excellent article

  • http://www.ipexpert.com Joe Astorino

    Excellent article Dan! As a CCIE and CCIE instructor I can certainly validate everything you have said in this article. When going for your IE you need to ask yourself “why am I putting myself through this punishment?” If your answer is partly about knowledge, learning and becoming a better engineer and not just about status and money I think you will do well.

  • darren

    Always had little respect for certifications. CCIE was the only one I had any time for, until I started studying for it and realised how antiquated and obscure it is. If companies are still asking for CCIE nowadays they have bigger issues.

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  • http://ciscolok.wordpress.com Cyrus

    Great article. I was directed to this page by a friend who is inspired to become a cisco certified.
    I am inspired by interest to learn cisco networking things. I will be a CCNP by next year and plan to go ahead to CCIE by 2012 december. My friend told me, nothing much about the CCIE, but it is the attitude that’s different the way of thinking is different from CCNP. After reading your article I was enlightened… great…I have a clear choice between getting a degree and getting a CCIE.
    Thanks again.

  • Jacob Zartmann

    Brilliant article!


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