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you god-like knowledge of the IOS (you do have to learn the IOS backwards, but this soon starts to slip and become out of date unless you keep it up), but it teaches you four things :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..