In Part 1 of my CCIE Story I talked about the CCIE Routing and Switching Written Exam. In this (Part 2) I’ll look at some of the study I did leading up to the CCIE Lab Exam.
CCIE Story Continues – Booking The Exam
At the time I booked my exam, there was about a 4 month lead time on the CCIE Lab Exam, so the first lab I could book was in January 2001. I was living in the UK at the time, so I booked the exam in Brussels, Belgium.
Hands on Lab Prep Course
One of the things I managed to book was a 2 week CCIE Lab training course in Southampton, UK. It was a residential course at a great location, and it allowed me to focus intensively for the whole period, and the class was made up of a mixture of corporate drones (like me) and Cisco employees, amusingly enough. I cannot emphasize enough how helpful the class was in getting me in the mindset for the lab. There is no way I could have walked out of that class and passed the lab, but the key was that it gave me some perspective on the kind of things the lab exam would be looking for, the kind of depth that was likely to be needed on each of the blueprint topics.
It’s probably worth commenting that the blueprint for the lab scared the pants off me. There were a lot of topics I knew a fair amount about, but some I was definitely not an expert in. The blueprint of course doesn’t guide you as to how deep to go, and I was feeling very frustrated with the feeling that I could never learn enough to be able to pass the exam. If I had the money (and time) I guess I could have taken the lab once just for the experience, then come back later on with an idea of the approach they take. However, the lab prep course fulfilled much of the same purpose, only it added in some training as well. I remember the training fondly – it was quite exceptional.
I did some mental digging to try and remember who had given this course so that I could pass on a recommendation. It looks like I attended a training course given by Martin Shortland, who ran Kinetic Education in the UK. Martin had no website and did no advertising, yet his courses were full every time – his reputation absolutely preceded him. Sadly it looks like that company has shut down, and Martin has dropped off the radar, which is a huge shame – Martin was extremely personable, and an excellent trainer. A little web searching shows him as a Director of The Binary Engine, Ltd – but that’s as much as I know.
My recommendation would be to look around for this type of course. Having some insight into what the lab might offer is critical to getting into the right mindset.
It goes without saying that I continued reading the books I had, and sucking up anything I could find that seemed relevant to the blueprint, while continuing to work for my client at the time. The reality though is that while books contain lots of information, there’s only so much a book can do to prepare you for the lab itself.
The most important thing before the lab is hands on configuration practice. A colleague and I dug out a whole raft of CCIE lab-type network scenarios to work through. As Christmas was approaching, we made a plan for an intense period of study which amounted to adding together:
- 2 1/2 weeks of vacation time
- 1 week of allocated company ‘study time’
- Corporate holidays over the Christmas/New Year period
The end result was that by linking all of these together, I had about a month of solid time to practice for the CCIE Lab. My colleague and I took over the company’s CCNP lab and the VoIP lab equipment, ripped them to pieces, and set them up again for our own use. With two racks of equipment at our disposal, one way or another we were able to find a way to match the equipment we had to the lab scenarios we had to build, and would try to create 2 scenarios at a time (each of us built one scenario). That way we could do one practice lab, clear the configs, then swap scenarios.
From the second week of December through the second week of January, we were in the lab every day – including weekends – except for Christmas Day. On New Year’s day, we were late in of course, but we were there. My colleague had his lab booked the week before me, so I ended up with a week more hands on time than him.
Speed Tips from 2001
In 2001, the CCIE lab involved configuring everything from a default configuration. You might have 7 or 8 routers in a defined topology, and your first job – before doing anything else – was to get everything connected and talking for each specified protocol (in my case, IP, IPX and Appletalk). For example you had to define your own IP addressing schema based on requirements stated in the lab, write it down, and implement it. What this means is that you needed to:
- Understand subnetting without hesitation;
- Be able to type really fast.
Why type fast? Because setting all this stuff up gave you only a few points towards the exam, but was a significant effort to get it all configured. That effort extended to basic routing protocols as well – e.g. BGP, OSPF, EIGRP, IPX routing. You needed to be able to set that stuff up cold. Time wasted remembering how to set up OSPF or BGP was points lost from the exam, and honestly, it’s so easy to get the base connectivity set up, it’s silly not to be able to do it in your sleep. All that lab practice drilled into me the importance of setting up base configurations and connectivity quickly, and actually it still benefits me today when I need to set up a lab in GNS3 or IOU (allegedly).
I gather that these days, the base configs are all there already. Lucky you, modern candidate!
Not so fast! That will be in Part 3 – coming soon!