Matt Schmitz/ January 25, 2020

Things That Helped

One of the big things that helped me was just the experience I had prior to starting on the CCIE. My experience going into the studying likely gave me a huge step up compared to if I tried the exam earlier in my career. If I tried the CCIE eight years ago like I originally wanted to, it would have been a lot more difficult and much more time consuming. I would have had much more to learn from scratch, and much less practical experience to help. 

Additionally – the other huge benefit was going into the lab with a solid strategy around time and task management. There were several places through the exam that I felt like I could have easily lost 30-45 minutes on one item. It was very important for me to be able to step back and admit I couldn’t solve something. Instead, it let me focus my time on completing the tasks that I could do – and working on the unknown stuff if I had time later.

On the task management side – I spent time early in the study process on finding a good strategy that worked for me. Once I had this figured out – I used it on every single practice lab. I ended up using a combination of a few things other people have written about previously. My base task management was using a great blog post by Chris Miles (Read it here). In Chris’ blog, he suggests breaking up the tasks per location – then completing all the tasks for a location, one location at a time. That part didn’t work for me. Instead, I only used his method of organizing all of the tasks under individual locations – that way I could easily see what tasks were left and where I still needed to work. For example, if I needed to configure EIGRP – I could easily look at the sheet and see every location that needed some form of EIGRP config. 

For the actual order in which I implemented tasks, I followed the guidance of a LinkedIn post by Kim Bartlett (Link here). In that article, Kim suggests a logical order of operations – like L2, IGP for MPLS, then MPLS, etc. Doing things in this way made sense to me. So I worked out what order worked for me, and decided to follow it. The big difference in my strategy, was that I found it easier to complete all tasks for a certain protocol/technology at once. For example, if I was configuring OSPF – then I would configure it at every location at the same time before moving onto the next piece. My overall order of operations was something like this: L2 -> all IGP -> VPN/MPLS -> MP-BGP -> iBGP -> eBGP -> BGP -> IPv6 -> Anything else. I found this to be a good flow for me. It allowed me to configure things like BGP only after I had already configured all of the underlying dependencies – which meant I could test immediately to see if everything was working as intended. 

All of the above combined with constant labbing for months prior to the exam was absolutely critical to helping me pass on the first try. I had found a good strategy that worked for me and applied it to every practice lab, which meant that I walked into the actual exam feeling like I had a good way to guide myself through the onslaught of work.  Had I walked in with just labbing experience and no good strategy, I don’t think I could have gotten close at all. 

Okay, Now What?

I’m now getting around to posting this over three months after I passed the CCIE. I’ve spent a lot of time catching up on things around the house, reading books, running through a few video games, and overall just trying to enjoy the free time. 

That being said – it wasn’t long for me to start feeling guilty and itching to start working on something else. My first thought was to begin working on the DevNet certifications. I’ve been doing a bit of Python & network scripting over the past few years, and I’m excited that Cisco is launching a certification program around it. I’ve been working on this a bit recently, which has also helped me get back into a few Python projects I hadn’t touched in a while. My current plan is to try taking some of these exams shortly after they launch.

I’ve also kept thinking back to one of the other certifications I considered going after: the CCDE. In my current job as a Systems Engineer at Cisco, the content behind this certification applies a lot more to my job than the CCIE. That’s not saying the CCIE doesn’t help me – it absolutely does. However, my job today is more understanding the technologies and how they fit into a customer’s network, rather than performing in-depth configuration work. 

I don’t know yet whether I will fully pursue the CCDE and take the exams. But I have started reading a few of the recommended books, and I’m already finding bits of information that are valuable to me. I’m also really enjoying the content and getting much more interested in some of the topics. For now – I am planning on continuing to read through the information just to learn it and see where I can apply it. Once I get a good feel for everything, I’ll decide whether to chase the actual certification or not. For now, I think I’ll just enjoy not looking at a PuTTY window for a while 🙂

Thanks for reading – and thanks to all the people who have supported me over the past few years. It’s was a long journey, and not always an easy one – but I think it was well worth it. 


Started here? Read the rest of my story:

Part 1: Getting Started

Part 2: Written Exam & Lab Prep

Part 3: Lab Day

Part 4: Lab Strategy & What’s Next


About Matt Schmitz

CCIE #63461. Herding packets since 2007. Perpetually trying to automate myself out of a job. I believe that all problems can be solved by implementing more IPv6. Disclaimer: All opinions posted here are my own, and do not represent any vendor or current/former employer.

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