CCIE: Lab Day

In the weeks leading up to the lab exam – I felt very unsure of where I was at. On one side, I felt like I was doing pretty well at most of the practice labs I was working on. But on the other side, I felt like I didn’t have any true idea of what challenges the real exam would hold – so I could be missing something big and have no idea yet. I know some people will throw the exam blueprint into excel and give themselves ratings on how well they know a particular blueprint item – but I never got into using this after trying it a few times. Realistically, I should have forced myself to do this anyways. Then I would have had a more deterministic way to judge how prepared I was. Instead – I had just reached a point where I knew I just needed to take the actual exam and figure out what I didn’t know yet. 

Lab day finally came – and I arrived at Cisco building 5 in Richardson, TX around 7:45am. There were already a handful of other CCIE candidates waiting outside for the building to open. Once it hit 8am, we all went in to get signed in and fill out our lunch order forms. Then it was time to wait.

The exam proctor showed up around 8:17 and guided us to the exam room. I figured there would be more time allotted to the proctor talking through rules, guidelines, etc… but instead he just said a few quick things and we were told to begin.

Troubleshooting

The troubleshooting section had me a bit concerned. It’s always difficult to jump into a completely unknown network and try to fix a problem – and this was no different. My first question immediately made me start panicking a little. I read the ticket, looked at the expected output – and began wondering where to start while being very aware of my short time limit. Every question felt like “I’m never going to figure this out in time” – yet after a few minutes of troubleshooting I was able to find the answers to the first few questions. 

Halfway through the section I received a few tickets that required a lot more work. Some of these I didn’t make much progress on, and some I was able to get half-way resolved. For each of these I tried very hard to keep to a reasonable time limit per question, then mark it down as something to come back to later if I had time. 

A lot of people talk about counting your points during the exam to know where you stand. I had originally assumed that this would just be a waste of time. Yet when I finished going through the remaining tickets, I knew I had to make sure I had enough points. Turned out I was barely on the edge of a passing score – assuming I had resolved all of the tickets correctly. My first two hours ran out, and I got the 30 minute warning. I was hoping to avoid using the extra 30 minutes, but I knew I needed to go back to the 3-4 questions I hadn’t completed. 

About 15 minutes later – I had managed to figure out one or two more of the tickets and decided to give up on the remaining items. Based on my estimated point count – I should have been in a good spot on the troubleshooting section….. But I still wasn’t confident in all of my answers. I knew I had a ticket or two that might not be resolved in the correct way. I decided to save the remaining 15 minutes and just move onto the next part of the exam.

Diagnostics

Next was the diagnostics section. My biggest complaint here (and it’s somewhat minor) is that the on-screen timer is located in a completely different place than troubleshooting & config. At first (probably because I was in a rush), I couldn’t find the timer – and I also had not kept track of when I began the section. That was a big mistake on my part. So I forced myself to rush through the section, knowing it could end unexpectedly at any second. 

Once I wrapped up my diag questions – I finally found the timer… and to my surprise had just under five minutes left. Not a ton of time, but enough for me to go back and double check a few answers that I had rushed myself through. I also used the last minute or two to run for a restroom break before starting the config section. 

I honestly had no idea how well I was doing on this section. One of the questions seemed straightforward, but the answer I picked felt too simple. But maybe I was just overthinking it? The other questions made me waffle back and forth between a few answers. In the end, I just went with what my instincts told me was the most likely answer and just stuck with that. 


Config

The config section is extremely overwhelming at first. Well, I suppose it doesn’t get any less overwhelming during the exam – but you quickly get busy enough to stop caring about that 🙂

I had about 30-45 minutes in the config section before we took lunch. That was enough time for me to get through all of the Layer 2 tasks quickly and then build out my task list on the scratch paper. During this time, I thought I was doing okay until I got to the end of one of my first tasks. I had just completed all of the items within that task when I read the last item – which made me realize I had done the entire task incorrectly. That was not a pleasant feeling. Luckily, I caught my mistake before moving on – but the time had already been wasted and now I had to go back and re-configure that entire section. 

Lunch was quick. We went out, ate our food, then got back to the exam in less than 15-20 minutes. There was a bit of minor discussion – but not a whole lot.

The remainder of the day went by very quickly. As I had practiced during the prior weeks of practice labs, I placed my trust in strategy & order of operations – then just went heads down and got to work. I tried not to look at the clock and instead just focused on getting the tasks done as quickly and efficiently as possible. I’ll share a little more on my strategy in the next post.

I ran into a few problems here and there throughout the exam, but nothing too crazy. The strategy I used allows for quick connectivity/functionality testing after completing a task, which allowed me to find and fix my errors quickly. Similar to the troubleshooting section, I hit a few tasks that I could only figure out parts of – so I marked them down to follow up later and just moved on. Since you don’t get partial credit for tasks, I knew I would need to circle back to these if I wanted a shot at passing – but there is no sense in wasting too much time on one task if I couldn’t figure it out quickly. 

By the time I had finished every task, I finally let myself check the clock. I was shocked to see I still had almost a full hour remaining. I quickly took advantage of the time to go back to the several sections I needed more work on. A few of these I stumbled through until I was able to find my problems – and some of it I had to crack open the documentation site to figure out what I needed to do. 

Running through a lot of the verification steps – there was still a few things not working as they should. I spent time troubleshooting, changing configs, and finally figuring out a few things. I made quite a few configuration changes here to force a few things to work, but I wasn’t sure if they were valid solutions – or if I would end up losing points for doing things I shouldn’t have.

In the last 10 or so minutes, I tried to very quickly add up my points while performing a quick skim through the tasks again. Being that close to the end of the exam – it made me feel a bit sick to start finding additional items I had missed. I rushed to throw in a few last-minute changes, then retest to make sure nothing broke in the process. I didn’t make it through re-reading all of the tasks, so I was left wondering what else I might have missed.

Assuming I had not missed anything else – my count of points placed me in a fairly decent spot on config. However, since there is an overall cut score for the entire exam – I had no idea if I would have enough total points between all three sections to pass. I was already like I might have just barely scraped enough points together for troubleshooting, and diag felt like a complete wildcard.

When I left the exam center, I found myself feeling much better than when I had entered. If I passed, then that would be awesome. And if I had failed, then at least I was confident in what I needed to go back and study. Rather than having to keep worrying about what tricks the exam might hold, I now had the experience of knowing what to expect. I was happy to have attempted the exam once – and knew I would be far better prepared the next time.

That evening I went to dinner with a few CCIE candidates who would be attempting the exam the following day. Just tried to have a good time, and not check my email too much :). When I got back to the hotel that night, I still had no results yet – so I just went to bed and tried to get some sleep.

The Next Day….

I woke up probably a dozen or more times throughout the night. Every time my first instinct was to grab my phone and see if I had gotten my results yet. Every time I forced myself to not check, and just go back to sleep.  Around 5am, I finally let myself check once – but still had nothing.

I finally got up around 6:30 – and the CCIE exam site was down. I had a bunch of text messages from people back home asking if I had anything to report – but now I couldn’t even check the site. Later I would find out that the site was broken due to an internal issue at Cisco, but for the time I couldn’t do anything. I tried a few more times throughout the morning, but mostly just gave up and decided to wait it out.

My flight left around 10:30 am. While waiting in the airport, I still kept checking every so often but could not get to the site.

Once I got onto the plane, the site finally loaded! But my results were the same: No score yet. A this point I figured I would just give up, enjoy the flight – and check when I got back home.

Boarding took a little longer than usual for the remaining passengers. Right as it was announced that they were shutting the doors and we would be taking off shortly, I decided to try checking one more time. 

As the site loaded – this time I was greeted with a new status: Pass

My initial reaction was just absolute relief to finally be done – knowing that I didn’t have to keep worrying about trying to pass before the upcoming certification changes. I sat back for a minute before refreshing the site again to make sure the result didn’t change. Nope – the result still said pass.

With that – on October 9th, 2019 – I was done. I had my number. CCIE #63461.


Keep going for 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


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