Story Time! How I Started Working Toward the CCIE

Now that we’re firmly into 2020 – I finally decided it was about time to get this posted. I actually wrote most of this shortly after passing the exam, but it just sat unedited and collecting dust since them.

In about a month, most of the exams will be changing over to the new blueprints so I’m not sure how relevant any of this will be – but it’s still worth throwing out there, right?

Why CCIE? Why now?

The two years I spent working on the CCIE dragged on for what seems like forever. Back in late 2017, I had hit a point where I felt like I wasn’t being challenged enough technically – and I missed the old days of excitement when I was studying/labbing for certifications exams. I had always wanted to go after the CCIE for a number of reasons, but it never made sense before. I had decided that maybe it was finally time to give it a shot. 

To step back for just a moment – I originally began my career in networking by taking advantage of the Cisco Networking Academy program, which had been offered at my high school. It’s hard to believe I started that over 14 years ago – but it was likely the single most influential thing in getting me where I’m at in my career today. After two years of classes, I walked out in late 2007 with my CCNA and eager to begin working in networking. 

Over the next few years – I worked on a number of additional certifications. I always had fun going after certifications because they gave me a path to follow and a goal to achieve. They helped to make the process of learning a bit more fun. On the Cisco side of things, I worked on the CCDA, CCNA Voice (now retired), and my CCNA Security. Finally in 2011 I finished up my CCNP and had to figure out what was next. I was super interested in the CCIE – but there was no way my company would pay for it. For the time I shelved the idea – but I didn’t give up on it as a goal. Instead, I just continued to maintain & recertify my existing certs, and picked up the CCDP along the way.

Fast forward to late 2017. I had officially passed my 10 year anniversary on my CCNA. I was also feeling like I was hitting a wall in my technical abilities. I wanted to do something different and fun – and my first thought went back to pursuing a new certification because of how much I used to enjoy the process. I debated between a handful of certs, including CISSP, CCNP Security, CCDE, and CCIE R&S. After giving it some thought and talking to a few people, I decided it was finally time to tackle the CCIE and work toward one of my long-standing goals. That six year gap between CCNP and starting on the CCIE would come back to cause me a lot of problems, but also help me in a few ways I hadn’t expected – both of which I’ll talk about later.

Time to Study

On October 4th, 2017 – I ordered by first set of books and began studying for the CCIE Routing & Switching written exam.

To be absolutely honest, I had no plan going into this. Historically when I took certification exams my process was usually watching a set of training videos (usually CBT Nuggets), reading through the official cert guides a few times, picking up maybe another book or two, taking a bunch of notes, then a lot of labbing. It was never enough for me to just watch/read about the stuff – I needed to get hands on and break it to really learn. Usually by the time I had finished all of that, I would be feeling confident enough to go give the test a shot. I went into the CCIE written assuming this strategy would still probably work – and I was absolutely wrong. 

When I began working through the books and videos I had – I found that I wasn’t getting as excited about it as I had hoped. In fact, it just felt like so much of the content was just review of things I had learned years ago during CCNP studies. That long gap since my CCNP also left me reluctant to want to memorize all of the little details again. How many things had I studied for the CCNP that I never used in my actual job? I certainly didn’t want to waste the time trying to re-learn/re-memorize those things now….. But I knew I would need to if I wanted to pass the exam. This kinda killed my motivation in some ways – because I would end up having to force myself to try and retain information that I didn’t want to.

Studying for the written was hard for me – and probably more than it should have been. Between the mixed motivation, I was also working through a lot of stress and nonsense in both my personal and work life. I would eventually work through these issues – but sometimes it would mean having to take a few weeks off from studying. Every time I took a break, I knew I needed to – yet it was still very demoralizing .

I got some help toward my goal in June 2018: I had the opportunity to take a job working at Cisco as a Systems Engineer. In terms of working toward the CCIE, this was an absolute key step in getting there. I was finally working for a company that was willing to encourage and help me toward my goal. I was also surrounded by a ton of engineers and enthusiastic networking professionals who were there to support me. I got to spend time with other people who were working on certifications, and even network engineers at my customers who always wanted to ask how my studies were going. This helped a lot to get me back into being excited about the content – and brought a bit of motivation back. 

Even though I was spending a lot of time studying for the written exam – I never really felt like I was making true progress. I believe this was likely caused by the fact that the exam blueprint is so large and diverse. I never settled on a good method to reliably track how far I had progressed on all of the content. While I felt like I had learned a lot, I also perpetually felt like I was nowhere close to where I needed to be. I also have an old habit of waiting to schedule the exam until after I already already feel confident I have a good shot at passing. With the CCIE written, I felt like that level of confidence was never going to happen.

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