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BlueWolf's Howl

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January 30, 2007

In Plain Sight

Normally when people talk about hiding things in plain sight, they're referring to steganography. But, today I'm referring to the information and answers I need to know/learn to pass the CCIE written exam.

It has been a bit frustrating to realize that at this moment, I need to study for an exam that isn't available yet. The blueprint and study guides for the 350-001 (version 2) are available and that version of the test is currently being administered. But I can't take the test today - I'm not ready. By the time I will be ready, the NEW version of the exam (currently 351-001 in Beta) will be the current exam 350-001 (version 3).

It would be a waste of time and effort to study for Version 2 and try to take Version 3 -- or study for both. And since the Beta exam just closed at the end of last month, it's going to be a while before the study guide for that version is available. But I can't wait for that to happen before I START studying... so I have to start somewhere.

My first decision was to read the books I have already purchased. I'm on chapter 9 of the currently available study guide. I am reading it with the V3 Blueprint by my side. The topics that are no longer mentioned are casually read. The topics which overlap on the two blueprints garner deeper consideration. So I'm plowing through and doing the best I can with what I have in front of me.

During this activity, I decided to take a break between chapters and take a peek at the Cisco Certification message boards and various other parts of the Cisco site. I ran across an "Ask the Experts" session (transcript) where one of the proctors from Cisco was discussing the new exam. I can't remember if it was the lecturer or someone from the audience who produced the epiphany... The lecturer was being asked for specific books and material to study for the written exam. The querent wanted to know the best books and the exact material to study. It was pointed out that the blueprint, study guides and everything else can somewhat prepare you for the exam, but there is no one definitive guide that will guarantee success. Part of being a CCIE means that you not only know your stuff, but that you have expert level RESEARCH abilities too. It's the unwritten and unspoken part of the test where you are required to demonstrate your research abilities - by researching the information you're not sure of and finding out for yourself and preparing yourself for the exam. Wow.

So I completed the amount of reading that I had planned for the day. I could have taken the rest of the evening off and relaxed. But, I pushed on with this new nugget of knowledge. I started a new notebook -- one that was based on my notes regarding the topics in the blueprint. Perhaps I am attempting to write my own study guide before the new version comes out? And in some ways, that's a bit bold and arrogant, isn't it? Or is it a challenge?

I found the hardest part to be the General Networking Theory and General Routing Concepts. You always wonder if you've gone deep enough or too in depth. You worry if you've covered enough of the topic and its little offshoots. But you have to figure that out yourself. It's part of stepping into that role and filling those shoes. Just like you have to sift the chaff from the wheat in those long scenario questions - you have to be able to manage large amounts of material and be able to discern what's important from what's merely informational.

Some of the information I wanted to put in the notebook was found in the current study guide. Naturally, some of the material will overlap. But there were things that weren't grouped in the way I wanted them to be for ease of studying. So I had to organize them myself. I took what was there and compared the items that were presented separately in the guide. I've been doing networking and studying this material for a long time. It's not all brand new. I know what to look for - and I have some idea about where to find it. And it's always a good idea to get used to searching the Cisco site for what you need.

As I compared some things, there were items that didn't seem to neatly match. It appeared to be a contradiction. Well, it goaded me to look it up in the source and find out for myself where the confusion was and how to figure out which way was the 'right' way. After all, there are many misprints and mistakes in quite a few of the books. This was also pointed out in the 'Ask the Expert' transcript. It was suggested that you set up the environment and see if what you expect (from what you've studied) actually happens or not. And then figure out why or why not. It's called learning and understanding -- on your own. RESEARCH. I did just that and it led me to discover one of the finer points about address summarization and CIDR that hadn't been pointed out in any book that I had read. That might be one of those 'trick' questions about a nuance of something that you run across now and then. And if it isn't, then I know something now that I didn't know before. I'm ahead.

One of the really neat things that I ran across as I was digging was a white paper on Route Selection in Cisco Routers. I know I had run across this information previously or had been taught this stuff in pieces throughout my career, but there it was all splayed out - step by step. I downloaded, printed and read the whole thing. It dovetailed nicely with the "routing decision criteria" listing in the blueprint. But I'm sure that's not everything you need to know about that topic. So I will recap the white paper in my notes and then expand on the topic from other sources as I run across them.

I'm not worried about being too arrogant by studying on my own. Some of the topics in the blueprint (such as BGP, OSPF and Frame Relay) are books on the recommended reading list. There are two BGP books listed. I'm sure that anything I miss while I'm gathering and creating my notes will most certainly be in those books. And by the time I'm finished with the books I already have, the new V3 study guide will be available. And I'll be ready for it!

Posted by BlueWolf on January 30, 2007 02:07 AM