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BlueWolf's Howl

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June 20, 2012

Back to the rack

Well, as you might have figured with the pause in posting - I did not get enough points to pass the CCIE R/S Lab on my first attempt. Notice I did not use the "f" word (no, not that one, the other one).

Although I am bound by the NDA about the exam -material- , I can still say quite a bit about the exam itself. And the first thing I can say about it is - it was all worth it. Yes, even though I did not pass, it was still a great experience to sit for the lab for the first time. In many ways, I crossed a barrier when stepping through that threshold. True, it was a mental barrier that I imposed on myself, however it is now gone.

I no longer wonder or worry about the logistics of the experience. I know how to get to RTP, where to stay, where to eat, and how to get to the correct building. On my second attempt, I will not even need to give these things a second thought. Add several hours of sleep to the equation for this accomplishment.

I no longer wonder or worry about the twin evils of understudying and overstudying. I have seen at least one version of the exam. I have a good idea of the type of content I will encounter. I now know what I need to know and how deeply I need to know it and how fast I need to be able to configure it. When I am 'ready' - I will most certainly know it. This will help prevent the type of fear-based procrastination that produces an 11th-hour-do-or-die 2nd attempt right at the end of the eligibility period. My current target for the lab is the end of the summer - which could be extended out to the end of this year. That still gives me another year - just in case I'm wrong about being ready and discover a whole new level of what I need to know.

I have the tools and I know they're good. I really can't say enough about the INE training materials. They are easy to use. The instructors are good and the material covers every topic in the blueprint. In fact, I have seen some of the material that was covered in the videos not only apply to the exam, but also to my day-to-day activities at work. I really like their approach - they don't "teach the test" -- they teach the technology, which will give you the skills to pass the test. But seriously, you can't just buy the stuff and wear it. You have to work through ALL the material. And there's a lot. You can't get through it in a few months unless you have a LOT of spare time. We're talking hundreds of hours of video with an all-access pass (which is what I have now). Add the workbook materials to that and you're talking a large investment of time and energy. I would add "money" to that, but I have to admit that INE has done a great job of keeping the cost reasonable. The monthly subscription might seem steep to some, but I have to admit - I was spending an equivalent amount of money on cigarettes. Now that I'm not smoking, I put that money towards my AAP. And frankly, if you can't afford the materials, how are you going to afford the exam itself?

Ah, speaking of the exam itself... it was great. The first two hours covers the troubleshooting section. It was not that impossible - I was not completely prepared. I actually got some of them - but not enough of them. I saw the types of things they were expecting you to know and troubleshoot. There was one scenario/ticket that I looked at and said to myself - now, you KNEW they were going to have something about that on the test and you knew you wanted to know that very well before you got here. Okay. Next time. I completed as many as I could, starting with the ones I knew dead-on and then going to the ones I thought I could figure out. I got one that surprised me (I didn't realize I knew how to fix that one until I did it) - so there was enough time to look at one or two and really do some deep thinking. Of course, that demands that there be a number of them that appear straightforward to you and you just knock those out as routine. [This is where lots of lab practice comes in handy.]

When the two hours for troubleshooting is up, the tickets will disappear on you and the configuration section is available. At this point, you may already know you did not pass. I knew that I did not correctly solve and verify 80% of the tickets and therefore was not going to pass on that attempt. In some ways, that was okay too. The pressure was off and I could relax a bit. I treated the configuration portion just like it was rack time. I couldn't pass, but I couldn't do any worse, either. So I sat and looked at the config requirements. I really have to admit that it was pretty straightforward. I'm sure there were a few "gotchas" that would have only been apparent if I had completed all the configuration, but it really didn't appear to be all that tricky. I didn't see anything in there that looked like it came from an obscure method, configuration or design. It was not that huge and the configuration tasks were not anywhere near as demanding or time-consuming as you might fear. It can all reasonably be completed by someone in about four hours - which would give you time to check your work. But you could only do that if you knew the material from the blueprint and could do a good 90% of it without looking up anything in the Cisco Documentation. It's not really just that you don't have time. It's also that you might not find it. There was one item in particular that I looked up several times during my studies. I didn't practice it as much as I should have because I knew where to find it in the Docs. Yeah - during the test I couldn't find it. Not sure why, but I really couldn't find it and I knew I had easily found it before (several times) during my studies. Test blindness I guess.

I wasn't as stressed as I thought I might be during the exam. The environment is calm and (for the most part) quiet. The guy next to me kept huffing and puffing as he completed each section as though he was lifting weights. I think he was taking the Voice track, though. But it was very nice to be there. We had chicken pot pie and salad for lunch. We had enough time to choke down some food and then we were back to our stations. The break was long enough to give us rest (and food) but not too long to introduce the jitters.

All in all, I found it to be a positive experience. I learned quite a bit from it and I'm really looking forward to going back again. Granted, it was an expensive experience. The lab itself cost $1500 - not to mention the cost of the transportation and lodging. I stayed at the Indigo Hotel. It was a lovely experience that helped maintain the peace of mind that I needed for the exam. They also give a Cisco discount for the room if you're there for the exam.

And with all that, I joined a group of network engineers who have attempted the exam. It's a step in the right direction.

Posted by BlueWolf on June 20, 2012 01:10 AM