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November 14, 2012

Rack Rewards

What if you could pay a certain amount of money, and with some effort and practice, make your skills sharper and build confidence? Would you do it? I guess as long as the amount of money was within reach, most ambitious people would consent.

That's what rack time does.

I probably approached it the way most people do - it's expensive and I wanted to save most of it for actually practicing lab scenarios. In some wishful, magical way I would learn enough on my own to just schedule some labs and work through them. After all, I've been in this field for a long time and I do this stuff every day. I understand the material. Well, I tried that and it was a struggle. And in some ways, the rack time that I used was not as efficient as I had hoped. It also lessened my confidence rather than built it.

So I went back to basics. I returned to Workbook I and started from the beginning - to prepare for my 2nd shot at the CCIE R/S lab. At first it seemed silly. I felt like I was giving myself a pity party or being too soft on myself. But in a very short time, I found that not to be true. It was a very good decision.

The first thing that happened is that the first few exercises were easy. It was nice to start off and be able to knock it out of the park. The easy stuff. That part did not build confidence. However, it did get me to appreciate the things I did know inside out. Then I hit a section that I wasn't strong enough on to complete. Ha. It was something that I know about, but don't use in my everyday experience. Wow. Hey, there's a lot of stuff here that you don't use in every workplace every day.

So when I hit that snag, I broke off a piece of it and worked it. I practiced figuring it out and then I blogged about it at my other blog. Having to write about it helped me to iron out the wrinkles in my understanding. I had to understand it enough to clearly speak on the topic. And with this being public, well, you're going to really make sure you're getting it exactly right. Which brought me to the documentation a few times to check my post. I learned enough through this to be sure of what I was posting. Then I went back to the rack and re-worked those sections again. Now I'm more sure of being able to configure it without needing to rely on notes or documentation. I totally understand it now. THAT is what built the confidence.

Granted, I'm not yet scheduling time at RTP for that 2nd shot. But after having that experience (my first attempt), I now know where I need to be to realistically have a chance at passing. And I can see my knowledge, skills and experience build with each rack session. And I have a "method" of study.

One other thing that I found helpful when practicing - don't struggle. If you're working a section and you're feeling like it's a stretch, then drive forward. But if it feels like a struggle, move on to another section. This will help conserve rack tokens. Struggles take lots of time. Learn on non-rack time. Then go back to the rack to practice what you just learned.

For example, the other day I was able to configure the 'basic' parts of RIP. Then some of the more advanced tasks were in the later sections. I started to get frustrated. Frustration is not what you want to practice. So I made a note on the sections that gave me trouble and moved on to EIGRP. I loaded the next config template and in 12 min was back on track. I started to configure again and made much better use of that rack time. After my session was over, THEN I went over the advanced scenarios and reviewed the documentation.

And once I practice it again and blog about it, the other benefit is: I can put that to bed. That's what came out of my first attempt - the ability to know when I know something well enough to move on to the next topic.

Time Management. It's a soft skill - and although it's not explicitly tested on the Lab Exam, it's a part of it. Practice it before the test and it will become a part of you. These are all skills that you need to take with you to the test.

Posted by BlueWolf on November 14, 2012 08:21 PM