Imagine having ten years of experience working on computer networks, and then having that Socratic realization that you actually know very little within your field as a whole. That’s the feeling you get when you first look at the list of topics tested for in the CCIE.
What is a CCIE you ask?
CCIE stands for Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert. There are many specializations, with mine being routing and switching. It’s arguably the most difficult certification to get in IT (at least it was when I got it 10 years ago). It consists of a 4-hour written exam followed by an 8-hour practical exam. Once achieved you are rewarded with a unique CCIE number. Beyond that it requires periodic recertification every two years through continuing education or exams.
What was my motivation?
When I was in the junior stages of my career working for an internet service provider, we had a CCIE on staff. It amazed me how much respect and reverence he got for having one. From there I kept the thought in the back of my mind, “I need to get one of those some day”. Later when I was working as a government contractor, that had another CCIE on staff, I expressed my interest in following the same path. He just laughed it off, implying that I was incapable of such a feat. This was all the motivation I needed, I was going to get one someday, mark my words! I’ll show this clown! The final push came a few years later with another CCIE, who did the opposite and encouraged me to pursue my dream. Within days I started studying and formulating a plan.
The CCIE was the most mentally challenging thing I’ve ever pursued. When I started, I studied in my free time for a year while working a full time job. After that, I quit my job and studied full time for an additional 6 months living off my savings. Still not satisfied I was ready, I flew to New Delhi, India and paid an established CCIE to tutor me for a month on my weak areas. After one month, thinking I was ready, I went to the Cisco offices in Bangalore to take the exam.
The 8-hour exam itself was divided into two parts, a practical section, and a troubleshooting section. I breezed through the practical section and was feeling really good about it. I did not fare so well on the troubleshooting section, and ran out of time. At the time practical exams were graded manually within 24 hours, so I returned to my hotel for a sleepless night hovering over my email. And then it came. The result was ‘Fail’. I was devastated.
Having A Contingency Plan
Failure is inevitable in life, especially when you set lofty goals. One thing you can do is not pin all of your hopes on success the first time, and have a solid contingency plan. The thing about India is, accommodation and training is inexpensive. I already had an additional 2 months of tutoring baked into my contingency plan, based on a minimum 30-day waiting period for subsequent attempts. I buckled down, and kept studying.
Even more prepared than the previous attempt, I returned to Bangalore feeling good about my chances. Again, I breezed through the practical section. Apprehensive, I began the troubleshooting section. This time, I felt great about my troubleshooting. I left Cisco with a smile on my and face feeling great. Again, I returned to the hotel and spent the night refreshing my email. Then it came! I had a CCIE number, 28039. A few months later I received a certificate and a fancy marble plaque.
My Key Takeaways
I’m about to hit my 10-year anniversary for this accomplishment, and I’m finally sharing it beyond close family and friends. Below are the things I learned from the experience:
- Don’t let others define your limitations.
- You can use both positive and negative sentiment to motivate you.
- Have a plan of action, execute.
- Be persistent. Failure is part of the process, learn from it.
- Have a contingency plan for if you fail.
- Appreciate the journey.
- Revel in your success, and smile at all of your doubters.
- Find a new goal. Don’t rest on your laurels for too long!