Wow… that title sounds depressing. The reality is it couldn’t be further from the truth! Let’s start from the beginning to show how long this journey has been and what it’s come to.
I have attempted the CCIE R&S a total of 4 times now. My attempts were:
- Dec, 2016
- May, 2017
- Aug, 2017
- May, 2019
I don’t really count my first attempt though in my eyes (even though it definitely does count) and here’s why. There is a rule that you must attempt the lab within 18 months of passing the CCIE written exam. That is what I ran into. A lot of life stuff got in the way and I was not able to nearly study as one should for this exam. This was a throwaway attempt to both avoid re-taking the written as well as to see what a CCIE lab exam was like.
Attempt two I went all in and got the dreaded PASS-PASS-PASS=FAIL which really took a toll on me. I knew I was so close that I turned around 3 months later and went to re-take it. Attempt three saw me miss a single command in a single section that had VERY bad effects on the whole topology. You know how people talk about the “golden moment” when everything can ping each other and things just work? Yea there was none of that on attempt 3. Failed Config.
Moving Forward to Attempt 4
Let’s start with what went into making attempt 4 possible. I went back to the drawing board with my studies for this attempt and realized I needed a split approach. I had seen 3 CCIE lab setups and knew somewhat what would be asked of me. I had revamped my study habits and pretended that I did not have any idea what was on the exam. It forced me to cover all of the topics on the exam blueprint to ensure I was ready for everything instead of focusing just on what I saw on previous attempts.
The other thing that I knew I needed was speed. I really do believe I have become very good with creating configs in notepad and copy \ pasting them on the fly as needed. I quickly realized in this journey that the less I freehand type, the fewer typos I am going to make. The key for me was creating these templates and re-using them as much as possible throughout the exam to save time. Every little bit here helps.
So I created some new labs (a lot of them) and spent hours upon hours in the books as well and finally May came. I left on Friday morning for Richardson, TX. I have a tradition when I take this exam. I travel early to avoid surprises and lock myself in a hotel room to study any last minute things. I got to Richardson and decided to drive over to the campus, which was a mile away from my hotel. PS – The Residence Inn by the campus is great! I made my turn into the campus and was quickly where I needed to be:
So I locked myself away in the hotel, ordering more takeout than is good for a person for a few days and then finally Monday morning came. It was time for the exam I had been waiting so long for…
I woke up at the hotel an hour before my alarm went off because of the anticipation. I had 3 hours til exam time. I cut down on the stress by watching some TV for a bit. I got everything packed up luggage-wise and wasted as much time as possible, then I left for the campus around 7am. Got to the campus 5 minutes later and had a lot of time before going in at 8am. Met a few of the other candidates and got to share our stories which was nice and eased some nerves. Shortly after 8am, we placed our lunch orders, got our name tags, and headed into the exam room.
Once in the exam room, there was a quick check of our ID’s again and we were told where we were sitting. We all emptied our pockets and it was exam time. We were off to the races!
This TS section started different than others in the past. The first 3-4 questions stumped me, which looking back is very funny because of how easy they ended up being. I moved on and completed the last 6 tickets without issue for the most part. I can’t stress the importance of time management here. If 5 minutes into a TS ticket you are lost and need to clear your head, move on. No use wasting a half hour on one ticket. I’ve been there before too! After I moved on, some of these next tickets put me on devices that helped with the other tickets I was stumped on earlier. They might have given me a clue in their config or helped show the “end goal” of the topology. My big issue that caused problems is I was looking for a big issue. Issues begin at interfaces, then affect individual devices, and after that affect technologies and protocols network wide. Start with the easy stuff and work your way up. Not every issue will be a complex issue that needs a lot to resolve it. Reverted to this mentality for the tickets I skipped and got underway. Wrapped those up and all outputs matched. Jackpot.
I love the Diag section of the exam and it’s the only section I have passed every exam attempt I’ve had. I wish I could explain more about this, but you will just have to take my word for it. Regardless, you have details and information given to you about an issue and you need to go through what you are given and diagnose the issue in a very real-world manner. Not a huge amount you can do to study for this part in the sense that real world experience with the diagnosing mindset is key here. Finished this in around 15 minutes of my half hour. Used this as a good time to leave and go talk a restroom break, get some water, and stretch my legs.
One point about the Diag section is you cannot end early like you can with the other sections. You must wait for the half hour to expire. That’s why I always use this leftover time to get a drink and take a walk if needed. Something to keep in mind.
The Final Test: Config
This is the section that I knew would make or break me. That’s all there was to it. Was I going to be fast enough? Would I have the basic knowledge just to know what I needed to do? We were about to find out.
One thing I really want to call out is do not assume that when you are given a task that you are configuring everything from scratch. Some configuration is done for you which is no secret about this exam. Make sure you are checking the existing config and not wasting time redoing things that are already done. Remember, it’s all about time-saving! I used this strategy and saved some time in a few areas which was nice.
I quickly realized that this exam could not be followed the way it was written. The sections would not work out well if you went section and task in order. I started jumping around as I realized I would need to. Trust me, when you see this exam it makes sense to do this in certain cases and I HIGHLY recommend it.
Finally lunch came around and I realized I was very far along in my eyes and looking great. I was a section or two away from the golden moment, when devices across the topology would all be able to ping each other without issue. That made lunch very relaxing. A few of us taking the exam got to chatting and I shut my brain off to the exam for 20 minutes which I had never done before. Talk about refreshing! When it comes to lunch time and the break, take your time, recharge, and get your second wind. Then get back in there and kill it in the afternoon. That’s pretty much the way it went for me.
After lunch and about an hour and a half later, things looked great. I went through and saved my config again on all devices and started a run-through of the exam from the first question to the last to review that my output matched the examples, etc. This led me to finding stupid mistakes that I made where I fixed 2-3 sections. This review took a half hour or so. Then I did one more complete review to give it my final sign off. I swore to myself after this review, I did not know what else I could do to pass. I gave it everything I had. I tried to follow the directions as literal as possible and gave it my best. And with that, I ended up leaving the exam with just under an hour remaining in the time limit. That was the best I could do and I let the cards fall where they may.
The Waiting Game has Begun!
I left right from the campus for the airport and returned my rental car. Got dinner and multiple drinks at the airport to try to calm the nerves. Yea, it didn’t help. No getting out of the nervousness of waiting for the results email. I set the “[email protected]” email as a VIP sender so I would get an popup on my phone and it would vibrate if I got an email from that address. I was ready and waiting.
Time came for my flight back to Cleveland and no email yet. I was not surprised at all, it was 8:30pm CST. I took my seat and once airborne, paid for wifi. I did not want any chance I missed getting that email. I caught up on Game of Thrones from the day before and occasionally checked my email. Then it happened…
My hands literally started shaking at this point. If you’ve ever used in-flight wifi, you know how slow the speeds can be. I clicked the link in my email and it took forever to load. Talk about making matters worse. Entered my username… next… then my password… next. I immediately felt every bit of angst leave my body in that single moment. The first thing I saw was the top of the screen that showed me the following:
In that moment, 3 years of work (frankly longer) had come to a close. The support of my wife and the rest of my family, the long weekends \ night studying, and the money invested in this all finally paid off.
I started texting friends of family and sent out my favorite tweet I have ever sent:
It’s finally over!!!!!! CCIE RS #62000 right here! Thanks for all the kind words and well wishes today everyone. This photo goes to show it can be a long journey, but one definitely worth the wait! #CCIE #Cisco #CiscoChampion #LabEveryday pic.twitter.com/Qz6d2mNO2e
— Kevin Blackburn (@TheRoutingTable) May 14, 2019
Then the community erupted I felt like. People I knew who helped me along the way as well as people I never met or spoke to began the messages of congratulations. It was truly remarkable and I am truly appreciative of the support throughout this process. Every post I write and every tutorial is the least I can do for the technical community that has helped me along the way to this point. I mean every bit of that and can’t say thank you enough!
I still am not sure where to go from here. I am torn between following up this CCIE with a diversion to the security or wireless tracks or focusing more on the programming \ automation side of things. We’ll see. There will be some downtime now for sure though. It’ll be a while before the serious CCIE study routine comes back into play, not going to lie about that, haha.
Lastly, thanks again to everyone who helped me along the way and if I can return the favor within the bounds of what I can discuss about the exam, just ask!