I received my CCDE number today. Between discovering that Vue had said I passed and receiving the number, it felt like a little bit of a terrible admin error that was bound to be discovered and undone. Having received my number, I’m now far more comfortable with doing the final wrap-up post on it. So this will be my last post on this topic and, after a short break, normal service will resume on the blog. That is to say, I don’t intend to turn this into a “how to pass the CCDE…”
I still rate the CCDA exam as the toughest “normal” Cisco computerised exam I’ve attempted. I found the questions to be incredibly long and detail-oriented. The CCDE is the 900 pound gorilla version of this. It needs to be experienced to be appreciated. This is one long exam. Sitting a CCIE, a common experience is time magically disappears. Not so with the CCDE. tic… toc… and another long email to read and digest. So that was a surprise.
Another surprise was the complete lack of low-level coding required. If my very frazzled brain recalls correctly there wasn’t a single Cisco command supplied or required. Russ has mentioned that this was meant to be vendor-neutral so this makes sense.
Finally, the really big surprise. Passing. I’m not a demure person but I didn’t expect to pass. The only questions I could recall were the ones that I got into a terrible tangle over.
I found that there were a number of things I really liked about the exam.
- I’ve mentioned vendor neutrality, but it was good to see the “Cisco” way wasn’t dominant – even if EIGRP is considered one of the main routing protocols. I really felt that the techniques tested here could have easily been for Juniper, Brocade or any of the other vendors. Or perhaps that’s what I hope the industry will determine when the next major Huawei roll-out needs designing.
- I was also suitably impressed by the Vue facility. I found the people there to be really helpful and on the ball. I had some issues with the testing software. The mouse wouldn’t move properly. I tried to struggle through and eventually went to the proctor. She restarted the software and everything was good. Earplugs were supplied and I used them. It is surprising how noisy a dozen keyboard and mouse clickers are.
- Attempts at humour. Some of the emails seems a little jocular and there were some bad puns. Small things I know but in the heat of the battle, my sense of humour had seized up and died. Judging by my fellow examinees faces at lunch, I would guess we were all less than receptive.
- The length. I know that’s the point of the Practical exam, but I don’t have to like it.
- Wipe boards. I want PAPER. Lots of it. These stupid wipeboards to make notes on are just terrible.
- The “no jackets” policy. I wanted to wear my jacket in but was told to take it off. I generally don’t suffer from the cold but the testing room was just a little below comfortable. That was, until I started with the first question. By then everything was very warm and I didn’t need it. But, I would have liked the choice of wearing it. So my recommendation would be to wear a jumper or light top.
- 3 months to wait between attempts. As it turns out, it didn’t affect me, but I thought I would need 3 attempts (at least).
- The horrible way that Cisco marks the exam, updates Vue which then has to update Cisco Cert tracker and the limbo I was left in for a week while I waited for the results to come out from Cisco. Knowing that Vue thought that I passed was not really any comfort.
One of the questions I’ve been asked is what I thought of the difficulty. This was by far the most difficult exam that I’ve ever passed. It is very tough. I would definitely advise anyone to keep up the faith regardless of how you think it went. I certainly did not think I had done brilliantly.
So, it’s difficult but surely not more than your CCIEs?
I have sat 5 CCIE labs attempts and failed 3. The 3 that I failed were easily more difficult than this exam. Easily. Anyone who has not managed to get their RIP up and running immediately or can’t get their conduits working (as happened to me in two of the three I failed) will know the gut-wrenching feeling of failure. However, the two CCIE labs I passed were easy. Everything worked 1st time. I felt like a genius and ended early, checked everything and left, knowing that I had a very good chance of passing.
Not so with this exam. I doubt that I would ever feel comfortable, regardless of the number of attempts. Of course, no one will fail on one section. It is very easy to do that in the CCIE, as per the couple examples I mentioned above. Without certain key elements working, it will not be possible to pass a CCIE. In the CCDE, answer a few questions in such a way that the marker thinks you’re about as sane as a monkey on a trike would not immediately doom you.
Another aspect is feedback. On the CCIE ping, debug and show commands can be used to determine whether it is working. On the CCDE, I just chose option B in the previous question. Is it right? Who knows. No feedback. This is very unsettling after 6.5 hours.
So, on reflection, I would say that the CCIE attempts, when done well, are definitely not as tough as the CCDE. I’m speaking here from a emotional and mental point of view. Of course, I passed this exam first time, so I don’t think that I can qualitatively state that the challenges to passing are greater. I feel that trying to answer that would be too much of apples and oranges.
The following are the some of the things that I would consider vital to passing:
- Lots and lots of experience. I would say that this is definitely the most important factor in my success. I have been designing and implementing large networks for 10+ years. I’m not certain that I would be able to advise someone with a couple years experience on how to pass this exam.
- Self-awareness. Everyone’s experience is patchy. I have a lot of enterprise and service provider experience, but haven’t worked on EIGRP networks extensively. I went and figured out what the bits and bytes of feasible successors /query and how to best design for EIGRP networks.
- Just do it! Grab the bull by the horns and use a number of attempts as an incremental approach to passing. With this exam especially, I was in no position to determine my own success potential. I had no idea I was going to pass. I would strongly suggest that almost everyone who has passed this exam would not have felt positive that they had passed.
What does it mean?
Does passing this exam merely affirm that I am a good network designer, or does it start opening up doors that weren’t previously open. I’m not sure that I know. I do know that it could be a good differentiator in a tight job market. I’m doubtful that the industry will adopt it with the vigour that it has the CCIE. It’s a little bit niche for that. However, (hopefully) I am wrong and it is considered a key certification for future roles. I personally know a number of designers / architects out there that would never consider doing something like this but are exceptional nonetheless. That has been true of the CCIE as well. It’s just easier to prove that you were once at a particular level if it is a nice bubble-wrapped concept. “Ah, she is a Double CCIE, CCDE, JNCIE and allround nice gal, we’ll hire her”.
Okay, okay, everyone wants to know this question. My personal reading list is:
- Optimal Routing Design
- BGP Design and Implementation
- Definitive MPLS Network Designs
- IS-IS Network Design Solutions
- OSPF Network Design Solutions
- Comparing, Designing and Deploying VPNs
- End-to-End QoS Network Design
- Internet Routing Architectures
So, what now for the Pattinson Express. I will definitely be taking it easy (certification-wise) up to the middle of the year. I am considering a series of Professional-level courses in the DC space. Things like F5, EMC, Brocade and VMWare. I believe that there is a demand for multitalented individuals that can embrace different disciplines and deliver meaningful end-to-end architecture. As for the blog, expect my final LISP posts.