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Introduction: A License to Design

Chapter Description

Design methodology isn’t just focused on technology; an architect or designer also needs to focus on business priorities to bring true value to a solution. Martin J. Duggan, author of CCDE v3 Practice Labs: Preparing for the Cisco Certified Design Expert Lab Exam, explores what you can expect in the CCDE v3 Practice Exam.

Design methodology isn’t just focused on technology; an architect or designer also needs to focus on business priorities to bring true value to a solution. A design is often a compromise and has multiple constraints that are outside of the domain or scope of influence of an IT organization. To successfully deliver true value, a Cisco Certified Design Expert (CCDE) can be relied upon to assist organizations in seeing the bigger picture and interface between technical and business domains with their wealth of technical expertise and business acumen. Cisco’s CCDE certification has recently been updated to v3 to enhance the skillset of expert-level designers and architects to ensure the technical solutions businesses demand are able to meet the business and technical requirements in this increasingly complex world in which we live. The CCDE certification has been running since 2007 with a steadily growing niche community.

In comparison, the CCIE certification has been running since 1993, with numbers now being issued beginning from upward of #60,000. Reading between the lines, does this mean the CCDE certification is not as desirable or is considerably harder to achieve than the CCIE? Fortunately, the answer is “no” on both counts. It is a highly desirable vendor-agnostic (up to v3) certification, and candidates who are not dedicated to network design find it challenging to demonstrate that they possess the qualities that the certification stipulates in order to be successful. CCIE exams are mature and very specific within each track. You are openly informed which equipment and code you will be presented with and have a wealth of training material available to purchase with very specific blueprints to follow. The exam questions are also well-defined, and you have the ability to double-check your practical tasks to validate your success as you progress through the exam (configure X in order to achieve Y, and so on).

In contrast, the CCDE certification tests candidates on their experience to prove their status and validate their technical and business experience. It’s real world (what technology should customer X choose in order to satisfy requirement Y?). Passing the certification isn’t a case of studying technology or “labbing out” how protocols interact. I generally explain to candidates that in order to be successful in the CCDE lab, you actually need to be operating as a CCDE in your role on a day-to-day basis already. You just need to convince the Cisco testing engine. You’ve typically already achieved a CCIE certification to cover the technical aspects you will find in the CCDE lab, and your technical and business engagement experience in your design role is really what is going to differentiate you in the lab exam to be successful.

One of the biggest problems in achieving a Cisco expert-level certification is not knowing what you don’t know, so these labs are going to be the turning point in your preparation and will coach you in exam technique as well as design methodology. The labs presented in this book will help you focus on the “why,” as opposed to the “how,” which you may be more used to. This is absolutely crucial for the certification. Also, this is a first-class certification, and you have never seen anything like it previously, which is a credit to the creators. It was developed by the likes of Russ White and Bruce Pinsky, who have both been role models in my career and certification quest. Both are gurus, and having met them a number of times, I can tell you they are very nice chaps to boot.

The certification was developed as it became more and more apparent to the folks at Cisco that, even though they had been fundamental in assisting TAC by creating the CCIE program in order to implement and troubleshoot networks successfully, they actually didn’t have an expert level of designers to ensure that networks were designed correctly from the outset. Can a network scale? Where is the fault domain? Is modularity required? If these design fundamentals are achieved from the offset, then the concept of firefighting shouldn’t exist, and your IT team can be more productive while your customers will be content with stability and a network that can scale or divest without damaging the underlying business.

You need to effectively be “T” shaped in order to be successful with the CCDE certification. By this I mean, ideally, you should be operating currently as an IT architect and have a wide breadth of IT knowledge horizontally (high level and broad, covering many disciplines and fields, including business acumen) and depth of knowledge vertically (low level and specialized in a particular field; Layer 3 is a must). This is opposed to an IT specialist (think CCIE), who would typically be “I” shaped and primarily have the vertical knowledge and be an expert in his or her own field while lacking broader, wider knowledge.

A question that is posed to the CCDE community regularly is, Do I need to be a CCIE in order to become a CCDE? The answer that is generally given is “yes and no,” or as Cisco prefers to say, “it depends.” Having a CCIE is an advantage but entering the exam with a CCIE mindset is not going to help you attain the CCDE certification. You may focus too closely on small issues (sweating the small stuff) and miss the bigger picture of what is being requested from you. The previous CCDE certification track owner Elaine Lopes summed this up nicely by saying, “don’t bring a knife to a gun fight!” Bring the right expertise and mindset to the exam, and you have a far higher chance of being successful. Achieving the CCDE certification is really about proving you have had the experience and possess the knowledge, experience, and intelligence to operate effectively with multiple business and technical constraints. Everyone I have met who has been working toward or who has passed the CCDE tells me they have grown considerably in their journey toward attaining the CCDE. Pass or fail, you are definitely going to learn new skills, grow your network, and enhance your career. Cisco states the following: “Unlike the CCIE, which focuses on low-level network design and implementation, the CCDE validates your ability to work in the world of key stakeholders. Your CCDE certification proves your proficiency in the art of soliciting and documenting true requirements and then translating them into a high-level design for a complete solution that delights your stakeholders. The result? The business gets solutions that meet their requirements, fit their budget and schedule, and address today’s needs with a view to the future. You get all the glory. The CCDE enables you to design for the changing needs of a complex world.”

What’s New for CCDE v3?

A significant change to v3 is the delivery. The exam is now more aligned to a CCIE lab exam and administered and delivered in-house within Cisco, with identical pricing and scheduling to the CCIE lab. Initially up to six administrations of the exam are planned per calendar year, and results are delivered within 48 hours, which is a significant improvement over the legacy delivery. There is now an increased focus on business strategies and the resultant impact on designs, which can be challenging if a candidate is purely focused on technology in their day-to-day role. “Core” and “area of expertise” modules have now been introduced, which allow an expert in a specific field to leverage their experience in a final scenario, while the first three scenarios will be based around core competencies. Up until v3, the lab exam was purely vendor-agnostic, but Cisco-specific technologies may appear in area of expertise modules. At exam launch, the Area of Expertise options include the following:

  • On-prem and Cloud Services

  • Workforce Mobility

  • Large-Scale Networks

2. What’s Expected of Me in the Practical Exam? | Next Section

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