I attended the CCDE Cisco Live Tectorial in Berlin prior to my success and booked one-on-one time with Elaine Lopes and Yuri Lukin, who were heading up the CCDE certification team at that time. The whole team was really accessible, and they were very keen to offer help and advice. This was invaluable for me—and a turning point. I learned not to be too hasty in my decisions and not to answer the questions based on the facts in front of me but to scan the documents when something wasn’t clear. I was missing clues and needed to be neater in marking what was really important. My technical ability was at the correct level, however. The distracters in the questions are so well thought out that you really have to fully absorb the scenario and the requirements presented within it to be successful.
Possibly the most useful resource for me was being part of a study group that my friends Daniel Dib and Kim Pedersen started. We pretty much had the dream team in our study group. We were blessed with the presence of Russ White, the “daddy” of the CCDE exam, and I was able to ask him questions around the logic of OSPF ABR placement from one of his books, as it was puzzling me. He even gave me some brilliant last-minute advice: “read the question,” he said! It proved to be simple and sound advice, which made me laugh at the time. I made sure I did read each question, at least twice. I had even filled in a table with multiple answers when I remembered the advice and read the question again and found I only needed to check one box on one column, but actually had completed two (thanks Russ!).
If you are more than an hour away from the test center, booking a hotel for the night before would be a smart move. You don’t need the stress of travelling far on the same day. By taking the labs in this book and working through the debrief material, you will be in a far better position and won’t have any surprises on the day.
The practical exam is very tough, but it is fair and achievable. This is what makes it so desirable. If it is your goal or ambition to become CCDE certified, you are very likely to reach it. If you are thinking, “I’ll give it a shot, as I’ve been in the industry for 10 years and design on a daily basis,” then don’t be surprised if you don’t get your number immediately. Just remember that if you don’t pass on your first or second or even third attempt, you haven’t actually failed. You will only have failed if you give up. The exam has to beat you every time, but you only have to beat it once to get your number. It has also occurred to me that if you can’t explain a technology or how a solution functions or scales to a friend who isn’t necessarily even technical, then you don’t actually know that technology. It’s a case of turning your weaknesses into your strengths. For instance, if you are a guru with IS-IS but have no real-world experience of how EIGRP may perform better in certain topologies, it’s time to get the books out or speak to your study group. Be prepared for give and take from your group. Play devil’s advocate to question others and offer to run a study session for your group in your area of expertise. The sum of your group’s expertise will be invaluable. Even if you don’t get your number, you will grow from the experience.
The exam itself is quite simply a credit to its creators. Most people don’t realize the effort that goes into keeping the scenarios realistic, fresh, and protected. The team behind it is brilliant. The distracters are just so good—sometimes you see five correct answers in front of you, but only one will be appropriate to the customer and the scenario, even if not your favorite. Therefore, you just need to connect the dots and find the important requirements that, when matched with your knowledge and experience, will take you to the correct answer.
Put the books down for a few days prior to the exam. Spend time with your loved ones and be energized for the exam. Take your full break on the testing day, and pace your time. The exam status bar you will see throughout your scenarios is actually your friend, not your enemy.
You are going to need some endurance to complete four scenarios in a day. Practice with as many labs as you can as if you were taking your CCIE lab. I like to cycle, and I found I could clear my head and be energized for a long study session after a ride. I certainly couldn’t run an eight-hour study session, but I could easily manage four two-hour ones.
Use the following advice as you work through the labs presented in this book and your real exam, and you should have a good chance of gaining your number. Good luck!
Read the question.
Connect with the scenario.
Take time to analyze the existing environment.
Look for missing information.
Know what information you already have.
Don’t only base your answer on best practices.
Do not make assumptions.
Only make fact-based decisions.
Work on your weaker technology areas.
Maintain a high-level approach.
Think as a network architect/designer, not as a CCIE.
Focus on the “why”!