CCIE Security by the end of 2012?

Nah, not likely. I’ve bought workbooks and I’m actively following two co-workers who are both studying for their CCIE Sec. For now I’m mostly interested in the technology workbooks but who knows, maybe I’ll go for an attempt at the lab myself.

I’d prefer Service Provider, though…

“What’s your best advice for CCIE preparations?”

I get a lot of questions from co-workers and others regarding advice for the CCIE lab. Here are my own personal top two. The two things that I truly feel helped tipped the scale:

  1. Take care of yourself. During those last months of serious labbing I still took the time to exercise. Go for a long walk, take a run. Go for a swim. Anything that gets you moving. Eat right. Take care of yourself! It really helps you to get the most out of a 12 hour lab session.
  2. Go for that first attempt even if you feel you’re not ready. I’ve written about that before so go read that post as well.
Did you come here from Google looking for tech advice? I have a few of those as well but none of those made an impact as huge as the two above.

There is a post-CCIE life

The best thing about being DONE is that I can finally come home and sit down with something other than a Cisco Press book. I can actually do non-tech stuff without feeling that stab of guilt. I think I’ve forgotten how, though 😮

Next on my tech-related schedule is:
  • Develop a series of workshops for my colleagues going for their CCNA
  • Develop a series of workshops for my (other) colleagues going for their CCNP
  • Write an internal Best Practice document regarding Data Center networking
And I must not forget to have some fun so I’m also going back to my old CCIE SPv2 workbooks. No, not because I want the certification (which I do) but because SP is the most interesting part about networking (imho).

Clarifications about the reread

I’ve gotten a lot of “well don’t forget undebug all”-comments. A couple of clarifications here:

1) The lab is very stressful. It’s easy to not think straight when you’re running out of time. For every device that I forgot to disable debug on there are 10 that I did NOT forget to disable debug on.

2) I’m not even sure if debug was the issue. It could have been anything.

I could have gotten new questions that they hadn’t had the chance to perfect the grading scripts for yet. I can think of several technology specific issues that I will not say out loud due to NDA. I said “do not fear the reread” and what I meant was; When in doubt; ask for a reread. Do not fear the statistics that more or less tell you to fsck off.

JUST DO IT.

CCIE #30914 – Do Not Fear The Reread

(Update: also see the post following this one)

After my second attempt I went into a post-exam depression. I just couldn’t for the life of me understand what went wrong. I went through everything in my head and apart from that one question that I probably failed but COULD have gotten correct I couldn’t see what went wrong.

I started to consider a reread. I was a bit scared considering the very low chance of actually getting the results changed. I googled after the experience of others and yes, I did find a few who actually passed. I also found a lot of posts that claims that 0.3% of all rereads ends with a changed grade. I couldn’t make up my mind.

I went back to analyzing what I might have done wrong. That was when it hit me. During one of the bootcamps one of the other students lost something like 40 points without understanding why. After some digging and troubleshooting the instructor figured that maybe it was because the student had forgotten to disable debug. They reloaded the configs, made sure debug was disabled and then regraded and WHOOP, there were the points! I searched my memory and there it was. I had forgotten to disable debug on at least 2-3 devices who were involved in two different tickets. Could those be the two tickets I missed? Could it be that debug output messed with the automatic grading scripts? If that broke the training lab in one of the Cisco 360 bootcamps, perhaps the same could happen in the lab itself?
But still the horrible stats held me back. 0.3%! But then, on the 10th day after my second attempt I thought to myself, “to hell with it, it’s only 300 dollars and I’ve (read: work) spent a LOT more than that. I’ll give it a try”. I applied for a re-read on September 29th.

Since then I’ve been logging into the portal and checked at least 5 times every day. Nothing happened until 2 days ago. 2 days ago the “FAIL” mark and the score report link disappeared. They weren’t replaced by anything, just blank fields. I started to freak out and tried to find something online that could tell me what that might mean. The only thing I found was a forum thread where someone had seen the exact same thing. After a while he had gotten his exam changed to a PASS. Someone else posted in that same thread and said that he hadn’t seen anything like that but he also said that he didn’t get his score changed.

So now I’m starting to feel really hopeful (ask my nerdy-cisco-coworkers 😉 ). I only found one single site that described the exact same thing but it sure was enough to get me going. I was hoping that the site would be updated the next day but NOTHING happened! So now the “fear” creeps back in. I’m beginning to think that it doesn’t mean anything. It will end with a confirmation of the fail. It’s been a month (kinda) since the attempt and I haven’t studied anything. I’m preparing for the inevitable decision: I’m giving up. I can’t do it again. At least not now. Maybe if I wait six months…

But then I wake up today to find this in my inbox:

Dear Magnus Pahlsson ,

Regarding the re-read request of your CCIE Lab exam was taken  September 19 2011

We are glad to inform you that your re-read request has been completed and uploaded to your CCIE CCO Account. 

The CCIE lab exam re-read result status has been changed from FAIL TO PASS. We are processing your re-read exam fee waiver. 

Congratulations!!!!

Regards

Mahesh.K

CCIE Program

They don’t say anything about my new result. I haven’t even gotten a new percentage so I don’t know how much the manual grading changed my score. But to be honest I don’t care.

I’m a single parent with 2 kids. I work full time. I’ve been studying nights. I’ve had pretty close to no social life for the last two years.

Today I am CCIE #30914 and damn, it feels good.

CCIE Attempt #2

I bummed around for 1.5 week after the first failure. I was upset but not suicidal (those who have ever attempted CCIE knows what I mean). I finally pulled myself together and booked a new seat September 19th. That was the first possible date considering the 30 day waiting time. I felt that since I was so close it would be stupid to wait too long. So back to brussels I go.

The first time I was rather stressed in the beginning. Without going into too much detail due to NDA; let’s just say that the first question I was working on on my first attempt was something that I can normally do in my sleep. But this time it took 15 minutes to fix it. I have no way to explain it other than I was stressed. As I said in the previous post I broke requirements on two different questions. I  blame this on stress as well. But the good thing about the attempt #1 was that I knew where I failed and I knew what I had to work on. But hey, that was actually the entire point of the first attempt. See my previous post about not pushing the date forward.

So there I am. Second attempt. I’m very familiar with everything and I can sense that I’m a lot more focused this time. Since I know that I broke requirements the first time I was VERY careful not to do it again. I made sure to read the questions at least 2 times before typing in a single character (yes, two times before starting each individual ticket).  Once again I finish the lab knowing that I probably missed one question but this time I’m 100% certain that I got the other 9 correct.

I felt extremely confident moving on to the configuration part. Again, due to NDA I can’t give any details. Let’s just say that I with very good reason felt very confident as soon as I started the lab and saw the topology and questions. I finished in 4 hours and spent an hour verifying. I left an hour early. I felt so good. I was very certain that I’d pass.

So waiting begins again. This time I knew that it would probably take a while so I wasn’t freaking out when I still hadn’t gotten the mail by the time I woke up the next day. At 8:45 (or so) I got the notification. I logged on and see that ugly word.. FAIL. Really, must they type it in upper case? Isn’t it bad enough as it is? Must they throw it in our faces like that? I have never been so close to actually throwing my computer against the wall. The first time I was disappointed but not surprised but this time I just couldn’t understand what went wrong.

CCIE Attempt #1

Brussels – August 18th

I arrive at the Cisco offices at 7:45am. Just a wee bit early, to say the least. The doors are locked so I have to wait outside. Over the next couple of minutes more people arrive to wait outside and we all just look at each other and ask “CCIE?”. The slightly nervous nod from everyone confirms that we’re all there for the same purpose.

At 8am they open the doors and we get to sign in. “Take a seat over there and the proctor will come get you in 5 minutes”. After a few minutes the woman in the reception answers the door phone-thingy from the other Cisco-building. “No sir, you are the wrong entrance, you need to go to the other building”. A few minutes later the last person to join us sits down to wait and I once again confirm to myself that it was a good idea to scout the place the night before.

Those 5 minutes turns into 30 and at this point I’m beginning to get annoyed. Finally the proctor arrives and we move to the fourth floor and the CCIE-lab. The environment is very pleasant. Everything is clean and there’s endless access to coffee and water. I think there’s a vending machine as well but don’t take this as a promise. I simply don’t remember. I’ve seen a lot of discussions about the quality of keyboards and such and I have to say that the equipment I got to use didn’t feel old at all. Maybe a few months at most. And yes, it’s US english layout.

8:43 – lab starts. The two hours for trouble shooting passed *really* fast. I knew that I failed one questions because quite honestly I did not know what to do. I am certain that I got 7 questions correct. I know that I got the 8th as well but quite soon I realize that I broke requirements. And then there’s the last one that I’m kind of unsure of. Configuration went fine. I finished in 4 hours and had 2 hours for verification. I was pretty sure that I would pass config. A few hours after the exam I realized that I probably broke requirements on that last question so I’m preparing for a fail. But I wasn’t sure so I was still hoping at this point.

So I leave Cisco and go straight to the airport. I had read that the longer you have to wait, the bigger the chance of passing. So this was probably the first time ever that I was happy about not getting e-mails I was waiting for. At 19:20 I switch off my phone for that 2 hour flight home. Still no e-mail so I was starting to feel hopeful. Touchdown at around 21:45. A bootcamp friend of mine passed in April and he got his report at around 11 pm so I was kinda expecting to have an email by now. But nothing.

I drive the two hours home and I’m just continuously refreshing for new mail but nothing! I stay up till 1 am but STILL nothing! So I go to bed. Wake up the next the day and STILL nothing! Then finally at 8:45 I get the notification that my report is ready. I login and see that FAIL that I in my head knew that I would see but my heart hadn’t given up hope. I passed configuration but failed troubleshooting by one question. Just as I was expecting. I was disappointed but not surprised.

Failed #1, preparing for #2

10 TS-tickets. I had 9 verified solutions but results show that I missed 3 tickets and depending on which ones you miss you can afford 2-3. I know that I missed one of the bigger ones (quite frankly I did not know how to solve it. I do now).  Passed configuration. Just way too close. But good enough first attempt, I guess. Going back for a second attempt..

Time for a break?

Three days of TS-labs. I’ve so far completed 6 IPX labs and 3 INE labs. I’m waiting for today’s fourth lab-configs to load. While doing the last lab I found myself getting pissed off at my worthless co-workers who kept doing such stupid mistakes. Took a while before I realized that it’s not real work 😮

Must..not..fall..asleep

Did INE labs till midnight last night. Out of bed at 5:45 this morning to do IPX labs. Maybe I should start a rack rental business with more EU-friendly session times. Though I must say that it’s good to have access to both INE and IPX labs. They have different approaches to scheduling which makes it a little more flexible for me.

Currently loading todays third IPX TS-lab which is why I have time to ramble here. Actually, it’s not a matter of having time. It’s a matter of not falling asleep.