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Has the Golden Age of CCIE Passed?

Would You Recommend CCDE over CCIE as a First Expert Cisco Cert?

Once upon a time, if you wanted to work in networking, and you wanted to remain a technologist, and you wanted certs to demonstrate your skills, CCIE was clearly the one end goal of your certification future.  Anyone could read the website, ask around, and realize quickly that CCIE was the top Cisco cert, that it was well respected in the cert world, and that anyone with a CCIE cert got some added level of respect (whether deserved or not).  But the world keeps changing, so today, I want us to consider whether CCIE is clearly on a downward path.

I'm sure any of us that care about CCIE might have an opinion about what "golden age" and "downward path" might mean for CCIE. Feel free to offer your own opinion on that count. But the theme I'll continue throughout is this question: Would you recommend CCDE as the first Expert-level Cisco cert for someone to shoot for, or one of the CCIEs? I'd contend that the more the labor market's answer to this question is "CCDE", the more evidence that CCIE's golden age has passed. But that's not the only factor, of course.

First, consider CCIE itself, ignoring the newer Cisco certs. CCIE has been around over 15 years. Cisco just passed the 20,000th CCIE mark worldwide. Does the sheer volume start to devalue CCIE? I must admit that as a single CCIE (route/switch), when I go to the Networkers conference and bump into more than a few multiple CCIEs, I wonder if the mere single CCIE status no longer holds as much importance, and that the multiple CCIE crew may be where the cachet lies today. Even so, with more than 2000 worldwide multi-CCIEs, the whole scarcity argument may no longer hold even for multi-CCIEs.

(Brad Reese's blog on 20,000th CCIE; CCIE Worldwide stats.)

Next, consider the Design track for a moment, ignoring the Cisco Certified Architect for now. Before CCDE, the design track - CCDA and CCDP - had a useful place in Cisco certs, but from my vantage point, they receive little visibility. Learning Partners seem to offer the design-unique courses much less than the rest of the CCNA/CCxP course set, publishers offer fewer books, etc. And frankly, the CCDP is mostly overlapped with CCNP anyway, except for one exam, so there's little differentiation. As certs, they were a little weak in my opinion - but the job function of design was already important.

Next, consider CCDE, and whether it makes sense to go for CCDE before a CCIE. Just looking at it on Cisco's web site, one might think that the CCDA/CCDP/CCDE track might make more sense than the age old CCNA/CCxP/CCIE track, particularly if you focus on design. However, if you look hard at CCDE, it appears that the best cert to work on before getting a CCDE may well be... CCIE R/S. In fact, CCNP may be a better prep path than CCDP. Take a quick look at the page that lists details of the CCDE practical exam, and you'll see a fair amount of technology overlap with the CCIE Route/switch. (CCDE of course tests much different skills using those technologies.) So, while CCDE may at first appear to detract from CCIE by creating an alternate path towards "expert" cert, I think that using CCIE R/S in particular as a stepping stone towards CCDE makes sense. On the other hand, using a CCIE cert as a stepping stone - an important one, but a stepping stone none-the-less - might be a sign of CCIE's waning importance.

(Any of you already made the choice of shooting for CCDE, but going through CCIE R/S first to prepare?)

I do think CCDE has devalued CCIE a little due to the practical matters of CCDE scarcity and the coolness of design. Until CCDE picks up some volume, there will be a lot fewer CCDEs in the world than even the sparsest CCIE specialty, and that has some appeal. Also, design is cool in a large number of industries, whereas the implementation details in CCIE seem to be less snazzy these days.

Next, what effect does Cisco Certified Architect have on CCIE value? (I will again abbreviate as CCA the rest of the post). I won't re-hash my comments from my last post, or Michael Morris's (CCDE) post, but focus on the impact on CCIE. First, CCA adoption will be slow. Today, CCA has no direct channel partner incentive. The nature of the exam - $15,000 US per attempt, difficulty, 10 years experience requirement, and the skills required - probably mean a few dozen CCA's a year once it's up and running full steam. But CCA does require CCDE as a pre-req, so the possibility exists that people will be motivated to go first for CCDE, then CCA, ignoring CCIE. But in sheer volume, I don't think that movement will have any noticeable effect for another... 5 years?

Finally, CCIE's inherent value didn't suddenly go poof. It's still a very difficult cert, and it tests skills that still have relevance. But CCIE's perceived value, particularly in relation to other alternatives, may be waning.

Let me wrap up today's post by posing a question, and offering a survey. Imagine your best friend just finished his Bachelor's degree. He is sold on Cisco, Cisco certs, and wants to reach the pinnacle working with Cisco stuff, both as a business person and technologist, so he hopes one day to be a Cisco Certified Architect. You see the long road ahead, but you know your hyper-active needs-little-sleep friend will go after it. You suggest, and he agrees, that mapping out a 3-year action plan is as far into the future as you can reasonably suggest. Which do you recommend?

Let me know your vote, and your thoughts, on whether the golden age of CCIE has passed!

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