Plea to Cisco: ‘CCIE routing and switching written exam needs to be fixed’

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Credit: Thinkstock/Cisco

Tom Hollingsworth, a CCIE and author of a popular blog called “The Networking Nerd,” used that forum last week  – smack in the middle of Cisco’s annual user conference -- to issue a blistering critique of the CCIE routing and switching written exam. 

“The discontent is palpable,” according to Hollingsworth. “From what I’ve heard around Las Vegas this week, it’s time to fix the CCIE Written Exam.”

That contention has received broad though not unanimous support on Twitter and comments on the post itself. As for Cisco, it tells me they’re always open to suggestions.

Hollingsworth has three main beefs: He says the test questions are poorly written, focus too much on Cisco proprietary technologies, and that the exam study guide is lacking. As a result, he says, some CCIEs are choosing alternatives to the routing and switching exam when they need to recertify.

“The most resounding critique of the exam is that it is a poorly constructed and executed test. The question quality is subpar,” he contends. “The editing and test mechanics errors must be rectified quickly in order to restore confidence to the people taking the test.”

“The test has never been confused for being a vendor-neutral exam,” he acknowledges. “Any look at the blueprint will tell you that there a plenty of proprietary protocols and implementation methods there. But the older versions of the exam did do a good job of teaching you how to build a network that could behave itself with other non-Cisco sections. … The other problem is that, by the admission of most test takers, the current CCIE Written Exam study guide doesn’t cover the areas of the blueprint that are potentially on the test.”

I asked Cisco to reply to Hollingsworth’s post and here is the statement the company offered:

"Cisco is continuously evolving our certification program to keep networks and networkers at the forefront of innovation and keep customers digital-ready,” says Tejas Vashi, senior director, product strategy and marketing at Learning@Cisco, Cisco Services.  “We are constantly monitoring the performance of our exams to ensure we are providing best-in-class skills training for all of our certification holders and test takers. That said, we are always open to feedback and looking for ways to improve and evolve our programs so they remain at the forefront of the industry."

Hollingsworth tells me via email that the response to his post has been positive.

“I echoed a lot of the sentiments that engineers and CCIEs have been talking about here,” he says. “Almost every tweet I’ve seen or person I’ve talked to has said that this was something that needed to be said.”

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As for those who might suggest these complaints are sour grapes from those unwilling to put in the work necessary to pass the test?

“I would ask that anyone thinking the test is fair and well written to take it using official sources and write a rebuttal post telling the community why our views are in error. I’m willing to admit I might be wrong and biased, but the overwhelming number of people agreeing with my statements leads me to think there may be issues with the test.”

(UPDATE: Hollingsworth has a new post up discussing his talk with a Cisco executive and some ideas for improving the test.)

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