Prepping for the CCDE Practical

One needs design “experience”, “exposure”, “breadth and depth”

Ever since I passed my CCDE, I get emails from random people, some I know and some I don't know.  The wording can be different, but the essence of the email is always the same - 

"How does one study for the CCDE"

When I got the first email I sat and stared at it for a while.  I just kept staring at it.   I was hoping and thinking that if I just stared at it long enough a thought or an idea would come to mind.   Nothing.     Just fragments.      Fragments like "not like a CCIE", "hard to study for", "experience", "exposure", "breadth and depth".

Truth?  In the beginning I would flag these emails for follow up.  But I never did.  Truth is, I have never answered one of those emails.  Not one.

So here it is.  Here is my answer to all the emails I've gotten in the past, to all the emails I'll get in the future.  But know one thing.  One very important thing.  These are just my thoughts, my opinions, and my experiences.

CCIE Studying as 2nd Job

First let's get on the same page together.  Let's talk CCIE.  I think people can relate to that one better.  CCIE studying is, to me, exactly like having a 2nd job.  I would have my day job, and then my 2nd job - studying for the CCIE.   It was all consuming and it took months.  Months of reading, watching VoDs, configuring, more reading, more configuring.   Months of not having much of any other life.  I have taken 3 of the CCIE exams - R&S, SNA/IP and ServiceProvider (SP).   Out of sheer luck I happened to have passed the R&S and the SNA/IP on my first try.  ServiceProvider?  LOL!  Got "spanked".  Tried it a couple of times.  I was very pleased with all I learned, but then became very tired of not having much of a life.  And, for me, I decided it was not worth it.  I truly love and adore having a life outside of work and networking. 

But riddle me this.  Why is CCIE studying like having a 2nd job?  Because, with the CCIE we know we have to have the concepts, the configurations, and the solutions down cold.  We have to rack up hours and hours and hours of "experience", "exposure", "breadth and depth".


So what about the CCDE?  Well first, and foremost, remember it is an "E".  It's "CCxE", right?  And an "E" is an "E" is an "E".  Only for this "expert level" exam, it is your ability to design that is being tested. 

In those emails I had received, I'm was usually asked, "what books should I read to help me pass?"  Would books alone help you pass the CCIE?  Uh, no.  I think there is a misconception that since the CCDE is not a router CLI based exam, that it is a "glorified written".  But it isn't.  And books alone aren't going to cut it.  Why?  Cause books don't give you design experience... they don't give you design exposure.. they don't give you design breadth and depth.  They can talk about "ideal" designs,  "greenfield" designs.  But how often does a network designer deal with ideal and greenfield?  

The CCDE web page (  lists that this certification is

"intended for professionals who have day-to-day responsibility for designing complex, converged IP networks".

It also says that candidates

"are strongly encouraged to have at least seven years of networking experience and a thorough understanding of network infrastructure principles and design topics".

Translation?  Design experience, design exposure, design breadth and depth

So What is my Answer to the Question of "How do I study for the CCDE"?

My answer is that I don't think it is easy to "study" for.  With the CCIE you take studying on as a "2nd job"  gaining the experience, exposure, breadth and depth that you need.  But you need "stick time" and lots of it.   Lots of "stick time" doing, again and again and again, what you will be doing during the CCIE lab exam - configuring.

That is where it gets tricky with the CCDE.  The "stick time" you need is "stick time" with designing networks.  I don't really know of a substitute for that except to have lots and lots of "designing" under your belt.  I'm guessing that is why they say it is 

"intended for professionals who have day-to-day responsibility for designing complex, converged IP networks".

I am sure there are exceptions to this rule.  There always are.  But, for me, the way to "study" for this is to have your primary job be that you are doing designing. 

Oh, and yes, while I was studying I did have studying for this as a 2nd job for about 4 months prior to the exam.  I reviewed every CiscoPress routing book I had.  I had flash cards for those areas or terms I was weak on (NMS and Voice to name just 2)  I scanned through the Cisco Design Zone stuff and the Cisco Validated Designs (CVDs) -    I say "scanned' in the sense that I "judged" which ones I thought would be helpful for me and which ones I would just ignore.  

Phew!  Okay... I think that is everything.  See?  Now you probably understand why I've never answered this question before.

I'll proactively answer an unspoken question though.  (smile)   Is it super duper cool that I have my CCDE and that I can use this logo below?  Between you and me, yes!   The funny thing?  I didn't want to take it.  I didn't want another stint in my life of studying for an exam.  I took it because of a co-worker that I truly respect and admire kept nagging me to take it.


Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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