Making the CCIE Plunge

Hola. This is CCIE Pursuit back again after taking last Monday off (too much work and family obligations). My last couple of posts have looked at common reasons for pursuing the CCIE as well as some of the costs involved. This week we'll take a look at determining whether or not the attempting CCIE certification is a good idea or not. The CCIE is Cisco's expert level certification and generally regarded as one of the (if not the) most difficult certifications in the IT world. Cisco offers four levels of certifications (fewer in some tracks - but usually at least three levels): entry, associate, professional, and expert. I'm sure that most of you have seen this pyramid before. I've seen a number of posts recently about people asking if they should attempt to get CCIE certified so that they can break into the world of IT/Networking. I thought that these were jokes at first (and some of them are), but there are a (still small) number of people who believe that this is a good idea. It's not. I'm not saying that it can't be done, just that it's not practical. This is the equivalent of saying "I'm going to skip undergrad and grad school and go straight for a doctorate, THEN apply for my first job in my field." It's a much better idea to work your way up the Cisco certification rung and get some experience in the field. You could spend thousands of hours and dollars chasing the CCIE and never attain that certification. You would be better suited using that time to get your CCNA and CCxP certifications and get a job in the industry. THEN decide whether you want to make a run at the CCIE. If you do pass the CCIE with no experience, I don't know how well your interviews will go. Unless a company wants a CCIE on staff for Cisco partnership advantages, I don't know how many would choose a novice with a CCIE over someone with experience and no CCIE. I know that I would have serious reservations about hiring someone who is smart/motivated enough to pass the CCIE but who has not been exposed the the soul-crushing dreariness of change controls, documentation, after-hours oncall rotations, design by budget, etc. :-) If you're considering the CCIE, it's more likely that you're someone who has worked in the networking field for a few years and probably have one or more Cisco certifications. That's the path that I took. I had been working in the field for about 6 years and had finally made the plunge to complete my CCNP certification. It was only then that I even thought about pursuing the CCIE. If you're in this category, then you should definitely be aware of the costs (in money and time) that are associated with the CCIE. You should also consider what your motivation is for pursuing the CCIE and if that motivation will keep you on track. In my case, I would have been much better served by pursuing the CCVP and/or the CCSP certifications rather than the CCIE. Some candidates may be better served by getting a degree. I'm fortunate to work in a position that is heavilly routing and switching in an all Cisco (large) network. Many network engineers work with multiple vendors or may have job duties outside of pure networking. In that case you may not benefit from a concentration on Cisco routing and switching. One of the things that you need to keep in mind is that you when you get your CCIE will be an expert...on the technologies and platforms that you are tested on. You could become a Routing and Switching CCIE and have no clue how to get around in a 6500 or Call Manager. Unfortunately, most people simply assume that if you're a CCIE then you're an expert on all things Cisco. You'll want to have some "generalist" experience in many technologies - either via work experience or through study and certification. You should also accept the fact that a number of CCIE candidates never make across the finish line. This generally is not because they are not smart enough, but more likely because other commitments get in the way. If you have a significant other and/or a family, make sure that you discuss your certification plans before making the plunge because your studies will most likely mean less time with the ones you love. Only if you're married to a router is a win/win situation for all parties involved. :-) With all of that said, I think that if you can afford the time and money then I would definitely encourage you to pursue the CCIE. Even if I never get my digits, I have become a much better engineer since deciding to go down the CCIE path. Thoughout my life I have found that reaching for the higher rung really solidifies the knowledge you already have...or think you have. I understood CCNA concepts at a much better level after getting my CCNP. I now know CCNP concepts at a much higher level after chasing the CCIE. If you're thinking about pursuing the CCIE but want to test the waters first, I would suggest reading the first volume of Routing TCP/IP by Doyle. Most of the major CCIE vendors offer some type of "technology specific" workbooks (Internetwork Expert here - IPexpert here - Micronics here - CCBootcamp here). I would suggest purchasing one of these workbooks (CCBootcamp allows you to purchase based on technology so they are less expensive) and renting some rack time to work though these labs. If this doesn't scare you off, then I would suggest downloading a sample full-scale lab (most vendors offer at least one free lab) and working through that lab on a rack rental. This will give you a taste of what you can expect when studying for the lab. The point of this posting is not to scare you off of pursuing the CCIE, but rather to suggest that you really examine your motivation, expectations, and resources before making the plunge. Honestly, the path to the CCIE has been one of the most exciting and fruitful pursuits that I have taken, but it has also been long and expensive as well as fraught with frustrations and setbacks. Next week we'll take a look at preparing for the first step in the CCIE certification process: the written exam.

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.