Passing the CCDE is Starting to Sink In

Finding out on Wednesday that I passed the CCDE becoming CCDE #20080002, after initially not knowing for over a week, is starting to sink in. My boss sent an e-mail to our entire IT staff (about 1,000 people) and the congratulations e-mails flowed in. I also let my friends, family, and professional network know. Even the vice-chairman of our company called to congratulate me. It's very fulfilling to pass as exam like than and to be one of the first three to achieve this certification.

Which makes me digress for a did I get #2 and Ryan Hicks get #1? Did Ryan finish before me that day? Higher score? Coin flip? I want a recount. ;-) ;-) ;-) ;-) ;-)

Seriously, there were some very smart people who took the exam that day and I am truly honored to just have been part of the initial group. I was surprised when Cisco invited me to the CCDE secret meeting at Networkers 18-months ago (ok, there was like 50 engineers there, not completely secret, but anyways). I was just honored to have been in the room with some of those people. Now to have passed the CCDE puts a very large cherry on the top of it all. Thank you Cisco, thank you CCDE team, and thanks to my wife who puts up with my constant need to study and read Cisco books. I would also like to thank the friends I have made during this process; people who I would not have met otherwise.

Now, I have received some e-mails about how to pass the CCDE. From what I've read a few things will change for the next exam, but not too much. Here are a few things that I feel people should focus on above and beyond the Cisco blue print for the practical exam:

  1. Focus on Service Provider CCIE technical topics. The CCDE has some other topics, but it's mostly about complex layer-3 routing topics. A lot of technical topics are not found in a traditional enterprise routing and switching environment. There are a lot of complex layer-3 topics like MPLS, tunneling, difficult routing protocol designs, ISIS, and QoS. Those technical topics are covered well in the Service Provider CCIE which already has a decent learning track.
  2. You have to start thinking about "why" instead of "how". The CCIE is about "how"; the CCDE is more about "why". The next time you describe your own network to someone try to explain "why" you built it a certain way instead of "how" you built it. It's an interesting paradigm shift. That's what the CCDE tests. It combines the technical skills with the "why" thought process to test design skills. You will be presented with partial information, some poor diagrams, maybe an IP addressing plan, and a question. Pick the best solution based on your technical skills and why it should be done a certain way (better performance, more scalable, more resilient design, cheaper, faster deployment, etc.).
  3. Practice your planning skills. Some questions on the CCDE ask you develop implementation plans which require you to organize engineering steps. Again, "why" does IP subnetting need to be done before routing protocol implementation?
  4. Understand the exam asks some ambiguous questions which will make you mad. We are all good analytical engineers and we expect the answer to be X. "Sort of X" or "kind of like X" is not an option for our brains, but it will be in the CCDE. Read the question and the supplied information, think about "why", and pick the best option.
  5. Prepare yourself for a long day staring at a computer screen. You may be laughing right now, but seriously, staring at a computer screen reading question after question for 8-hours wears you down. It's not like the CCIE where you're configuring the equipment, reading the book, complaining to the proctor that it IS a hardware problem ;-), and drawing diagrams in a notepad. This is 8-hours of computer time. Very few of you do this at work, despite being reliant on a computer. Most people have meetings, phone calls, conversations, bathroom breaks, etc. Not the CCDE. You sit, stare, read, and click. By hour 6 I was staring at the same screen and realized I was day dreaming. And I couldn't just get up and stretch since this is a secure VUE testing facility. Take a break if you need it, but manage them efficiently.
  6. Manage your time. It's six sections, 8 hours, do the math. There is a timer on the screen, but you need to manage your time. That includes not rushing since you can't go back in the exam, so don't go too fast either thinking you can review (this may be changing in upcoming practical exams). You don't want to rush through the exam in 6 hours and fail since you went too fast.

Good luck to everyone out there. I expect to see at least 2008::4 - 2008::10 in February. Please e-mail me with specific questions.

More >From the Field blog entries:

Holly Crap I Passed the CCDE!!!!

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