How to Prep for CCIE R/S Troubleshooting?

Our survey about the new CCIE R/S troubleshooting section revealed some interesting facts. First, more than 1/3 of us said that their chances of passing went down with the addition of the new troubleshooting section on the lab. Second, the overwhelming majority thinks that adding troubleshooting make the exam more realistic to what's required of a CCIE doing their normal job. So it got me thinking - how do you prep for the troubleshooting part of the exam?

As I often do when I plan to blog that day, I ended up at the gym for a swim, and let this stuff percolate. Swimming a great exercise for thinking - not a lot of visual input to distract, and certainly tough to use your iPod. So, while underwater today, I was thinking about the troubleshooting prep topic, while also pondering the Cisco 360 program's announcements that happened today May 19th. (Go here to find the scoop.)

Because it's timely with today's announcements, let me spend a few paragraphs giving some background for those of you weren't around during the whole 15+ year history of CCIE.  Before 1993, Cisco both created courses and taught the courses, without using partners. In 1993, Cisco started the Cisco Learning Partner program, with Cisco continuing to create courseware, but moving the delivery function to partner companies. Interestingly, although Cisco has added authorized Cisco courses for almost everything they sell, and for most every Cisco certification, the big notable exception was the fact that Cisco had no authorized CCIE training - at least until 2008. Last year, Cisco first offered the Cisco 360 Learning Program for CCIE, which is essentially Cisco's first authorized CCIE curriculum - again delivered by some of Cisco's partners.

As you might guess, during those intervening years, a lot of companies created and offered their own CCIE prep tools and classes. Some of those companies specialized in CCIE, and some were the same old Cisco Learning Partners who wrote their own CCIE materials. The result today is that many companies compete in the CCIE training market, making for a much more competitive CCIE prep market as compared to the rest of the Cisco cert space.

(I'm obligated by Network World to disclaim, which is fine, but pardon my aside: I'm not suggesting which of these many competitors is best. I do have an association with Skyline ATS, which is one of the Cisco 360 program's Learning Partners. If you Google "CCIE training", you'll see hits for most companies I've heard of in the first few pages.)

Back to what's really on my mind: what should we be doing to prep for the troubleshooting part of the CCIE R/S lab? Just looking around at what's available for purchase, and what I know people do on their own, here are some of the more common CCIE lab prep activities:

  • Read lots of books (some maybe even by me! ;-)
  • Read lots of free web sites (especially the Cisco documentation)
  • Experiment with commands, and make up your own labs, without using a CCIE lab book
  • Do topical labs as listed in a purchased CCIE lab book
  • Do mock 8-9 hour labs that mimic the exam-day experience
  • Do assessed labs, where the tool analyzes your results and provides feedback on your progress/readiness
  • Watch topical videos/audios (aka elearning) to learn concepts and config
  • Attend a 1-week live/remote or live/in-person CCIE lab class/bootcamp
  • Be mentored by a skilled CCIE instructor/mentor (typically paid with $$)
  • Be group mentored informally with social networking (free) (online study lists, Cisco Learning Network, etc)

But of these - any anything else one might do to prepare - what's really needed for preparing for troubleshooting? I'd rule out a few of the items in this list as being a little weaker than the others. For example, making up your own lab activities, or doing general experimentation, while useful, probably are not as effective as using someone's preset lab exercises. Most troubleshooting on the lab will likely be "fix what we misconfigured before you got here", and it's hard to forget what you misconfigured when you made it up yourself. I'd rule out online study groups as well - they are very useful for getting single points clarified, but probably not so good at getting a broad and comprehensive coverage of how to troubleshoot a particular technology area.

As an example of what might work well, the Cisco 360 stuff had a few nice features for troubleshooting. Their assessed labs - 9 hour labs that give feedback not just on points scored, but what you got wrong - have been enhanced to break down troubleshooting as a separate topic. And Cisco added a new 7 hour video section on troubleshooting, broken down by topic. (FYI, the folks at Cisco told me that they added over 100 hours of video/audio elearning for the new CCIE R/S exams. Those are examples; I'm sure the other companies in this space will be adding tools and options as well.

So, let's do a survey, and we'll see how it goes. Frankly, I struggled a bit at how to ask this question as a survey, rather than just open it up for comments, but we'll see how it goes. The question boils down to this: should you study it (books, elearning, classes), practice it (pre-set labs), be assessed on it (do labs, be critiqued), or ignore it (practice config, t'shooting will be natural). On each of those, is it more important to do those things by topic area, or is it better to do comprehensive tasks. For example, is it better to do labs that cover troubleshooting of one big topic, or scenarios that break everything, and you find all the problems? I think they all have merit. I'll post again to tell my opinion here in a few days, but let me know your preferences. Thanks...


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