Who Needs the CCDE?

Depending on how you read this blog title, you might take it one of two ways. One interpretation is simply the objective voice asking, "What's the compelling driver behind the pursuit of a CCDE?" The other is the darker and more confrontational voice, challenging you: "Why on earth would you go after this certification?" Over the past year, since I became aware of the CCDE and participated in the beta process I've had a lot of time to reflect on this cert. And because I've asked myself the question "Who needs the CCDE?" in both ways, in this post I'll look at the question from both sides. In the first case, the Cisco team responsible for the CCDE has created this ambitious certification track, parallel to the CCIE, for the purpose of providing a means for network architects to differentiate themselves from post-sale engineers who configure and troubleshoot equipment. From the lifecycle services perspective, there's certainly merit to this argument; the current CCIE tracks are much more focused on the implement, operate, and optimize phases of the lifecycle than they are on the prepare, plan, and design phases. Cisco's channel organization has also recognized the merits of the CCDE by permitting future CCDEs to count at the same level as CCIEs do for channel specialization requirements. However, I think that the real-world aspects of the CCIE certification overlay the CCDE's patch of turf much more in practice than in theory. I would be hard pressed to point to any CCIE who does not also have significant presale skills in the prepare, plan, and design phases of the lifecycle services model. It may be true that many CCIEs are less well-versed in network architecture best practices, particularly at the enterprise level, than they are in terms of configuration best practices. But the CCIE certification has tremendous industry respect because it is truly reflective of expert-level skills, coupled with the ability and determination to learn, articulate, and execute on very complex concepts. Architecture expertise requires the same types of skills and the same expert-level competencies, but the differentiation is a bit weak in my mind. Based on this discussion, Cisco's CCDE team has perhaps not made the strongest justification for creating the CCDE. However, I believe that it is well justified for other reasons. One: Network architects are not presently recognized at the expert level by any of Cisco's certifications. It's an area that cries out for this sort of recognition, because network architecture is just as important as the ability to install, operate, and troubleshoot networks. Two: Certifications serve vendors' commercial interests in many ways. One key area in this respect is getting as many practice-leading people as possible thinking along common lines with respect to design practices--and then deploying uniform standards (that is, the CCDE certification) through which these people can prove that they possess these these skills. Cisco has a lot to gain by developing a solid road map ("blueprint" in Cisco parlance) for an expert-level design certification, and so do the many network designers and architects who decide to pursue the certification. Their employers, many of which are Cisco channel partners, also stand to benefit significantly because the CCDE provides them with another key way to differentiate themselves from their competitors. And in today's competitive landscape, I assure you that every Cisco channel partner is constantly seeking that one thing that differentiates them objectively from their competition. Expert-level credentials issued by a respected giant like Cisco serve all of these interests. Now, how about the other angle? The one that sounds more like a mean-spirited challenge--"Why on earth would you go after a CCDE?" This one is a lot more personal. It's an essential question anyone must ask himself or herself before pursuing an expert-level certification; if you can't answer it instantly and, well, expertly--then you have only the smallest chance of succeeding. When I ask myself this question, as a CCIE, I have to consider the question carefully because I have a pretty good idea what kind of preparation commitment is involved. I am certainly a member of the target audience that Cisco has in mind for the CCDE. But as good questions often do, this one draws out a bunch of additional questions. Am I willing to commit to the exam expenses, gap analysis, preparation, material costs, travel, and time investment required to earn the certification? Will earning a CCDE help me in my career? (A lot of projection and conjecture is required to answer this question, because the CCDE has no track record yet.) Do I really feel that the CCIE is less relevant to me, my career, my employer, and my customers than it was when I earned it? And that it needs to be replaced by a validation of my expert-level design skills? Does the CCDE prove anything to me that the CCIE doesn't? (Ultimately, this one is really important for each candidate--it may turn out to be a deal-breaker if the answer isn't good enough.) I'm certain that many other CCIEs, and perhaps many who have never earned this credential but are professional network architects and designers, have asked themselves these questions. It's probably an easier question to answer for someone who is not a CCIE but is a network designer or architect; for that person, it's not a question of "I already have a Lamborghini in the garage--why do I need a Ferrari as well?" This particular question is, of course, significantly more complex than this. And only part of the reason is that every Lamborghini owner also wants a Ferrari. We'll begin to learn the answer in terms of demand for the CCDE in a few months, after Cisco runs its first beta of the CCDE practical exam. The demand will begin to make it clear to the world whether Cisco is on the right track by creating this new credential. As Cisco is the industry leader in highly respected technical certifications, it's a safe bet that they are. In the meantime, I have more time to ponder my answers. What are your answers? Better yet, what are your unasked questions?


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