Separating Network Design and the CCIE

Cisco's announcement in July of the new Cisco Certified Design Expert (CCDE) and Master Architect certifications was a sign of the times. For years, people have been designing complex networks or, at a higher level, setting architectural strategies and goals. However, during this time, the key to the design engineer washroom was a CCIE. Cisco is looking to change this now. There are skills that a network engineer or architect requires that cannot be capture in a CCIE test. The CCIE makes you good - very good - at configuration and troubleshooting, along with some attention to detail and time-management skills. However, it misses other important skills that network design requires. On a technical side, the CCIE does not test the "why" of network technology. Jeff Doyle captured this well in his "My Favorite Interview Question" blog. The CCIE teaches you every part of "how" OSPF works, but not necessarily "why". Yes, you will need to understand why OSPF works for the CCIE lab, but not to an in-depth level. Certainly not enough to accurately design it for global networks or make a strong case with a customer whose business relies on a stable network. These technical skills come with experience and learning over several years. This is where people with experience start to separate themselves from the certification kiddies. But, in the industry, there was no way to independently identify yourself as a design expert. Your only avenue was your resume and performance in an interview (the interview you got because you have a CCIE). Furthermore, there are soft skills that are absolutely critical for design engineers: - planning skills - documentation skills - interpersonal skills and team work - oral and written presentation skills - quality control None of these skills are not taught by the CCIE. The CCIE is going to teach you how to configure a router to push packets, not make you an engineer. Cisco is now trying to fix this problem with the CCDE program. I think this is part of the reason why a CCIE is not a prerequisite for the CCDE. While it's prudent to be knowledgeable in both areas, the skills are different. Getting a CCIE does not make you a design engineer. Conversely, doing good network designs does not mean you know Cisco's IOS inside and out. The skills are complementary and, in some ways, synergistic, but still different. Now Cisco has a chance to identify those people that have the skills needed to design quality networks, even if they don't know which command creates a serial interface on a Cisco 2821 with a VWIC card. And honestly, in the end, this is where most of us aim to be. Ask yourself; are you more proud that you can accurately describe why BGP can scale to thousands of routes or that you know which command adjusts BGP timers? Most people aspire to be good engineers, not great configuration experts. The question to Cisco, and to you out there, is how? How do you capture the technical skills and soft skills needed for expert-level network design in a test? What is the balance between technical and soft skills that makes a good engineer?

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