This is Chapter 1 of my ebook The CCIE Blueprint It covers my journey from Desktop support engineer to CCIE – it was a long journey and hopefully after reading it you can find things that you can do better and shorten your journey. Enjoy!
The CCIE Blueprint – Chapter 1 – My Journey
I started my life in IT in 2001 as a Desktop support engineer for a local company. I quickly moved up
to server support (mainly windows NT4 and Novell) and in 2003 decided I wanted to start learning
about networking. Whilst still in the server support role I self-studied for and passed the CCNA. I just
bought the CCNA Routing and Switching 200-125 Official Cert Guide book, had a switch and a couple routers at work and taught myself.
From that point on I was hooked, I could see so many avenues open to me, Wireless, Switching,
Routing, Voice etc.
I continued on the Routing & Switching track and over the next two years started to pick up some
network tasks at work and when the main network guy left I took his role.
I was now managing a network that spanned 2 buildings and had over 900 users.
Over the next few years I learnt everything there was to know about the network, dial up links,
internet circuits, VPN’s and Firewalls etc. I loved my job but wanted to take it further so I started to
study for my CCNP.
This journey took me two more years and along the way I picked up some other Cisco specialisations
including IPS specialist, VPN specialist and Firewall specialist. I finally passed my CCNP in 2005. It
was at this time that I started to think about the CCIE, so I bought the CCIE written certification guide
and started to read it.
Very soon after this we had a new addition to our family. My daughter was born in December 2005.
All my studying stopped – there never seemed to be enough time in the day to even get enough
sleep let alone study for the CCIE!
4 years passed and in 2009 I made my first attempt at the CCIE written which I failed. I tried again 6
months later and passed. My CCIE journey had started!
During this time I had also changed jobs and was now working for a company with a European
network, managing multiple sites across different countries brought its own unique set of challenges
and I learnt a lot more about remote network support.
My boss knew about my desire to pass the CCIE and said he was happy to support me and to pay for
one attempt at the lab, so I purchased the INE workbooks and videos and started learning. I made
my first attempt at the CCIE lab exam (Version 4) in April 2013 and failed.
This was my first mistake, I went to the lab far too early and had no real expectation of passing, I
was caught up in the moment of going to Brussels and seeing what the lab was actually like without
any real focus on making a passing attempt.
(Unless you have money to burn I do not recommend this approach, only go to the lab when you feel you have a real chance of passing.)
It is a common perception among CCIE candidates that they will use the first attempt as a
reconnaissance mission, see what the lab is like and to calm their nerves for the next attempt.
This is a really bad idea, unless you are a really nervous person, going to the lab is just like sitting in a
room at a PC and doing a practice lab. Your nerves will soon pass. The only difference is that is has
cost you money and the time pressure is real. Once you pass a certain point that you know you are
not going to pass you get very low. I will talk more about this later in the book.
The CCIE lab did what it said on the tin – it found my weaknesses and exploited them. I failed the
trouble-shooting section badly and simply ran out of time in the configuration section.
On a positive note I found out about the journey from my home to Diegem, I saw the CCIE lab exam
room, met the proctor and experienced the lab.
There is a short video here showing my journey from Southampton to Diegem.
It taught me a lot and it made me realise that you are on your own with just your knowledge to get
you through the exam.
I can impart all that knowledge here so you do not have to waste your money finding out yourself.
My studying up to this point had been quite relaxed with no real time pressures and I hadn’t even
done a full mock lab. This was my mock lab and it was an expensive mistake. I hadn’t actually lost
anything as my company had paid for this attempt so I was quite relaxed and ready to try again.
When I asked my boss if he could pay for a second attempt he said no. So my next attempt was
going to be funded myself.
This added some real focus to my studies, when you are spending your own money on the lab, travel
and hotels it adds up.
For me this totalled nearly £1500.
My next attempt was in December 2013 and I failed again, this time however I was so much closer
and finished the troubleshooting and also managed to finish the config, however I did not have any
time for verification. The result – fail on both sections. I had obviously broken some requirements
for troubleshooting and made some mistakes in config which I did not have time to verify.
This just made me more determined to pass and after a long discussion with my wife about how I
was going to spend another £1500 on the CCIE and would be studying more she agreed that she
would support me for another attempt.
This will be covered a lot more later in the book, but I cannot emphasise how much the support of
your family is for your CCIE journey.
It was around this time that Cisco announced Version 5 of the Routing & Switching lab – I had 6
months to pass V4. So I made another study plan and booked the lab for the last week of V4 and put
it on the credit card.
This time thought I had nailed it, TS went really well and I finished configuration with time to spare.
The result was TS pass, configuration fail. My L2 score was 33% I must have made some big error
which caused me a loss of points there and also affected other sections.
Following this failure I decided enough is enough and I could not keep spending money on this and I
needed to focus on my family. So I took some time out of CCIE, resigned to the fact that maybe I was
never going to make it.
At the back of my mind was the thought that I had come this far and put so much into it already I
can’t give up.
After a few weeks I did start studying again and I also managed to change jobs, this time working for
a Gold Partner, this was the turning point as my new boss offered to pay for 2 more attempts and
support me in any way I needed.
Brilliant! My CCIE dream was back on track.
The only minor problem was that the exam was now Version 5 and included DMVPN, the good news
was that Frame Relay and PFR was gone.
So I took 6 months of focussed study time to ensure I had the entire blueprint covered and booked
the exam for May 2015.
The topology for version 5 is 30 routers and it also now included the diagnostic section. 3 questions
which are like helpdesk tickets to be answered in 30 minutes.
I passed troubleshooting and diagnostic and failed configuration, I had some issues with DMVPN
which I could just not fix which meant I did not get end to end reachability in my topology.
Again I was close but no cigar, but I knew this time I had a second attempt in my back pocket. So my
plan on the train home was to book again for 30 days and finally nail this exam.
I was then hit with the Cisco retake policy which meant I had to now wait for 90 days before I went
back again. So that’s what I did and booked the exam for August 27th 2015
On my fifth attempt everything went like clockwork I flew through the troubleshooting in under 90
minutes, answered all 3 diagnostic questions and had a full 5 ½ hours for the configuration. I finished
that with at least 90 minutes to verify – it was at this point that I knew I had passed as there was
nothing that could go wrong now.
I knew I had answered all the troubleshooting questions without breaking any restrictions, I was
unsure about one diagnostic question (you only need 2 to pass diagnostic) so I was not too worried. I
had triple checked all the questions for configuration and had pinged every router that I needed to
about 4 times.
The next 12 hours were the longest of my life. On my previous attempts when I had failed I had the
results by the time I had got back into the UK, about 4 hours later, however on this occasion I did not
get the email from Cisco.
The journey back on the train is when you start going over all the tasks in your head, and I was
starting to convince myself that I had failed as I had already added up 10 points that I had lost due to
I had to clear my mind and just forget it. I arrived home just before midnight, 7 hours after I had
finished the lab and still no email. I then continued to check my emails until 1:30 am.
The email finally arrived at 5:30 am which I opened at 6am as I could not sleep.
It was then I saw what every CCIE candidate dreams of seeing; your CCIE number.
I was CCIE #50038!
I ran back into the bedroom and woke my wife up and she started screaming which woke my
daughter up who came in and she started screaming. My journey was over.
It had taken me nearly 6 years from my first written attempt and cost me more than it should but I
had finally achieved my goal.
The next day was just a dream as I spent most of the day emailing, texting and phoning everyone telling them the good news.
This is the best moment about passing your CCIE. So that was my journey, during the next chapters of this book I will go through the motivation you need to become a CCIE, how to start, how to balance family life and study, how to focus your study time, my bootcamp experiences, how to study and how to minimise the cost.
My journey took far longer than it should and you should really be aiming on 1-2 years as a realistic goal.
Like what you are reading?
If you enjoyed reading this then there is more like this in my ebook the CCIE Blueprint.
It all started with this book!