Wednesday the 22nd of February, in a testing center in the middle of London, my journey towards achieving the CCDE certification, finally ended in me passing this beast of an exam.
This learning journey was a very different one than either of my CCIE’s. Whereas going for the CCIE meant spending countless hours at the command-line, the CCDE meant spending all of those hours reading and discussing use cases for technologies. It also meant stepping my toes into the business side, picking up the “Why?” behind selecting a specific technology.
It all started a few years ago when my friend Daniel (lostintransit.se) and I started going back and forth on how to approach this thing. We decided we should team up and share notes, discuss technologies and generally use each other as a sparring partner.
At that point I had already decided, that this was going to be a marathon for me, because I could at the time, not allocate as much time each day for study, as I had been for the CCIE’s. Fast forward a good amount of time and I had finally passed the written part of the exam and was ready to really focus on the practical aspect.
Anyone reading the CCDE Practical blueprint basically come to the same conclussion in that it involves every technology under the sun and then some. This in turn made us start a small study group using Slack, with only 4 members to begin with. This was the turning point for me as we had discussions around scenarios and use cases. It helped tremendously that we all come from different backgrounds and industries as well as diverse geographies.
I attended Jeremy Filiben’s CCDE bootcamp in Orlando in April 2016 (http://www.jeremyfilliben.com), which was a great experience. Jeremy is a very good teacher and his scenarios are top notch. Going over them really makes you think in a completely different way than fx. the CCIE track(s). As an implementation engineer, you tend to think in a certain way which is not doing you any good in a design context.
Early on, I also purchased access to an All Access Pass from INE in order to gain access to their CCDE training material. Unfortunally it has not been updated since and they have no plan to 🙁
I also used the Self-Paced material from Orhan Ergun, especially the Quizzes was of help to me. (orhanergun.net).
I had my first attempt at the practical in late summer 2016 and I did fairly well, but it certainly opened my eyes to what i had gotten myself into. At the same time I had the fortune of meeting up with some of the Slack study group members which was an added bonus! (Thanks Andre for introducing me to a proper beer 🙂 )…
At this point I had some real life stuff to attend to (we purchased a house with all that entails). So I was unable to commit to the November testing date. However a good number of people from our study group passed which really motivated me to get on with my studies. So ever since late November I have been doing 3-4 hours of study each week day and 5-6 hours each day during the weekend.
The last month and a half before the exam i focused on doing practice scenarios and watching recordings made from our study group discussing designs. I can also highly recommend watching the new Safari Livelessons on QoS and Large Scale Network Designs. If time is of the essence to you, do some speed-viewing which is what i did as well.
I left for London on the day before the exam and checked into my hotel, which is only a 10 minute walk from the testing center. I had already mentally prepared on what to do on the day itself, so basically the day before was the last day to recharge my “batteries” and try and find some focus. I spent an hour or so going over my notes, especially the QoS and IPv6 parts, then went for dinner. I went to bed early as planned.
On the day I woke up very early, which is not unusual for me in any way, so I basically followed what I had mentally prepared for myself which was to take a long and hot shower, get a decent breakfast (hard part for me as i dont normally have breakfast) and then back to the room to collect my things (Exam registration, wallet and passport (You need two forms of ID)). I left the hotel at 7:20’ish and took the short walk to the testing center. Since I was early i waited outside for a bit waiting for the other guy from our study group to show up to say Hi before the exam, but he was running a bit late, so I finally decided that I had to get started and went inside.
Since the exam is under heavy NDA like any other Cisco exam, I wont get into any details regarding the experience, except to say that at no point in the exam did i feel really comfortable about passing it, quite the contrary in fact. However I knew this is a feeling most candidates experience during the CCDE, so I just decided to press on and do my very best.
At lunch I took the advice of several people and had a bite to eat (even though i still didnt feel like eating) and some water and used close to the full hour of lunch available. It being London and all, there are several good places for lunch very close by to the testing center, so you dont need to go very far at all.
The afternoon went by and I finally clicked the End Exam button and instantly my mood picked up. I had passed!! I honestly didnt know what to do with myself at this point 🙂
I had a brisk walk back to the hotel where i could finally put my “guard” down and smile a bit!
I called my better half and told her the good news and she was even more estatic than I was.
So what sort of advice can I give to others?
Read, Watch Sessions (Cisco Live, Safari, Nanog etc.), constantly asking “Why?” to everything. Learn to read through documents and pick up on Business requirements and details that will pertain to certain design choices. Read some more.
If you are like me and you are easily distracted during your studies, I can highly recommend using the “Pomodoro”-method (Look it up), which is essentially 25 minute slots of focus on your studies and then a short break. It gives you a scope of focus and helps keep you on track. On top of that I mark down everything i do, study wise, into my calendar so I can look back at it and get a good “feel” for how much time i spend on it. It helps to give you a boost when you feel that you havent put enough effort into it.
If you want some recommendation on which book(s) to read, here’s a subset of the books I’ve read:
1) Definitive MPLS Network Designs.
2) CCDE Study Guide.
3) Optimal Routing Design.
4) End-To-End QoS.
These are by far the most important ones, but by no means the only ones you want to read through. You have to assess which technologies you need to learn (more) about and then pick the right material for those cases. The books above are very good for general theory but especially Definitive MPLS Network Designs is good for putting all the relevant pieces into 4 distinct use cases.
Some of the Cisco Live sessions i went through includes:
– Scaling BGP (BRKRST-3321)
– Wan and Remote-Site Deployment using CVDs (BRKRST-2040)
– Highly available Wide Area Network Design (BRKRST-2042)
– WAN Architectures and Design Principles (BRKRST-2041)
– Layer 3 Network Virtualization Design Concepts over the WAN (BRKRST-2045)
– Deploying a virtualized campus network infrastructure (BRKCRS-2033)
– Best practices to deploy HA in SP edge and aggregation architectures (BRKSPG-2402)
– Advanced enterprise campus design: routed access (BRKCRS-3036)
– Deploying BGP Fast Convergence / BGP PIC (BRKIPM-2265)
– The QoS Paradigm Shift (BRKRST-2056)
– Deploying OSPF in modern networks (BRKRST-2337)
– ISIS Deployment in modern networks (BRKRST-2338)
– IPv6 Transition Technologies (BRKSPG-2067)
– Choosing the right VPN technology for your network (BRKSEC-1050)
– Firewall architectures in the Data Centre (BRKSEC-2021)
– MAP-E/MAP-T IPv6 transitioning (BRKSPG-2606)
There are a bunch of others and I recommend you search for “Design” and “Use Case” on CiscoLive365.com (It really is an awesome resource for learning).
The last piece of advice I can give, is to join a study group, or if you are more inclined, create one yourself along with some of your friends who are serious about the CCDE as well.
Have discussions revolving around technologies and have even more discussion on scenarios and use cases for those technologies. It really is quite important to expand your horizont in order to be successful in this exam.
If you would like, at certain times we have openings in our study group (which counts 60+ people at the time of writing, including several well known others and vendors), so get in touch if thats your preference.
With that said, I would like to thank you for reading through this post. Its been a fun learning experience all the way through my CCDE – Journey!
/Kim (CCDE #20170021)