Becoming a Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert (CCIE) is a far cry from the "read a book, take an exam" process of some other industry certifications. You will be required to prove your expertise in a hands-on, notoriously difficult lab exam. While you must be intimately familiar with the Cisco configuration commands, the most difficult challenges of the lab are not Cisco specific; instead, they test the depths of your understanding of switches, routers, and routing protocols. It is for this knowledge that CCIEs are recognized and sought out as proven internetworking experts.
The structured creation of an internetwork involves four phases, and those same four phases are also useful for creating a structured preparation program for the CCIE lab.
Take a cold, hard look at your present experience level and your shortcomings. Evaluate the daily time you have available for study. Evaluate the resources at your disposal, including lab equipment; funds and time available for training; books; and acquaintances who can serve as coaches, tutors, and subject matter experts. Evaluate your personal strengths and weaknesses: Are you a good test taker? Do you work well under pressure? How do you react to setbacks and disappointments? Do you have good study habits? Do you learn best from reading or from verbal instruction? Using the raw data from your evaluations, write a list of your assets and liabilities. Develop a plan to fully capitalize on your assets and eliminate as many liabilities as possible.
Design a personalized preparation program that meets your needs while fitting your schedule and resources. Talk to as many CCIEs as possible; ask them about their own preparation programs. Find out what worked and what didn't work for them. Your program should take you from your present experience level right up to the CCIE lab, with definite deadlines and milestones. Build the project from a series of miniprojects, each with a well-defined goal. Be realistic when you design your schedule, taking into consideration the predictability (or lack of) of both your job and your personal life. The level of support you can expect from your employer and your family is an important factor in deciding whether your preparation schedule should be intensive or more relaxed. Exceeding the tolerance of those close to you will hurt your schedule far more than help it.
Many projects fail because the implementation begins before the design is complete. Your preparation program should be a written document clearly defining all steps of the project from kickoff to completion. Once you begin your preparation program, stick to it. Don't give up, don't be discouraged, and don't be lazy. Check off your goals and milestones as you meet them.
Your preparation program should be a living document. As you progress, some subjects will be more difficult than expected, and some subjects will be easier than expected. Always move forward but be flexible enough to add any extra tasks necessary for you to master each topic.
Only you can design a preparation program that best suits you. The advice in the following sections is not meant to be followed unswervingly, but is meant to give you some ideas for creating your study program. These tips come from my personal experience as both a CCIE and as a Cisco Systems Instructor, and from the experiences of associates who have successfully passed the CCIE lab.
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