I just got back after a short but much needed vacation. Last week I passed the R/S Lab in Brussels and got my number (233XX).

- The Lab
The lab was as easy as I had expected and there were no surprises. I knew all the technologies well and everything was pretty straight forward. The first hour was a little bit shaky for me as I was quite nervous. It always takes me a long time to do the L2 portion of a lab if I’m not familiar with the topology and IP scheme used. I read over all the questions before starting and draw a L2 and a BGP topology map. The topology maps included in the lab was not great but acceptable so I did not bother to do any other drawings. Once I came past L2 things started to loosen up and by lunch I had completed IGP, BGP and some other questions. An hour after lunch I had completed all questions and I used the remaining 3 hours to verify my work. I did not really find any errors in my configurations but I found several things I needed to add and that needed to be tweaked to work in the intended way. The feel of the lab was more similar to the Cisco Assessor and ASET labs then to other workbook and mock labs that I’ve done.

I proctors did not help much at all and the most useful comment I got from them was "You need to provide a working solution". The DocCD must have been cached somewhere because it was considerable faster then when I use it at home.

The setup was as everyone else has already described. Old version Secure CRT without tabs and Internet Explorer without tabs. You had plenty of pencils to choose from and they provided you with two papers to write on but you could ask for more if you wanted.

They used full size Logitech keyboards with US keymaps where the "|" is above the small "Enter" button. The insert key was removed and instead there was an extra large delete button. The resolution on the LCD monitors were 1280x1024.

They had soft drinks and fruits in the restroom and the bathroom was near. Perhaps there were snacks as well I did not see.

The food at lunch was great but I restrained myself from taking any desert and tried to not get too full.

There are two Cisco buildings and the correct entrance is the one just opposite the DHL building.

- Accommodation
I stayed at the NH Brussels Airport Hotel that was located just a few hundred meters from Cisco. I could see the Cisco logotype glowing in the dark outside of my hotel room window. It was also just next to the Diegem train station. The room was nice and it cost it about 150 EUR per night with the Cisco discount. I looked around a little and did not really find a much cheaper hotel that did also not also have a much lower standard. Breakfast was 20 EUR. The Internet cost 17 EUR per 24h and it was slow with high latency and they turned it off during the night. They also had problems with their Radius server so needless to say the Internet service was not to my satisfaction. Minibar, bathtub, shower, safe, the usual stuff. The minibar had enough space for 4x Cola cans. The receptionists were nice and helpful.

Diegem where Cisco is located is a place outside of Brussels that is truly dead and there is nothing to do there and I doubt you can find anything to eat outside the hotel. But the trains leave pretty often to Brussels and there is plenty to do there. They had this weird system where you bought the tickets on the train but since the conductor was rarely around most trips was free.

- Preparation
I started to prepare for the CCIE written exam about a year ago. But I already had some experience and knowledge so I did not start from zero.

- I had been interested in computers for the past 25 years and had early exposure to computer communication. I operated several BBS systems in the late 80ies and early 90ies and was an early adopter of the Internet and as a kid I built small networks and managed UNIX servers for fun.

- I have been an IT professional for the past 10 years working mainly with Cisco networking. My current work for the past couple of years is being the lead network engineer managing a pretty large corporate network with thousands of Cisco devices.

- During the last decade I had already completed all professional Cisco certifications but one.

For the written exam I only read the official certification exam guide from Cisco Press. Previous years I had already read Internet Routing Architectures, the Cisco Press QoS book and Routing TCP/IP Volume I. I had recently completed the BGP and MPLS exams so those technologies were fresh in my mind. During my studies for the written exam I also started doing technology focused labs and I tried most of the things that I read about in the exam guide in my lab so I better could understand how it worked. I spent less then two months preparing for the written exam.

With the exception of some mock labs I did my entire study solely using Dynamips and real 3550 and 3560 switches. I had a dedicated workstation with 17 network cards, 2x Quad Core CPUs, and plenty of RAM. Once I started using 64 bit Linux I never had any real issues with Dynamips and it always worked great for me. Instead of using the virtual frame-relay switch in Dynamips I used a virtual router instead to get frame-relay working more realistic. I also used only virtual 3725s running 12.4 mainline in Dynamips so it should be closer to the routers used in the real lab. I hooked up all the real switches with console cables plugged into serial USB-adapters on the Dynamips box so I could reach the entire lab from anywhere in the world. That enabled me to lab during lunch hours, when it was less to do at work, from home and when I was away somewhere.

I spent about 9 months after passing the written exam to prepare for the lab. The last two months before the exam I took out all my saved vacation days and some unpaid leave to be able to focus my studies better. Sadly I was already more or less finished with my preparations by then and I lost some of my focus the last month and probably should have taken the lab earlier instead of wasting vacation days on sitting at home being restless and doing not nearly as much labs as the plan was. At least I got a great number of posts posted here on Sadikhov during that time wink.gif.

My main preparation for the lab was doing workbook and mock labs, reading documentation and watching instruction videos. I used most of the popular vendors. I went through in total 6 technology focused workbooks and 58 different full workbook and mock labs (most of them 8 hour ones but a few was 4 hour labs).

I still feel like I don’t know nearly enough of most of the technologies on the blue print but I am able to look most things up in the DocCD and I understand the basic concepts of pretty much all of the technologies on the lab. Doing the new IE WBI version 5 on QoS made me realize how little I know about QoS. Reading the DocCD on multicast I realized how little I understand of the more advanced multicast topics. The more you study the more you realize how much there is to learn that you have yet to master.

Looking back passing the lab was very easy. The really hard part was finding motivation to spend a year of my life studying for the CCIE written and lab. Going into the lab I was already a winner. I knew that even if I did not pass on the first attempt it did not matter because I had already gotten the biggest reward. I had developed my understanding of Cisco routing, switching and IOS far more in just a year then I had previously done in my entire career. That was the biggest reward I could get and the number was just icing on the cake.

- Do I feel like an expert?
During my lab I meet a few other candidates. One guy had been preparing for only 2 months and another one had done a bunch of attempts in just the last couple of weeks. Most of the CCIEs I have dealt with have had their numbers in the 2000-5000 range and they have all been veterans with an impressive set of experience and knowledge. For me they have always represented what CCIEs are all about. I know I have earned my number but I can’t help if a small part of me feels like a cheat for only studying the topics on the blueprint and only practicing on the specific routers, switches and IOS versions. I wonder if the people that miraculously pass after 2 months of studies or after doing the lab 6 times the same month feel like they are experts. I know I still don’t feel like one.

- What next?
I still have a professional Cisco certification to take care of. After that I might go for SP or Security but will have to see about that. I’m also thinking of learning some Juniper or some non-Cisco firewall products.

I will probably be around Sadikhov but my post count might not increase as fast as before.

I’m also considering relocating to another country. So if you happen to live in an English speaking country and are in need of a pretty good engineer and freshly minted CCIE let me know. If it happens to be a place with palm trees growing on the beaches count me in!

- Advice for new candidates
In my opinion the key to passing the lab is:

- Knowing the core technologies (switching, frame-relay, IGP, BGP) really well.
- Having a good familiarity with the non-core technologies.
- Having practiced speed and accuracy.
- Knowing the common mistakes you do.
- Being a good friend of the documentation.

To learn the core technologies really well you start with reading books if you are not already very familiar with the technologies. Watching instructor videos can also be very helpful but they rarely cover all the details of a technology so be aware of that. CBT Nuggets are good if you want to refresh some of the very basics. Jeremy is hilarious and it’s very easy to digest. I personally find the Brians pretty dry to listen to and I tend to having problem focusing after some time. But their classes tend to be good but boring. The new video material from IP-Expert should be really good as I do enjoy listening to Scott but I have not seen it myself. If InternetworkExpert release classes with Scott I should go for those as well. I have seen some of NMC videos but with their new learning concept I have no clue what you get if you buy their products. But I liked what I seen so far from them. Clear and short on-the-point videos that does not waste a lot of your time.

When you read a book or watch videos you should have some routers and switches to try things on. The best is if you can setup the lab they are doing on the videos so you can configure every step yourself while watching.

I took a lot of notes while reading books and watching videos to try to organize everything I learned. I think it helped.

Start doing technology focuses mini-labs like those from Narbik or InternetworkExpert. That will help you understand the technologies better. This is important to do.

Go over all of the commands relating to a certain technology in the documentation and figure out what every command does and when you can use it. Try them out in your practice lab.

If you want to you could try and tackle one technology at the time. Read, watch, lab the same technology instead of taking them on all at once. Whatever works best for you.

This part of your studies are probably the most important. You really need to learn how the technology works. There are no shortcuts to this.

Having access to equipment the throughout your studies is really good. It enabled me to study whenever and however I wanted. It would have taken a lot longer with rack rentals for sure. But no need to buy a rack of routers. Use Dynamips together with real switches. That works great at least if you know some Linux. It does cost some but at least it’s not a fortune.

Once you understand the technologies and have done a lot of the technology focused mini-labs your ready to practice on full scale workbook labs. Do as many as you possibly can and practice your speed and accuracy. Use labs from different vendors because your get very accustomed to the IP plan, the physical topology, the way questions are asked and how the topology maps look. This is not good when you come to the real lab where everything is different. I know people that have failed not because the lab was hard but because they were too familiar with the one workbook vendor they had used and didn’t expect the lab to be different.

While it’s fairly easy to grade labs yourself it’s a great experience to do graded mock labs. Do them from different vendors if possible. It’s a good way to find your weaknesses some time before the lab. I became aware of some mistakes I kept doing and was able to work with those. I think the Cisco Assessor and ASET labs are good labs to have done.

You will not be able to find a single book, workbook or video material that covers all the commands and feature of any single technology. There is only one resource out there that almost does that and that’s the Cisco documentation. Don’t use any other resource when you get stuck on a problem. Before you ask a question here on Sadikhov read the documentation and try to figure out how things work for yourself. Reference it as often as you can and at some point during you preparation read it cover to cover. You will face problems on the lab that you cannot answer without referencing the documentation. That’s just the way it is.