Friday, December 4, 2009

CCIE V4 updates

CCIE V4 experience...

I debated for some time before I decided to do a write up on my 2nd attempt at 4.0. But I think a part of me just needs to get this out there so I can put it behind me and get ready for my next attempt.

I first took v4.0 on October 23rd, the first week it came out. I did a write up of my experience and posted it here for all to see. I went back to the original place of my destruction (San Jose) exactly 30 days after that attempt, on Nov 23. During those 30 days, I put extra effort into all those areas that were clearly weaknesses for me, namely, some of the new blueprint topics and even a couple of older topics under 7.00 Implementing Network Services and 10.00 Optimizing the Network. Needless to say, I went back with a huge lift in confidence and telling myself that I was finally going to pass. At the same time, I was nervous as hell because I just didn't know what to expect and I was actually fearful that I would get topics that I didn't focus any efforts on (Scott Morris has a saying about this Wink).

There was one other guy, Vince (I think?), who had just recently completed an INE bootcamp. It was his first attempt at 4.0 and I gave him a quick rundown of what to expect on the new format. I told him my strategy for this time around was to be strict about time management, which was a killer for me the first time. That, and a lot of coffee. When the proctor finally brought us back, I immediately put myself into the zone and started on the test.

OEQs are OEQs. You answer with as short and concise an answer as you can and reread the questions at least 3 times. This is the 2nd time where I re-read a question, realized something was wrong with my initial answer, and changed it (hopefully for the better). Needless to say, I spent about 15 minutes total on the section and once I closed it out, I completely put them out of my mind.

I opened the troubleshooting section and to my surprise, the interface didn't bother me, not even a little. I opened my tickets list, and immediately set about looking for my routers. Later during lunch, I did make a suggestion to the proctor (I wish I could remember his name, cuz he was really cool), that they could use some kind of coordinate mapping system to help find the affected routers and hosts faster. He liked the idea. Anyway, the first few tickets were pretty straightforward and then I ran into my first head scratcher. First off, the interface shown on the map didn't match up with the interface on the router that needed to be fixed. Secondly, I just couldn't figure out why I couldn't get it to work. It seemed like a simple issue. I had given myself 10 minutes to look for a solution and once that 10 minute time limit hit, I immediately put the ticket aside and proceeded with the other tickets. I ran into another head scratcher a few tickets later, did my 10 minute time limit, and went on without a solution. I was able to complete all but those 2 tickets and I had about 30 minutes left. I guess working on the other tickets was helpful in 2 ways: 1) it gave my mind a chance to take a break from the problem, and 2) I was able to get the remaining tickets. When I came back, I tried a couple things and ultimately got a working solution. I even had 10 minutes to spare which I used all of it to double-check all my solutions. I was feeling high and mighty at this point.

As with the OEQs, once I closed the section out, I put all that behind me and focused solely on the configuration tasks. This time, unlike the last time, I actually spent 30 minutes drawing up a map, creating a score tally, making notes, and reading the entire exam. Just as I hopped onto the first switch to start configuring, the proctor called for lunch and we went. As we walked to the cafeteria, I could tell by Vince's expression that he already knew he wasn't going to pass. I was still feeling good and my confidence was even higher, even after reading through the config tasks. There were a couple of items that I wasn't sure about, but I determined that if I nailed all the other tasks, I'd have enough points to pass.

For lunch, I had a burger, some tea, and a Red Bull. In hindsight, the Red Bull was a mistake. I only got it because I wanted to make sure that I wouldn't get sleepy or tired later in the afternoon. That part of my plan worked to perfection. However, since I only occasionally drink Red Bull, the side effect I got from it probably did more damage. Basically, I got really jittery and could not keep my hands still. I can say that normally I type around 50-55 words per minute, but after the Red Bull, I must have been typing around 75 words per minute with major mistakes. With all the backspacing I had to do that first hour after lunch, I probably was averaging only 40 words per minute Indifferent

Anyhow, we got back to the lab, and I immediately started typing/backspacing/typing with the intention that I was going to have Layer 2 and Layer 3 done in 2.5 hours, which would leave me with 2.5 hours for all the other stuff. I put in my configs, double-checked everything twice, and then BAM Super Angry, got nailed by my first big problem in Layer 3. I spent maybe 15 minutes trying to figure it out, and it was even on a topic I had spent extra time on (only I never quite set it up the way the Lab had me do it). I backed it out so that I at least had connectivity to everything, then finished up with the Layer 3 section. I was already at my 2.5 hour mark and I did a quick review of the tasks yet to complete. I was pretty confident I could knock them out so I decided to give myself 30 more minutes to try and fix that problem. 30 minutes later, I was still no where to getting it fixed, so I backed it out and proceeded with the remaining tasks No.

Unfortunately, even though I had configured most of those remaining tasks at one point or another in my studies, I didn't know them like I did L2/L3 configuration and that's what got me. I ended up spending too much time referring to the command references and config guides, and I even caught myself reading an overview section on a particular feature which I really should have known already. Those remaining 2 hours flew by, but I had at least touched all the tasks I said I was going to touch. I only left 2 tasks completely untouched because I knew I was going to have to look those configs up in the config guides and I was only going to attempt them if I had time. I didn't. But I pretty much knew where everything else was supposed to be, went right to the spot in the documentation, got the config put in, and went on to the next task.

When the proctor called time, I was putting in the last few lines for a task, but by then my confidence about passing the lab had slipped considerably. In my heart, I was 100% confident that I had done what I was supposed to do on only a few tasks. I knew I had achieved most of the task requirements on others, but I wasn't 100% sure. To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, a given config task, i.e. EIGRP, may tell you to set it up based on what you see on the map, then apply some protocol specific config, then redistribute it, and finally apply some kind of filter or ACL or what not. In most cases, I was confident I got 3 of the 4 subtasks, but I was never sure if I got that last one. As I tallied up my final score, I realized that I was only really confident about 20% of my answers, unsure on 60% and down right certain I missed those 20% I couldn't fix or didn't attempt.

In any case, I walked out of there light hearted knowing that I solved all the troubleshooting tickets and was looking forward to my score to see how many of my unsures on the config section were actually correct. So, let's fast forward to when I got my test results.

I was surprised to see the email saying my results were in only 4 hours after I had left the lab. I knew I hadn't passed, and I wasn't nervous or apprehensive or anything as I logged in to view my score. I just wanted to know where I needed to do more work. In fact, I had already started a gameplan on what areas to focus studies on for my next attempt. Then I saw the scores and my emotions literally went like this: Cool cool I passed OEQ, Super Angry WTF!? Tongue TiedI failed troubleshooting?!?, Ick! I'm sick to my stomach right now!, Storm there's a rain on my parade, Super Angry WTF!!!, Zip it! I'm speechless, No This is no good, Embarrassed I so ashamed right now, Beer I don't drink, but I could use one now, Broken Heart.

I had failed again, and my so called confidence was all a bunch of nothing. I had failed way worse than before and my score report, due to all the 0% (yes, that' zero percent) was of no use to me. At least my previous attempt showed me that I could at least work on a few areas which is what I did. And as if I wasn't feeling terrible already, I physically got sick, not quite the flu, but like it. I closed my computer, quietly put my study notes away, packed my bag for the next morning's flight, and put Cisco, the test, and 9 months of lab work, out of my mind. Officially, at that moment in time, I had decided that my journey was done and I wasn't going to think about any future attempts...



15 minutes later I was online trying to remember all the different tasks that I had problems with and looking up solutions. Over the next 3 hours, I hit all my old workbooks, searched through Cisco's documentation, Google'd stuff, so forth and so on. I finally decided that if I was ever going to pass this test, I'd need to go back to basics, which I'll admit I had taken for granted the past several months. I had spent so much time learning about MPLS (and I still didn't know enough), that I figured it was time to take next month's lab attempt money and invest in some new workbooks. Fortunately for me, INE later ran a cool weekend special for workbooks I didn't have and also a killer deal on lab rental. I took my December money and applied it to that and my intent is to go back to the beginning, but with a fresh, somewhat dated yet new to me look, at the basics. Because that's where I screwed up. I'm not quite sure where I went wrong, or how I could even fix it, but I think a lot of it had to do with me not interpreting what was being asked of me. In hindsight, I really should have annoyed the hell out of the proctor with question after question, but in my mind I thought I knew what I was doing.

So, my time management game plan actually worked out well enough because I threw in a config for everything I expected to. However, I really need to go back to Layer2/3 basics but using a different perspective which I hope to get from my recent workbook purchase. I'm actually more pumped than ever right now to go back and retake the lab, but I'm going to force myself to take 2-3 months of back-to-basics training and really make sure that my IPv6, multicast, MPLS, security, QOS, etc. is as good as my L2/L3. When I retake, my goal is to only go to the documentation site for maybe 10-15% of the tasks. And even then, it should be a quick lookup to confirm that I put the config in correctly. In truth, my goal is to be an expert. Just like Cisco expects me to be.

Until next time...