While on IRC I had a request to describe my journey and the costs associated with becoming
a CCIE. Becoming a CCIE is not cheap but I’ve worked for great companies that have covered
all of my costs.
I first started studying for the written back in the summer of 2010. All my posts from back
then are still available in the archives. My strategy for the written was to build a strong
foundation to stand on beforing moving on to labs. I did not want to fast forward through
the written just to get on to the labs. Remember that the CCIE lab is about thinking at a
CCIE level, it is not about commands. You need to read for the CCIE, a lot! If you don’t like
reading then I’m sorry but this exam is not for you. I’ve probably read close to the
amount of someone becoming a doctor if I count the pages of everything I’ve read so far.
Here are some of the books that I read for the written and the costs associated with them:
Interconnections: Bridges, Routers, Switches, and Internetworking Protocols
TCP/IP Illustrated, Vol. 1: The Protocols
Internetworking with TCP/IP Vol.1: Principles, Protocols, and Architecture (4th Edition)
CCIE Routing and Switching Certification Guide (4th Edition)
Routing TCP/IP, Volume 1 (2nd Edition)
Routing TCP/IP, Volume II (CCIE Professional Development)
Developing IP Multicast Networks, Volume I
Sum of books for the written: 382$
In January of 2011 I went to take the written exam. The exam went good and I passed. It
was a bit different than the NP level exams but that was to be expected. The cost for
the written is 350$ Add that up with the cost of the books and you are looking at 732$
to get your ticket to the lab.
I needed to get some vendor workbooks and I decided to use INE due to their reputation and
instructors that were in place. I was able to pick up all the workbooks for something like
399$ on some deal.
I read Petr at INEs post on how to study for the CCIE lab exam
I decided to use the 12 month program because I was in no hurry and time is scarce when
you have kids. Basically you start out with doing all the core labs like the essential
features of the routing protocols which makes up the core knowledge you must have before
starting to do the full scale Vol2 labs. I was able to do most of the labs in Dynamips.
I converted the INE configs to Dynamips with a sed script that I’ve shared on my site earlier.
If you look at IEOC (INEs forum) you can find a user called relativitydrive that has already
converted all the configs for you if you want to run Dynamips.
For the switching tasks you need to either rent a rack or to buy your own switches and hook
them up to your Dynamips topology. My UK friend Darren has a nice post on how to connect
switches to your Dynamips topology.
I used rack rentals to practice the switching scenarios. I don’t know exactly how much I
spent on rentals but maybe around 500$
After I had done the Vol1 labs I started with Vol2. I was shocked, first of all the
diagrams and having to configure VLANs just from a diagram was a new experience for
me as for most. Also things like configuring OSPF which I felt pretty comfortable with
I could not even complete all those tasks. Expect to be crushed! Everything you thought
you knew will be put to test. CCIE is a whole different level than most of us are used
to so keep your head up even though you will be crushed the first couple of times you
do a Vol2 lab.
There are a few different ways you can do a Vol2 type lab. Either you do all the tasks
you think you can solve in one run and then you come back and look at the things you
could not solve. Or you do the tasks you can and then you peak at the SG for the
things that you could not solve yourself. You need to find what works best for you but
don’t be too worried about speed in the beginning. That will come in time, trust me.
What you should do straight away is abandon Google, no more Google for you my friend!
To find anything you want to reference you need to go to the DOCCD. You will eat, drink
and breathe the DOCCD until you pass the lab so get used to it 🙂 Basically you will
be going to the IOS 12.4T section or to the 3560 switches. The DOCCD is located here.
INE has a free Vseminar on how to use the DOCCD.
Some people see the written and the lab as two entirely different beasts. I don’t think about
it that way because you are still working towards an end goal and that is to become a CCIE.
What you don’t want to do is stop reading just because you are labbing. You need to do
both. Don’t forget to use the RFC as sources, they are a resource you should tap into.
I can’t remember everyone that I read but these are some major ones.
RFC 791 – Internet Protocol
RFC 826 – An Ethernet Address Resolution Protocol
RFC 2328 – OSPF version 2
RFC 4271 – A Border Gateway Protocol 4 (BGP-4)
RFC 3031 – Multiprotocol Label Switching Architecture
RFC 4594 – Configuration Guidelines for DiffServ Service Classes
RFC 4577 – OSPF as the Provider/Customer Edge Protocol for BGP/MPLS IP Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)
This is a free resource and the RFCs are written by some of the smartest people in
the industry so don’t forget to use them.
If you decide to go for INE then don’t forget to use IEOC which is the
user community (forum) where you can ask questions about labs and most of what you
want to ask will already have been asked by someone previously. You will probably
find my face on a lot of threads in there 🙂
When you do Vol2 labs don’t be too strict about grading yourself. Your solution can be just as
valid as long as you don’t break any restrictions. Also try to get into the habit of doing
alternate solutions and throw some extra stuff in there to make you think a bit more. When
you start a lab you should not start typing immieditaly. Read through the entire lab and
look for dependencies. Do you need to run IPv6 on 3560? Might as well change the SDM
profile and reload at once. You don’t really want to reload when you have a stable
topology. While the switches are reloading you can do your VLAN config in Notepad or
something else. The CCIE lab is about being smart and effective, typing fast helps
but is not necessary to pass the lab.
Troubleshooting is a big part of the CCIE lab. You have a 2h session with just
troubleshooting and expect to at least mess something up during your config section
as well. Many people ask: How do I learn troubleshooting? The answer is: You don’t!
You can’t just practice troubleshooting like it was a separate skill. You need to
know the protocols! In some ways the troubleshooting is more difficult because you
already have a network running and you must understand what is going on in it.
You need to use the right tools and you need to know how the output looks like.
Sometimes you might have to match output to get something correct.
INE has some cool stuff coming up with their new TS racks. Other than that
I recommend that you make troubleshooting something you do regularly.
If you get stuck on something try to figure it out by yourself first and
use the proper tools before looking for a simple solution. What I did before my
2nd lab attempt was to configure a lof of different technologies like OSPF, EIGRP,
MPLS, BGP, Multicast etc etc. I made a working topology, this in itself is
good practice. If you can’t configure a topology without someone holding your hand
then your are not ready. Then I would try to break things and looked at what happened.
For MPLS, what happens if you disable CEF? What happens when you have a duplicate RID
in OSPF? Is the behaviour the same when you are running EIGRP? This worked very well
for me and for my last 2 attempts I had no issues with the TS section.
Always remember that the network was functioning and then something was altered
to make it break. You need to solve the core issue and not work around the issue.
As I mentioned earlier you don’t want to stop reading books just because you are labbing.
Here are some of the books I read for lab preparation:
OSPF: Anatomy of an Internet Routing Protocol
QOS-Enabled Networks: Tools and Foundations
Interdomain Multicast Routing: Practical Juniper Networks and Cisco Systems Solutions
MPLS-Enabled Applications: Emerging Developments and New Technologies
So that is another 268$ of books. Now I did not actually buy all these books. I got a Safari
account as well which is really nice. It costs a bit but then you have all the books you need.
Every lab attempt costs around 1800$ I need to go fly to Brussels and spend one night there.
Flying usually costs around 500$ Room for a night maybe 250$ Then you need to eat
something and maybe get a cab etc. So each attempt costs around 2600$
I passed in my 3rd attempt so that is 2600$ * 3 = 7800$
If we sum it all together:
Written exam 350$
Rack rental 500$
3x lab attempts 7800$
I did not include the bootcamp in this since I consider that
optional. But everyone needs books/workbooks and of course to take the tests. If you
live nearer a testing center you can save some on the lab attempts. Hopefully you can
pass in your first or second attempt but the average is somewhere around two to four
attempts before passing. So before starting your journey you should budget for 10-15k
to earn your CCIE. Hopefully if you are lucky as I have been your employer will fund
some/all of the costs but that is no given.
Finally, there is really no way of knowing when you are ready to go to the lab except
for going to the lab and finding out. Mock labs will give you some rough guidance
but it’s not 100% accuracte because you can never simulate the stress fully. What
I do recommend is that you try to get as comfortable as possibly by simulating the
test environment. Practice using only one monitor, use PuTTY, use a US keyboard.
Check out the lab exam demo before you go to the lab. Anything that can help
easen the stress a bit on the lab day will be good.
I hope this post gave you some insight to studying and that becoming a CCIE is
indeed expensive. Hopefully it is all worth it in the end 🙂