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A couple of months ago I was working hard on completing my CCIE R&S studies so I can finally go for the written. At that time I was finishing BGP and I was looking forward to reviewing my 2 years old notes for QoS,Multicast,Security and Network services. In the mean time I was offered a Network Architect contract position with a well known Canadian company and I am now getting up to speed with Data Center topics and Cloud topics. Life sucks when it comes to planning it. No matter what I have ever planned well ahead, it all went in a different direction, good or bad, so here I am doing something that I like but something that I did not plan to.

Should I have rejected the opportunity ? I don’t think so.. Is it a bad thing that I stopped my studying? I don’t know yet but it seems that this is not meant to be, to happen, me going for CCIE R&S. 

Anyway..the problem is that in the mean time I went sour, very sour on this cert. I am working with 3 CCIEs at this moment. The scope of the work is architecture and high level design. No rocket science but the nature of the work and the environment still requires professional maturity and experience and that you do not get with a paper. No other comments …  You might wonder what turned me sour on this … Well I have spoken with one of these guys and I have discovered that there is a tenebrous underground network that connects people who are pursuing this certification using less orthodox methods. I knew about it but I never had hard evidences and I never spoke with people who admitted that they did it.  The worse part is that these people keep close to each other and they recommend each other for jobs and they end up monopolizing a market in which the employers blindly trust the fact that you were certified by Cisco.

The way this guys are organized is not unique, I believe this type of network was polarized by Cisco’s inability to make these exams impossible to cheat. The way the CCDE exam is structured makes it almost impossible to cheat (at least the lab part) and for that reason the CCDEs is probably a better quality lot of people.

Worse comes to worst, there are some other vendors who offer you bridges between CCIE and their certifications so then this fraud that these people are involved in spreads like a disease and you get to meet people who have no idea about a certain domain but the got the paper because of these bridges…

So this are the reasons why I have not continued my work here. I hope that when the things settle I will be able to post some technical content. I am now sitting on a pile of docs (study notes) which are quite good IMHO and in which I put a lot of work, and I am wondering what to do with them. I was thinking about selling them but looking at what Ruhan’s experience (the guy behind https://routing-bits.com/ ) I can see that it is not worth it. His notes where at the time when they were released, one of the best in the market, clear and concise. They were focused toward the lab exam but I liked them a lot. I am also looking at study notes waiting to be converted to flash cards (I have taken my notes in a special format so I can convert them to that) and I do not know what do to with them. I am in possession of an older copy (but good enough for my purposes) of the Anki SERVER software for which I have, from his author, the legal write to use it specially for this (still bound by a non compete agreement) .

So if you drop by and you read these keep an eye on this …if the things go well I might end up resuming the work here and post my notes, cheat sheets and flashcards, that if life does not get in my way again and forces me to do something else …which seems to happen on a regular

 

Best regards!

What learning networking and investing in stocks have in common

Due to a twist of fate I got knee deep in SND, Automation and Orchestration. These are topics that I have wanted to study for a long time but my commitment to studying the CCIE Routing and Switching topics stopped me from doing that. The opportunity that was offered to me was to good to pass and here I am, again not finishing my studies (again!) and re focusing my efforts on the above so trendy topics. I must admit that this was not pure chance, my Unix/Linux experience and my Python and automation scripting and my previous work helped me to get where I am today.

Now that the introduction is done, here is what I actually wanted to comment on in this post: only after getting a closer look at these topics I realized how far from reality is the way we study for CCIE R&S.  “The network CLI is dying” article by Greg Ferro describes in essence the reasons why I see studying for Routing and Switching lab obsolete. In short I would say that the way the R&S Lab test is designed becomes obsolete in an era of SDN and SDN controllers, automation and orchestration. It is like trying to program in Assembler when you have Python.

Besides the above points, somebody who looks at the current networking technologies landscape with an open mind (as opposite to a brain washed one vendor devoted mind) must realize that putting all your money/career on one horse/vendor is a risky decision. With so many Evolving technologies knowing Routing and Switching becomes just fundamentals and these are far from what is required these days from a Network expert. Becoming an expert in Cisco R&S CLI (because this is what you become after passing the lab) to the level that you will be able to write coherent router configs on a whiteboard without looking into a manual sounds slightly primitive and obsolete when you have something like SDN.

Don’t get me wrong. A Cisco router or switch (more exactly the IOS running on them) will remain an excellent piece of technology and Cisco is and will be a strong market leader on a couple of segments.

For this reason I think that for learning and skills going with one vendor is like putting all your money in one stock. The “One vendor” position is a short one and the network engineers that own that stock only will become a disposable, these days you must fight hard to become an asset for a company and not a commodity.

 

Be careful with your investments!

Trying to look ahead–Is the CCIE R&S certification worth the effort?

When I initially compared the graphs below my intention was to refocus my studies for what is becoming relevant for my new role. That was happening yesterday. Today I came across this article “CCIE certification debate continues despite exam's SDN, cloud updates” which tries to be balanced by showing opinions from both camps.  What bothers me is a quote from another article with a similar title: Is the CCIE becoming irrelevant ? In this article the author gives his perspective based on interviews he had in the area where he lives with mostly small and medium size companies. According with him the experience with Open source and having a GIThub portfolio are not relevant. His article had a large audience and the tweet with the link to this article was re tweeted countless times in the following days.

In my opinion his logic is flawed for two reasons: whatever happens in a small area in US is largely irrelevant for a bigger trend in the industry which starts and can be measured at the opposite end (big companies, country wide) . Most of the times the trend set by the big players if followed by the smaller/medium size companies if it applies to them.

The other reason why he is wrong is shown in the graphs below which show the emerging technologies and their various stages of adoption. I fail to see how CCIE R&S in particular is relevant for most of these new emerging and diverging technologies. Most of these technologies started as open source projects and I would bet my life on this, if you happened to be a contributor to these projects you will surely get a job with any of the major players who are planning to or who are adopting these technologies.

You might wonder where I sit with all of these. I am almost finished with studying the topics for R&S and without knowing I approached these topics in great details probably wasting way too much time (by some opinions) by going to deep into these. Some say “your target is to pass the exam” I beg to differ. Your target must be to know the things the best you can. I will probably go for the written test just to finalize my work but based on the lab requirements there is a high probability that I will refocus toward CCDE which is much more in line with some of the work what I am currently doing. I have quickly looked at the amount of dumb work required to pass the lab and I don’t think that I can stomach that. To me It seems dumb that you have to train to beat the clock and that in order to do that you need to know many commands off the top of your head. I had my epiphany while waiting in line at Tim Horton’s to place my order. I was a regular and like me the five persons in line ahead of me. The cashier could remember what each of us was going to order. I guess that that type of memory will help a lot with the lab exam.

In my opinion to use a CCIE to beat the clock for some production tasks is like using an engineer at the assembly line in a car manufacturing plant. The word expert as used in the name of this certification implies that your employer will use your expert opinion for highly qualified tasks and as far as I have seen at my colleagues none of the people who have this certification were used in tasks with such draconian time constrains.

On the same line having to remember the commands as a result of countless hours of practicing configuring the same technology over and over again is not one of the skills hat you must have in an enterprise environment in a highly qualified “expert” position.

The above are my two personal and main issues with this certification. The certification process is also flawed but that is Cisco’s concern not mine.

As far as the curriculum goes some of the technologies that we need to learn are irrelevant while others are fundamental for your future professional development (and this is the main reason why I kept studying these)

If you need to know what is indeed relevant for the future of this industry you need to look ahead and see what is coming down the pipe from the guys who are working at the bleeding edge of our domain (Networking and Telecommunications). For that you could use Gartner’s technology adoption diagrams which IMHO are a pretty good and a consistent indicator. Looking at the below and comparing these with the CCIE R&S curriculum one can easily conclude that the CCIE will become irrelevant, especially if it continues to be a program that trains and tests engineers at configuring things and not at designing things. These days if you ask your employer for a lot of money ( which apparently the CCIE paper entitles you do it) you must know a lot more than Cisco and R&S.

IMHO diversifying is far better than entrenching your studies within one narrow domain and the meaning of the “Expert” word as in Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert is now limited to “expert in configuring” which will become highly irrelevant in the context of the new “Software Defined” paradigm. Cloud and virtualization will take us even farther from a vendor specific certification and CLI where a CCIE excels.

 

Image result for gartner hype cycle networking 2012

Image result for gartner hype cycle networking 2012

 

Image result for Hype Cycle for Networking and Communications, 2016

Do CCIE R&S lab and written exams need to be reviewed?

Wall covered with 1/5 of the knowledge a candidate must remember

I am almost done with reading the CCIE R&S written exam topics. I still have to go over QoS, Multicast, Services and Securities (for the second time) and for the fist time over the Evolving technologies new chapter. Of course by the time when I reached this point I almost forgot most of the topics that I read before. I also finished most of the AT labs for the above topics from INE. The ideas expressed in this article resurfaced in my mind after seeing two recent tweets https://twitter.com/RyanBeney/status/781997372809314304 and https://twitter.com/IPv6Freely/status/781676548805898242 Similar opinions were expressed by Tom Hollingsworth and his readers in two articles here and here and a couple of other examples can be found on Twitter.  I say “resurfaced” because I expressed similar opinions (read here) on the Cisco’s Learning Network forum but they were censored.

Bottom line: people with experience and who passed the written exam can not pass it anymore, they find the questions irrelevant and they are about to give up trying. So this is not a sour grapes problem as some of the most devoted (and biased) Cisco people would like us to believe.

As far as I am concerned I have not tried to pass any of these exams and this is because I never felt prepared (might be because of a healthy dose of perfectionism). However due my inclination to do the things (some of them, the ones that I consider that matter) the best I can, I put a lot of effort in my preparation for these exams. This might be the reason why I often find myself surprised that X or Y CCIE does not know certain things which I consider that should have been understood as a preliminary condition to become a CCIE. I can not really understand how these guys passed the tests. I think that for somebody like me this tests are a nightmare and somebody like me will never feel prepared. Probably the only cure for this is to simply go and surprise myself by passing the exam.

During the many years of on/off learning (due to major disruptions in my personal and professional life) I have learned more about myself than about the things that I am studying and this kept me going. Excepting the fundamentals that never change many of the topics of the exam are simply trivia or technical trash that Cisco wants us to know for marketing and commercial reasons. What we do in real life is so far from what you learn from these tests that it is hard to believe. That stands true for many Math and Physics tests that I took over the years while I was in University but there were so many other more practical disciplines where the tests were not just collections of tricks but real problems that you could run into in real life.

Having the above said I strongly believe that the CCIE R&S written and lab exams should be reviewed and fixed and here the things that I believe are wrong and some suggestions:

-the candidate if forced to rote memorization and there is a lot of trivia that should never be part of a question (ex:what port is  used by X, what is the value of the Y timer, inconsistent use of priority number meaning between various protocols –for some lower is better while for others use lower as worse etc etc)
-the amount of knowledge that is being tested during a single exam is simply insane and by the nature of the test and the time allocated for it it is nothing more than a Russian roulette 
-to fix the above, the written test should be broken into a couple of  more in depth exams (with the option to go for all in one but more extensive and longer exam if you feel you can do it)
-the test must be focused on understanding things not on remembering things
-the topics must be relevant and practical not just tricks ( here is an example where RIP updates are tunneled via multicast in order to establish adjacency between two routers but the data that should be routed using the routes learned this way will never be routed by that topology)
-judging by the many horror stories posted on Internet about the lab, speed is essential and knowing as many commands as possible off the top of your head is important. I really don’t see the point here, a CCIE is rarely used by his employer for solving problems that must be solved around the clock. This skill is required mostly when outages or disasters hit and most of these cases should be avoided by the very presence of a CCIE at the wheel of that network (his work on designing and configuring the network should prevent such incidents or reduce them to minimum)

For the above described reasons I believe that the current design of these exams forces the candidates to use a type of learning that has nothing to do with the modern process of learning but rather resembles the learning in the ancient religions schools.

The other important thing that MUST be changed ASAP is the way the labs sessions are conducted. Form what I hear currently there are a couple of scenarios that Cisco uses and that are slightly changed in order to prevent cheating BUT the essence of the scenarios remains the same. Practically if a scenario leaks, a candidate who gets his hands on it might become familiar with a good part of the lab and the only challenge will be to solve the issues that are really new. The lab seems to be graded by a script and that probably makes it difficult to completely change the labs. I know that it is difficult to stop from cheating candidates who team together and brain dump the exams and then pass the exam in the second attempt or in the third, simply because Cisco can not come up with new scenarios for each candidate or group of candidates.

Cisco takes pride in comparing these exams (the CCIE exams) with a degree in engineering or something similar. I beg to differ, they are quite far from each other. First of all you need four years or more to get a degree. The second major difference is that each exam that you pass in University is unique. The professors take their time and create new exams and there is no exam leaking, the exam that you passed this year will have nothing to do with the exam that the students take next year. I think that Cisco should make the exams available  every 6 months. With the current option to virtualize he labs it should not be a problem to provide any number of virtual lab seats for any number of candidates like they do for mobile labs.

The sooner they fix the above the sooner this certification will regain its authenticity and relevance.
As far as I can see only cosmetic and marketing efforts are being made to fix the things

Updates:

You can read similar stories about cheating here:

17-10-2016: http://www.802101.com/2016/10/pass-without-dumps.html

The Death Valley of CCIE blogs

Remains of the Cook bank in Rhyolite, NV, a ghost town on the road from Death Valley to Beatty, NV.  These old ruins remind me of the Greek and Roman ruins of antiquity.While reading some of more difficult topics I need to “google” a lot before I get the answers to my own questions. Many times, among the results returned by Google I get links to these dead blogs which were used by CCIE students who apparently gave up. Usually the ones who succeed post a last “My CCIE success story” and that concludes the adventure. The dead ones are a sad view, it is sad because these guys failed and because they gave up. It is sad because so much time was wasted in vain studying technologies that they will never need. I am posting this shortly after coming across a blog that had like 2 years of articles, some of them about Frame Relay (yes I once read that crap too)

Is my blog going to be one of these ?

Note: mine is years old, it is just that it was never ready for public attention and I considered it a distraction. I have a lot of content to post but it needs reviewing. I must admit that I was amusingly ashamed when some of the “prominent” CCIEs asked me “Where is your blog?”  and I could not answer.

Here is a growing list of ruins, starting with the one that caused me this “meditation”
http://cciememo.blogspot.com/
http://towardsccie.blogspot.com/

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