“The Road to the CCDE “is a two parts blog that I authored and posted on the Cisco Learning Network community site as part of the “Unleashing CCDE” blog series.
I highly recommend anyone interested or planning for the CCDE to read and follow the “Unleashing CCDE” blog series.
In this blog I will continue with the same title and cover some additional aspects in greater detail to ensure that you are on the right road during your journey to achieve the CCDE certification.
In general, in order to succeed in your study goal (whether it’s a university degree or industry certification such as CCNP, CCDP, CCIE or CCDE) the success depends on three key points:
Practically you won’t be able to achieve your study goal if you are not fully aware of your knowledge gaps and don’t have a proper plan to improve your weak areas and to bring them up to the required level. Let’s translate this to the study goal of achieving the CCDE certification using the aforementioned points in context of CCDE preparation.
As you may have noticed, with regards to the CCDE there is an additional key point added, which involves practical experience.
Let’s discuss each of these points in further detail
One of the common mistakes with regard to the preparation for the CCDE practical exam is that the candidates put an enormous amount of effort to learning and improving their technical design knowledge. Although strong technical design knowledge and experience are key aspects to passing this exam, it still only addresses the foundational part of exam preparation. In other words, the design mindset, understanding different requirements and how these requirements can drive the design in different directions are the key aspects to becoming CCDE certified. Therefore, if you only have very strong R&S and SP implementation and technical design knowledge and experience, but don’t have the proper design mindset, it will be very difficult to pass this exam.
The recommendation here is to look at both the technical design aspect and the design mindset holistically and as one entity. If you have any gaps in either area you will need to work on them to improve your skill level in order to be qualified to pass this exam.
There is a quote that says “you don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over”. In other words, you need a real-life design experience that covers a complete design project lifecycle to build the designer or architect mindset. A good experience typically comes when you learn from your mistakes and not from relying on text books only.
What makes CCDE interesting and unique, is the realistic and practical flavor of the exam. Each scenario contains a set of requirements and a set of incomplete information, which is no different from real-life designs. The major difference is the time constraint, because a real life a project can take months to complete. With the CCDE you are expected to complete the design and information analysis within a few hours and with no ability to use the Internet or other tools for research.
The main points that make this a ‘Practical’ exam are that the information provided to you and the questions you are expected to answer are very realistic. If you have real world design experience you will not only find it easier to answer, but the overall experience will be more enjoyable.
Nevertheless, if you don’t have enough design experience, you may not notice that you are going off-track, however, the end result will surprise you. This exam is designed in a way that most of the answers are correct “technically” and “logically,” however there will always be one optimal and possibly one suboptimal answer. You must identify the best choice based on your ability to analyze a large amount of unorganized data. You should be able to identify the different requirements and constraints that drive the optimal choice. In fact, identifying the requirements and mapping them to the design will be much easier if you have done this in real-life, because you will be leveraging exactly the same logic.
Let’s have another look at the quote that says “you don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.” Someone might ask, does this mean it is better I learn and pass the CCDE exam by keep attempting the exam until I pass? The simple answer is: Absolutely No! because using the “trial and error” concept with the CCDE exam will only waste your time and money.
Therefore, always remember the enduring adage that says “If you do not have a plan, you are planning to fail.” It is like when you drive on a new road without a map, you may reach the intended place at some stage, however, the probability that you will get lost is very high.
Similarly, without a study or a learning plan you will keep driving your study and improvement into different directions that ultimately will lead to more complexity. Instead, to become a certified design expert the key point that you need to consider is to “always” have a plan that helps you to structure your study, structure your mind and structure your approaches.
If you are able to identify your knowledge and/or experience gaps, it will be much easier for you to improve, simply because you know where you need to focus. That being said, without a proper plan and improvement approach you can easily get lost. For example, many people have strong knowledge and experience in enterprise networks (regardless of what technologies are used), but when they try to improve their expertise in service provider networks, they may get confused on what to focus on and what to read to ensure this gap is filled. Theoretically, this can be achieved by reading a couple of books. However, practically, and as we highlighted earlier, if you are working toward the CCDE certification (to be a network design expert) you can’t solely rely on improving your knowledge about technologies by reading books.
The best practices or solutions you find in books are not always what you will need to recommend to your customer to use, simply because design choices depend on many factors such as business requirements, functional requirements, design constraints, etc. While best practice designs are typically created based on tested or proven design scenarios that meet most common customer requirements, this does not mean they will meet all the different types of requirements!
Therefore, once again, one of the best and proven approaches to improve your design capability is to work on the different aspects including, technical knowledge, mindset, and practical experience.
In addition, you need to have a good level of analytical thinking and avoid relying on a single or couple of resources because any design topic is typically subjective as a result of unique scenarios and requirements. Typically, in each resource you will be looking at one or a few opinions and these opinions/options don’t cover all the possible use cases. Ideally, you need to refer to different resources and analyze the different perspectives in each. This approach is commonly referred to as “comparative reading” where you read different resources that cover the same topic however each resource may highlight a different approach, use case or opinion. You might also encounter contradictory opinions on that topic. With this approach, you can start thinking outside the box by consistently asking the question “why?”.
In other words, ideally do not rely on a single resource (does not need to be too many), so that you can look at each topic from different perspectives in order to have better visibility to the bigger picture. Nevertheless, not every topic requires this type of reading where you need to use the comparative reading approach. For example, in my humble opinion, data center network design is a big topic with different design philosophies, therefore, for such a topic you will need to look into multiple resources to see the different perspectives in order to build the full picture. A topic like QoS may be more obvious and 1 or 2 resources can be enough to effectively cover this topic.
Furthermore, one of the misconceptions with regard to CCDE vs. CCIE is the bootcamp concept. A CCIE bootcamp typically takes the candidate through a series of intensive practical labs which help the candidate to go to the lab exam fresh with the CLIs and configuration speed baked in.
In contrast, the concept of the bootcamp is completely different when it comes to CCDE.
First of all, when you signup for a bootcamp ask yourself what your goal is for attending this bootcamp? Is it mainly to learn technology designs like protocol X vs. Protocol Y? If yes, then after you complete the bootcamp you have focused on ~50% of the overall CCDE exam. Therefore, do not get disappointed if you go to the exam and you find yourself unprepared for the real exam style. The simple answer, considering what was mentioned earlier, is this is not only a technology focused exam, it is a combination between, technical, mindset and approach. The same concept applies to practice scenarios; these should not only teach you technology design. If this is the case, you will be focusing only on one aspect of the exam that by itself will not be enough to help you become CCDE Certified.
To sum it up, if you consider the points discussed above and avoid being only technically design focused, you will be on the right path toward achieving your CCDE title.