“It’s gonna take time, a whole lot of precious time, it’s going to take patience and time to do it right child.”
“It’s gonna take money, a whole lot of spending money, it’s going to take plenty of money, to do it right”
I’m pretty sure George had the ladies on his mind and NOT the CCIE when he wrote that song. I can tell you no other lyrics resonate as strong as these when it comes to my personal journey of becoming inducted into the League of Extraordinary Engineers. Yes my friends, after 5+ LONG years, I’m officially in da club. My number is 40755 and oh boy does it feel AWESOME.
Because this journey was very difficult, I would go as far to say it’s the most difficult educational challenge I committed myself to, it’s only right that I share my story with other CCIE candidates to instill hope and encouragement. If it was easy, everyone would be a CCIE. Just keep that in mind as you embark on your own journey.
And so the story begins in 2008 when I passed the CCIE R&S written and only had a small window to take the v3 lab. This was sometime in september if I recall correctly. I was naive in thinking this is going to be cake, I mean how hard could this lab really be? I was thinking that I may only need 1-2 attempts, but I should have it done by the end of the year no problem. Well my first lab was v3 (lab guide printed on REAL paper in binder) and I actually did pretty good. My major issues were managing the clock and weakness on certain on security related services. Other than that it was a noble attempt. This gave me confidence and when I went to reschedule I realized something awful. The blueprint changed and there were no more seats left for the v3 lab. Now hear comes the madness, I was offered a “free” beta lab for the v4 which I accepted the challenge. Let’s just say that after taking the v4 beta, I was humbled in a the most extreme way. Now begins a radical format change (changes) to the lab. Open ended questions, troubleshooting, removal of open ended questions. I tried very hard to adapt to these changes, but as a poor test taker to begin with it was very challenging to say the least.
I was working at a small ISP in Central, PA at the time of this endeavor. God opened up a great door of opportunity in August of 2010 and I jumped in feet first… Where did I go??? CISCO!!!
While this major transition is occurring we’re also expecting our third child. I started on August 1st and Leo was born on August 28th. Man life was crazy and through all this I was sticking to my studies. I forget the details, but since my CCIE written was first passed in 2008, I had to take the written again before I could schedule another lab. I did this december of 2010 and would actually wait a full year before taking the v4 exam again. My third attempt was in Nov of 2011, this is where it gets interesting. I took the lab in San Jose instead of RTP this time. I flew out of Philadelphia airport and my laptop was stolen out of my checked in luggage. The TSA agent even left one of those “inspected by TSA” tickets in the bag. It was a surgical strike as only my laptop and power cable were removed from the bag. All my study notes were on that laptop… Needless to say, this was one heck of a trip. I did not pass, but did OK. The troubleshooting section was VERY tough.
Now pay attention because this is where I made the biggest mistake. I took almost a full year before my next attempt. NEVER DO THIS!!! If you can manage it, keep coming back every 30-60 days if possible. No more than 90 days. Things just got so busy between life and work that I waited yet ANOTHER year before diving back. By this time RTP had a new proctor (David) and let me tell you all this. He is by far my favorite proctor. David constantly encouraged me and drove me to keep coming back ASAP. With his recommendation and such a strong support system behind me I was able to pass after my 3rd consecutive attempt. It feels great to have my life back and know I can focus on the most important thing that was neglected… My family. While my wife and children supported me through this endeavor, there is no doubt that it took it’s toll on all of us. I could not have done this without the support of my family, friends, and colleagues. THANK YOU!!!
Passing lab experience:
September 28th, 2013
I drove down to RTP, NC from Central PA early Friday morning. My stomach was bothering me the night before probably due to nerves. I get so sick just thinking about the exam that I’m miserable every time I went to building 3. I get to RTP at about 3pm on Friday and ate a bland meal at Chipotle in Morrisville. I went back to the hotel room and practiced INE labs and reviewed my TS notes. My weak areas are still services because there are so many and being an expert in all of them is impossible (at least for me), but there are some that I take pride in my knowledge like EEM and multicast. Here’s the worst part. I could NOT sleep. I think I may of had 45min – 1hour, but that’s it. No matter what I tried I could not fall asleep. In addition, my stomach is a wreak. I drink half a bottle of pepto in hopes of relief. It did not come… Now for those of you who know me. I don’t drink or smoke. Heck eating some spicy foods is about as risky of a move that I make when it comes to what goes in my body. I NEVER drank anything like red bull or monster in my life. Those of you know know me would probably say that I’m wired to begin with. Why the heck would I even need something like that in the first place. Well this morning I did and my buddy John told me it helped him get through the lab the prior week before. So I drove to sheetz early in the morning and bought a red bull and start bucks energy drink. I settled on the Starbucks and drank the whole can. It was tasty, but what the heck is 80mg of caffeine going to do to me? I’ll tell you what it did. I became Bevis aka cornholio. I was so wired within 30 minutes of drinking that I forgot I was even tired. When I got to Building 3 we all went in and I began right away. Thanks to the power of caffeine, I was typing at like 150 WPM. Hit some major roadblocks in TS, but the energy infusion was too powerful an ally for TS to overcome. I felt good based on my results that Starbucks and I conquered TS. OK, well perhaps the Holy Spirit and me because there were some miraculous things that happened in the last 15-20 minutes.
I don’t even waste time, I jump right into configuration and heck I don’t think I even used the bathroom up to this point. No time for potty breaks. I get my configuration and my smile is ear to ear after reading though it. Let’s just say this, it was a test that jives with my skills. I felt good about the objective this config had set before me. I felt like I was running in auto pilot mode. My typing is loud and fast and I’m starting to feel bad because none of the other candidates were using ear plugs. I must have sounded like an old school author with his typewriter. By lunch I’m done with all L2/L3 and started on some of the services. Best time I had yet. Lunch is quick and I get back to it. By 1:30, I’m done with everything I could possibly configure. I take the next 45 minutes for verification, config backups, and reload. I’m pretty sure at a little after 2pm, I ended the lab. My heart was still racing, but something strange happened to my body. My guess is all the caffeine wore off as well as the adrenaline and I was crashing. I actually went into the break room and sat in the chair for a quick power nap. David stopped by and we talked a little about the lab. I felt really good about it and told him “If I don’t pass it this time, your might see a grown man crying”. To which he replies, “that’s nothing new”. Now comes the worst part… WAITING. I grab some food and head back to the hotel room. My intention was to eat and sleep, but again I could not fall asleep. My body and mind are a complete disaster. I’m waiting for this email with the results and it probably won’t be till tomorrow I find out if I did it. So, I do something that I have not really done in the last 5 years. Enjoy life’s simple pleasures. I go to the local movie theater and see Riddick. It was OK, but no pitch black. By this time you would think sleep was inevitable right? WRONG! I can’t sleep one wink. I get in the shower at 3:30am and check out of the hotel by 4am. I’m on the road heading back to PA. I keep checking my email every chance I get, still nothing. I stop in VA for some rest and decided to check my email. THIS IS IT! I have a message. The anticipation is killing me, do I even want to look at this now… I did and this is what I got!
- Your CCIE status is Certified ( CCIE# 40755 )
- Your next CCIE Recertification due by September 28, 2015
I notify everyone via FB, Twitter, text, IM, calls, you name it. Then I crash in the car only to wake up at like 10am. My excitement level at this point is sky high. I can’t contain myself when talking to people on the phone. I’m thinking about all the things I wanted to do when I passed. Get a custom tag with my number, finally buy the pinball machine I have talked about for years, but the most important thing was this… Reconnect with my wife and family. When I reflected on my attitude, especially when studying for each lab attempt it was like I was a non-existent husband/father. So, it’s with great happiness and peace that I enjoy life again and return back home both physically and mentally.
In closing, I leave you candidates to be with the following wisdom.
1) Be prepared to make great sacrifices on this journey
2) Never give up
3) While it’s one of the most challenges journeys you can embark on, it’s also the most rewarding
4) Never give up
5) Always keep in perspective that all your hard work will make you a better engineer regardless if you pass or not
6) Never give up
7) If you need a boost, drink some serious caffeine before taking the lab.
8) NEVER GIVE UP!
I want to again thank God, my family, friends, colleagues, INE, for the support and encouragement that was essential for my success. Oh! one more thing…
“And this time I know it’s for real, The feelings that I feel, I know if I put my mind to it, I know that I really can do it”
Man, that song was really made for CCIE candidates.