A Day in the Lab: Knowing What to Expect for Your CCIE Exam

Here’s a story that seems so “off the charts” in terms of accomplishment that I’m eager to share it with you. The article below was written by Cisco’s Certifications and Lab Delivery team and recounts how a young man, Jorge Ospina, got all the way to CCIE certification while still a teenager. I’m hoping that it will prove galvanizing for those of you in the middle of a Cisco certification pursuit. And even if you aren’t, the story makes an intriguing and inspiring read, so check it out.


I think what’s noteworthy in this story is that even though Jorge is a prodigy, achieving CCIE certification was definitely not a breeze for him! He had to make three attempts and get some work experience before passing the lab exam. It makes you respect that lab exam to read an account like this!


Let me know your thoughts about Jorge’s accomplishment. I’d like to hear what you think.


Jorge’s Story


Picture your typical American teenager. Maybe they’re worrying about next week’s biology test or what college major to pick. Perhaps they’re heading off to their after-school job. It’s not likely they would be asking for extra homework or more tests.


In many ways, Jorge Ospina might be your typical American teenager. Look deeper, however, and you’ll find that he is much more than that.


Currently 19 years old, Jorge is one of the youngest candidates in history to earn the Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert (CCIE) certification. The CCIE is one of the most well-respected expert-level certifications in the IT industry, yet one of the most difficult to obtain. Jorge’s unique journey to achieve his CCIE certification is a compelling story of a young boy’s passion, tenacity, and single-minded focus, which helped lead him to triumph in the face of obstacles. However, you quickly learn that he is not your typical teenager, as his charisma, poise, and maturity are reflected as he recounts his memory of how he started his CCIE journey.


Jorge’s older brother, Roberto, first introduced Jorge to the world of IT when he began taking Cisco courses at a local community college. Intrigued, Jorge studied along with Roberto, and what he learned ignited an enduring passion for IT.


The more he studied, the more he wanted to know. He urged his parents to let him take IT courses with his brother at the community college so he could earn a Cisco certification. For Luis and Cristina Ospina, education was paramount for their four children. Though they were dedicated to education and exposing their children to a wide range of careers via home schooling and career-based field trips, they inevitably felt Jorge was too young for college courses at the age of 11. Jorge, however, was not deterred.


Just two years later, the Ospinas finally relented and allowed young Jorge to enroll in community college classes. By then, he was fully committed to his certification goals, taking on extra studying for his Cisco courses outside of his regular schoolwork. In the spring of 2009, Jorge received his Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certification at the age of 13, followed shortly after by his Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) certification that winter when he turned 14.


These remarkable accomplishments were no small feat for a teenager, but he wasn’t done yet. Buoyed by his recent success, Jorge set his sights even higher to achieve his CCIE certification.


Jorge knew that earning his CCIE would be his biggest challenge yet. Balancing sports, schoolwork, and other extracurricular activities would seem a heavy load for a 14-year-old in addition to studying for the CCIE. Against the odds and strain of his busy schedule, he studied hard and passed the written qualification exam for his CCIE. The lab exam, however, was going to be a bigger challenge without access to the lab equipment necessary for his preparation. Undaunted, his mother did what other parents may never have considered nor have been brave enough to do: she wrote a letter to Cisco’s Chairman and CEO, John Chambers.


With English as her second language, Mrs. Ospina enlisted the help of Jorge’s piano teacher, Carolyn Harris, to proofread her letter to the Cisco Chairman. Mrs. Harris reviewed the letter and offered an alternative plan. She asked her husband to contact a friend at Google to help deliver Jorge’s letter to the right people at Cisco. Cristina’s request eventually arrived in the inbox of Vint Cerf, Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist at Google and widely regarded as an American internet pioneer and one of "the fathers of the Internet."


Vint then contacted Google’s Eric Kline, who was participating in the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) with Cisco Fellow of Engineering, Mark Townsley. Not surprisingly, the story of this tenacious young man and his dedicated mother struck a chord with all those who heard it, including Mark. He was the initial contact into Cisco, where the letter passed through the hands of Senior Vice President of Technical Services Joe Pinto and finally into the hands of Learning@Cisco Director of Certifications and Lab Delivery, Chris Jacobs. She, too, was greatly impressed and decided to personally take up his request and help him succeed. By partnering with Mark, Chris could provide Jorge with everything he needed to accomplish the next steps along his journey.


After weeks of waiting and no assurance that anything would come of the letter, Jorge and his parents finally got the call from Cisco they had been hoping for. Jorge and his parents were buzzing with nervous excitement about what this could mean for Jorge’s future. Chris scheduled an interview to get acquainted with the family and develop a plan that would do more than simply supply Jorge with the necessary lab equipment. Together, they built a comprehensive plan where Jorge would be given access to a local Cisco data center and be paired with two dedicated mentors to help prepare him for the level of training that lay ahead.


After the application and interview process, Chris and Mark selected Marcos Assakawa and William McCall as the two CCIE mentors for Jorge. With the support of his qualified mentors to guide him, access to Cisco lab equipment, and plenty of study material, everything he needed was at his fingertips. The next three years, however, would be a true test of his determination to succeed and proved to be the most challenging yet to endure.


During Jorge’s initial meetings with his mentors, he was introduced to the lab environment, given his own personal lab rack, and coached on what it takes to become a CCIE. Upon entering the Cisco lab and realizing he had full access to the equipment and mentors who were available specifically for him, Jorge was in awe. His CCIE was within reach!


The relationship with his mentors was built on a foundation of professional coaching and mentoring. Although mindful of his age, they provided him with the same level of coaching and respect that they would every other certified professional aiming to get to the next level. Time with his mentors could mean a visit to the lab, a conference call to go over specific questions, or a quick email to check in and make sure Jorge was still on track and focused. Chris continued to oversee the relationship as well, keeping a pulse on Jorge’s progression.


Jorge followed his mentors’ advice and continued to work on his lab preparation, all the while keeping up with his regular homeschooling and extracurricular activities. In the winter of 2011, Jorge flew to San Jose to take his lab exam, where he failed on his first attempt. Not easily deterred, he went home, and continued studying and practicing. The following summer he returned to San Jose to retest for a second time. But, again he failed.


Naturally, this was an unwelcomed setback for Jorge. He soon realized that achieving a CCIE was more than just accumulating book knowledge – it also meant practical application in real-world scenarios. After all, Chris and his mentors had warned him about the challenges he’d face without adequate hands-on experience.


And so, with dedication and maturity far beyond his 17 years, Jorge took a break and accepted a job at Citigroup in the IT department. This turn of events would indeed refocus him on the necessary preparation that could help his next attempt to pass the CCIE lab exam.


Fortified with professional experience this time, Jorge re-engaged with his CCIE journey within the year. On May 16, 2013, Jorge graduated from high school and at the same time graduated from North Lake College with an Associate in Science degree. Having just graduated and with the freedom and interest to see the world, Jorge enrolled in a three-month study program in Bangkok, Thailand, that provided him full immersion into CCIE written and lab exam training.


Through this program, he could dedicate himself completely to studying and practice complemented by a rich exchange with the other participants. In the summer of 2014, after more than three years of preparation, Jorge Ospina passed his lab exam and earned his CCIE certification at the age of 19.


This is a story about an inspirational young man, a bit of luck, and a unique set of circumstances that all seemed to come together at the right time. For some, it may seem like Jorge’s relationship with Cisco is nothing less than destiny. The enduring values of education his family taught him, and his individual commitment to pursuing his passion, were his driving forces. However, the uncompromising support of so many people and a major organization like Cisco were all integral parts to fulfilling his lofty goals.


Jorge’s path to CCIE triumph is indeed a hero’s journey, illustrating how strength of character can tear down countless roadblocks when one commits to their dream with heart and determination.


Jorge offers his sincere thanks to Cisco and all the many people who helped him succeed. So too, we acknowledge Jorge for modeling the spirit of self-determination, reminding us that opportunity is, in the end, what we make of it. Congratulations, Jorge, for earning your CCIE!


Cisco is proud to count Jorge among its own certified professionals. Cisco would like to thank those who helped along the way, including Learning@Cisco Vice President and General Manager Jeanne Beliveau-Dunn, Mark Townsley, Chris Jacobs, and Jorge’s mentors Marcos Assakawa and William McCall.


If you are inspired by Jorge’s story and interested in pursuing an IT career, Cisco is proud to offer the Cisco Networking Academy, including its NetRiders Challenge, and other outreach programs to help others achieve their goals just as Jorge did. You can also do some exploration for your own certification odyssey right here on the Cisco Learning Network.