A CCIE Mindset Won't Get You A CCDE Number

What is the right mindset to become CCDE?


I see a number of CCDE candidates who are very knowledgeable as network engineers, many even CCIEs, but are not successful at first with the CCDE practical exam. What I came to conclusion of was that a CCIE mindset often times gets in the way between you and your CCDE number. The subject of this blog is to compare CCDE with his older brother CCIE and give some advice so that you can have the right mindset to take on the CCDE practical exam and succeed.


Don’t bring a knife to a gun fight

If you look at the CCIE R&S blueprint, it covers the same infrastructure technologies as on CCDE, give or take, so what are their differences? Take a look at what fundamentally differentiates CCIE and CCDE:

  • CCIE assesses network implementation and troubleshooting skills, whereas CCDE assesses network design skills. On the CCDE exam, you’ll have to identify which technology “best” fits the design challenge at hand.
  • CCIE focuses on the How, whereas CCDE focuses on the What, Where & Why. The goal for CCDEs is to design a network to meet elicited requirements; in other words, to decide which technologies (the What) will be deployed where (the Where) and how to map the design solutions back to the elicited requirements (the Why), whereas the goal for CCIEs is to make networks to work according to specifications (the How).
  • CCIE context is established by provided parameters (configure this so that), whereas on CCDE the context is established along the scenario through exhibits such as functional specifications, topology diagrams, emails, etc. Just as in real life, you need to put all pieces together like a puzzle to understand the business and technical requirements and constraints to make network design decisions.
  • A big constraint on CCIE Lab exam is the limited time to complete the assigned tasks, whereas on the CCDE Practical exam, in order to succeed you should take the time to read and comprehend the scenario through its exhibits. Successful candidates spent more time on each scenario.
  • CCIE assesses expert level technology knowledge and application of that knowledge to implement and troubleshoot networks, whereas CCDE assesses expert level design methodology and principles, knowledge, and the application of that knowledge employing infrastructure technologies to solve business problems. What it means is that you will need to be able to justify the technology choices you made on the CCDE exam by comparing and contrasting different solutions and being able to pinpoint how they would or would not meet elicited requirements.
  • CCIE Lab exam end state is a CLI configuration set, whereas CCDE Practical exam end state is a set of network design decisions and their justifications. The CCIE Lab exam requires physical or virtual equipment so candidates interface with the exam through CLI commands, trouble tickets, root-cause analysis, where products, blades, or version of code matters, but not on CCDE.



Top 5 advices to approach the CCDE Practical exam

These are my top 5 pieces of advice on how to best approach the CCDE Practical exam.

  1. Bring your CCDE mindset to the game.
  2. Immerse yourself on the scenario, and DON'T answer any question outside of the scenario boundaries.
  3. Don’t make assumptions, but recognize that some requirements are implied.
  4. Think on the intersection of the 3 axis: considerations from the phase of the project lifecycle you’re in, use case considerations, and technology considerations to respond to each question.
  5. Allocate 2 hours per scenario. Don’t be too fast that you’re not able to grasp the scenario nor too slow that you have to rush in the end. Use the 4-hour countdown timer per period (morning or afternoon) and the progress bar per scenario to manage your time.



When it comes to attacking the CCDE Practical exam, wear your network design hat vs. your network engineer hat, focus on the Why vs. on the How, make decisions and be able to justify them, and take the time to “connect” with each scenario so you can apply your knowledge of technology to solve business problems and be successful at the CCDE certification.



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Elaine Lopes is the CCDE and CCAr Certifications Program Manager and Team Lead for the CCIE program team, and she’s passionate about how lives can change for the better through education and certification.




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