Do you want to know what helped CCDEs on their journey to certification? What actual CCDEs have done to prepare for and pass the practical exam? Some findings were expected, but some were surprising and others just shed light onto unspoken yet key things. If you are on your journey towards CCDE, this article will help you - read on! This blog will cover the results of an unofficial, anonymous survey conducted between September 6 and 13, 2016 with 45 CCDE respondents.
1. Study your own way at your own pace
A surprising revelation was that 68.9% of all survey respondents studied alone prior to their first or only CCDE practical exam attempt. 25.9% of the CCDEs who failed their first attempt changed their study strategy in this aspect; of those 71.4% started studying in a study group or with a partner and the other 28.6% studied alone. My personal take is that studying in a group can fill blind spots in areas outside the “on-the-job” experience, and it seems an underrated study option. I think it’s very important to bounce design challenges and their pros and cons around with a study partner or study group, so you can see them from different angles. On the other hand, as with many things in life, there is not a one-size-fits-all studying strategy, so use whatever methodology works for you.
The survey also revealed that 31.1% of respondents spent between 6 and 12 months preparing for CCDE, followed by a tie: 26.7% spent either less than 6 months or between 12 and 18 months preparing for CCDE.
More important than the time spent preparing is being able to overcome the challenges after a failed CCDE practical exam attempt. These are the recommendations CCDEs provided around this topic:
- “Deriving Multiple Solution Options for Architecture Scenarios”
- “The key to passing this exam is to be good on the analyzing part. Analyzing requirements and constraints. Of course you need to know technology well enough to form a decision based on this information. The key to me passing the lab was to interact with other experts within different technologies.”
- “1. Read all required books describing the technology and different migration exercises. 2. Study CVD/best practices. 3. Get experience close to practical exam. Go through all available scenarios from CCDE training vendors. Check forums, blogs to get familiar with the practical exam as much as possible.”
- “At the time I took the exam in 2013 there were very few resources and information about the exam Bootcamps for ccde is always a myth people who pass always based on their learning where is the gap in their knowledge and approach”
- “Study group is the most important for the preparation”
2. Books and Cisco Live presentations
When asked what the three most important resources used to prepare for the first attempt of the CCDE practical exam were, in first place with 89.1% of all respondents was books, and in second place with 48.9% of all respondents was Cisco Live presentations. Considering that most CCDEs in this survey studied alone, it seems natural that one uses “individual” resources to learn or enhance knowledge of technology.
When asked about the challenges CCDEs faced on their first attempt, most said technology. I think it has to do with tightening the knowledge of technologies from a design perspective, as compared with configuring or troubleshooting those technologies.
3. Network design experience
What CCDEs will tell you was key for them to becoming CCDE-certified varies. What they may not tell you, however, is that they haven’t started from zero – quite on the contrary!
48.9% of all survey respondents had more than 7 years of design experience before their first CCDE practical exam attempt. Furthermore, 37.1% of the CCDEs who failed their first attempt spent between 6 and 12 months between their first attempt and their passing attempt tightening their experience.
33.3% of all survey respondents were already architects before their first CCDE attempt, and another 28.8% had a senior network design job role.
On-the-job experience was cited by 51.1% of all survey respondents as the third most important thing which prepared them for their first or only CCDE practical exam attempt.
Coincidence? Hardly. Read some very interesting comments the respondent CCDEs provided around this topic:
- “How long did I prepare? In a sense, my whole life was preparation, starting when my mother taught me to read. Don't underestimate the importance of reading comprehension in a technical field. Good design requires clear communication and understanding of objectives. I had barely any formal prep for my practical exam -- not because I didn't intend to, but because it kept getting put on the back burner until the day before the exam. It was some combination of service provider experience & luck that carried the day for me.”
- “Gain as much insight from previous candidates as you can re study resources and methodologies. And don't attempt the CCDE too early in your career”
- “I feel implementation and design experience in all cisco certification track topics/technologies is key. You do not need to be a 6x CCIE to pass the CCDE. You do need to know how to analyze the issues, understand functional vs technical requirements and challenges, migrate/transition/merge/upgrade to a solid integrated design, and of course be able to handle last minute senior management decisions that force you out of your comfort zone.”
- “Be prepared to compromise. Be pragmatic. Don't rely on CVDs and "Best Practice" alone. Use your experience to determine when a customer's requirement won't be met by a specific technology and find the most appropriate solution. So long as you can defend your choices robustly, you will not fail!”
- “Listen to the customer and understand their requirements before recommending a solution.”
4. Bootcamps and Publications
One aspect that I found interesting in this survey was, the CCDEs who failed their first attempt of the CCDE practical exam remained faithful to preparing by reading books (first place) and watching Cisco Live presentations (second place). In third place however, on-the-job experience was replaced by a tie between bootcamps and publications such as blogs, white papers, etc.
CCDEs also cited that they found the network design use cases and network design lifecycle to be challenging. I think this explains why bootcamps and blogs appeared on the top three. CCDEs wanted to know how to fill the gap on how to approach the exam questions, learn from others “how they achieved CCDE under NDA", and learn how to improve on these two design-specific topics, integrating them with the technology knowledge. These are the comments CCDEs provided around this topic:
- “Cisco live sessions on CCDE helped me a lot on how to approach the different types of questions.”
- “Studied all protocols RFCs, product lines and whitepapers”
5. Mindset change
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to tackle the CCDE practical exam with a network design mindset, as opposed to a network engineer/CCIE mindset. I accidentally left this aspect out of the survey, but the respondent CCDEs kept me honest about it:
- “Focus on what business wants to achieve. Design with business end goal in mind.”
- “Change studying framework from CCIE mode”
- “Changed my thinking process or way I looked at the information”
Some advice on test-taking strategies
In closing, some test-taking advice from the CCDEs:
- “My advice to anyone is to answer each question independent of the previous or next question and not to get distracted by the path/branch that the exam has chosen.”
- “Evaluate every option and possibility against the business requirements and technological constraints.”
- “And the end it’s all capturing business requirements along constraints and map them into a technical solution. In the first attempt i gave in too quickly just hang in there and give your best shot and hope for the best. You need to be really motivated / determined to prepare and pass this highly respected exam.”
I’m honored and humbled to be part of the CCDE community. It always amazes me how generous you all are! My big Thank You to everyone who responded to the survey! I consolidated all the important findings in this blog, which I think will be helpful on your journey towards CCDE. Studying your own way, whether alone, with a partner or in a study group and filling the on-the-job experience blind spots with books, Cisco Live presentations, bootcamps and/or publications have helped the CCDEs who responded to the survey, and I hope they’ll be helpful to you as well.
Is there a topic you want to hear about on my upcoming blogs? Add it to the comments field!
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.
Here are a few additional ways for us to engage and keep the conversation going:
- Cisco Learning Network CCDE Study Group
- Connect on Twitter too
- Related Unleashing CCDE blogs: New Year Resolution, Myth Busters and the CCDE Practical Exam Question Types, Constructing your CCDE Practical Exam Strategy Part 1 with Nick Russo, A Milestone Approach to the CCDE Certification, Myth Busters and the CCDE Practical Exam, How to Form a CCDE Study Group by Daniel Dib