The goal of this blog is to provide a milestone approach-methodology tailored to your needs, to take you from where you are to becoming CCDE-certified. When I started writing this blog, I immediately thought about a line from “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum, “follow the yellow brick road”. Many roads can take you to the Emerald City err CCDE certification, but there is a much more direct one. So tighten your silver shoes (or ruby red if you’ve seen the movie) and let’s embark on this journey down the yellow brick road!
You have to pass two exams to become CCDE-certified, the CCDE written exam (352-001) and the CCDE practical exam (352-011). The journey is smoother if you prepare for each step separately, and in that order. The CCDE Written exam focuses on design knowledge of infrastructure technologies, whereas the CCDE Practical exam focuses on the application of the knowledge of network design infrastructure technologies in specific situations across the several design phases.
1. First things first: self-evaluation milestone
The first step towards the CCDE certification (and any certification for that matter) is to familiarize yourself with the Exam Topics (aka blueprint) for the CCDE written exam, which contains the infrastructure technologies assessed by CCDE. I recommend that you watch the VoD and then download the Streamlined Preparation Resources for the CCDE written exam from CLN. Take the time to personalize it by determining on the self-evaluation column how comfortable you are with each of the CCDE Written exam topics and subtopics, from 1 to 3, 1 being not comfortable at all and 3 being totally comfortable. The reason we recommend that you have seven or more years of experience in network design is that you probably have dealt with a lot of different technologies, gone through a lot of different situations, and learned what works and what doesn’t in real life. If this is the case, you probably have more “greens” than “yellows” and “reds” on the self-evaluation column.
Once you pass the CCDE written exam, evaluate your experience against the design phases (elicit business and technical requirements and constraints, create network designs, create design implementation plans, validating a design deployment and optimize a design) and the design use cases (scaling, add or replace a technology or service, merge, divestiture, or design failure).
2. Plan of attack milestone
Based on your honest self-evaluation, plan to spend 50% of your time on the “red” topics, 35% on the “yellow” topics and 15% on the green topics. Determine how much time on a weekly basis you’ll devote to your learning. Consistency is key; a little bit every day builds momentum and is more productive than a lot every once in a while. And mainly, you’ll get energized by making progress. But be realistic and allow time for the unforeseen.
Decide on and get the resources you’ll use to study each topic, starting with the “red” topics. The Learning Matrix contains many resources that cover the same subject, likely from different angles, and if you have a different or favorite resource that covers a blueprint claim from a design perspective, that's ok. Many options are suggested to prepare to each topic, but you don’t need all of them, but rather determine what resources will be the “big bang for your buck”, for example if a book covers many of the aspects you should improve on, go get it. But if what you need is all scattered across too many books then depending on your self-evaluation you probably can benefit from watching VoDs, webinars, and presentations instead. The “Top 5 CCDE study tips” blog revealed that the most successful CCDEs prepared by 1, reading books and 2, watching Cisco Live presentations, but you can use as many resources you need to in order to feel comfortable with the topic at hand.
There is an African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Achieving CCDE is about the latter, so plan on having a study partner or participate in a study group. Some groups only accept members who passed the CCDE written exam, though. Especially when you’re preparing for the CCDE practical exam, studying as part of a team will expose you to situations you may not have thought of before. They can be challenged in different ways to meet the requirements within constraints, their pros and cons. At this point you and your team can benefit from the Unleashing CCDE’s challenge & resolution blogs.
3. Execution milestone
With the resources you decided to use for studying at hand, roll up your sleeves and get started. Do not delay getting into this stage to avoid analysis-paralysis. Read the pertinent chapters of the books you’ve identified. Watch the webinars, VoDs and/or Cisco Live 365 presos (Hint: to make the most of your time, watch videos at a faster speed, example 2x. You can always slow down if needed). Clarify your doubts, bounce design situations back and forth, and practice what-if situations with your study partner. Make it a two-way street and teach what you know.
Document your progress on the Completed column of the Learning Matrix spreadsheet. Some people found it valuable to keep a [captain’s] log with a [star]date, goal, resource and study notes – use whatever works for you.
And finally, once you’re comfortable mastering the Exam Topics, register and take the exam! The CCDE written exam is delivered at the regular VUE testing centers, whereas the CCDE practical exam is delivered at the Pearson Professional Centers (the PPCs) four or five times a year on select dates. There are around 300 PPCs worldwide, most of them in the US.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of scheduling your desired CCDE practical exam date with no less than 45 days to the exam day, since all PPCs extend their hours of operation to accommodate the 9-hour CCDE practical exam (8 hours’ exam + 1 hour for mandatory lunch) up until the 45-day mark. Please note that at any time, seats are limited and you will compete with other vendors’ exams administered the same day at the chosen PPC. After the 45-day mark, the PPCs which don’t work on the 9 hours/day schedule will revert back to their regular hours of operation, and you will only be able to schedule on PPCs which already work 9+ hours a day (most of them in the US) OR at the PPCs which already have a CCDE candidate scheduled. You can schedule up until the day before the exam day, and at these PPCs only. You can cancel your CCDE practical exam with a full refund 30 days up until the exam, and after that you will forfeit the full fee.
4. Lessons learned and fine tuning milestone
Did you pass? Great! Did you not? Hmm, it’s now time to do lessons learned. Learn from the score report the areas you need to do better on. Did you find a topic particularly challenging? This is the time where you have to compare your self-evaluation and your performance on the exam to adjust the areas you need to focus your attention, thus eliminating blind spots.
My final thoughts paraphrasing Aerosmith, “life/certification is a journey not a destination” – as part of the CCDE journey you will gain an incredible network design experience, will make friends with talented fellow designers and will learn and put to good use new tricks, so don’t underestimate the journey and don’t take shortcuts.
What is your game plan to achieve your CCDE certification? 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
- CCDE study materials for the Written and Practical exams
- Related Unleashing CCDE blogs: Myth Busters and the CCDE Practical Exam Question Types, Top 5 CCDE Study Tips, Constructing your CCDE Practical Exam Strategy Part 1 with Nick Russo, Myth Busters and the CCDE Practical Exam, How to Form a CCDE Study Group by Daniel Dib