Many of us technologists study for certifications on our own. We read books, watch videos, read RFCs etc. at or own pace and we may even ask a friend something when we get stuck but we generally don’t collaborate a lot when studying. This works fairly well for a lot of certifications but not the CCDE. Why?
Almost all other certifications are primarily based on having knowledge and experience in implementation. Certifications like CCNA RS, CCNP RS, CCNP Security etc. test your knowledge in implementing protocols and technologies on routers, switches and firewalls. A lot of people work in implementation and this is where most of us start out. It’s easier to build experience in this area since there are a larger number of people doing the same job.
CCDE is a certification testing your knowledge of network design and architecture. Building experience in network design can be challenging because the number of roles for people in design is limited and generally requires that you already have a solid background as a Network Engineer. While some people like myself are lucky to have a role where we work full time with design some people may only see design projects far and few between other work. This means that it’s more difficult to get the experience needed to pass the CCDE. Even for people working with design, maybe they are not working across the full range of the designer role where they are in a position to acquire the business knowledge needed to be successful in attaining CCDE.
How can we accelerate our learning? How can we acquire the skills needed to be successful in attaining CCDE? How can we become better network designers?
I credit a large part of my success with CCDE to the study group that I and my friend Kim Pedersen started a few years back. We were both interested in this certification and decided that we should push and help each other to study for this certification. For that reason we ended up starting a Slack group from which we have had more than 10 members earn their CCDE. As our studying efforts have become more effective we have also seen an increase in the passing rate lately. What is the selection criterion for building a successful study group?
Don’t go too big – One might think that the more members the better but study groups are most effective when they are the right size. Don’t just add anyone in there. Around 10-15 actively studying members is a suitable number for each round of CCDE. Sometimes that means saying no to a nice person but to be successful we sometimes have to decline people from joining when the group becomes too large.
Be selective – Be selective with who can join the group. For our group we decided to only have people in the group that have already passed the written and are working on the practical. We made some exceptions to the rule and I’ll explain that in the next paragraph but if the group is too diverse where everyone is at a different point in their journey the group will not be focused and the effect of collaboration will not reach its full potential.
Add subject matter experts – Sometimes it’s OK to break the rules. Given that we limit the amount of people on the study group there may be knowledge gaps within different architectures. For this reason we sometimes added people with a certification such as CCIE Data Center or CCIE Security even if these people were not actively studying for CCDE. We used their knowledge in these architectures to better learn about design within these areas and they could also benefit from our discussions in learning about technologies maybe they were not familiar with. By adding these people we added both breadth and depth to the group. Don’t add too many though or you’ll dilute the pool of people actively studying for CCDE.
Committed people only – The members of the group should have a similar date in mind for when taking the practical. Don’t bring people into the group that haven’t committed to studying for the practical. You don’t want to have people just lurking around. This will bring down the morale of the group and this person will take a spot which could have been used better by a more ambitious member. The way we have solved this in our group is to give inactive members a warning and later remove them if they can’t be active in the group. Sometimes life comes in the way and in that case it can be better to leave the group and rejoin when timing is better.
Keep experienced people around – When people start passing the exam, it’s important to learn from them and their mistakes, without breaking the NDA! The more people that come through the group and succeed, the better the group will become in studying efficiently for the certification. These people should act as mentors and help in building a plan and point out where to find information and resources on technologies that are part of CCDE. Most importantly these people can help a candidate to get into the right mindset for the practical exam. As has been described in previous Unleashing CCDE blog posts, having the technical know-how is not enough if it does not come with the designer’s mindset as well.
This post has described why forming a study group is important to be more successful in studying for the CCDE and how to select the members of the group. On my next post I’ll cover how to run your study group.
Good luck in your studies!
About the Author
Daniel Dib, CCIE #37149, CCDE #20160011, is a Senior Network Architect at Conscia Netsafe. He works with creating scalable, modular and highly available network designs that meet business needs. Daniel started out in implementation and operations and got his CCIE in 2012. In May 2016 he became the second person in Sweden to get CCDE certified.
He often acts as a subject matter expert for his customers with deep expertise in routing, switching, multicast and fast convergence.
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: How to Run a CCDE Study Group by Daniel Dib, Top 5 CCDE Study Tips, Business Requirements in the Network Design Process with Daniel Dib, Network Design and CCDE by Mark Holm, Constructing your CCDE Practical Exam Strategy Part 1 with Nick Russo, The A-Ha Moment by Michael “Zig” Zsiga, A Milestone Approach to the CCDE Certification