As a generalist, I have always longed for a single certification that would cover a little bit of everything. When the CCNA concentrations were announced, I was excited that there were certs in the various areas that I worked in. My goal has been to hold certifications that match my job duties. Because I do routing & switching, security, wireless and design, I have made the long term goal of obtaining certifications in all of those areas. After achieving CCNP and CCNA Wireless, my job role started shifting to more Design. After looking into the CCDA, I discovered that it covered all of the various areas I was working in and thought that is the "Generalist" certification I have been looking for.
A couple of years ago, I studied for the old CCDA 640-863. My study attempts were just reading a book and because I had been designing in various areas, I thought I had this test in the bag. As I read through the book, I was suprised at how much business oriented material there was and theory that quite frankly, I found a little dry, but managable and understandable. Thing like PPDIOO, (Prepare, Plan, Design, Implement, Operate & Optimize) made sense and I discovered that I was actually doing these things. Again, I thought that I had this test in the bag. After studying and reviewing, I thought I was ready. As I took the test I was caught off guard at some of the questions but still thought I was doing ok enough to pass. I cannot descibe the shock when the test finished and the screen said I failed. What?! There is no way! I do this for a living! I couldn't have failed. Disgusted and with the help of some job changes, I went back to focusing on technological tests and went after CCNP Wireless. Half way through that journey, the winds of Design blew my way again and then I got the offical assignment as the Network Designer. So here I am, reconsidering Design.
Looking back at my previous attempt at the CCDA, and after getting over the disappointment of having failed it, I took a good look at where or how I could have failed such an exam. With the help of some fellow members of The Cisco Learning Network, I quickly discovered that the CCDA is about thinking from Cisco's perspective and not my technological perspective. The CCDA is about Cisco recommendations and best practices, not about technological details. With the number of posts lately about the CCDA and having failed it once before, I know that it won't be an easy exam, but it is passible. Because I had walked in that exam focusing on the technology and not the methodology, I had doomed myself to failure. Now, I know I can design a network. I have designed several network in several buildings, but the CCDA is about designing a network the way Cisco wants you to, using their methods. So this time around, I decided to try the Instructor Lead course route and did so with a Cisco Learning Partner in an online course, using WebEx.
They sent me the offical CCDA Courseware books and a "lab" book, which consisted of various case studies. As I sat in my office with a headset plugged into my computer, listening and watching slides and the presenter, my first thought was "I can read all of this, this was a waste of money!" Then, our first case study came up and we broke up into smaller groups to discuss our design ideas, trying to apply the various methodologies. The first case study was terrible because little details were given as far as what our fictious customer needed. Then it hit me! This case study was all about getting customer requirements and constraints and charecterizing the current network. The lightbulb came on and I saw how important good documentation really is. The case studies also built off of each other so you had to refer to the notes and documentation of the previous study to progress on the next. I was then thinking, "maybe this isn't so bad." As the course progressed there were times where we were rushed things due to time limitations. There was definately homework to do during this course. If you think you are going to attend a course to have information downloaded to your brain to pass a test, guess again. The idea of the case study was a good one and an equilivant to a lab in a technological test. After a couple of days, I was thinking "man, I wish the self study book had stuff like this." I went home to compare my 840-864 certification guide with the official CCDA Courseware. I was totally floored when I found similar exercises in the back appendix. When I did the self study approach, I simply didn't take the time to do those exercises. The course kind of forced me to, which was good!
Also, during the course, there was good interaction with the other class members and motivation. Sometimes, when you are studying alone, you may lack motivation and it always helps to discuss and bounce ideas off of others. One of the things I love about The Cisco Learning Network is the interaction. However, interaction on most social platforms is limited to posting and reading text and pictures. Even when videos are posted, the reaction to the video is a comment in text. In the online classroom environment, we were talking to each other, sharing desktops with spreadsheets and visio maps. We also had an instructor who was there to help us stay on course and help us see the Cisco way vs the way our experience told us to do. The offical courseware is much more detailed that the self study guide, but like any book, we spotted typo's and errors. The last day of the course was basically a review. During the review, certain areas were highlighted to look out for on the test. No specifics were given, but the review was helpful. It gave me some hope on passing the CCDA. I will be reviewing some materials before my attempt.
In conclusion, here is a quick breakdown of the Pros and cons of self study vs. Instructor lead courses that I experienced:
Pros for official classes:
-More detailed materials
-Better interaction and group learning and collaboration. We all learned from each other.
-Instructor lead discussion. This was especially helpful for the study cases.
-Motivation. Sometimes being self motivated is a challenge. The class room environment certianly helped that.
-Access to labs. Even though not all classes may have "labs" that provide a hands on experience. The case studies in the CCDA where the "hands on" experience and was a very good experience.
-Time committment. Going to a class and paying for it, almost forces you to put in that litte bit of effor that is easy to pass by when you are always distracted by real life.
Cons for official classes:
-Cost. Need I say more?
-Time committment. I attended class online at work during work. So, even though it was a good learning experience, I am now behind a week in work.
-Instuctor. This is beyond your control, but lets face it, not all instructors are like Keith Barker, Anthony Sequeira or Scott Morris. If you don't have an energentic instructor who is wanting to answer questions and meet your learning needs, you may have just paid for a very expensive nap!
-no practice questions. In my class there was a review, but no practice test simulation. It seemed that they were very frowned upon by the instructor. I found it understandable yet also curious. I got the feeling he wanted us learning and applying, not memorizing questions.
-Errors in material. I had the opportunity more than once to point out errors and inconsistancies in the official courseware. If you think there are no errors in the Official Courseware, guess again. Materials are made by people and people make mistakes. If you expect perfection, like I do at times, you are sure to be disappointed.
As you can see, some of these points could be pros or cons, depending on your circumstances and perspective. Was this class worth the cost? Not sure on that one, I am still evaluating that. I certainly have no regrets attending, there was definately some possitive learning that came from the class. No matter what path you take, passing a certification test still takes hard work and honest effort on your part. Even in a theory and methodology class like the CCDA, you need to learn by doing, not just memorizing. Only then will you really learn the material well enough to pass and exam and perform a job function!