Raul Angel Velázquez: The Story of My 18 Cisco Certifications

    Raul_Angel_Velazquez_240x200.jpgThe Story of My 18 Cisco Certifications

    by raulvelazquez


    I graduated as a electronic systems engineer from the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey (ITESM) (Institute of Technology and Superior Studies of Monterrey) in Mexico, in December of 1995.


    My first job was with Hewlett Packard (HP) as a support engineer. Back then, HP sold networks, and was strongly promoting the 100VG-AnyLAN technology that competed with the standard Fast Ethernet. For those who know or don't know what that is, the 100VG-AnyLAN, as the story goes, didn't help HP...it helped support the standard, Fast Ethernet. As things go, today, HP is a partner of Cisco and the 100VG-AnyLAN is more obsolete than Token Ring.


    I left HP in 1997 and went to ITESM's department of Telecommunications and Neworks. This was my "first contact" with Cisco. The director of telecommunications was married to Cisco (at that time he worked for Cisco), and all the networking equiment we had was from Cisco. This was the first time I heard about certification, the first time I heard the words "CCNA" and "CCIE."


    My boss told us that a CCIE certification could make you a lot of money. It was then that three friends and I decided to get our CCIE--we were young and ignorant, it's true, but courageous. We never imagined what a CCIE was. We knew we would have to take two tests, a written and practical. We each bought a book from Amazon to prepare for the CCIE (my first purchase from Amazon was this book). It was clear that we had neither experience or the knowledge, and we gave up after one semester. Here, let me give you advice that I lived through: Follow a path of small stones...first the CCNA, then the CCNP and finally the CCIE in Routing & Switching (if you decide on the Route Switch track). Today, of the four of us, I am the only one who became a CCIE...at least for now.


    In 1999, I left ITESM and went to Avantel (an internet service provider--ISP--that no longer exists; it was acquired by Axtel). Avantel was a Cisco Silver Partner who had on staff various certified professionals, including four CCIEs. There were a number of CCNAs and I decided to to get my CCNA. Again, I went to Amazon.com and bought the book for CCNA. I began to read and kept the book with me in my cublicle at work. My workmates came by and told me that I would never get a CCNA because the exam was dificult...and little by little I gave up, until the book was just a decoration in my cubicle. When I quit I had already read the entire book, practicing in simulators (Dynamips did not exist then). Frankly, the test scared me because I believed what everyone had told me. On September 11, 2001 came the terrorist attacks in New York, the United States economy crashed, and a few months later, so did Mexico's economy. Avantel had a massive lay-off and I was one of the ones to go (in case you're wondering, those with Cisco Certifications were untouched.)


    I started my own business, one which was not terribly successful. After six months, I began to look for a job. Of course, I wanted a job in networking and I applied for the few jobs that were available, but each informed me that a CCNA was a minimum requirement. It was very frustrating to have experience and then see that recent graduates who had taken the Networking Academy courses at the University and submitted their tests were chosen even though they had no experience in the area. So I decided to take the test.


    I was not working at that time so I could be 100% dedicated to preparing for the CCNA exam. I also didn't have much money so I wouldn't have been able to afford to take the test multiple times. For exactly 30 days, from the time I got up in the morning until I went to bed, I studied for the CCNA--not less than 16 hours a day for 30 days. I took the test and passed it! (The truth is I didn't get the full 900 points--I got less--but did well enough to pass). I was ECSTATIC, the King of the World!


    So, as the King of the World, I went to look for a job. I thought, of course, that I would make at least as much as I was making when I was run out of Avantel. Surprise! I was not even offered much (of course, "much" is a relative term). I hoped to earn with the CCNA what they were offering to CCNPs. And, believe me, at that time, I didn't even have enough money to buy the CCNP books, let alone pay for the four exams at $150 each. So, I did something that I had promised myself that I would never do: I returned to Avantel. (They called me, at least. That was some consolation.) And I did it not because they offered me the same salary as when I worked there before, but because they offered at all, and I saw it as a necessary step to getting my CCNP. So I went back.


    Mi first day back at work (March 15, 2004), I took my credit card (as I had not yet been paid) and bought the four books from Cisco Press for CCNP. I took the first of the four CCNP exams on April 16, 2004 and the last one on July 2, 2004. Strictly speaking, it took four months of studying--nearly all day every day--focused on CCNP. I passed the four exams the first time--though on one of them I passed with the minimum score required. But once again, I felt like the King of the World, I had passed just the same! One has to feel proud of one's achievements, but definitely not more than that. The CCIE still seemed like something impossible, because everything rested on the exam, and, at this time, there were only 50 certifications awarded to people in Mexico! (Now, there are more than 100 and growing.)


    I continued with CCDA, CCDP and began the CCSP. It was then that I met a CCIE, and, of course, I expected that he would be brilliant--that everything that I didn't know he would know--that there could no more knowledgable a person (in the field of networks). My goodness! I found out that on certain topics, I knew more than he did. It was then that I realized that getting my CCIE was possible--that it wouldn't be as difficult as everyone had said. There wasn't a big difference between CCNP and CCIE. So I went back to invest, and, incidentally, the materials to study for CCIE are not cheap.


    On May 25, 2005, while at Avantel, I passed my CCIE written exam. The following month, I left Avantel and went with another partner, Migesa (at that time a Cisco Silver Partner; now Gold). Why did I leave Avantel? They had paid for the labs and exam.


    The path to CCIE is not easy. No. I'm not saying that its a difficult exam or one that is impossible to pass, but the difficulty is in how much time you must dedicate to preparing. Every Saturday and Sunday, from May when I passed the written exam until October of 2005, I was configuring equipment. Practicing, practicing, practicing. I didn't go to parties. I didn't go to weddings. I had no social life.


    A month before the exam (on November 25, 2005) my employer offered me the opportunity to stop working and just concentrate on studying. Why would Migesa do this? Because they needed another CCIE on staff. That was the only way for them to obtain their Gold Partner certification. That was how I ended up going to Research Triangle Park (RTP), North Carolina to take the exam.


    I didn't pass. I felt like garbage. After all the the support the company gave me, I didn't pass. I didn't know how I was going to present myself at work and tell them that I hadn't passed. I felt like a cockroach, or worse. I returned to work and they surprised me by encouraging me to try again. So, without resting even for a weekend, I began again studying every Saturday and Sunday.


    Two weeks before the second attempt at the exam, I was again given the opportunity to study without having to work. I went again to RTP for my second attempt...and this time, I passed! It was April 11, 2006. I was happy, but this time, it didn't make me feel like the King of the World, just proud that I had finally become CCIE #16048. However, now I still feel proud, but I don't feel like the King of the World.


    After all this, I completed my CCSP and began leaning in the direction of Security. I began studying for the CCIE Security written exam, which I passed the first time. Then I went, again, to RTP, this time for the CCIE Security lab exam and, this time, I passed on the first try. That was July 19, 2007. I must say that, again, I had to sacrifice my social life and my wife was not very supportive of the idea of my getting another CCIE, but she finally gave in and decided to support me on everything.


    In summary, I recommend to you all the following:


    • Take things step by step. Don't expect to get the CCIE right away. First think about getting the CCNA, then the CCNP (or CCVP, CCSP, or CCIP, depending on the track that catches your attention). Then think about the CCIE.


    • Enjoy the process. If you don't like networks, then your preparation is going to be a real ordeal.


    • Don't believe people who tell you that you can't do this. On the contrary, remember those who have told you that, and when you do succeed, you can go back to them and say, "Yes I could!"


    • You need something that motivates you. Clearly, a higher salary is good motivation (today I earn five times more than I did when I only had a CCNA), but again, find something else that motivates you besides the money.


    • Don't let certification go to your head. Having a certification shouldn't make you feel like the King of the World; there is always someone who knows more than you.


    • Find a Silver or Gold Partner. They are interested in having certified professionals and nearly all of them are willing to pay for your certifications. Of course, most of them require at least a CCNA (I would even recommend that you have at least passed the CCNP, CCSP or CCVP.)


    • Don't give up. Failing test happens to all of us; you have to know how to pick yourself up and continue after a failure.


    • Monetarily speaking, having a Cisco certification can provide many advantages, and those who pay the most are those who need most strongly to have those with certifications on staff...and that would be Cisco Partners.


    • I wish that someone would have told me all this when I graduated, or perhaps, before I graduated.


    • Remember that you don't need a course to become certified, so don't worry if you can't afford one. A class can simply help to make the process go faster.


    • Also remember that for CCNA and CCNP you don't just take a single course or just have experience, however some people without any experience or a course can pass the exam, it just take a little more time.


    • And finally, if you're married or have a boyfriend or girlfriend, you will need the support of your partner to get through this.


    Please feel free to send me a Private Message if you have any questions.


    Raul Angel Velazquez: "La Historia de Mis 18 Certificaciones de Cisco"