Cisco TSHOOT v2 (300-135)

My CCNP certification (Story here, if interested) was expiring at the end of June. I’d taken a number of professional and expert level exams at Cisco Live over the years, but hadn’t passed anything that would renew my CCNP. It was time for the (almost) sure thing. TSHOOT.

The TSHOOT exam is my favorite Cisco written exam because it is all hands on. You don’t actually configure anything; you are just looking and analyzing. This exam is unique in several ways, including:

  • The network topology is available for download.
  • You really can score 1000 (that’s a perfect score).
  • It’s actually fun.

The exam is set up as a series of trouble tickets in the topology mentioned above. There is a problem description and you have access to the consoles of simulated equipment to try and determine the cause. After you have investigated, you answer three questions to narrow down the cause and the solution, then you move on to the next ticket. If you know your stuff, it’s a pretty easy exam. That said, don’t get too comfortable. I started running out of time because I was taking too relaxed of an approach and ended up using almost the entire time to complete the exam.

If you’ve taken the previous version:

  • The topology is the same (as best I can tell)
  • The question style for the tickets is the same.
  • You are no longer allowed to abort a ticket. You must finish once started and you must answer in the order delivered.
  • The simple multiple choice questions are spread throughout the test instead of all being at the beginning.
  • The interface is different. There are no tabs for the tickets. You just click “next” when you are finished with your answers.

I’m pleased to report that I did pass and even had a perfect score. I’ve never done that before and I doubt I could do it on any of the conventional multiple choice exams, but it was satisfying to achieve on this one. With my CCNP R&S recertification complete, I can concentrate on other studies without worrying about it!

In case you are looking for study materials, you may want to investigate the CCNP Routing and Switching TSHOOT 300-135 Official Cert Guide Premium Edition eBook and Practice Test or the Troubleshooting and Maintaining Cisco IP Networks (TSHOOT) Foundation Learning Guide.


In Need of Focus


Image courtesy Ryan Ritchie via flickr

I like spending time with my family and being involved at church. I like certification exams. I like studying and learning new things. I like HAM radio, blogging, and photography. I like keeping up with the Marvel movies and TV shows. That’s just a few of the things I like. Specific technologies I like include Wi-Fi, Routing & Switching (R&S), Data Center, Virtualization and other topics directly and tangentially connected to networking topics. You know what? I like too many things.

Reality Check

I’ve recently come to realize that I’m trying to do too much and I have finite time. I’m trying to keep up with way too many technologies. It’s just not possible to keep current on everything. I have decided that I need to cut a few things out, or at least minimize them. Obviously church and family can’t be cut, so I have to start cutting out other things. Like watching TV. Deciding that Data Center stuff really isn’t that important to me and that it’s okay that I only know what I need to do my job. Realizing that R&S really isn’t my focus, even though I like it. That I don’t need to be a VMware expert. I like all these topics and will continue to learn about them through the course of my work, but I’m never going to be the expert that I want to be if I can’t narrow my focus.

Let It Go

To narrow my focus, it’s time to let some of my interests go. Time to allow them to be things I am aware of, but not actively pursuing. Virtualization, Data Center, and SDN can no longer be topics of study. I’ll learn what I need to know as projects demand it, but I will not seek out knowledge in these spaces. I work more with R&S and will keep a bit more current with that, but it still won’t be my focus. Practically, this means actively reducing inputs. I need to unsubscribe from some blogs and podcasts. I need to use my VCP5 exam voucher and regardless of pass or fail, just walk away. If I unfollow you on twitter, I apologize; you’ve been moved out of my main timeline and into a list.

Wi-Fi or Bust

I’m putting the bulk of my time that can be devoted to studying, learning, and generally keeping current, into the realm of Wi-Fi. There is also sort of a vague tie in to HAM radio, which is a bonus. Wi-Fi is taking up more and more of my time at the office. The problems are interesting and RF is a topic I’m passionate about (see also, HAM radio). Wi-Fi, as an industry, has a lot going on and it is the future of the access layer. I like Wi-Fi and have more interest in it than with anything else, so it’s Wi-Fi or bust.

Niggling things to get in my way include my CCNP R&S, which is due for recertification. I need to pass a CCNP level exam, but I haven’t decided for sure what I’m going to do. I’m torn between an exam towards CCNP Wireless, the ARCH exam (which would grant the CCDP), or just taking TSHOOT to get the recert out of the way. What I really want to be studying right now is the CWNA, so I’m leaning towards TSHOOT just to remove that pressure…

Thick or Thin

I say all this publicly for two reasons. First, it is easier to follow through with a commitment when you state it for everyone to see. It makes the commitment real and peer pressure (even if it’s just imagined) is a powerful force. Secondly, I say this in the hopes that you might start thinking about how you spend your own study time. Are you spreading it thinly over a wide swath of topics or thickly on something you are really passionate about? I can tell you that spreading it thin is unsatisfying. Focusing has more reward, even though you have to leave some things behind. Find what you are passionate about and chase it. I promise it’ll be worth it.


#vBrownBag CCNA R&S Questions & Free Books

Last week was part 1 of the #vBrownBag CCNA Routing & Switching session. For part 2 this week, the we will cover topics that commonly confuse people. To that end, if you have questions of your own or have a suggested topic, we would love to hear them so we can cover the topics you want. As long as they are at least somewhat related to CCNA R&S studies…

Free Books!

ShowCover.aspI have copies of both the CCNA Routing and Switching 200-120 Official Cert Guide Library and Networking for VMware Administrators to give away. These are courtesy of Cisco Press and VMware Press, so a big thanks goes to them!

Here’s how you can win one:
Send out a tweet with your CCNA R&S question, including the hashtag #vBrownBag and @scottm32768. If your question too long for twitter, you can post it as a comment here, then link to it on twitter. The best questions by the end of the month (June 30 2014 23:59) will win. Myself and others related to the #vBrownBag podcast will make this decision. In the event we cannot reach a decision, we will use the contents of a hermetically sealed envelope kept in a #2 mayonnaise jar on Funk and Wagnall’s back porch. Or maybe just choose winners at random.

I will compile these questions and answer them. If you get them to me before the podcast recording, I will try to answer during the podcast.


#vBrownBag Cisco Certification Series

The #vBrownBag folks over at are currently running a Cisco Certification Track. They started last month and have had a several episodes covering related topics ranging from the Cisco Learning Network to setting up a virtual lab. Last week they had their first session talking about a specific certification, the CCENT.

The next two weeks for the US episodes (June 4 and June 10) will be Edward Henry (@NetworkN3rd) and myself talking about CCNA R&S prep. That will be followed by the infamous Tom Hollingsworth (@networkingnerd) leaving the #SDNicorn long enough to talk CCNA DC prep. Last on the schedule is Lawrence Kohan (@LawrenceKohan) with a three part series covering prep for the CCNP R&S exams.

It looks like a good lineup, so I hope you can join in live to ask questions Wednesdays at 730PM Central for the next couple months!


VMware VCA (x3) and SolarWinds SCP

One week last December, I picked up four certifications. It’s not as impressive as it may initially sound. The certifications were the three VMware Certified Associate certifications (that were available at the time) and the other was the SolarWinds Certified Professional.

VMware Certified Associate

VCA DCV LogoLast year VMware (re-)introduced a new entry level certification called the VMware Certified Associate. There are three flavors of this certification available and one planned. The current specializations are Data Center Virtualization (DCV), Workforce Mobility (WM, apparently the new name for desktop virtualization), and Cloud. The planned certification is Network Virtualization (NV), which will cover VMware NSX.

Now, you may be wondering how this new cert fits into the hierarchy of VMware certifications. This is the best description I’ve seen:

At least as far as the VCA goes, I’d say this is accurate. These certifications do not test your technical hands on skills with the products, but it does test if you understand what components are available and what they do at a high level. For example, do you understand the difference between VMware Fault Tolerance and VMware High Availability? Do you know anything about what VMware Horizon View does, beyond “it does VDI?” Can you describe what the vCloud Connector does?

Unlike the VCP certification, there is no requirement to take a class to achieve this certification. However, VMware does provide free online training for these certs. The courses are about 3 hours long and are exactly what you need to know to pass the exams. I didn’t have to pay a lot of attention for the DCV course, but I did find it useful for filling in some gaps. The WM and Cloud exams did require more attention to be paid to them, since I didn’t have any experience with either. By the way, if you are playing CloudCred, you can also pick up a bunch of points while you study by completing tasks for the VCA badge.

The exams are delivered as online tests through Pearson Vue. You will need to create a new profile for VMware at and then you will need to get each exam authorized through If you’ve taken any other Cisco or VMware exams, the web interface should be familiar and it’s like taking any other exam, except you can do it anywhere and there is no proctor.

That said, I’m not sure how valuable these certifications really are. They may be useful for those involved in sales, or maybe for those who are just getting started. I don’t expect to see employers looking for engineers with these certifications. They just don’t say anything about someone’s technical prowess. So, you might wonder why I took them? I took them because VMware was offering a promotion to take the exam at no charge to promote the certification. Currently these exams are $120 each.

SolarWinds Certified Professional

SCP LogoThe Solarwinds Certified Professional (SCP) is a certification that I had considered for a while. While I was working on the VCA exams, I looked into the SCP and decided to register for the exam. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Solarwinds is working to integrate the certification into their thwack community site, but while they are working to integrate it, they are allowing the exam to be taken for free. Another free cert! (As far as I know, it is still free as of this writing.) This is exam is also delivered online and is not a proctored exam.

Solarwinds also provides some study materials in the form of a study guide and some videos. If you have experience with network monitoring, this exam shouldn’t be a problem, especially since I believe you get three attempts. The exam is mostly about network monitoring, so you should expect questions about ping, SNMP, OIDs, and topics along those lines. The exam isn’t focussed on Solarwinds products, but it does expect you to know something of Solarwinds Orion.

I started to read the study guide, but quickly realized that maybe I should just take the exam, which I did, and I passed on the first attempt. The only thing that I found surprising was that some of the questions were pretty dated. For example, asking questions related to Windows Server 2003. There were a few questions that I didn’t care for their wording, but overall, I thought the exam content was fair. It doesn’t have an emphasis on Solarwinds products and seems to have a pretty reasonable coverage of network monitoring topics.

I would say that this exam is worthwhile for the cost, and if you are experienced, should be a breeze. If you aren’t experienced, then studying for it will give you some useful knowledge.


Why I Certify (link)

Cisco Champion Badge

As a member of the Cisco Champions program, I have the opportunity to write for Cisco Blogs as a Guest Blogger. My first guest blog post is Why I Certify and is published on their Perspectives blog.

If you want to know Why I Certify, please click on over!


CCDA (640-864 DESGN)



While I was at Cisco Live 2013 I passed the CCDA (640-864 DESGN) exam. I took this towards the end of the conference using the on-site 50% discount. I had already attempted (and not passed) the CCIE R&S exam and really wanted to leave having passed an exam! There was a group of us that went to the testing center, and I think we were about 50/50 on passes vs fails. Either way, we all came away with good information (obviously without violating our NDAs) about the different exams. For example, we found out that the CCNA SP Ops exam is heavily an ITIL exam, but I’ll tell you a bit about what I learned about the CCDA.

Study Materials

First, I’m going to tell about my study materials. I had been studying using the Cisco Press CCDA 640-864 Official Cert Guide, Premium Edition eBook and Practice Test off and on for about a year. I would read a chapter or two occasionally when I grew tired of reading the CCIE Routing and Switching Certification Guide. The practice exams included in the Premium eBook Edition are very good for one that is included with a book, but it is not quite at the same level as a Boson practice exam. That said, the software does include all the “Do I know this already?” quizzes from the book, which I found convenient, and three different pools of questions for the actual practice exams. They exams include a fairly good representation of the kinds of questions you will see on the exam. They are all multiple choice questions (which is what you’ll see in this exam, anyway) and each question includes a short explanation of the correct answer and a link to the correct references in the eBook.

CCDA Practice Test Example

Example of the CCDA practice exam (click to see larger version)

The book itself is your typical Cisco Press eBook. It is broken up into logical sections that build upon each other and include the “Do I know this already?” quizzes to see if you already know the contents of that chapter. The book will prepare you for the exam. Unless you do a lot of Cisco pre-sales work, your experience may not help you as much. In fact, it may make things more difficult.

The Exam

Personally, I’ve not found any of our Cisco VARs to actually add value on the pre-sales side. I usually do my own research and my own designs, then have our local Cisco SE’s sanity check the design. Every time I try to leave it to the VAR, something is missed. This has caused me to ingest a lot of Cisco marketing literature, Cisco Validated Designs, product data sheets, etc. These are the kinds of things you need to know for the CCDA exam. CCDA is about cookie cutter designs based on scale. It uses rules of thumb that fit common situations. It’s about knowing the Cisco product lines, including less common components like WAAS. It’s about very basic design principles which most people who have doing this for a long time will know, but might disagree with the CCDA designated way. It’s really about being able to design a network quickly for pre-sales purposes.

In a nutshell, CCDA is a Cisco sales engineer certification. That’s why it’s #5 in the 15 Top Paying Certifications for 2013, because the CCDAs are getting commissions on sales.

That said, if you are new to networking, it’s still useful. Even if you aren’t, you may be forced to expand your knowledge of the Cisco product lines, which probably won’t hurt, and if you want to continue on to the CCDP, it’s a necessary hoop to jump through. However, this is not a very technical exam and I would argue that it is not really about network design.

To CCDP and Beyond!

The CCDP materials look to be more about actual design, and I look forward to getting a chance to dive into those materials, but what I’m really interested in reading is the book The Art of Network Architecture (which isn’t out, yet) by Russ White, Scott Morris, and Denise Donohue. That book is about how to think about network design. Go check out The Art of Network Architecture session from Cisco Live 2013 to get a taste. If you really enjoy that, you may be on the path to CCDE.