Finally, I am CCNP certified! Short time line:
6/28/10 CCNA Composite – Pass – Certified in CCNA
5/09/11 SWITCH – Pass
7/11/11 TSHOOT – Pass
6/10/12 ROUTE – Fail
6/28/12 ROUTE – Pass – Certified in CCNP
Studying for the CCNA was fun. I used the Cisco Press CCNA Official Exam Certification Library [current version is CCNA Routing and Switching 200-120 Official Cert Guide Library]. Studying for the CCNA filled in a lot of little gaps and I realized certification wasn’t just for your resume, but was also a valid path to develop your skills. I read through the books once before taking my first Cisco exam and passing.
I decided to continue on the CCNP path because everything else in networking builds on the R&S foundation. I began studying for the SWITCH exam because I felt I knew that topic better than ROUTE. I used the Cisco Press Implementing Cisco IP Switched Networks (SWITCH) Foundation Learning Guide [link to current version, not the older one I used], Boson NetSim, the Boson ExSim-Max practice tests, and using my new knowledge at work to study for this exam. The 642 level [these are now 300 level] exams are markedly harder. You really have to know a lot more depth than with the 640 level [now 100 and 200 level] exams. I figured this out when I took my first practice test. I started to actually study the material instead of just read the material. Then I passed my practice tests, followed by the real exam.
My original plan was to take the ROUTE test at Cisco Live 2 months later, but I really wasn’t prepared for the exam and decided that I was more prepared for the TSHOOT exam. I read a little of the Cisco Press TSHOOT book, which I won from a contest on Twitter and took as a hint, took a couple Boson TSHOOT practice tests and studied the topology diagram for the exam which Cisco provides. This exam is a lot of fun, as it’s really hands-on troubleshooting. I felt good after doing well on this exam.
Then came the one I’d been putting off. The topology of the networks that I’ve worked with the most have been relatively simple. Hub and spoke, lots of L2 links, not much L3. No backup links. No site-to-site VPNs. Lots of very dated design (which I’ve been working to correct). Very flat L2 designs. The IGP is EIGRP and there’s not much going on there. This was my weak area and required the most study. I read most of both the Cisco Press ROUTE exam books, watched the Cisco Press ROUTE video mentor on Safari, and watched (though not as carefully as I should have) the INE ROUTE video series. I also tried to use as much of what I was learning as I could at work (which is also sort of the whole point of the exercise, really).
BGP was not a problem, as I use that often enough that I’m pretty comfortable with it. EIGRP is pretty straight forward for the most part and I’d been running that for quite a while. This exam is heavy on OSPF and I hadn’t really done a lot with it, so I had a lot that I needed to learn. My study for this over about a year was kind of bursty and there was a lot of two steps forward and one step back action as I wasn’t studying consistently.
Cisco Live finally rolled around again and it was time to take an exam. I considered taking something else, but decided I really needed to just go for ROUTE. By the time test day came, I had taken the Boson practice tests, knew where my weak areas were, and had concentrated on them. I felt confident going into the exam. I was answering the questions and knew most of the answers. Then I got tunnel vision on a sim… I was certain it wasn’t working because either the sim was broken (ha!) or I had configured it wrong. I couldn’t figure out what I’d missed because I was focussed on the wrong component. I spent way too much time on it. I knew I was spending way too much time on it. Yet, I didn’t give up until I only had 15 minutes left with half the test to go. I answered questions as quickly as possible, but ran out of time with 10 questions left and failed. I’m fairly certain I would have passed if I had given up on the sim earlier and had been able to complete all the questions.
This was a reminder. Don’t waste your time on a question you aren’t going to get. You can’t come back to it, but it’s better to get the points for the rest of the questions than lose them because you couldn’t let go. This same lesson applies in the office. You have to know when to let go of a problem and bring in help. It’s hard to let go of a problem when you think you’re about to crack it, but sometimes you just have to move on and get other things done.
I regrouped, considered that failure a recon mission, and scheduled an exam for a couple weeks later. This time I knew exactly what I needed to study. I also figured out the sim that deadlocked me. It was an annoyingly simple thing I’d overlooked. There are some things that are permanently etched in your brain. That is one of mine. Despite the annoyance of having the exam system crash 3 times during the exam due to some sort of server problem, I zipped through the exam and passed.
It was good to pass and finally achieve the certification. Taking exams that are components of a certification isn’t quite as rewarding as the final exam that earns it. I was really tired of studying routing. That said, I recently ran into a situation where EIGRP wasn’t doing what I expected and it was satisfying to immediately identify exactly why and how to fix it.
Many have asked if I am going to go for CCIE. Not right now. I want to go broad before I go deeper. Right now I am studying for the DESGN exam for CCDA. I will probably follow that with the IUWNE exam for CCNA Wireless. I believe I can pass both of those without much study. I will probably then do the ARCH exam for CCDP and perhaps follow that with the IINS exam for CCNA Security. Once I have those done, I’d like to go for CCNP Wireless. I don’t have any immediate plans for the Voice or SP tracks, but priorities sometimes change. If I actually get all that done, I’ll have to choose a major and decide between CCIE R&S or CCIE Wireless.