The Blueprint: It’s Official…

My first lab attempt in a nutshell.

Now that I have recovered after a week of disappointment with coming so close to passing the R&S lab on my first attempt, this is a post to sum up my personal account of this ongoing journey to obtain CCIE status.

I arrived to the RTP area Sunday around noon and checked into the Hilton (Mansion on the Hill) hotel. For those planning to take the exam in RTP, I would probably recommend another hotel instead of this one. For me, I am very particular where I stay and I did not have the best vibe during my stay. I like hotels that are super clean. This hotel wasn’t dirty by any means but the hotel seemed old and it did have sort of an old smell…I think it was the carpet…the carpet was really old throughout the hotel. Other than that, the room was decent. My room had a really nice desk and chair which was a great surprise. I immediately broke out my macbook , laid out some of my printed labs and blank paper and got on the web to make sure I could get to my home rack. My mind set was to just work on a few INE VOL1 and VOL3 labs…just to keep things fresh in my mind.

The hotel was less than 10 minutes from the RTP campus. I took a drive there shortly after checking into the hotel to make sure I could find the place…it’s really easy to find, the signs and the numbers on the buildings are easy to read. Building 3 is where it all takes place. During this time I wasn’t nervous at all. I felt as though I was very well prepared. I studied for about 9-10 months. I felt really good and I knew I was a much better engineer that I ever was just by the sheer number or hours and preparation it took to get me to this point.

I picked up a quick bite to eat before heading back to the hotel. I think I just did some light review. Multicast and QoS is where I focused most of my attention. I did a little BGP as well. I spent lots of time on Multicast because that was my weakest subject. I’m above average with Multicast and QoS knowledge and configuration skill now.

I logged into my home rack and started doing some light lab work. I forget how many hours I did but I stopped @ 8pm and got ready for bed. I set the alarm for 5:30. For RTP, they tell you to be there @ 7:05am. I guess I fell asleep around 9:00.

The next morning (Monday)…Got up and reluctantly went to McDonalds to get something eat something. I haven’t eaten at McDs in quite some time. I got a sausage biscuit, hashbrown and water. As I was sitting eating, A man strolled in and sat down in one of the booths. He appeared homeless…clothes in bad shape…huge backpack full of stuff…he had a few dollars to get himself some food. While I was eating, I noticed that McDs has stepped up their game…this one had several flat LCD TVs on the walls with various programming…WIFI, really modern looking. I wondered who managed the WiFi networks in the McDs. At this time, my anxiety and nervousness began to increase for obvious reasons. My mind was in a zone, all I remember thinking about was some BGP regexpressions and making sure I remember where EEM scripting was in the DocCD. Then this commercial came on…some college advertisement…but what stood it out to me is when the narrator of the commercial says, “your time is now, let nothing stand in your way.” I thought, wow. I’m going to remember that. My nerves went away. At which time, I looked at the clock and it was 6:45. It was time for me to go. As I walked out, I looked over at the homeless man and he was over in a booth with a laptop open doing something on the WiFi network (True story)!! I laughed to myself…everybody has a damn computer these days. Maybe he wasn’t homeless…I thought to myself.

So I make it to Building 3. It’s still dark outside.  As I pull into the parking lot, I see a few cars and I could tell that people were in them. I immediately knew these are CCIE candidates. No one was standing outside.

By 7:00am a car rolled up to the front and a guy got out and stood out front as the car drove away. At that point, I could see that others began to get out of their vehicles and began to march towards the building. I made up my mind that I would wait and be the last. I was not interested in striking up any conversation. I just remained focused and ready to just start the test. As I approached the building we were all just standing out there…nobody was standing close to one another…we are about 15 feet apart… and nobody was saying a word.

It was 7:05 and the proctor was not there yet.  He was a bit late. It was about 7:15 when I noticed that I could see inside the windows where the CCIE exam room was. I saw the proctor walk in from some back door and he began putting some things on the desks and he wrote something on the white board. He flicked on some lights and walked out and let us in.

We got our name tags. One guy wasn’t there yet. So he led us in. He gave us some basic rules. Four of us were taking R&S…Two were Voice…and another was Security. He gave us the Bathroom rules. Cell, watches, etc. put in the lockers. We sat at our designated cube and we started at 7:35am. The cubes were decent. Not a lot of room…but I guess just enough if you had to spread out a few drawn diagrams. A cup full of colored pencils and such. A nice 22-24 inch LCD. The chairs were pretty good. The keyboard was in good shape…it had some nice feedback on the keys. But I prefer the springy old school keyboards. The temperature in the room was perfect. I had my pullover on the whole time…some people were wearing shorts…I think the proctor was.

Troubleshooting Section first.

By this time my nerves was 100% at its peak. I was sooooo nervous. I was having trouble typing because my hands were shaking. Never have I been this nervous before in my life. I had no idea that my body was capable of being that nervous sitting in front of a keyboard and a computer screen. I looked down and could see my hands shaking. This is what I do for a living…I’ve been in front of a keyboard since I was a kid back when my father was buying me and my brother Atari computers. This is where I’ve always felt the most comfortable…but at that moment, I froze. I FROZE.

The testing GUI interface was not the greatest. I wish I would have paid attention to this video.( Watch this video a few times before you take the lab. I promise you would be glad you did.

I was stumbling through the Web GUI interface which made me even more nervous because you don’t have much time to get comfortable with navigating through it…plus the nervousness made it worse. I probably lost 25-30 minutes of time just getting used to how it works. That made me even more nervous and I began to panic. I panicked. I couldn’t think. I was just typing “sh run” on everything…that seemed to be the only command I could remember! And that timer is not your friend…It keeps ticking away. By the time my nerves really settled down, I had about an hour left and only solved 3 tickets. As advertised I got somewhere around 10 -12 tickets. I remembered the strategy I’ve been practicing for the troubleshooting section. I got into a nice groove…my nerves were in check…I was back to my old self. I was able to knock them out one by one. I had a couple left that was down to the wire. I had no real time to verify anything but I was pretty sure which ones I solved. After the timer expired, I felt that I blew it. I felt that I disappointed so many of my family and people that are close to me that knew I was taking this exam. But I felt that there was a small chance I made it past that section. So I stayed focused and continued on.

On to the Configuration Section.

I was very comfortable in this section. The only diagram I drew on paper was a Layer 2 diagram. The remaining diagrams that Cisco provided were sufficient enough for me to get through this section of the exam without having to draw my own. Having a single screen is not good in my opinion. I think they should go back to the physical manuals. Flipping back and fourth between screens is a bad way to deliver such a test in my opinion. By lunch break I completed all Layer 2, and Layer 3 sections. I was in great shape.

Lunch time… lasted 15-20. They had some chicken-something-or-another that I totally passed on. No way was I getting sick eating that food. They did have salad, so I ate that and drank a soda. During the break, I got a sense that most people were just really focused and not really in a talking mood. I wasn’t. The proctor, he was a really nice guy. He made some small talk with us. Break was over and back to work. You could eat/drink at your desk, so I took a cookie back to my desk and a bottle of water. I was focused. I finished the last sections of the exam with 1:10 minutes to spare and I did all my verification within 30-40 minutes. At the end, I knew I passed the configuration section but still had that bad feeling in my stomach. I felt so bad because I know I owned the configuration. I sat there for the last 30 minutes just thinking about each trouble-shooting ticket and that EVIL GUI.

Overall, the time went by really fast. I did a few mock labs and I’ve had many marathon weekends in which I sat and studied for 8+ hours at a time. I was already used to sitting in one place for an extended time frame typing configs. This was no different except this was the real deal.

After time expired, I simply turned in my scratch paper and left. I went back to the hotel made some phone calls. I even got on the computer and looked at some of the INE material to replaying what I had seen on the exam. I packed up and left the hotel a few hours later. The drive back to Charlotte from RTP was a short one. When I got home I replayed every task and every ticket. I broke out my INE VOL1 guide again and reviewed some more stuff. In the end, the areas where I thought I would have trouble with turned out to be my best results. I contributed that to pure study and non stop practice. I waited and waited for the email with my test results all night. By midnight I still didn’t have my results so I went to bed.

I woke up Tuesday and saw the Cisco email in my mailbox on my phone. The time stamp was 4:03am.

I got online and logged in. FAIL was the first thing I saw. I drilled down into the score report:

Troubleshooting FAIL.Configuration PASS.

Prior to seeing the official results, I already accepted that I messed up on the Troubleshooting section. I just left a slight bit of hope that I might have done enough to get the points. I’m still quite disappointed because after taking it, I know I could have passed it on the first try. Instead of felling sorry for myself, I did the only thing I know I could kick some ass in…I played Call of Duty Black Ops for a whole week! I gave myself a bit of a break and now I’m back to the lab.

I will post another BLOG shortly recapping my overall impressions of the exam and my take on the INE materials that I used as preparation for the exam. I’ll also outline my strategy for my next attempt.

…to be continued.


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