It’s been almost 3 months since I’ve sat for my CCIE Bootcamp with Marko Milivojevic and I wanted to take the time to write a review for the class to help others who are considering sitting for a Bootcamp before their CCIE Lab attempts.
First I want to give you a little background on the format I was using to study for my CCIE before I was able to sit it in on the bootcamp. I was using a particular vendor’s training solutions, including their workbooks, their training videos, and their rack tokens and all seemed to be going well. I was doing relatively well on the workbook material and content and I was able to finish tasks in reasonable amounts of time. Nothing that I was tracking with any accuracy, though. Just working through training videos and workbooks and doing my best to keep pace with the timeline that I had set forth for myself for my CCIE lab date. I’d read the blog posts about speed and accuracy and other requirements for being able to pass and I’d felt confident that if I’d stayed course, I’d have a healthy chance at passing. Maybe not the first time, but the second or third for sure. So, after passing my CCIE Written at Cisco Live last year, I’d started my usual routine, and targeted this February to sit for the real thing.
From June through November, I’d put in around 200-250 lab hours and worked a decent way through some workbooks, labs and videos as I’d said, and I was fairly confident when I flew out to attend the Bootcamp in RTP. On the flight I’d decided to read up on some BGP design as I was working through some design challenges for work. And I specifically remember reading up on conditional injection and some path manipulations methods. I landed, got my rental, and made it to my Dad’s house – who conveniently lives about 30 minutes from Cisco’s RTP campus. We went out to dinner that Sunday night, and caught up on our lives as we hadn’t seen each other in a few years.
The next day came and I have to say I was excited to see what the class had in store. I was up a bit early and out on my way to the class. We had the benefit of having the bootcamp on the RTP campus, so I was able to find out where I would be going to take the lab, and take that unknown away. Once I got to the campus, I was quickly able to find the building that the bootcamp was going to be in. I walked in and I was meet with about 10 other people who were there to sit for the bootcamp as well. We all got our name tags from the greeter and we waited patiently for Marko to arrive.
Once Marko arrived he greeted us with a smile and a hand shake and we found our way to the conference room that we would be working in for the next two weeks. There was some back and forth banter for about 20-30 minutes as we first arrived and then Marko dove right in. We did a round the room introduction of ourselves and we all learned a little about each other, helping break what would become a pretty thick slab of ice within the room and the people who were in it. We were also asked to address what we thought to be our weak points in our theory so Marko could help form the class to what he thought would benefit us all the most.
He was able to gear the class toward our concerns and help us to identify the gap between theoretical and experiential knowledge. And I can NOT stress this enough. It was a larger gap that existed than I’d thought. I vividly remember him putting an example on the board that consisted of 3 routers, none of his examples consisted of much more than this, other than getting into the BGP examples later on in the week, and after some questions from Marko and a lot of uneasy quiet in the room, we weren’t able to figure out the problem in any reasonable amount of time. A room full of 15 Network Engineers all striving to obtain one of the industry’s most recognized certifications for doing just that, network engineering, were just shown that we don’t know anything about a protocol we all work with on a, probably, regular basis. Now, how much of that was “I don’t want to look like an idiot in front of my peers” syndrome, I can only speak for myself and I say it was a lot. And I would’ve looked like an idiot most of the time if I had decided to speak up.
However, I have to stress, this was not Marko’s intention. He wasn’t trying to make us feel bad about how much we knew about a particular protocol, or if we knew how that protocol would’ve reacted in a specific scenario or topology. He wanted to show us what to strive to become. What it would take to be considered a CCIE. It was on that first day that I’d realized I wasn’t doing NEARLY enough in my studies and I needed to up my game drastically.
Fast forward to Friday and 4 more days of realizing how much I needed to increase my efforts, we wrapped up the week of theory. Within this week, I kept thinking to myself, “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to pass this exam”, on more than a few occasions. A few of us from class decided to get some dinner that night and I had a conversation with Marko. I remember telling him that of everything I’ve taken away from his class so far, I’d taken one thing to heart the most. I realized how much I had to rely on myself and no one and nothing else. When you’re in the heat of the moment its the trust you have to have in yourself to methodically walk yourself through a problem and figure out exactly what it is that needs to be done to fix it. There is no Google, there is no co-worker to collaborate with. You have yourself and some horribly organized and sometimes written Cisco documentation and that’s it.
We had the weekend to recover and started in on the labs Monday morning. All I have to say about those labs is that they are pure evil. Pure, calculated, evil. They are designed to push you to your absolute limits in terms of mental stamina, and when you think you’ve got it figured out, you don’t. Go back and try again. I thought to myself, and even text my wife a few times, “I don’t want to / can’t get this certification and I don’t know why I am wasting my time”. She would text me back and encourage me to stick with it and that everything would be OK. I even thought about leaving the class, that I was wasting my time and I didn’t want the stupid certification. What was to be a 2 hour troubleshooting section took me the better part of 12 hours and don’t even get me started on the configuration!
That said, the labs were tough, but they were fair. Nothing in the labs was anything we shouldn’t be expected to see. It was my lack of closing the gap between theoretical and experiential that was breaking me. Circling back to the reliance on myself, it was myself that was failing me. Nothing more. It was now that I was realizing that a lot of what I’d read online about time saving techniques for typing, etc were just a sham. After all of this was said and done, I took that one over-arching theme back to my studies outside of the class. I needed to up my personal game and investment.
Fast forward to today and I’m writing this post in my basement office at 0045 after a 3 hour QoS lab and I’m feeling much more confident with where I am at in terms of the lab. I hope to pass in a single attempt, but will be completely happy if it takes me multiple times. Reason being, in that time between the bootcamp and now, I’ve slowed down and tried to listen to what my peers has been telling me from the beginning. Obtaining your CCIE is much less about the number and far more about the journey.
To sum this up in a few words, go take the bootcamp with Marko. I regret nothing about the time I spent in his class and I believe it made me a better person, both personally and professionally. So much so, in fact, that if he offers an SP class when I decide to go for that, he will be the first instructor I turn to to invest my time and money into.
Thank you Marko for helping me take myself to that next level. The level required to really call yourself a CCIE.