My CCIE Study Plan

One of the most common questions you’ll see aspiring CCIEs ask is “Where should I start?”  It’s a daunting study path, to be sure!  Cisco officially recommends that you have CCNP-level knowledge and 3 to 5 years of experience in the field.  As of mid-October of 2014, Cisco has just published the first of two volumes of their CCIE study guide, with volume 2 due out next month.  You’ll also see books like “Routing TCP/IP” volumes 1 and 2, “Internet Routing Architectures”, “Deploying IPv6 Networks”, “End to End QoS Network Design”, “MPLS Fundamentals” and a couple others recommended quite a bit.  Reading books is an inevitable part of this process, but I have to admit, some of what I’ve already read has felt a bit too dated to be relevant.  Or at the very least, too dated to truly prepare someone for the exams.  A lot has changed in the last few years, and it doesn’t make much sense to me to become an “expert” in the old ways of doing things, only to find that best practice and configuration methods have changed.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t “regret” any of the reading that I’ve done so far, it’s been enlightening.  But, after having read “Routing TCP/IP” volumes 1 and 2, and then reading the Cisco Press Study guides, I can’t help but escape the feeling that I was diving really deep into the old way of doing things with the older books.  That has really made me rethink my methods.  At the start, I was just going to read lots of books and then go through the CBT Nuggets and INE videos, then go do some home lab scenarios, then check myself against the exam objectives and see which areas I needed to dig in deeper.  Honestly, that’s a study approach that has worked very well for me through many of the other tests that I’ve taken.

CCIEorBUSTThe truth is though, that coming up with a list of books to go through has just seemed like too much of a knowledge dump, and the information doesn’t seem to stick as well when you’re just plowing through books, especially when you consider the sheer volume of topics that are covered in the CCIE exams.  So I’ve decided to change it up a bit as I’m preparing for the written exam.  Now, I’m focusing on the exam topics far more.  Trying to become an expert means needing to focus intensely on each topic until you’ve mastered it.  Grinding through books felt too much like the same overview over and over, without really being able to feel like I was digging in deeply enough, or retaining what I’m going to need for the tests.

So now, in addition to the books, I’ve also been watching the INE Video series and CBT Nuggets series as they have been coming out.  I really enjoy the video-based learning, especially lately, as my daughter won’t fall asleep unless my wife or myself is in her room room with her.  Interestingly, it doesn’t bother her at all if I’m sitting in the rocking chair with my laptop, watching the training videos.  As long as I’m in there she’ll stay in bed and try to sleep.  That’s been a very pleasant discovery, and it’s exactly the kind of “life hack” I’d love to keep finding, as it’s pretty much free hour of quiet study time every night.

My newest training method though, will be this blog.  My plan is to go through the Written Exam blueprint and give a good description of the content here.  I feel like that’s a great way of forcing myself to be as thorough as possible, as I’ll know whether I can actually explain the content on the exam.  It will also be a good way of talking about what I thought I needed to study for the test, and later, I can compare it with what was actually there, in case I do need to take multiple attempts.

That being said, I haven’t taken the tests yet, so please don’t feel like I’m revealing exam content in this space. Nobody is going to come here and read a few blog entries, then be ready to sit for a test anyway, but I definitely am not going to be publishing test questions/answers here.  Cisco’s exam blueprints are publicly available information, and I’ll be doing my best to credit and link sources when I do write about technical topics.  But please trust that none of those sources are the real exams.  I have no intention of doing anything that would undermine the value of the very certification I’m working so hard to achieve.

As I get to sections that will require labbing this stuff up at home, I’ll be spending a ton of time in GNS3.  If you haven’t looked at GNS3 in a while, then you definitely need to go back and see what they’re offering.  GNS3 used to be a great resource for learning about routing, but a terrible one for the switching side of things.  Please do yourself a favor and check out the new switching capabilities that are being offered in the Alpha releases.  It takes some time, tinkering, and research to figure out how to get it up and running, but it’s very worth it!
So, my study plan has morphed quite a bit.  It started as an ordered approach of books, then videos, then labs, then a test attempt to see if I could make it.  Now, instead, I’m taking the blueprint objective by objective.  Some of these are going to go by quite quickly, and I’m sure others (BGP comes to mind) will be the focus of months’ worth of studying.  Because of this objective-by-objective approach though, I’m really excited about how easy it should be to have very focused topic for this blog!  So stay tuned for the first actual technical post, coming in the next day or two here about IOS XE!

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