Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Lab Attempt #1

As previously stated I had my first attempt at the CCIE Lab exam on Nov. 7.  I'm sure you've all likely figured out that I did not pass since there hasn't been any fanfare or celebration on my part.  But it was a learning experience and I don't really have any regrets about not being able to pass on the first go. 

During the  boot camp I took the week before Marko Milivojevic told me, and the rest of the class, that we all had a fighting chance of passing.  Well it turns out he was right.  I did have a fighting chance, but that was about it.  For me to have passed on the first go it would have required more luck than skill, and I don't really want this cert if it's because I'm lucky.

So, for those of you interested, here's how my day went.

For posterity's sake here's the circumstantial details about the ordeal.  I stayed at The Avatar Hotel on Great America Parkway.  It's an old motel that I think was a Quality Inn previous to its current incarnation.  It's geared toward the tech crowd with free wired/wireless Internet and decent amenities.  The bed was very comfortable and I actually slept quite well the night before the exam. 

To get to Cisco I walked about 10 minutes to the train that runs along Tasman drive.  There's a station right where Tasman and Great America meet, and the train drops you directly in front of Bldg C on the Cisco campus (Champion station ironically enough). 

I arrived about 30 minutes early and proceeded to wait with the two other fellows who were already waiting. One of the guys I recognized from Online Study List that IPexpert maintains.  It turns out he's from Canada like myself, and we chatted about nothing in particular while we waited.  By the time the proctor came out to check our ID and let us in there was 6 of us waiting. 

The facilities are about what I expected.  Hallways of half open doors giving you brief glimpses into either technical looking geek-doms or nondescript offices that could be in any office building.  The proctor showed us where the coffee room and bathrooms were, and then took us into the lab. 

Oddly enough the testing room reminded me a lot of my post-secondary Cisco lab (MD111 FTW!).  It had racks of gear up at the front, and workstations staggered throughout the rest of the room.  The proctor showed each of us to a workstation and directed us to read the instruction sheets on our desks.

Once we were all ready to go we were told to start, and we started.

First up, as most of you know, is the Troubleshooting.  Blech.  Not fun.

Easily the key to the TS section, other than the obvious of fixing the tickets, is to manage your time.  Without saying too much, I will say that there was a lot to accomplish in this section and not a lot of time with which to do it.  I plowed through my tickets as fast as I could, while trying not to go to fast.  I made an effort to be as meticulous as I could be and not miss anything obvious that would only cause me to lose valuable time.

I wasn't successful.

There was a couple tickets that I could not find the solution to quick enough, and moved on only to come back and find what I missed relatively quickly.  This annoyed me.  I think that I lost time by not finding what I should have during my first look.  Had I found the errors faster I would have had more time to take down the other, more complicated issues that I was confronted with.

The other big mistake I think I made during the TS section was not reading all the tickets at the start.  I have no idea why I didn't do this.  I always have during all my practice labbing, and I know better than to not. 

I got quite a few tickets in and realized I had one ticket that I absolutely should have done first.  That error, and huge lapse in judgement, cost me that one ticket for sure, and maybe others since I still tried to get it working even though the odds were against me.

I'd like to think that I wasn't very nervous for this attempt.  I didn't feel particularly nervous.  But when I look back missing these simple things that I should have found, combined with not reading all the tickets and other silly things I did (or didn't do) that I will mention shortly make me think that perhaps I was more nervous than I thought.  Or at least I'd like to think that I don't go around making silly mistakes for no good reason :P

In the end I ran out the clock on the TS section and hdd all my open terminals forcibly closed.  Just like that.  Poof! 

On to Config!

After my mistakes in the TS I wasn't going to dive right into the config without reading everything over.  I'm glad I got my senses about me for the config because in this section I think it was even more important.  I see completely now why every CCIE I have ever seen always says to always, ALWAYS read the whole lab first.  After one attempt I now echo this sentiment. 

Read the entire lab before you start!

The config section I was presented with didn't strike me as particularly complicated.  I got though the L2 section without any difficulty, and most of the L3 before I started to encounter any issues. 

I managed to get though the redistribution of my IGPs (or at least I thought I did) and busted out my TCL script for full reachability.  When everything worked I started to get very excited.  I still had about half of the total time left and I felt that I was moving along at a fantastic pace.  I even started to smile a bit.

As it turned out, everything didn't work, and no amount of smiling was going to help me.  I'll elaborate on this in a minute.

I moved through BGP without too much trouble.  They made things a little tricky, but I think I got this section in the end.  I then went though the Advanced Services and Optimizing sections with a bit of trouble.  There was some things here I did not practice, and I did not do what I should have...

This is where I think I may have also been affected by nerves.  I was feeling confident about the config, and when I hit a wall in these later sections I did not do what I know I should have done.

I did not consult the documentation.

I did go to the docs during my lab.  I did use the DocCD to verify that I completed other tasks correctly, or looked up commands that I needed to check on.  I did not go to the docs when I completely didn't know how to configure something.

To put this in perspective for everyone, when I was on the plane home I opened up one of the DocCD pdf's that I have on my tablet to check on one of the tasks I had.  I spent a ton of time on this task trying to ? my way through it but never really got it right.  I found an example showing exactly what the task was asking about 5 pages into the config guide for that technology.

DocCD Fail.

In any event, I had gone through the whole lab and configured most everything that I thought I could get.  I still had about an hour and a half left so I decided it'd be a good time to go back and redo all my verification to make sure everything was still working the way it should have.  It was here that I discovered that the smiling I had previously done was unwarranted and that I had a serious problem lurking in the shadows.

I had a routing loop. 

When I noticed what was going on I had about an hour left, and I spent that entire hour trying to figure out why I had the loop, and how I could fix it without breaking any of the previous requirements. 

I suck at routing loops, and this routing loop they presented me with was a bitch.  I ran out of time trying to solve it.

The thing that really sucked was that all my reachability tests always worked.  This is how I missed it the first time around.  I also thought I had 'debug ip routing' enabled on every device, but I must have missed one.  It also turns out that the devices that were the loudest complainers about the loop weren't devices that I had other tasks on, thereby removing the loop from my direct sight.

Dirty trick…

In the end I missed both the config and the TS by fair margins.  I think that had I not made the fundamental mistakes I did make I would have stood a fighting chance of passing this test.  I think that if I had once and for all mastered redistribution and routing loops that I could have passed this test on the first try.

And that's my story. 

I come away from this with a few lessons learned.  It's very cliche, but at this point it is what's important and it is true.  I made some errors that I cannot make again, and I went up against some tasks that I very well know I do not have the chops to solve correctly.  I know what I need to fix.

Hopefully someone other than me can also learn from my experience.


  1. Roger that.

    I should actually be scheduling #2 tomorrow. Looking at Dec 17.

  2. Scratch that. I'm reading what I want to read. There's no dates open until January.

  3. Awesome recap - As Vito said - Keep it up brotato!

  4. Glad to see you are sticking with it. What all did you use for study materials and method?

  5. Sorry to hear that dude :|

    Keep pushing forward and you will nail it!!

    Best of luck

  6. Thanks for sharing your experience. I feel we will soon have a permanent CCIE in the forum.

    Good luck!

  7. Keep it up. You will nail it next time!

  8. That sucks J, but at least you went for it, not everyone can say that. And now knowing what to expect next time you're more likely to pass next time. This was a good read and regardless of the fact of you getting it or not, I feel a bit inspired by it.

  9. Thanks Brent. I'm sure planning on getting it on my second go around, which is sneaking up fast (Jan 13).

    You should give it a a go. I think it something that's very possible for you.