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CCIE: what is it and how to become it?

29th April 2016
by Herman Goedman

CCIE, in full: Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert, is one of the showpieces of Cisco’s Career Certification Program. From time to time I am asked how the CCIE certification exactly works. In spite of the large quantity of information that can be found on the Cisco website a lot still seems unclear. Ample reason to write a blog post about it.

When you understand how the CCIE certification program works and know where you can find more information you are already halfway there.

CCIE: what is it?

CCIEThe certification CCIE is meant for senior engineers and belongs to the top of the certification program by Cisco. The image shows the structure of the certification program in the form of a pyramid. This is a well-known image.

There are CCIE certifications for several domains:

  • Routing & Switching
  • Data Center
  • Security
  • Collaboration
  • Service Provider
  • Wireless

Besides the CCIE certifications there are the CCDE and the CCAr Architect certifications. The CCDE certification is comparable to the CCIE certifications, but mainly in the design area. The CCAr Architect certification is one level up from the CCIE and CCDE certifications and is meant for architects who need to translate business strategies to solutions that support those strategies. I will not elaborate on the certification last mentioned in this blog post. You will find more information here.

But here comes the key question: how do you become a CCIE?

CCIE: 2 exams

To become a CCIE you need to pass 2 exams. Every CCIE certification has a so-called ‘written exam’ and a ‘lab exam’.

CCIE written exam

Like many other Cisco exams the written exam is an exam that will mainly asses the theoretical knowledge and that can be taken on a Pearson VUE exam location. The written exam is comparable to the CCNP level, but contains a broader domain. You can find the subjects that will be treated in an CCIE written exam on the Cisco Learning Network. The subjects in the CCIE Routing & Switching written exam, for instance.

CCIE lab exam

The lab exam is completely focused on the degree to which you are able to put the theory into practice. This is by far the most difficult exam and a stumbling block for many candidates. You are not able to pass the lab exam without years of practical experience. You can compare it to getting your driver’s license: you can pass the theoretical exam by studying hard, but for the practical exam you need to spend hours on the road during your driving lessons.

Dutch and Belgium CCIE candidates can take the lab exam on the Cisco location in Brussels. Entrance to the lab exam is only possible after approximately two weeks after you have passed the written exam. Keep a considerable waiting time in mind when you make the reservation. You can register for a CCIE lab exam at the Cisco Learning Network.

CCIE: how do you prepare optimally for the exams?

I can only answer this question by presenting the challenge again. To obtain the CCIE certification:

  • you need to possess profound knowledge of a broad technology segment.
  • you need to be able to practice this knowledge in a lab environment, where there will be no room for mistakes, long deliberation or consulting books due to the time constraints.

In preparation for the exams Cisco has developed an extensive self study package with courses, lab practices and the so-called graded labs that closely resemble the lab exam. The package offers all additional subjects for the CCNP exams in several study modules and can therefore also be used in preparation of the written exam.

CCIE: when are you ready to start with the preparation?

To obtain a CCIE certification you need a lot of practice experience. Only then you will be able to complete the lab exam in the available time. You can only obtain that experience by years of working with Cisco in various environments.

Are there specific advantages to having a CCIE certificate?

There are several advantages:

  • The CCIE certificate extends the validity of all underlying certificates, like CCNA, CCNP and CCDP.
  • In case of service calls CCIE holders will receive a preferential treatment in the TAC.
  • During Cisco Live CCIE holders will get a private lounge/working space with all facilities available. They will furthermore be invited for a CCIE lunch by the CEO of Cisco.
  • CCIE holders with a 10 year possession of their certificate can apply for the CCIE Emeritus status. This ‘sleeping’ status will exempt you from having to re-certificate every two years. Your CCIE status will no longer be active, but can be reactivated immediately by taking a written exam.
  • CCIE holders are important for the Gold partnership of a Cisco channel partner.

In conclusion: the most important recommendation and relevant links

Don’t take it lightly. A CCIE lab exam is a difficult exam that is frequently and repeatedly failed by candidates, even though they have prepared themselves thoroughly. Without approximately five years of practical experience in the center of your work area and the iron discipline to study after working hours and during the weekends you probably won’t make it.

Finally a number of relevant links:

Do you have any questions about the obtaining of a CCIE certification? Let me know. I will be glad to help you with them.

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