I never thought I would see the day when I’d use the world octuple but here we are.
Meet Neil Moore, who passed his CCIE RS in 2002 and in 2014 he passed his eighth CCIE lab exam – the CCIE Collaboration. He was previously a cloud architect for HP but now works as Principal Technologist-Key Accounts for Seagate. I haven’t spoken to him directly but what I have done is to look into his methods and strategies and come up with a few learning points we can all take on board. Take note of the parts you think will help you achieve your study goals.
You can see that Neil is passing a CCIE exam roughly every 2-3 years. The average study time for a CCIE lab is around 18 months plus the theory exam study time. This of course factors in work time, family stuff and sleep. It's much better to do a little every day than marathon sessions on the weekends.
Chunk it Down
Neil broke all the exam objectives down into tiny chunks. Instead of saying for the week “I’m going to learn OSPF” he would say “I’m going to learn about OSPF LSA types.” This prevents the feelings of overwhelm we can all experience when we consider the mammoth task ahead of us.
Use the Matrix
Instead of looking at what the packet was doing on the network he would imagine he was the packet. He visualized his different fields changing as it traversed the network. As the packet was processed, he would see QoS markings added (for example) and see where they went and the effect they had.
Invest in Yourself
Whenever possible, Neil bought his own home lab equipment so he could continually re-cable and even see how the airflow works in different vendor’s equipment. For every vendor, he knows where to find the console port that helps when a customer is watching you work!
His home power bills were huge as you can imagine but unlike many IT students, he was the money he was spending as an investment, not an expense.
Don’t Quit / No Excuses
Over 90% of students who start out studying for an IT exam end up quitting. Never quit. Neil took all of his CCIE exams while working long hours and raising kids with his wife. His kids used to run around him as he was doing his labs at home. He figured that if he could concentrate while that was happening then the exam environment would seem easy compared to that.
Don’t Get Stuck on One Vendor
Neil would configure various labs on his home network and then see if he could do the same with another vendor device. So he would configure BGP for example, using a Cisco router and then swap it out for a HP router. He would also try out high and low-end models and note the differences. This gave him the ability to work in a multi-vendor environment as well as recommend the best solution to his customers based on personal experience.
Blend Your Learning
You need to attack your brain from all angles. Listen to podcasts, watch videos, read books, take practice exams and do labs. If you stick to just one learning method you simply won’t retain the information as well as you could do and you will also miss out on vital learning points as well as take much longer to pass the exam.
Write it Out
As you learn a topic, write out the important learning points and commands. Use different pen colors and try using mind mapping software or just write out your mind maps. If you want an entire course on IT exam study tips that really work then check out my Ace Your IT Exam course.
Don’t Study Multiple Vendor Exams Simultaneously
I’ve blogged about this myself in the past, but it seemed to have fallen upon deaf ears. I still see students asking me if they can take a NetApp, Microsoft and Cisco course at the same time!
Neil says stick to one vendor exam at a time and even then, keep it a specific as possible so don’t mix say a Cisco Voice exam with a Cisco routing exam. Even that will be too confusing and take far longer than it would if you did one after another.
Although he has passed eight CCIE exams, NONE of them was on the first attempt. Learn the lessons you have to learn about the lack of knowledge or exam preparation and take it again. If you keep going, you can consider yourself a winner. Quitting lasts a lifetime.
Enjoy the Journey
People tend to see passing the exam as the final objective but remember to enjoy the journey. Others will pass more exams than you and do it all faster but every day you learn something new and take a step towards your certification is a success. Strive to pass the technology, not the exam. Passing the exam proves you knew enough on the day but if you concentrate on actually mastering the technology and protocols you will be a winner.
Don’t Look at the Books Too Early
If you get stuck on a lab, do your best to work out the answer for yourself. It will dramatically improve your self-reliance and fault finding skills. You are far more likely to retain the information if you work out the answer for yourself.
When it comes to studying the most consistent person will always triumph over the smart person. Neil says he isn’t the most gifted network engineer, but he is very, very methodical when it comes to organizing his study sessions.
With the sheer amount of voice, video, QoS, virtualization and various wrappers working over modern networks it’s vital to know how to dig into what is happening. Say, for example, a company is experiencing a slow network you may well not find the answer with any configuration issues, network debugs or shows commands on routers and switches. You may end up digging into the packet level to see what traffic is passing on the network. This means using a packet capture tool.
Nobody died while taking an IT exam. Have fun and if you fail or make a mistake then laugh it off. You will still have your family, your job and your health so be grateful and keep smiling.
I hope it helps.