CCIE Pursuit Blog

October 7, 2008

My Lab Experience – Part I

Filed under: Cisco,Cisco Certification — cciepursuit @ 1:12 pm
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A couple of things first:

Anyone who feels less confident about their chances of passing the lab based on my failure – don’t.  The lab that I took was eminently passable.  I almost wish that I had received a really tough lab as my ego would be a little less bruised.  The reason for failure lies completely with me. 

Which leads to my second caveat: I am not an authority.  Don’t feel that because I didn’t pass that means your chances are diminished.  If you’re using IE’s workbook then just know that my lab only had two technologies not present in the Volume II/III workbooks* – both of which were fairly easy to find in the documentation.  At the end of the day I’m not a Brian or Petr or Marvin or Jared or Scott or [insert favorite vendor instructor here] but rather just some dude on the Internet posting about my personal quest for the holy digits.  You should NOT let my failure affect your preparation strategy.  Again, the lab I received was passable and you may not trip on the same tasks that I did.

*I did not complete all of the labs Volume II labs.  I completed all of the labs except the ones with a difficulty rating of 10.  Also, my memory is not perfect so these technologies may be present in the IE labs.  My point is that there was very little in the way of “surprise features” on my lab.

Finally, I need to respect the NDA.  If you have any questions about the lab feel free to leave a comment with your question.  I will answer it to the best of my ability but if doing so would break the NDA then I will not be able to answer it. 

Anyhoo…here’s my lab experience.

The Night Before

You may want to read this part with your eyes closed.  🙂  My wife and I flew into SFO on Monday and proceeded to have a blast in the city.  Either the streets in Chinatown have gotten a lot steeper or I’m more out of shape than I realized.  🙂  On Wednesday we picked up a car and drove down to Monterey.  We were back in San Jose by 6 pm.  I had brought along a bunch of my IE labs and solution guides and read through a number of them for review.  By 9 pm I was exhausted.  I still had not reviewed the CCIE Routing and Switching Practice Labs so I decided that I would get up at 3 am and review until I left for the exam.  That would give me 6 hours of sleep and I really did not think that I would be able to sleep.  I slept like a baby.  A baby who dreams about IOS.  The hotel I stayed was ill-staffed (to say the least) and when I tried to call for a wake up call, I was promted to page out the front desk…at 8:30 pm!  Screw it, my wife set the (piece of crap) clock radio for 3 am.

3 am rolled around and I woke up to a barely perceptible blast of radio static.  I got up and took a shower.  While in the shower I remembered that I had set the alarm on my phone to go off at 3 am as well.  I quickly finished my shower in an attempt to stop that alarm from waking my wife.  I picked up my phone and looked at the time.  It was a few minutes past 1 am!  I looked at the clock radio and it read 2:15 am.  WTF?  My wife later told me that she set the alarm for 2 am instead of 3 am and that the clock must have been an hour ahead of local time.  Oh well, more time for study.

I read through the CCIE Routing and Switching Practice Labs as well as a number of my IE labs and notes.  At 5 am I crawled back into bed to nab another 1.5 hours of sleep.  I woke up again (still no problem sleeping) at 6:30 am and went through a few notes as well as reviewing the location (we had driven to the location the night before) and time of the lab.  At 7:45 we were on our way.

Lab Tip #1:  Bring your own alarm clock.

Lab Tip #2:  Don’t bother with any last minute review.  I gained absolutely nothing by doing this and lost some sleep time.  The sad thing is that I’m wired for shit like this.  I had gone a few days without any review and didn’t want to fail the lab and regret not doing “one last review”.  If you’re wired the same way as I am (I’ve done this from college on) then try to convince yourself that sleep is more important than any last minute review.

Lab Tip #3:  Drive to the testing location the night before the lab.  The hotel that I stayed at (Extended StayAmerica San Jose – Santa Clara) was located on Gold Street (basically Lafayette Street about the 237).  Lafayette drive passes BENEATH Tasman Drive so you need get off on Calle del Mundo and follow that street to Tasman Drive.  If we hadn’t noticed that the night before I would have been pooping myself on the morning of the exam.  🙂

Quick Hotel Review

Extended StayAmerica San Jose – Santa Clara  is located about 2 miles from the testing center (right across from some Foundry Networks buildings).  It’s a walkable distance, but you really don’t want to worry about getting to the test center on time so you’ll probably want a car or hire a cab.  The hotel did not offer a shuttle to the Cisco campus.

The hotel was relatively cheap ($120 per night with taxes) and was serviceable.  It has a kitchenette and there is a Safeway nearby.  The hotel must be going through renovations.  The room we stayed in was clean but the hallways were pretty filthy.  I didn’t really care.  The only issue I had was that the hotel “upgraded” us to a double rather than a king.  I asked if the room was the same size and was told that it was.  I then asked how they considered the extra bed to be an “upgrade”?  No answer.  🙂

Wireless Internet is available for $4.95 per stay.  That was the cheapest and most stable WiFiconnection I had on my entire trip.  That just tells you how expensive and crappy the WiFi experience was at the various other hotels and airports. 

I won’t recommend the place for your honeymoon but I felt that it was okay for a night or more before your lab.  I’ll probably stay there for my next attempt.


I arrived at Building C around 8 am.  You’ll need to check in with the security guard and present a government issued ID (a driver’s license is fine) and then wait for the proctor to come down around 8:15.  There is a notice on the door stating that the building access hours are 7:30 am – 5 pm so you probably do not want to arrive before 7:30 am.

There were about 10 candidates that day.  Everyone was on time.  Around 8:15 a proctor will come down and call out your name.  You’ll need to present your ID once again and the proctor will give you a name tag.  One of the candidates came forward when his name was called and offered his hand to the proctor.  This confused everyone as he was one of the last candidates called and should have seen that everyone else was showing their ID.  Eventually the confusion was cleared and we followed the proctor to the lab.  All along the way there were signs on the wall with “CCIE” on them so it would be very hard to get lost.

We arrived outside the lab and quickly found that one of the candidates was missing.  Somehow Mr. Handshake had separated himself from the group.  The proctor left us outside the lab and went back to get him.  This took about five minutes and needless to say the proctor was not happy and did not hide the fact.  Wonderful, this jackass had the proctor in a foul mood already.

We were told to turn off our cellphones and place them and any bags on a bench.  We were then split into two groups: voice candidates and non-voice candidates.  At that point the second proctor arrived (I’m horrible with names – I think that the first proctor’s name was Tom but I completely forgot the second guy’s name).  You will be assigned a station (the station number will be important for your exam).  The proctor asked how many first-timers there were and me and two other guys raised our hands.  The proctor went through a very quick tutorial on the workstation.  The guys who had been to the lab before took this opportunity to start their labs while this was happening.

The Lab Station

The exam room is large.  There are stacks of equipment throughout the room and there is a constant buzz of fans.  It’s like being in a small data center without the ice cold air conditioning.  I wore a short-sleeved shirt with slacks and was comfortable [to be honest once you’re locked into the lab it could be absolute zero with live rounds being fired at your head and you most likely would not notice].  A couple of the candidates showed up in tshirts and shorts so dress comfortably and don’t worry about any type of dress code. 

We were not allowed to bring any food or drinks into the lab.  I didn’t ask whether or not gum was considered food (I chewed gum the entire time).  There is a break room around the corner that has a cooler stocked with sodas (Diet Mt Dew was in full effect!) and juices as well as coffee and tea.  The men’s restroom was direct across the hallway from the lab.  If you need to use the restroom or the break room you need to use an access card.  There is only one access card.  Only one candidate could leave the room at a time.  Well, you could leave the room without the card but you would not be able to get back in.  🙂 

Each station had a container with a number of highlighters, markers, and pens.  I didn’t bring anything into the lab except my wallet and a pair of ear plugs.  I don’t remember hearing whether or not you are allowed to bring in any pens/markers/highlighters of your own and no one asked about it.  The writing implements at my station seemed to be a collection of hotel pens, decent highlighters (pink, yellow, and blue) as well as some colored pencils.  Nothing outstanding, but all usable.

You are given a single sheet of paper.  You can ask for one additional sheet at a time, but you need to present your paper to the proctor when doing so.  I only used one sheet as it was huge.  It was probably 16 inches by 8 inches.  I folded it in half and used one quadrant each for my L3 drawing, L2 drawing, and task tracking grid.  This left a full quadrant for notes.  You are told not to rip off pieces of the paper (your sheet must be intact).  I did not ask if you could tear the sheet in half – which I wanted to do – but the few times that I needed to unfold/flip the paper presented no problems.

Your desktop will be set up with individual shortcuts for telnetting to each device.  There is also a shortcut for a terminal server if you want to go that route (I did).  You’ll have access to Notepad and the Windows calculator.

A quick note about the Windows calculator.  For some reason mine was set to hexadecimal view.  I couldn’t figure out whether I should use qword, dword, word, or byte.  🙂  I didn’t realize until after the lab that I should have changed the view to decimal mode.  I don’t know if the hexadecimal setting was just the previous candidate being a douche-bag or if it was the proctors making the lab a bit more challenging, but let my embarrassing calculator skills be a warning.  🙂

Windows Calculator in Decimal Mode

Windows Calculator in Decimal Mode


Windows Calculator Settings for Decimal Mode

Windows Calculator Settings for Decimal Mode


Your lab binder will be on your station.  The lab pages are enclosed in clear plastic sleeves.  You are allowed to remove the plastic sleeves but you are NOT allowed to remove the lab papers nor to mark the papers or plastic sleeves in any manner.  The proctors are VERY serious about this.

Remember that the following points pertain to my station in the San Jose location on 02 October, 2008.  I have heard that each location (and perhaps each station) may be different. 

1) You are allowed to save configurations to the desktop with Notepad.  I asked about this and used this method to save out my TCL scripts.

2) I could not open any PDFs (well I could, but it would open in Notepad and good luck reading that mess).  I tried saving a PDF to the desktop and then opening it, but I could not even save the PDF.  A quick look at the installed programs showed that Adobe Reader was NOT installed on my machine.

3) The version of SecureCRT was older and did not support tabs.  I am a Tera Term Pro baby so I was a little worried about cut and paste features in SecureCRT.  It was not an issue.  Any highlighted text was copied to the clipboard and pasted with a right-click.  The experience was very similar to using the Windows CMD window with QuickEdit and Insert modes selected.  The only change that I made was to change the background and text colors.

4) The browser is version 6 of Internet Explorer.  There was no tab functionality.

I did not ask if you could save configurations to flash.  The proctors never brought it up and it was not addressed in the lab.  I had no need to do so, but I have heard rumors that you can do this as well as rumors that this will cause you to fail the lab.



  1. I have to disagree, and use your lab attempt to gauge myself :P.

    Go to Narbik’s 😛 Too bad my class is full…

    Comment by cciejourney — October 7, 2008 @ 1:46 pm | Reply

  2. I am sure you will walk out with the digits in January though.

    Comment by cciejourney — October 7, 2008 @ 1:48 pm | Reply

  3. Seriously, this is causing some flashbacks. I hadn’t thought about it for a year and a half, but reading your recollection brought it all back.

    Ugh. I’m already a CCIE Voice, but I’m going to start on the R&S track in a month or two. I’m hoping that the many attempts I made before will help me out this time. My goal is to get it done in three or less. The Voice took me 5.

    Comment by Chris Driggers — October 7, 2008 @ 2:22 pm | Reply

  4. Great write up, there are some good pointers about last minute prep and an alarm clock. The secret about this exam is that the answers are mostly all there in the documentation – you just need to know how to find them.

    Get back on it – Im sure you will do it next time.

    Comment by ccielab — October 7, 2008 @ 2:42 pm | Reply

  5. I was shocked to see you didn’t get the digits on first attempt. Anxious to read more about your experience though.

    I do wonder about the saving configs in flash. I’ve done that several times at work just to cover myself while working…

    Comment by TL — October 7, 2008 @ 3:34 pm | Reply

  6. As I am also using the IE workbook and am interested in how you plan of preparing for your next attempt. I know you plan on hitting the DOC CD will this be core or non core topics? Sometimes I feel like the IE workbook is too much of a comfort zone like the phrasing of the question leads you to the answer and I know the real lab wont be like this. I am wondering if you had trouble with the format of the exam after getting used to IE?

    Comment by Andrew Dempsey — October 7, 2008 @ 3:51 pm | Reply

  7. […] CCIE Pursuit has posted about his lab experience.  Head on over to his site an check it out.  He has some good info and lessons […]

    Pingback by CCIE Lab community updates « CCIE Trek — October 7, 2008 @ 7:00 pm | Reply

  8. hehe, I remember Tom. He’s always grumpy. I was even scared to talk to him.

    Comment by Tom — October 7, 2008 @ 8:56 pm | Reply

  9. Thanks for your insight on your first lab attempt. I have scheduled mine for April and any information from previous attempts will always be appreciated.

    Comment by Alltimed — October 8, 2008 @ 11:18 am | Reply

  10. Hi,

    In cisco online doc we see technology tab and that leading to a lot of design guide. Is it also available in real lab.

    Thanks much

    Comment by in hurry — October 9, 2008 @ 10:28 am | Reply

  11. @ in hurry – Sorry, but I don’t remember if that section was available or not. The documentation will open on and I opened three brower instances – one for the 3560 Configuration Guide, one for the 12.4 Configuration Guides, and one for the 12.4 Command Guides. I don’t think that I used anything except those pages (I may have hit the Master Command List once but I don’t remember).

    I seem to recall a GroupStudy discussion stating that the Design documentation was not available. Unfortunately, I can’t recall if those links were there or not.

    Comment by cciepursuit — October 9, 2008 @ 10:36 am | Reply

  12. @TL – “I do wonder about the saving configs in flash. I’ve done that several times at work just to cover myself while working…”

    I did not ask about saving configurations to flash, but we were not explicitly told that this was a violation of the exam rules. If this really would result in an “instant failure” (as I’ve heard) then I am reasonably sure the the proctor would have mentioned this like he mentioned not removing/marking the test papers.

    Comment by cciepursuit — October 9, 2008 @ 11:11 am | Reply

  13. @Andrew Dempsey – Cisco definitely has their own way of phrasing questions. I am also pretty sure that the test writers have read the practice labs of the major vendors and purposely write questions that deviate from those vendors’ styles. I would suggest reading the documentation and making notes of decriptions of technologies that differ from your chosen vendor’s descriptions. The good news is that there are some technologies that can only be described in a few ways and that Cisco will (should) base their descriptions on their own documentation so mining the documentation can clarify the question.

    I will post my strategy for my next attempt in the near future, but it will be heavy on studying the documentation.

    Comment by cciepursuit — October 9, 2008 @ 11:17 am | Reply

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