CCIE Pursuit Blog

September 11, 2008

Status Update: 21 Days Left

21 days until the lab.  I’ve been labbing my ass off over the last two weeks.  I’m at the point where I dream about IOS and find myself typing “cntrl+shift+6” then “x” when trying to change between applications.  I’ve misspelled “conf t” so many times that I’m not sure how to type it anymore.  I’ve printed hundreds of pages of labs and configuration guides.  I’ve drank gallons of Diet Mt. Dew.  I actually look forward to hitting the gym because it’s less torturous than labbing.

About 3 days into this run I was ready to quit.  I took the first of two CCIE Assessor labs and failed it magnificently.  Question interpretation and time management slayed me.  I was utterly disgusted with myself.  I’ve put in so much time and effort preparing for the lab and getting crushed on a lab this late in the game really stung.

I continued to lab away.  Yesterday I did the second CCIE Assessor lab.  I had a better strategy this time, but hit a rathole on one question.  The worst part was that I knew what I needed to accomplish (somewhat – there was one very confusing task) but I could not get it to work.  I couldn’t even implement an ugly workaround because the part I couldn’t get to work would have been required.  Finally I was able to track down the problem.  Of course it was my fault.  I swear that I configured the appropriate line on the router, but it was not there when I finally started troubleshooting from the ground up.  I spent an hour on a 4-hour lab doing that one task.  It was a core task and needed to be completed or I would have lost a ton of related points later in the lab.

I ended up doing redistribution and then just grabbing as many easy points as I could.  I finished my last task with less than a minute remaining in the lab.

My final score was a 60%.  That’s kind of a Pyrrhic victory.  I scored very well on the tasks that I completed (missing only two tasks) but I did not attempt multicast or 80% of BGP.  The sad thing is that the BGP tasks were easy.  With another 30 minutes I could have passed the lab.

My depression has now been replaced a “Que Sera, Sera” attitude (English translation: “Fuck it”).  I’ve let this damned thing affect me too much lately.  I need to get my life back one way or the other.  I’m going to do my best and face the beast.  If the stars line up, then I’ll get my digits.  If not, then I’ll spend a Minnesota winter prepping for another run. 

I have a number of mock labs coming up over the next week.  I hope to be getting scores in the 70+ range.  I’ve gone through all of the IE Volume III labs (two times for the first 5 labs) and will continue to chug through the Volume II labs.  The ones that I don’t complete I will definitely read through before taking the exam.

Anyhoo…back to work and then more labs.

September 3, 2008

Status Update: 30 Days Left

The final push towards my date with the lab exam has begun.  I have 30 days left.  I’ve scheduled every bit of my vacation allotment over the next month.  I don’t want to have any regrets (“If I had taken a couple more days to study”) after the lab.  By draining my vacation days I’ve pretty much ensured that I either nail this sucker on the first attempt or I won’t get to it again until next year. 

My cell phone is powered down and I’m only checking email once in the morning and once at night.  Too often a “quick call” from work results in hours of lost time.  I won’t be VPN’ing in or checking my work email.  The days that I have to work will probably be absolutely fruitless as they’ll be spent battling my inbox, but I couldn’t convince my employer to grant me a leave of absence.

No podcasts.  No sports (I’ll miss the Vikings’ opener – against the hated Packers no less – for the first time in a decade).  TV ist verboten.  Pas d’alcool.  I’ll still hit the gym, but only for a quick workout prior to sitting on my ass all day doing labs.  I do plan to do a little bit of fishing to clear my mind, but I’ll be listening to CCIE lectures on my iPod whilst I battle bass.

My wife, [insert preferred deity here] bless her is onboard and is making sacrifices of her own in order to ensure that I can dedicate as much time as possible towards my studies.  I’ve been an absolute (even more than normal – which is hard to do) asshole the last couple of weeks due to stressing over this damned lab.  My family has been very supportive and I love them to death for that.

I’ve mapped out my last month of training.  I’ll be on a rack every day that I can.  I’ve booked four IPexpert labs, two Cisco Assessor labs, one Internetwork Expert proctored lab exam, and I plan to mix in a couple more IE Mock labs if I have time.  I’m making my push through all of the IE labs (Volume II and III).  If I have time I plan to do the two labs in the recent Cisco Press Routing and Switching practice labs.  At the very least I plan to read through those two labs.

I’ll pop up when I can but blogging will be light to nonexistent over the next 30 days.  I will be posting a ton of links to other CCIE blogs over this time.  It’s been a long time since I’ve done this and there are a ton of new blogs out there.

Anyhoo…back to my studies.

December 19, 2007

Status Update: 10 – 16 December

I got back on the horse last week.  The vast majority of my study time was spent tackling IE Volume II lab 3.  I felt okay about my progress on this lab.  I felt awesome after I finally was able to solve a route redistribution task on my own.  Then I fell on my face in the BGP session. 

I am still forgetting basic things within a technology if I haven’t practiced that technology for a while.  Because of this, I am going to implement a new study strategy this week.   I have finished nearly all (Multicast being the exception) of the IE Volume I labs.  I have repeated a number of them.  In the past I have repeated all of the labs for a particular technology that I am having difficulties with.  After I completed the labs for that technology I would be competent in that technology, but then I would discover that my skills had deteriorated in another technology.  Did that make sense?  Using a workout analogy, I would discover that my bench press had deteriorated so I would do a ton of chest exercises.  My benchpress would improve a lot.  Then I would do shoulders and discover the same thing.  Shoulders, legs, arms….then back to chest only to discover that it had deteriorated in the meantime.  That probably made even less sense, but I’m sticking with that analogy.  🙂  A better method would be to work out all the body parts on a regular basis (with possible emphasis on weak parts).  I think that I can apply the same methodology to my CCIE studies.

Going forward, I am going to do a small sample of labs from each of the Volume I labs.   I plan on reading 4 labs (complete them in my head if possible) and doing 4 labs from each technology.  I will initially focus on core tasks (IGPs, Switching, and BGP) and then incorporate more non-core tasks (QoS, Multicast, IP Services) as I progress.  Hopefully this will help me to maintain my knowledge in each technology.

Here are my goals from last week: 

Finish the Volume I QoS labs and some BGP labs.  Review route redistribution.  Review multicast.  Do Volume II lab 3.

I completed Volume II lab 3 (posting now – should be complete by Friday).  I also completed the Volume I QoS labs.  I did not get a chance to review route redistribution (I’ve already done that this week).  I did not get around to reviewing multicast.

This weekend I am going in to work to build out a new lab.  My current lab sits on my desk.  I use it after-hours as I don’t have remote access to it (I could, but I would be breaking a ton of security rules) and it makes enough noise to bother my co-workers if I run it during working hours.  A colleague of mine was building a remotely-accessible CCIE lab but he doesn’t have time to finish it.  The devices (3700s for the routers and 2 3550s, 1 3560, and a 3750 for the switches) are all racked, but need WICs, cabling, CompactFlash cards, and IOS images.  I just ordered CompactFlash cards (those things are hoarded like gold at my job) and I have an old box of 1000 feet of Cat5e cable that I’ll be putting to good use.  I think that I have enough WICs, but I can always find more of those.  Hopefully I can get everything cabled and imaged this weekend.  My friend will work on getting remote access.  I plan on burning most of Saturday on this project.

Goals for this week:  Volume I BGP labs.  Read 4 random labs from each of Volume I OSPF, EIGRP, RIP (12 total).  Do 4 random labs from each of Volume I OSPF, EIGRP, RIP (12 total).  Review route redistribution.  Do Volume III lab 3.  Build work lab.

Days Until Lab: 165
Readiness (1 to 10): 2
Lab Hours This Week 19
Study Hours This Week (estimate): 4

December 11, 2007

Status Update: 03 – 09 December

Some weeks you just can’t catch a break.  This was one of them.

Winter has arrived in Minnesota.  We had two snow storms dump about a foot of snow on us.  Usually the local media will forecast the “blizzard of the century” only to have minimal snow fall.  This time they were pretty accurate.  This lead to me missing about three days of studies. 

When we sold the old house we left our snow-blower with the new owners.  We planned on buying a new one, but kept putting it off.  After the first snowfall, there was a predictable run on snow-blowers.  We ended up ordering one from Amazon.com with free shipping (sweet).  Once it arrived I spent one night clearing snow from the driveway and also (at my wife’s insistence) part of the lake (for ice skating).  The last 5 years or so we haven’t had appreciable snowfall until January, so I thought that I had time to put away the lawn gear.  Wrong.  I spent another night digging the lawnmower and rototiller out of the snow.  Not fun.  The final lost night was due to my wife working from home and needing to use the laptop.  I left my laptop at work so I decided to rebuild a desktop (I had been putting this off for quite awhile).  I couldn’t get XP to load.  It turned out that my CD was scratched just enough to make me waste a couple of hours.

At least I still had the weekend.  Well, I ended up wasting that as well.  I intended to start lab 3.  In that lab r6 requires two Ethernet interfaces.  The 2600 I was using only had one.  Thus began a long, unfulfilling quest to replace it with a 3725.  Also, the Vikings decided to start playing decent football, so I watched them play for the first time in months.

Anyhoo…a week that started off very nicely ultimately ended up with a lot of diversions and tail chasing.

Here are my goals from last week: 

Do the Volume I QoS and Multicast labs.  Review route redistribution.  Find documentation for each task in the DOC.  Do Volume III lab 3.

I did a lot of work with the DOC (blogging lab 2 helped with that) but of the other tasks I only did the QoS labs.  And only about half of them.  😦

Goals for this week:  Finish the Volume I QoS labs and some BGP labs.  Review route redistribution.  Review multicast.  Do Volume III lab 3.

Days Until Lab: 173
Readiness (1 to 10): 2
Lab Hours This Week 10
Study Hours This Week (estimate): 5

December 3, 2007

Status Update: 26 November – 02 December

I started out this week pretty strongly.  I went through a lot of PPP material, including the IEATC PPP lecture.  After that my schedule went to hell.  I had a ton of work and errands this week.  I also managed to get sick.  Then we had a huge power outage in our data center (a planned power outage went horribly bad).  So I spent most of my weekend verifying network connections while coughing my guts out.  Then it snowed.  We got about 6 inches of snow which meant my drive home was a special slice of hell.

I did manage to run through Volume II lab 2 and blog a lot of it.  I still have a couple of sections to go. 

Here are my goals from last week: 

Do a lot of review on specific topics from Volume II lab 2.  Redo lab 2 with an emphasis on developing a lab strategy.  Review route redistribution (again).

I did follow up on the PPP issues that I had and I did discover some good lab strategies.  I did not get around to reviewing route redistibution again.

Goals for this week:  Do the Volume I QoS and Multicast labs.  Review route redistribution.  Find documentation for each task in the DOC.  Do Volume III lab 3.

Days Until Lab: 181
Readiness (1 to 10): 2
Lab Hours This Week 15
Study Hours This Week (estimate): 6

November 27, 2007

Practice Lab Strategy

I’ve come up with a rudimentary practice lab strategy. The Internetwork Expert Volume II workbook contains 20 practice labs each labeled with a difficulty label with a maximum value of 10. The lab with the lowest rated difficulty level has a rating of 5 (it is the only lab with a 5 rating). IE has stated that the actual CCIE lab has a average difficulty level of 7 (it could be as low as a 6 or as high as an 8).

The table below shows the difficulty level for each lab:

Lab Difficulty
01

5

02

6

03

6

04

6

05

6

06

7

07

9

08

8

09

8

10

8

11

9

12

7

13

9

14

10

15

9

16

8

17

8

18

7

19

10

20

8

The breakdown by difficultly level is as follows:

05 – Lab 01
06 – Labs 02, 03, 04, 05
07 – Labs 06, 12, 18
08 – Labs 08, 09, 10, 16, 17, 20
09 – Labs 07, 11, 13, 15
10 – Labs 14, 19

My plan (subject to revision) is to work through all but two of the labs at each level (except level 5 of course) at my own pace. That is, I will do the lab but will not attempt to time myself or grade the lab. I will also allow myself to use the solution guide should I get stuck (I will try to minimize this by using the DOC). I will also do each of these labs at least twice and assign myself study items by recognizing the technologies that I totally stink at. Let’s call these “learning labs.”

The remaining two labs (per difficulty level) will be treated as mock labs. I will do each of these labs in a simulated lab environment. That means sitting the allowing myself 8 hours with a 30 minute break to complete the lab. That also means that I will only allow myself to access the DOC – no looking at the answer key if I get stuck. I will also grade these labs afterwards to try to get an idea of what score I would get had this been the actual lab. Let’s call these “simulated labs.”

I’ll do one simulated exam once I complete all of the learning labs at the next level. For instance, once I complete all but two labs at level 7, then I will do one of the simulated labs at level 6. I will save the remaining simulated lab (at each difficulty level) until the end of my studies and do them in a short period of time.

For instance, I will do labs 1, 2, 3, and 6 as learning labs. Then I will do lab 4 as a simulated lab. After that I’ll do labs 8, 9, 10, and 16. Then I’ll do lab 12 as a simulated lab. And so on…

I’m hoping to tackle one learning lab per weekend going forward. I’ll spend the rest of the week working on my week areas. I’ll also be mixing in some of the Volume III labs to work on speed and accuracy on the core tasks.

This plan seems workable and will give me some goals and direction.

November 26, 2007

Status Update: 19 – 25 November

This week I had a lot of time off due to the Thanksgiving holiday.  I ended up putting in about 45 hours of study.  Most of that was spent on the rack.  I went through the IE Volume I IPv6 labs as well as another run through Volume III lab 1 and my first attempt at a full-scale practice lab (Volume II lab 2).

I’ll post more about lab 2 later.  In short, I came away with mixed feelings.  I feel pretty good about my command of the basic technologies.  I did very well on the layer 2 and Frame Relay sections.  I did good on the IGPs.  But then I completely lost it on route redistribution again.  This was very disappointing after I spent so much time studying that topic last week.  I also made enough small mistakes to ensure my failure.  I’m hoping to minimize those in the future.  Finally, I am getting more comfortable with the DOC, but am still far from being at the level I need to be at in order to attempt the lab.  All in all, the experience was a push – I am encouraged by my general knowledge but disappointed with my ability in a few core competencies.

Here are my goals from last week: 

Study IPv6.  Review PPP.  Attempt Volume II lab 2.

I did quite a bit of IPv6 reading and labbing.  While I’m still not at an expert level, I was able to successfully complete the (abeit pretty easy) IPv6 task in the IE practice lab.  I did NOT review PPP and that bit me in the ass on the practice lab.  I dug up my old BCRAN material and will definitely review PPP.  I did attempt lab 2 (see above).

Goals for this week:  Do a lot of review on specific topics from Volume II lab 2.  Redo lab 2 with an emphasis on developing a lab strategy.  Review route redistribution (again).

Days Until Lab: 188
Readiness (1 to 10): 2
Lab Hours This Week 35
Study Hours This Week (estimate): 10

November 22, 2007

Status Update: 12 – 18 November

This week I concentrated on getting route redistribution crammed into my head.  I went over the IE ATC route redistribution lessons.  While I’m still not an expert I have a much better understanding of route redistribution now.  I even created my own Dynamips network to practice route redistribution.

Over the weekend I decided to hit the first 2 Volume III labs.  I should have some posts up about those soon.  The bottom line is that I am solid on switching and Frame Relay, pretty good on IGP, and fair to bad on BGP and route redistribution.  I will need to review some BGP concepts and continue to review route redistribution.

Here are my goals from last week: 

Study the hell out of route redistribution.  Complete the IE Volume I labs for IPv6.

Route redistribution…check.  IPv6…not so much.  I did start reading the Routing TCP/IP IPv6 chapter but that was about it.  I will definitely need to get on the ball as I need to get this down before attempting the written test.

Goals for this week:  Study IPv6.  Review PPP.  Attempt Volume II lab 2.

Days Until Lab: 192
Readiness (1 to 10): 2
Lab Hours This Week 22
Study Hours This Week (estimate): 8

November 13, 2007

Status Update: 5 – 11 November

It’s been a while since my last status update.  I went on a week long vacation and then I didn’t write an update last week.  I’m getting back on the horse this week because setting and evaluating my weekly goals is an important method for keeping me on track for my studies.

I’ve completed 2/3 of my weak areas for the CCIE written.  I’ve knocked out QoS and MPLS.  This week I am going to go over the final topic, IPv6.  I studied this topic fairly deeply last year while completing my CCNP.  Too deeply actually.  I swear that most of the IPv6 questions on the CCNP test (it was probably the BSCI…I can’t remember though) were related to the rules for replacing zeros in an IPv6 address.  I’m betting that the CCIE written will be a little more difficult.  🙂  Unfortunately, because I’ve never used IPv6 “in the wild” I have lost nearly all of my IPv6 knowledge.  The good thing is that it’s a lot easier to relearn a topic than to learn it from scratch.

I decided to take a whack at the first of the IE Volume III labs (this used to be their core labs workbook).  I started blogging about that experience and I will finish it later.  In the end I had mixed feelings about my effort.  On the one hand, there were no goals that I was completely clueless on.  But I did manage to completely screw up redistribution, especially mutual redistribution.  I would have rocked the layer 2 and IGP portions except for some really dumb fat-finger mistakes.  As I mentioned I really stunk up the redistribution bit.  I did okay on BGP, except that I was way too slow.  Technology wise, I did pretty well.  BUT the tasks were only core tasks and very unambiguous. 

My takeaway is that I am not ready for full scale labs.  I am going to attempt the next Volume III lab and then repeat labs 1 and 2 over again.  I am hoping that I will discover a couple of lab strategies that way.

In the mean time, I am go over route redistribution since I really embarrassed myself on that section.  I’m going to read Doyle’s chapter on route redistribution and then go over IE’s COD lesson on the same topic.  I also have some CCBootcamp redistribution labs that I will go through.  Finally, I am going to make my own redistribution scenarios in Dynamips.  I want to get to the point where I can look at a topology and know what routes are going to be redistributed as well as the potential pitfalls.

My goals for the week: Study the hell out of route redistribution.  Complete the IE Volume I labs for IPv6.

Days Until Lab: 201
Readiness (1 to 10): 2
Lab Hours This Week 16
Study Hours This Week (estimate): 6

October 31, 2007

7 Months, 300+ Lab Hours, $2,200, and 200 Blog Posts Later…

I’m on a well-deserved vacation this week (just out of town with the wife and kids, nothing fancy) so I won’t be doing a lot of blogging and my studies will be minimal as well.  I logged into WordPress today and noticed that this post will be my 200th.  Damn I’m a wordy jackass.  🙂

This post is sort of a milestone post for me.  I’m nearly 7 months in to my studies.  I am feeling pretty good about my progress so far.  I have already learned a ton of stuff and I haven’t even gone deep into all of the subjects yet.

Average Lab Hours per Week: 10.5
Average Number of Blog Posts per Week: 6.66 <-666…on Halloween???  Oooh, spooky!!!  🙂
Average Number of Study Hours per Week: Unknown, but I would guess that it’s => lab hours.

Anyhoo…I’m going to enjoy my time off (although I did do some MPLS labs on the plane – I LOVE Dynamips) and hit the labs again this weekend.  I’m already getting CLI withdrawal.  That can be seen as a good thing or (as my wife believes) unhealthy.  🙂

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