Reasoning for the Post

It seems customary to write one of these posts after attempting a CCIE or CCDE. At first, I resisted as I didn’t see much value in reporting my experience out – at least not over what others have already written and can be found with a Google search (which is far more likely to return a result than this posting). Nonetheless while attending the excellent session LTRCCDE-3006 at CiscoLive this year I was proven wrong.

I took the session for the second time; my first was last year when my CCDE preparations first started in earnest. It was very good I thought and helped give me a feel for the test, the style and the material. I still didn’t pass (the practice test) this year but I enjoyed the experience. I should note the scenario did NOT change between this year and last year. If you are multiple years in pursuit of your CCDE then you might want to confirm the scenario before booking it and paying the costs for it.

Recommendations for the Test

  • Spend time upfront reading, very thoroughly, all the material in the initial documentation for the scenario. Go back over your highlighted sections after completing the highlighting. I allocated 30 full minutes in each scenario (if I wanted/needed it) to covering the initial material. I think this was a prudent decision. I never needed that much time but it made me slow down and feel comfortable in trying to memorize information rather than immediately jump into questions. Orient first, then answer. If you can recall critical data later it will save tons of time hunting through documents and re-reading. Like all design efforts, upfront effort pays off.
  • I’d recommend highlighting with just two colors (perhaps three) to keep things simple. I pick a color for business requirements or anything critical but non-technical and another color for technical requirements. You could go in for a third to handle something of interest that isn’t clearly business or technical but I just colored it business. Hopefully you are not highlighting every single word in the docs. Continue highlighting as you go – you will get more things as you progress and you may need to have resources from various parts of the scenario up.
  • Keep track of how the scenario changes and progresses using the notes function. I also recommend noting specific, likely critical, information and the document that has it in there too. This will take some time but will save you time hunting later. Despite it being a timed test, I treated it the same way I would a customer handing me a large project with lots of files; create an index and document to help find things. This is key as you can make notes on things that change throughout the scenario. I did find it difficult, especially towards the end of the day, to remember where things were or what the requirements for this specific question were. Notes can help.
  • You have a midday break. Use it to rest your brain cells. Also, try to capture some parts of the scenarios you feel you need more learning on. It will be helpful to your preparations should you need a second attempt. Seriously capture this at the midway point as I completed the test and could not remember almost anything of the third scenario – just too much mental fatigue.
  • If you used a diagram as reference for a question triple check the diagram, and ALL parts of it, one more time before you move on to the next question. I found areas where I think I answered incorrectly because I missed a corner of the diagram and the connectivity/layout/information in that spot….which I then noticed in later questions. Like all Cisco tests, I feel they added purposeful “gotchas” to see if you are paying attention…
  • Use the comments to provide feedback. I don’t know if anyone will really do much with them but I had running commentary over some questions explaining, briefly, my thinking on the situation and my design decisions. Much like using another engineer to talk through an issue, writing it out can be the second person to help clarify and crystalize your thinking. It also can, perhaps, help improve the test if your thinking is off target to the intention of the question (I’m told all the comments are actually reviewed – if enough people comment about a question it has the potential to be visited and re-worked I’d think). You can also rail about questions you dislike or like – which I also did.
  • Take a break if you can afford to time-wise. I paused after the first scenario for a few minutes to drink some coffee and clear my head. I think this helps in setting you up to shift your focus and prepare to absorb the next scenario. Be aware of your time though as you have to go through the entry and exit process each time you take a break. The process would burn a minute or two each way.

About the testing center

The testing center was nice enough but definitely a stickler for the rules and confirming my identity at each step. I mentioned taking a break but it was agonizing to know the clock was ticking while I waited for the person overseeing the test to enter the room, lock my computer and then and escort me out. Only to go through more checks with the front-desk person and then repeat the process in reverse.

The monitor was 24″ or so and big enough to allow me to have a question up on the left side of the screen and some exhibits visible on the screen as well. I ended up with a layout something like this:

I felt it worked well and allowed me to work through things quickly. I did have instance where I had 3-4 exhibits up at once and struggled to put it all together on the monitor space – but it was better than a “normal” Pearson testing site’s monitor. As per the usual, the keyboard and mouse are stock, cheap units that come with the low-end towers used for the test. This was as expected and I had no issues with the hardware or testing software throughout the day.

Entry to Test + Lunch Break

The testing center staff were nice and well prepared for the duration of the test. They commented about not being familiar with the specifics of the test or the identification and lunch break rules. Nonetheless, they adapted quickly and I had no major issues with either of the “shifts” of staff at the site (they staff changed sometime while I was away on lunch).

I scoped out places for lunch and had those ready and in mind. I ended up eating an okay lunch but I spent only 35 minutes away from the test center. I was paranoid about not making back in time or having some issue. I also picked a place within walking distance in case things went off the rails with my car. The testing center kept being slightly thrown by my leaving – but the personnel would reference some sort of posted cheat sheet and agree I was allowed to go. Just don’t panic/be aware leaving the center in the middle of the test is uncommon and the staff may need a minute or two to confirm things.

Final Thoughts

I found the test to be hard for me but I knew I wasn’t fully prepared for it going in – I hadn’t reached my intended level of preparation before the attempt but still felt it was important to proceed to help remove some of the mental barriers regarding my first attempt. I also looked at the cost for additional on-site training seminars and determined taking the test once and failing it, even as a preparatory step was a good cost tradeoff. Besides, maybe, just maybe, I did better than I expected and I passed…

Nonetheless, I will look to write another of these after my planned next attempt in September. I’m hoping to also then write the “I passed and here are the materials/methods I used!” blog post. We’ll see.

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