Rob Riker, CCIE# 50693
This journey into certification began 4 years ago when I went back to school. I had an instructor at my college tell us ways to validate your skills with certs. I listened to her and asked some questions as I had never heard of it before. I received a list of certs for CompTIA, Cisco and Microsoft. I ended up doing my A+ and the instructor gave us next steps depending on our course of direction. I immediately went into CCNA prep. I used some other vendors and after a few attempts I switched to INE after meeting a CCIE that had mentioned Brian McGahan. I googled that name and found INE. After watching their CCNA bootcamp, I earned my CCNA. I really liked Brian's straightforward approach. There were more facts and labs then I had previously seen, I had a hard time at first since I was new to the industry. After earning my CCNA, I moved into CCNP. I watched the Route, Switch and Tshoot bootcamp recordings and kept taking notes. I ended up going through all the videos, and kept getting stronger. I worked at a large MSP that required me to work on BGP, MPLS, Multicast and Frame Relay. The problem was the CCNP didn't go as deep as I needed it to for my job so I ended up watching the v4.5 videos. WOW! Information overload for me. I kept grinding through it, taking notes, googling things, and ended up quickly figuring out that the CCIE was no joke. I watched the entire v4.5 video series a couple of times, read a ton of books which really helped cement my knowledge and eventually helped my pass my CCNP. Then the big question came up during dinner with my family the day I passed the Tshoot exam and Cisco granted me CCNP status. Are you done or are you going to start on something else? I had friends that were CCIEs and after talking to them and trying to size up the CCIE, I decided I would start studying for the written. At the time, the v5 blueprint was heavily rumored to being released. I had already purchased all the physical equipment for v4 CCIE and was going through that blueprint. Then Cisco dropped the v5 blueprint and I had a decision to make. I remember the IEOC blowing up with it, Brian did a blog post on it. I emailed him to see if was real and like every time I do, he responded with "yep, it's real this time, good luck". I attended all of the vSeminars he did and asked question on topics I had never heard about. Shortly there after INE released the expanded blueprint. Finally I had a step by step "bible" to refer to for preparing for this beast. I was already pretty good with most topics from my CCNP, or so I thought. I downloaded all the PDFs of all the topics on the blueprint and started reading through them. At the same time I was hitting the PDFs, and reading books like Routing TCP/IP and Internet routing architectures, I was going through the v4.5 ATC while I waited on the v5 ATC. Once the v5 ATC was in production, I was attending live classes. Best bootcamp ever. I passed my written on 7/31/14 and then switched to lab prep. I went through the entire workbook for v5 once, taking detailed notes, following the debugs, wireshark captures and so on. It took a couple weeks to figure out a system but once I had it dialed in it made drilling into a topic much faster and easier. One learning curve that I had to learn was I had to figure out a way to stay motivated and retain the info. I started recording videos on YouTube of me going through the blueprint. It really helped when I found an area I wasn't as strong in that I had to spend extra time on so I would know it that much better. This process repeated itself through the end of the year and into the first quarter of 2015. I ended up joining a study group, it was a huge help to be surrounded by others with the same goal and drive. I left the group for a short time due to my workload at work. I rejoined the group a short time later and have been in it ever since. At the time I rejoined the group there 2 CCIEs and 2 people getting ready to go. Those 2 people that went ended up passing it and that motivated me even more. I went from 3 hours a night to 4 hours a night and 20-24 hours over the weekend, I had no social life besides family birthdays. I made my first attempt on 4/28 in RTP, all my attempts have been in RTP. I was not totally ready. I knew I failed in the first hour in TS since I couldn't solve any tickets. I basically froze and couldn't think. I stayed the whole day, I passed DIAG but failed TS and CFG. The hard part was when I came home, everyone had balloons and were ready to celebrate. My 2nd attempt was on 6/28, this time I had a much better approach and things went well until I hit CFG. I hit some issues I couldn't get working. The proctor told me it happens, you just have to deal with it. That didn't help but they can't help you in that way. They can clarify, at their discretion. I happen to like David Blair, nice guy sarcastic as hell, but in a positive way. My passing attempt was a similar start to #2. I finished each section early and had time to verify. I kept track of total points I had earned so in the end I could add them up. TS was interesting, faults were pretty easy to spot, it was making sure that I nailed verification. That is the key. I got 9 of 10 tickets in about 90 or so minutes. There is one big ticket that I spent about 20 minutes going over, I had reachability but making my verification what they had wasn't happening. I moved into DIAG and blew through that. IMO, DIAG is easy if you have spent a lot of time in support/operations. If your a design guy, it'll be much more difficult. It is really just trying to determine based on what the issues are, what causes those issues. All the info you need to figure out what the issue is. CFG is a beast, even in my 3rd shot. I already had a pretty good idea as to what I needed to do. I spent about 20-25 minutes reading over the lab doc, the restrictions and forming my game plan. The plan is simple, I consolidated config where ever I could when it made sense. I didn't jump around. I immediately knocked out L2 as it is required to get L3 working. I then went by router block, doing IGP and BGP. I was able to knock out most of the sections in about 2.5 hours. Notepad is your friend. I lived in Notepad the entire exam. Whenever I could, I used it. I didn't worry about little things until I had reachability everywhere and ping/trace verifications came up. I finished all but a couple tasks in the lab, making sure I maximized the amount of points I could earn. In the verification piece, I added a lot of little things that weren't required for adjacency and other things. I went section by section and made sure I had exactly what they required and didn't break any restrictions. I added up my points for the entire exam, and being satisfied with my amount. Closed out my lab. I flew home, and in the wee hours of the following day I got the email. I stayed up watching TV and relaxing after a very busy weekend. I opened up and held my breath. The page loaded and I saw PASS in the status, I clicked on it, and that is where you see the 5 coolest numbers in the world. CCIE #50693. I woke my wife up and ran through the house at 1:30 in the morning. I sent an email out to people at work and tried to calm myself down. I want to send a really HUGE thank you to Brian McGahan and the content development staff for putting together a butt kicker of content. If you use INE you are guaranteed to be an expert. I also would like to thank my wife and family for being there for me. My wife picked up the slack for the past 18 months and now that I am over that hump and can return to being a dad and a husband. I'm thinking my next track will be Data Center or Service Provider. Or both, I'm a glutton for punishment.