CCIE – The Ultimate Guide

CCIE Ultimate Guide

The Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert or the CCIE certification is the most advanced Cisco networking certification available today. The CCIE carries a level of prestige that is unparalleled by most other networking certifications. Getting certified with the CCIE shows that you have a robust understanding of traditional networking that can be built on throughout your career.

This illustrious qualification goes all the way back to August 1993, when Terry Slattery became the first person to pass the CCIE exam. Since then the CCIE has grown to be one of most respected networking qualifications in the world. In this article we’re going to look at how you can take the CCIE, and how this qualification can enhance your career.

How do I get a CCIE Certification?

In order to get a CCIE you need to pass both a written and lab exam. The written exam is based around multiple-choice questions and currently costs $350 (£270). Once the written exam has been completed you can then take a lab exam that currently costs $1400 (£1,083). The lab exam lasts an entire day and tests your practical knowledge of networking. With regards to the exam content itself, the CCIE is split into multiple certifications called tracks. These are as follows:

  • Routing and Switching
  • Security
  • Service Provider
  • Storage Networking
  • Voice
  • Wireless

CCIE Routing and Switching is one of the most commonly-referenced CCIE certifications. It is useful to note that there are no formal requirements you need in order to take a CCIE. Theoretically you could take the CCIE without any qualifications at all. However this isn’t advisable as you need to be familiar and comfortable with using Cisco technology.

Once you pass the exam you are required to re-sit every two years to keep your certification current. This means that maintaining your CCIE certification requires an ongoing effort. You can’t just complete the exam and forget what you’ve learned; you need to retain it to stay certified. Before we look further at the CCIE we’re going to briefly look at the CCIE tracks in a little more detail.

What Track Should I Take?

CCIE Routing and Switching, Security and Data Center are the three ‘entry level’ CCIE qualifications. These are the most commonly taken ones. The CCIE Service Provider, Collaboration, Wireless and Voice certifications are more niche tracks to take. For example the CCIE Service Provider certification is mainly attained by those who are working for a ISP or telephone carrier.

While we’re mainly going to look at the CCIE Routing and Switching qualification in this guide, the track you choose should be added to your long term goals. If you want to be working as a Network Engineer in the future then the standard CCIE Routing and Switching track is a solid choice. However, if you want to go into a cybersecurity role then the CCIE Security track is likely to be a better fit.

The CCIE Routing and Switching certification is a good baseline standard of networking knowledge. Obviously, you can attain other CCIE qualifications further down the road, but you’re likely to receive diminishing returns after having completed your first qualification unless you are moving into a specialist position.

How to Book the CCIE Exam?

In order to sit for the CCIE exam you need to register with Cisco. It is important to note that you cannot register for the CCIE lab exam until you have completed the written exam. So the first thing you need to do is register for the written exam. This can be done by contacting Pearson VUE, the partner testing company of Cisco. Pearson VUE will provide you with a test location where you can complete the test under exam conditions. To register for the CCIE Routing and Switching written exam you need to:

  • Select the CCIE Routing and Switching exam and note the exam name and number (400-101 in this instance).
  • Register on the Pearson VUE website (You can also register over the phone or in person).
  • Provide your Cisco certification ID or test ID number (you’ll need the Cisco certification ID if you’ve taken a Cisco exam in the past).
  • Company name.
  • Email address.
  • Payment method currently $450 (£348).

Once you’ve passed the CCIE exam, you will need to apply for the lab exam. This requires some additional information:

  • Your Cisco user account.
  • The ID number you registered to do your written exam.
  • The date you passed the written exam.
  • Your written exam score.
  • You can schedule your lab exam through this link here.

The cost of the CCIE Lab and Practice Exam is $1,6001,238). You need to pay this 90 days before the start of your exam in order to keep your space. If payment isn’t made, then your reservation for that time will be dropped. The practical exam can be taken in a number of different locations. We’ve listed these here: Bangalore, Beijing, Brussels, Dubai, Hong Kong, RTP, San Jose, Sydney, Tokyo, and the Mobile Lab.

CCIE Written Exam Guide

The CCIE Written exam is the first exam of two that you will be expected to take to attain certification. Exam topics covered in the written exam include:

  • Network Principles
  • Layer 2 Technologies
  • Layer 3 Technologies
  • VPN Technologies
  • Infrastructure Security
  • Infrastructure Services
  • Evolving Technologies v1.0

CCIE Lab Exam Guide

The CCIE lab exam is designed to test your ability to configure and troubleshoot network infrastructure in a live environment. You will need to be able to diagnose network faults and implement solutions. When taking the exam there will be a copy of the Cisco documentation available to assist you. Besides that no additional materials will be permitted.

There are three sections of the lab exam and you will need to achieve a passing score in all three to pass. The modules of the lab exam are as follows:

  • Troubleshooting
  • Configuration
  • Diagnostic

The Troubleshooting module allows two hours to complete. You can extend this by 30 minutes but you’ll be cutting into your time for the Configuration module! Similarly, if you finish the Troubleshooting module early then you’ll be allowed to spend extra time on the Configuration module. The Configuration module is the largest and allows five hours and 30 minutes. The Diagnostic module can’t be changed and allows 30 minutes regardless of when you finish the Configuration module.

Once you’ve completed the exam you’ll be able to view the results online. You will be given a Pass or Fail grade within 48 hours. You can also request a re-test within 14 days of completing the exam for $400 (£309).

What do I need to Pass the CCIE Written and Lab Exams?

When it comes to the written examination, there is no set passing score. In the exam there will be a ghost passing score based on a statistical analysis that checks your score against other candidates within a certain time period. Essentially you’ll need to be in the top bracket of candidates in order to obtain that pass mark. The passing score fluctuates with regularity so it is a good idea to read up as much as possible.

Generally speaking, you need to average over 80% in order to pass the lab exam. This leaves you with a very small margin of error. The number of questions varies test by test. It is important to note that this is an average score so if your score drops below 80% in one area you do have a chance to redeem yourself.

What happens if I Fail the Exam?

If you fail the exam you’ll have to wait to try the exam again. The waiting period varies according to the number of times you’ve failed:

  • 1 fail = 30 days
  • 2 fails = 90 days
  • 3 fails = 90 days
  • 4 fails = 90 days
  • 5 fails = 180 days
  • 6+ fails = 180 days

This is set in place to prevent candidates from attempting to spam their way to a passing grade. This cooling-off period provides candidates with an opportunity to study some more before taking another pass.

How Much Will I Earn After Completing the CCIE (Average CCIE Starting Salaries)?

The earnings after you complete the CCIE are dependent upon your experience. If you don’t have any experience but you have a CCIE, then you’re most likely going to need to start out on a lower wage before your certification starts to pay off. However if you have over five years experience, then the CCIE will be able to supplement your average earnings substantially.

Estimates vary according to where you look, but Payscale indicates that $120,000 (£92,924) is the average salary for a CCIE. Top employers for CCIE talent include Cisco, Presidio, Juniper Networks, and AT&T. If you widen things up to look at the salary scale you can see that men have a salary range of $78,884-$144,518 (£61,046-£111,838). By comparison the salary range for female CCIEs is $64,964-$135,499 (£50,274-£104,859).

Experience wise, Payscale indicates that the majority of CCIE’s have in excess of five years experience. Only 1% have less than one year of experience and only seven percent have one to four years of experience. The take home message here is that most CCIE professionals have established a solid foundation of experience alongside the CCIE certification.

How long does it take to pass the CCIE?

While the time taken to pass the CCIE is determined based on the ability of the individual taking the exam, its indisputably an exhaustive process. Whether you choose to go the taught or self-taught route, you’re looking at months (or even years) of hard-nosed studying. Even then there is no guarantee you’ll pass. It is well known that the average CCIE takes two to three lab exams in order to pass.

Having the right resources and approach to learning will pay dividends throughout the preparation process. You’ll need to immerse yourself in the reading material and practice tests. Don’t be tempted to neglect lab practice either because you’ll need every minute of this once the lab exam comes around.

CCIE Resources: CCIE Routing and Switching

There are literally hundreds of different resources you can use to study for the CCIE Routing and Switching exam; however, not all of these are built the same. We’ve included a few core resources for you to use to build up your knowledge in preparation for the CCIE. Remember to use a mixture of resources to ensure that your knowledge is as balanced as possible.

If you’re more visually-minded, then there are lots of webinar videos that you can view as well. We’ve provided you with some of the Cisco Learning Network links here:

Is the CCIE Still Worth it?

In recent years a number of people have become critical of CCIE certification. Networking is slowly edging towards Software Defined Networking (SDN) and this is requiring a completely new skill set. The move towards SDN has led many to suggest that the fundamentals taught in the CCIE are outdated. While the CCIE may not cover as much ground as it used to, it is still an excellent qualification for showcasing your knowledge of classic networking technology.

The main criticism that the CCIE faces is that it is outdated or that it is too focused on Cisco products. However, while SDN is definitely an area you should consider learning in the future, there is still a valuable place for the CCIE. It is true that the CCIE isn’t the certification it once was and focuses its attention on Cisco services; but it is still one that can deliver bucketloads to your professional development.

Reasons You Should Get CCIE Certified

Given the significant investment the CCIE demands in terms of time and money it is a good idea to have a realistic understanding of what you can get out of it in the end. After all, if you don’t have a clear incentive in the back of your mind it is going to be very difficult to motivate yourself to keep practicing. There are many reasons why one would want to attain a CCIE certification. We have listed these below:

  1. Increase in Career Opportunities – Completing the CCIE will position you as an individual who is not only knowledgeable about networking but also has the dedication to pursue studying on his or her own time. There is something to be said about professionals who devote their time learning new skills to achieve expert status. By putting yourself in this bracket you will differentiate yourself from other competitors without a similar standard of qualifications.
  2. Increase in salary – As you can see by the salary ranges quoted above, the pay for CCIE’s with over five years experience is extremely competitive. Picking up a CCIE qualification is thus a great way to increase your earning potentially significantly. The CCIE has maintained a strong reputation and has the potential to take you into the six-figure region when combined with the relevant experience.
  3. Pride – The final reason is pride. By completing the CCIE you are positioning yourself as an expert within your field. You will belong to a small group of people who have proven their expertise within a high-pressure environment. You’ll be able to say genuinely that you are one of the most-qualified network specialists in the world. This is more than worth the initial investment alone.

Reasons You Shouldn’t Get CCIE Certified

Even though the CCIE has a lot of value to offer, there are a number of limitations (beyond the growth of SDN and the focus on Cisco products) but most of these aren’t an issue if you come into the CCIE with the right state of mind.

  1. The Value You Get From Certification Depends on Your Experience – The CCIE functions as a test for your knowledge of networking fundamentals. However, that knowledge needs to be combined with experience in order to deliver substantial returns. If you have less than five years experience, then the benefits provided by a CCIE can be limited. Obviously once you get that experience under your belt the CCIE will improve your position but it is important to think about your experience carefully before booking the exam. This way you will see the benefits of the CCIE sooner.
  2. The Difficulty of the Exam – Studying for the CCIE exam is a massive commitment and many fail to achieve certification at all. The CCIE is notoriously difficult and competent professionals fail the CCIE all the time. If you’re not ready to dedicate yourself to studying for the CCIE and investing in your development it is unlikely you will pass. Unfortunately, even if you do invest 100% effort into the exam there is no guarantee you’ll pass either.
  3. The CCIE Doesn’t Prove Many Core Skills – While the CCIE undoubtedly proves a clear understanding of networking there are a multitude of skills that it has absolutely no bearing on. Having a CCIE is no indication of your ability to handle project management, work well with teams, customers or scheduling, or complete maintenance. These are all skills that are integral to your success as a networking professional which are not covered in the CCIE.

Back to Basics

That concludes our guide to the CCIE. If you want to boost your earning potential, learn new skills and pick up some pride along the way, then the CCIE is the qualification for you. We recommend you have at least four or five years of experience before doing the CCIE so as to make sure you have the experience in place to see that earnings boost quickly. With any amount less than four years experience, there is the chance that you won’t see immediate returns once you complete the exam.

If you decide that the CCIE is the certification you’re going to pursue, make sure that you put 100% of your effort into it. Many talented and knowledgeable candidates have gone into the CCIE and failed to pick up a passing grade the first time around. Therefore, it is essential that you keep grinding away so that you give yourself the best chance possible on the day of the exam. That way even if you fail you know that it wasn’t because you weren’t trying hard enough.

Remember to build your practical and theoretical knowledge before booking the exam. You want to make sure that you can run diagnostics, configurations and troubleshoot if you were dropped into a live network environment. There is no way to fake that competency; you just need to have it.

See also: Starting a Career in Cyber Security: A Guide for Veterans

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