3 Jan 2008 (15 days before the lab exam)
Isolation begins. I get 2 weeks vacation from my work, in order to boost up my preparation.
4-6 Jan 2008 (14 days before the lab exam)
During these 3 days i have 2 Mock Labs and 1 Rack Rental. I have chosen the most difficult Mock Lab this time (you can see my relevant post here), because i want to test myself in extreme conditions. As it proves out, i did very well in terms of finding the correct answers. I just need to speed things up. I'm using the Rack Rental in order to test my speed in L2 configurations. I don't worry much about the configuration part of it, since it's my favorite.
7-13 Jan 2008 (11 days before the lab exam)
During these days i redo all the Mock Labs on my PC using Dynamips. I already had done most of them once (so i already had created the initial config files), but this time i am testing my speed, not my knowledge.
I'm also keeping notes on my mp3 recorder while doing the Mock Labs; i'm just thinking loudly. After each Mock Lab, i'm grading myself as honestly as possible. If there is any mistake i have done, i simple lose the points. No favors done.
14-15 Jan 2008 (4 days before the lab exam)
I stop practicing 4 days before my lab exam. I am exhausted and i need to calm down. These 2 days i'm transferring my personal notes into the mp3 player, plus many parts from the DocCD which seem difficult to understand and they are considered non-core. Generally, i keep on organizing my mp3 self-teaching. During the last hour i install an old version of SecureCRT and i try to recreate the environment i was using all these days with putty. It doesn't seem difficult; all i have to do is enable "copy on select" & "paste on middle button" under the global options. I also have to change the foreground/background colors. The default (white back, black front) are too tiresome, so i just reverse them. I keep on repeating this until i'm able to do it under 10".
16 Jan 2008 (2 days before the lab exam)
I'm flying to Brussels early in the morning. During my waiting times and on the flight i'm listening to my mp3 recordings. I arrive at the hotel (NH Brussels Airport Hotel) at 12:00 and i start organizing my last 2 days of preparation. During the whole day i'm listening to my notes and at the evening i have an expensive (no time to think for money) dinner at the hotel. I fall asleep around 02:00 a.m.
17 Jan 2008 (1 day before the lab exam)
I wake up at 7:00 a.m. I don't want to sleep too much because i must get tired tonight and go to sleep early. I have a good -expensive- breakfast and i go for a walk at Cisco offices. The Cisco building is very near to the hotel; around 200 meters. The CCIE Lab building is from the other side, opposite to the DHL building. I need to walk for another 100 meters. Ok i found it; i have a check with the security guy, everything seems ok. Time to go back and continue the last steps of my preparation. I continue listening to my notes. Second self-teaching round is complete. Time for another -expensive- lunch. Tonight i don't want a dinner, because i need to fall for sleep early. After the lunch, third round of self-teaching begins. There are times that i think i'll fall asleep, but i need to hold on. I can't sleep right now. If i sleep now, what am i going to do in the evening? I stop self-teaching around 9:30 p.m. and i try to sleep. As i expected; i can't sleep now; i'm thinking of tomorrow. At last; after 2 hours i finally fall asleep.
18 Jan 2008 (day of lab exam)
I get up early (5:30 a.m.) in the morning. I take a shower to wake up my nerves (i don't drink coffee) and i have another -expensive- breakfast (restaurant opens at 6:30; thanks god). There are another 2 candidates having breakfast at the same time. Everyone seems quite anxious about the exam. At 7:10 a.m. i'm leaving for the Cisco building. Outside i meet a fellow from Germany who is having the R&S exam for the first time, just like me. We don't talk much; each one is having his own thoughts right now. After we register at the reception, we're given a sticky card with our name printed on it ("must be escorted" is written under it). In the meanwhile other candidates are arriving too; we are 11 in total.
At 7:45 a.m. the proctor arrives and greets us. He seems a nice guy. He leads us to the CCIE Lab room where he explains what we can bring inside and what we can't. We are allowed to bring only drinks taken from the nearby machine (free of course), our ID cards (english name & photograph must be on them), pens, glasses & ear plugs. Everything else must stay at the proctor's desk. Cell phones must be put there too and anyone's cellphone ringing will disqualify him. We're allowed to go to the WC (just next door) as many times as we want. Of course we're not allowed to go more than 1 person simultaneously. We're given instructions about the lab exam itself. We take our seats while the proctor is announcing our names. We're not allowed to write anything on the exam papers. They are protected in plastic sheet and we can't pull them out of it. We're also given 2 scrap papers, with our names on them, for keeping notes. If we need more, we can ask freely. In our desk we find pens, pencils and markers of various colors.
The exam starts at 8:00 a.m. exactly. We have the option of using a single SecureCRT window for managing all our routers/switches (through a Terminal Server) or a SecureCRT window for each router/switch. In the second option, every window has the router name in its title (something that i was afraid of not happening). I choose the second option; i have practiced a lot using many putty windows concurrently. I change the options of each window the way i have practiced at home (you cannot change the global options, you have to change each session's options individually). On the bottom-left part of my screen i see the Notepad & Calculator icons. You can open as many notepad files as you like, but you can't save them, so you have to be careful when minimizing them. Mouse is a 3-button one, with a scrolling wheel. Nothing special, but good for the job it's targeted.
At 8:05 a.m. i start testing all the consoles. As soon as i arrive at the switches, the inevitable happens. I have some problems with 3 of them. I expected something like that, especially after the CCIE Assessor Labs. I inform the proctor of the problem and i continue fixing my windows, moving them to the 4 corners, so i can have 4 switches or 6 routers, all at the same time on the screen.
After 5 mins (8:10 a.m.) the switches are ok and i'm ready to start reading my exam. I read very carefully the initial instructions (1 whole page), twice. I don't want to miss or misunderstand something. They seem a little complicated. I'll need to read them again. I then proceed to the lab tasks. I start keeping notes while i read them. Most of them are known to me, besides 2 tasks that i cannot understand exactly what is asked for. The EGP part is quite complicated; i'll need to create a peering diagram. The IGP part seems easier; maybe i can get away without a diagram. The L2 part is the most complicated one and has many tasks, but i'm very confident of my L2 knowledge, so i decide to proceed without a L2 diagram too. If i get stuck, i'll have to create one as soon as possible. After a third reading of the initial instructions, i write down on the scrap paper abbreviations of the most important ones using capital letters, so i can see them at anytime during my exam. I also write down (using a color marker) my 2-digit rack number. I don't want to miss a task, because of a wrong ip address.
The time is already 8:45 a.m. and i haven't typed anything. Other candidates seem to have started typing already. I have a pair of ear plugs with me, but the noise from their keyboards (Logitech) is quite low, so i decide not to use them. I have a quick look at the initial configs for any strange pre-configured things. As it seems there are some things pre-configured. Now it got even worse; this is what i was afraid too.
At 9:00 a.m. i start my first task. The first tasks are usually the most time-consuming ones (until you get used to the specific environment, you spend a lot of time looking for anything suspicious); but they are the most important too, since you build the whole lab on them. I proceed very slowly; i want to be double sure of everything. I know that after i complete the core part, i'll speed things up. Everything is working fine. The initial notes on my scrap paper help me remember important facts. As time passes by, i return to an initial task to correct a silly mistake of mine. My brain is working in multitasking mode. While doing later tasks, i'm thinking of the previous ones.
Time is passing by very quickly. 11:30 a.m. and i'm in the middle of my IGP part. I feel a little bit worried. Lab seems a little bit easy until now, but i'm proceeding very slowly. There must be a hidden catch somewhere.
Proctor informs us of the lunch break at 12:00; just 5 mins before it. I 'm now finishing my core part. Time to save all configurations and reload everything. Or, maybe i have time to test the general connectivity. I have my ip address collection scripts ready. Just 3 simple commands on each router/switch and i have all the ip addresses from them (using Alt+LMB selects a rectangle). I create the appropriate tcl/macro scripts and i start running them simultaneously on all the routers and then on all the switches. That's where the multiple windows helps. Everything is fine. I don't get an answer from an ip, but that ip isn't announced anywhere so that's normal. Time to reload and go for lunch.
Lunch is free since they provide you with a coupon. But food sucks. I choose a steak with potatoes. You can choose chicken, but it wasn't my favorite. I sit with all the other candidates on the same table, together with the proctor. Nobody has the guts to start talking, even for irrelevant matters. I'm still thinking about my lab exam tasks. But I start feeling very well now, because i realize that i have almost completed the core part and most importantly i have answered (99% correctly) all tasks until that time. Desert is good; at last, something worthy.
At 12:30 p.m. we leave the restaurant and we head back to the lab room. Proctor informs us of the ending time, 4:30 p.m. I need to recheck my core part after the reload. Time to re-run the scripts. Ok, everything is still fine. The next tasks seem easier, although in some of them i need to verify their config by looking at the documentation. Time to test the DocCD functionality. IE7, multiple tabs opened; 12.4 configuration guides/commands references/master index, 3560 configuration guides/commands references. Everything is way too fast according to my home experience; something must be cached locally. All redirections are working fine! Another thing, i was worrying about, is gone. I have a quick look; yes, i was correct in my config. Nothing to worry about.
Time is 1:15 p.m. and i meet the first tasks i cannot understand. I'm reading and reading all over again, but it doesn't make any sense. I decide to ask the proctor, but i get the answer "sorry, i cannot answer that". I spend around 15 minutes on this task and i have found 2 possible interpretations. I make a note of them and i continue with the next task. Another cryptic one. I don't want to disturb the proctor again, because i have kept a lot of questions for the end, in order to verify 100% my configs. I create 3 possible interpretations for this task and i make a note of them too. These are my first 2 tasks that cannot be answered with 100% certainty. I don't worry; i know i have to miss 6-7 tasks in order to fail.
1:45 p.m. and time for the EGP part. I get 2 extra pieces of scrap paper and i quickly create a peering diagram. Hmmm... I know there is something tricky here. This is the first time i meet such a scenario. But i find it interesting, kind of tempting. After 40 mins i have found the solution in all the relevant tasks and everything works as expected.
YES!!! 6 hours to complete the lab!!!
2:30 p.m. Time for a review. I have kept notes of the tasks that i am 99% sure; around 9 of them. In everything else i'm 100% sure that my solutions are correct. Time to ask the proctor. I know that i must make clever questions in such way that you give the impression you already know the answer. Proctor seems helpful enough, he understands my confusion and answers most of my questions. After that, i have to correct 2 minor issues. Ok, easy stuff. Now another review from the beginning. Test & verify each task as comprehensively as possible. I must create a sla operation in order to verify a specific task. I have enough time, so i'm proceeding with this; nothing new here. Tcl/macro scripts are also working fine after all the minor changes.
At 4:00 p.m. i know i have passed. There must have been an extremely stupid mistake done at the very beginning, if i was to fail. I have another 30 mins to do these 2 tasks i couldn't understand. I choose to follow the most straight way; no extreme solutions, no risky changes to running configurations, just the most simple answer. A final run of my tcl/macro scripts confirms that everything is still working fine. Time to save everything and reload. Another run of the tcl/macro scripts. Time to party! I love seeing these exclamation marks running up & down on my screen. This must be the only time in my life that 2 punctuation marks ("!", ".") play such an important role.
4:30 p.m. The exam is over. The proctor is collecting our papers and we must log off. I guess i'll have to wait until tomorrow for my CCIE number. I must admit that i feel a little bit strange. I'm 99.999% sure that i have passed. But i feel i didn't got a hard challenge, the challenge that i was fantasizing when hearing about the CCIE Lab exam. So generally i would say: L2 was hard, but it was my specialty so i wasn't afraid, IGP was average, EGP a little hard and all other stuff below average; possibly the correct analogies that a Routing & Switching exam should be? But i mostly feel disappointed because i didn't understand 100% these 2 tricky tasks. I'm sure that if i could learn the answers, i would laugh with them.
At 4:50 p.m. i'm back at my hotel. I feel exhausted, happy and disappointed.
19 Jan 2008 (1 day after the lab exam)
10:00 a.m. Time to return to Athens. I learned the results as soon as i got home. The rest is already known.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
3 Jan 2008 (15 days before the lab exam)
Posted by Tassos at 18:41