Marjan Bradesko CCIE No. 1556

A puzzled question? Grammatically wrong. What I mean is: "To pursue a Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert [CCIE] certification or not?" Or let`s rephrase and generalize the question: "To become a certified individual or not?" We face such questions quite often. I have been asking this question myself - and been asked by my students, colleagues - multiple times.

Speaking generally, in some cases the certification and frequent re-certification is mandatory for people to perform certain professions (like pilots flying the planes). Sometimes the company needs to achieve a certain (vendor, governmental) status and has to have enough certified employees. So here it is clear: "I just have to take that damned :-) exam!" But what to do when the certification is not mandatory? Do you feel motivated? Unfortunately some certified individuals devalue certifications to a certain degree by "studying to the exam" only and missing other related skills and competencies. Once you meet such individuals you figure out they are (at least partially) disconnected from reality. Here I talk from the perspective of professions in IT industry that I am in. And seeing such "certified individuals" you may feel demotivated.

Now let`s turn the perspective. The title does not bring you so much satisfaction as do excellent skills, experience, knowledge, competencies. So start any pursuit of certification not only by studying the exam blueprint, but first by studying and practicing the related technology in an environment where the solutions are deployed. And once you believe you really master the context, check the exam blueprint, fill in the missing gaps and - take the exam. You may say: "But my employer is pushing me to take the exam right now!" Well, sometimes there is a pressure, sometimes an enormous one … When I was sent (yes, I had to go!) to the CCIE exam in 1995 I was THE person that was missing for the company to achieve our vendor Cisco Gold Status. All eyes were turned on me! Extreme pressure. However, in the accelerated preparation (almost day and night - well, especially night) I was really not paying all my attention to what was expected on the practical (then 2 day) exam but moreover, I was exploring the features the technology offered. In a certain sense I was doing an exploratory learning, typing the commands very fast, checking the outputs of commands, consulting thick manuals (there was no Google then), observing debugging, verifying the output in reference manuals again and again. The benefit was twofold:

  • I learned to be extremely fast in dealing with user interface and very much familiar with it (that helped a lot when taking the exam!) and
  • I gained some knowledge and skills not directly related to the exam, making me even more comfortable while "fighting" the exam environment.

I passed with flying colours.

But that does not end the story. As I was teaching (and later proctoring the instructor candidates) for years I had to help my students brushing their practical skills. I had to have similar practical skills, sometimes a deep understanding of the issues we were facing, I had to be able to figure out what was "bugging" us … And for me it was not the highest achievement when a student said: "Oh, you are a CCIE!" but when a student said: "Wow! How did you figure that out? Amazing!" The latter was a confirmation of my excellent practical skills. And these skills and accumulated knowledge topped with my CCIE certification then really made me proud.

So, yes, go for certification, but do not let it be the sole goal.

Note: I was a CCIE for 16 years and additional 5 years I have been enjoying the status of CCIE Emeritus, I have just renewed it for the next year. In a certain sense I am considered mature now - or "a retired CCIE". You may heard some people considering the CCIE Emeritus as a "shame badge". I would not be that negative. Emeritus clearly states we are "honoured" as we worked hard and long enough that we deserve the CCIE title still somehow "sticks" to us. Also the majority of us, former CCIEs, are still in the same business except that our careers have brought us to some other less technical positions. Isn`t this also a reflection of the experience we gained during our CCIE years?