Friday, August 31, 2007

Triple CCIE, History in the Making

This journey took place between August 13 2001 to August 13 2007.

First CCIE track:
Routing & Switching
Number of attempts: 2 (two)
CCIE Lab location(s):
Brussels, August 13 2001 and Tokyo, September 13 2001
CCIE Lab format: 2-day exam (both)
Sponsored by: company (IBM, both)
Written Exam: January 26 2001
Total number of practice lab hours: 900+
Primary CCIE Workbook: CCbootcamp
Classroom training taken:
Cisco ICND (2000), in the very beginning of the journey
Short story:
Went to Brussels for the first time after about 6 months preparation, failed in Troubleshooting section (second day last part), couldn’t sleep after failure, went to Tokyo exactly 1 month after the first attempt, passed the lab with still 1 hour time left
Moments to remember:
- Sleep in the office for 9 months
- Start practice lab with only 2 routers and lots of loopback interfaces
- Must “borrow” routers from customer premises to build the lab
- First time flying to Europe, first Schengen Visa
- First time flying with Business Class
- Able to take 2nd attempt even the company policy was flying freeze
- Japanese proctor with little English to communicate
- Japanese Keyboard, Japanese Windows
- Get the CCIE number in yellow color post-it paper
- Want to drink Sake after passing, but get lost in the middle of Tokyo, eventually end up in McDonald
Inspiring quote: “There is no spoon” (The Matrix)

Second CCIE track: Security
Number of attempts: 2 (two)
CCIE Lab location(s):
Brussels, December 8 2005 and Brussels, January 25 2006
CCIE Lab format: 1-day exam (both)
Sponsored by: self funding (both)
Written Exam: June 23 2005
Total number of practice lab hours: 600+
Primary CCIE Workbook: Trinetnt (now part of CCbootcamp)
Classroom training taken: none
Short story:
Tried to impress Cisco by taking the lab, had many years experience in security but actually wanted to learn more into SP technology, went to Brussels after about 4 months preparation, failed with already above 70% score, couldn’t believe it and got into denial state, went back to Brussels about 6 weeks later, passed the lab this time
Moments to remember:
- Spend countless hours in Ebay to buy personal equipments
- Going back and forth UAE post office to fight for the equipments
- Self funded, so working hard to track expenditure and lab hour
- Again, must “borrow” some equipments from customer premises :)
- Pass Cisco CCIP in the middle of CCIE Security preparation
- Get 9 days off due to the sad demise of UAE sheikh
- The most balanced life between family time and CCIE preparation
- First snowfall in life during second lab attempt
- Lunch in Chinese Restaurant next to Brussels Grand Place after passing. Proper food after eating only ramen noodles for few days.
Inspiring quote: “It’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you” (Batman Begins)

Third CCIE track: Service Provider
Number of attempts: 1 (one)
CCIE Lab location(s): Brussels, August 13 2007
CCIE Lab format: 1-day exam
Sponsored by: company (Cisco)
Written Exam: February 27 2006 (Metro Ethernet)
Total number of practice lab hours: 240+
Primary CCIE workbook: Internetwork Expert
Classroom training taken: none
Short story:
The track that I have been dying to complete for years, only with about 2 months extensive preparation, relied completely to Internetwork Expert for video on demand and workbook, the toughest CCIE preparation with very less spare time from projects and travels, slept maximum 2 to 3 hours every day in the last few weeks before the lab, passed the lab in first attempt
Moments to remember:
- The toughest CCIE track from the availability of time to study
- The most fun at the same time since I really love the topics
- No personal expense at all from lab fee, trip, workbook, lab
- Sleep 2 to 3 hours maximum everyday anywhere I can: in the taxi, during the flight
- Flying 16 hours to Brussels, 21 hours to go back to Singapore
- Spend whole time in Cisco office to study from 2 days before the lab
- Spend lots of time trying to find soft drinks, fruits, chocolates and any food available during the study in that weekend in Cisco office
- Great feeling when the unicast and multicast traffic really work across different AS in the my lab day around 2 pm
- Stay until 2 am in Cisco office waiting for the result
- The feeling when I really pass it in first attempt
Inspiring quote: No specific quotes from 300 movie, but the movie itself is really inspiring. If you insist for the quote, it might be “No sacrifice, no victory” (Transformers)

First CCIE, is for my family and to send the message to the world that even a mere mortal like me can pass the lab.
Second CCIE, is to impress Cisco so I can join Advanced Services (well, I guess I did impress them since I’m in Cisco AS now).
Third CCIE, is for myself.

Triple CCIE gets inspired at all time by the music from Linkin Park

Thin Line

Let me apologize to begin with,
Let me apologize for what I’m about to say
(In between, by Linkin Park)

I have a confession to make. Since the moment I started this blog, actually I like to spend some time to read it. Some people don’t do that. They like to write and never bother to read it back, except to check for the reader comments perhaps. I read my own blog just to see how far I have gone trough. Or just to look back and compare between my previous and current thoughts. Or, I do that simply to inspire myself when I get stuck within my CCIE journey or my life. It’s quite embarrassing actually, being inspired by my own blog.

There is a thin line between being opened and trying to show off.

How to being opened and share your experience without trying to show off? When I trace back all my writings, sometime I reach the point where I get fed up and say ‘this guy is so annoying, keep talking about himself’. I reach the point when I start thinking ‘who is this guy, trying to teach others about life, talk about achieving something in life. He doesn’t even have proper life’. It’s true. It’s so true. Sometime I feel like I have crossed the line and I have crossed it too far.

There is a thin line between being arrogant and trying to inspire.

Yes it is difficult to keep it within the line. But even I keep getting that feeling every time I read my blog, I have no intention to delete or modify any of my previous writings. The fact is, I started this blog so I can write my thoughts. It’s just like a pressure valve in my daily life. So I can release the tension. So I can write about what I do. What I have done. And I may read it again someday just to laugh of it. So it’s all about me and what I have in mind. And some people out there may like to read it because they can get some information and take advantage out of it.

But for me, even no one will take advantage from my blog, I will not stop writing or change the way I write. Some people may hate me for this, but I live with all decisions I make and all the consequences that I have to bear.

If you don’t like this fact, just stop reading my blog and remove the URL from your browser history. But if you still think that there is still some useful thing in here, even only a few, that you can learn or use from my experience that I share, continue your reading since I have a bit more for you in my next post:
My Triple CCIE journey during the past 6 years, in brief. Enjoy.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Triple CCIE!

I passed! I passed! I passed!

With only a couple of months preparation, with only 240 lab hours practice, with all the tight schedule, with all the projects, with all the flying-the-friendly-skies kind of life style, with study time that is only In Between, with only few hours sleep everyday, against-the-all-odds yesterday I passed CCIE Service Provider Lab in first attempt!

Thanks, God.

I was quite speechless when the first time I saw the result. I really passed. Exactly 6 years after my first moment stepped in to CCIE lab in Brussels to take my Routing & Switching track, I finally passed and completed all the three tracks that I wanted to have.

I still don’t know what to say.
There is no word that can describe my feeling right now.

I guess I will start making a list of all the things that help me achieve my final target. I’m planning to re-write my ‘How to become a CCIE’ to update with latest information. But in short, following is how I did it with only 2 months preparation:

- There was no time to study or attend any training so I really depend on Internetwork Expert SP Advance Technology class-on-demand to get the strong base. I can’t say nothing regarding this material except: it’s gold. If you can’t afford to go for a training, just make sure you get this material.

- Then I tried to learn and practice specific topic using IE Tech Labs. It’s far than enough for sure but at least can give you some ideas about each technology. Expect to drill down by yourself by modifying the original scenario and by adding more complexity

- The Internetwork Expert SP Lab II is a must. If you can buy only a single workbook just make sure you get this one. I have no affiliation with them and actually I have some workbooks from different vendor as well. But there was no time. So I placed a bet by relying on this workbook 100% and I spent 240 lab hours to complete it two times. Obviously, just like in Tech Labs we need to be creative and expand the workbook. Always ask the question: why did Brian answer it this way? How if I do it that way? And really tested all of the possible options.

- If you are in tight schedule like me, then you have to bet on few things. I mean, I know we are supposed to learn all the technology listed in CCIE lab blueprint. But that’s what CCIE is all about. Strategy. You may not need to learn all of them since only based on looking at the hardware being used in the lab, for example, you can figure it out easily that some topics won’t be tested. So it’s really a thin line between strategic thinking and betting. For me, I just took my chance and choose material that I really need to focus on.

- Unlike CCIE R&S, documentation CD is not our best friend anymore. In CCIE SP, MPLS VPN with all the MP-BGP and underlying IGP technology is the main focus. If we screw up in this section, obviously we will fail. Especially since all the things are connected to each other. The decision you make earlier might affect the technology on top of it. And even if we can make it works from beginning, it doesn’t mean we pass straight away. But probably we will get all the points to pass from Multicast, and the remaining sections of the lab are just like a safe net. Some of them are quite easy to add more points and guarantee our passing score.

- We need to get real world pressure, perhaps from work, to build our character and make us ready to face any surprises in the lab . We need to have a good troubleshooting mindset to pass the lab. I can’t emphasize enough about how important those two are.

- Reading a CCIE SP related discussion, just like in this SP groupstudy and Internetwork Expert forum, is a very good way to avoid fighting this battle alone. There was no time for me to get involved into any discussion, but everytime I had time I always spent time to read the forum. You may even find a study partner there

- In the end, I believe CCIE SP is very fair compare to the other tracks that I have. I mean, in SP they don’t test any fancy features that I have never heard before and everything is straight to the point. If you understand the technology than you should be able to bring the network up. And most of those technologies can be tested. SP lab doesn’t put specific requirement how to do stuff, so I guess as long as we can achieve the result without violating the rules, it should be fine. There is no hard rule to do stuff that I should follow just like in other tracks.

I really need to thanks everyone that has been helping me to achieve my goal. To my family. To all my team mates in Cisco Advanced Services. To Internetwork Expert, thank you for all the best materials. Brian Dennis and Brian McGahan, you guys are the Twin Towers. The two Brains. The real Kungfu Masters. I spent more than 100 hours just to listen to both of you. Always laugh everytime you made those small jokes. There is no doubt about the materials and I recommend to anyone who’s planning to take CCIE SP to get them.

So what’s next? I can’t answer yet.
At least please allow me to rest and enjoy my historical moment.

I must fly another 16 hours to go back to Singapore. Back to my work. Back to all my projects. Back to reality.
CCIE was the only place where the world makes sense.

I guess I need to find my new reality.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Night Before the Big Game

I always wonder what someone like Fernando Alonso does the night before the race. Or what David Beckham does before the soccer game kickoff. Or perhaps, what all the boxers do the night before the big fight.

Tomorrow I will do my CCIE SP lab in Brussels. This is my big fight. It may not be as big as Formula 1 or Championship league, but for me this is still a big thing. It’s a huge thing. In fact, I feel like I’m going to do a giant leap that somehow will affect my life and people around me, in the future.
For me, this is history in the making.

So now I’m starring at my notebook, without any clues what to do with only few hours remaining before the lab. There are few things happened between my flight and right now. I guess I’m gonna kill my time by writing all of those.

Ok, it was 16 hours flight, remember? Well, actually it was almost 13 hours flight from Singapore to London, which I found really really funny. Why? Because on the way to London I could see Belgium in the overhead map! So my flight actually flew over Brussels to reach London Heathrow, where I had to stay for about 2 hours, then took a smaller plane to go back to Brussels. Ouch! I should pay attention to Geography lesson next time. It makes more sense to take a flight that stops over in a country between Singapore and Brussels, to cut some time.

And remember my plan to take a long sleep during the flight? It didn’t work quite well because they provide.. Movies on Demand! Oh no, I couldn’t resist to watch Spiderman 3 one more time. And obviously spending hours going through several episodes of The Simpsons TV series should not be a big deal.

TV is evil. But it was me to blame. I just can’t resist.
And as Chester shouts, I’m my own worst enemy.

So I could sleep only about 4 hours during the flight. And I was not in the mood to read, since it’s quite dark anyway, so if I didn’t watch movie I utilized my time to listen to Brian Dennis and Brian McGahan presentation on CCIE SP Advance Technology class-on-demand.

After I reached London Airport, just like what I did in Singapore airport, I jumped into my notebook and started working with my lab. So far so good. Almost missed the flight since I was too busy checking on some inter-AS scenario.

I reached Brussels airport quite too early so I decided to grab something to eat first. It was a right call, later on I found that there is nothing to eat in my hotel and the surrounding area. My hotel is close to Cisco office which is about 15 minutes ride from the Airport. You know what it means, close to the Airport means the place is quite far from the city. And it also means the place is in the middle of nowhere, and in the country where people really respect their weekend. Dead place. No shops or restaurants were opened.

But it was still okay. Luckily I brought some chocolates from the airplane and food was not in my top priority. My top priority was the Internet connection. Internet connection so I can connect through VPN to my lab inside Cisco network. And damn the hotel doesn’t have one. I mean, they said they provide wireless connection that costs 19 Euros for 24 hours. I bought 3 * 24 hours access and I was unable to connect at all. After couple of hours trying to troubleshoot the issue with the technical support over the phone, I fell a sleep. I guess I was really tired. And I woke up after couple of hours just to find out the problem persists.

So I decided to walk to Cisco office. Yeah, you hear me right. Going to Cisco office on Saturday evening. At least they have fast Internet connection. And soft drinks. And some fruits. I feel at home.

To make it short, I have been spending my time in Cisco office in Belgium from Saturday until few minutes ago. I believe I have done what I could. I have tried to verify all possible scenarios in MPLS VPN. Screwed up the network by putting Traffic Engineering in the middle, then run inter-domain multicast routing between the VPN sites. Anything that I could think of so far. And I may need to verify some more, but since there is no Internet connection in my hotel room I need to wake up really early tomorrow morning and walk into Cisco office maybe couple of hours before the lab starts.

What should I do the night before the big game? I don’t know. No food, no Internet, no good TV channel. Sitting alone in a small hotel room starring at my monitor. But none of those can hurt me since I know this might be my last journey in CCIE. If I pass tomorrow, I may not go for the remaining CCIE tracks, which are Voice and Storage. If I pass, it might be a new beginning for me to start focusing on Service Provider technology. If I pass, it will start a new era.

Like I said before, this is history in the making.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Eighty Percent

Some say, we never appreciate what we have until we’ve lost it. It may be true. I never though time is very valuable until I got trapped into a very tight schedule. I never spent time to appreciate my sleep until I had only few for it. And I never been grateful with my dining experience until I realized that it might be the best thing that can happen in one rough day.

I have been quite sleepless since last weekend. If I calculate all my sleep that was only couple of hours everyday, the total number from Sunday until now is less than 15 hours. And that is not because of my CCIE SP lab preparation. I had to lead a 3-day network design requirement workshop from Monday for one of Cisco biggest customer in this region. It is an exciting experience to meet and have a chance to discuss with the customer directly, to try to get all information about the existing setup, to capture customer requirements and expectations, to identify the challenges during the process and to start thinking about the best way to help the customer achieving their goal. So conducting workshop in a day then making summary as well as preparing material for the next day at night. I usually started working right after dinner until 6 in the morning. And couple of hours to sleep just to regain some energy since I must stand in front of the customer for about 8 hours during the workshop.

So next time you feel like your life is so bored, just remember there are some people who can only wish they have some extra time. Every time you feel like bitching about your uncomfortable bed at home, just realize there are others who must be able to sleep anywhere with any chance they have.

Well, I’m writing this not to try to teach you how you live your life or how you should be grateful with whatever you have in hand :). And I know some of you may even have worst workload and tighter schedule.

I’m writing this just to share with you that I don’t feel tired with all the things that I must do. I never feel tired with that. In fact, I feel so excited. I really enjoy every second of my busy time since it is part of my life style. It’s the way of living that I decided to choose long time back. I can’t get tired from my own life, can I? And this kind of life style really makes me appreciate all the nice dinner with my team mate just before we start working together. I really like the quality of my sleep since with only couple of hours a day I was unable to dream at all. It was just like closing your eyes for a while and suddenly you raise up from the darkness. This life style makes me appreciate all the small things that I usually ignore in normal circumstances.

You may ask, how my body will continue to survive. Perhaps with some help from lots of caffeine and Red Bull. But to be frank, I have actually planned for this. In the next several hours I will have a long flight to Brussels through London. It’s about 16 hours in total. So most probably I will utilize the time inside the plane to sleep and recover from all those sleepless nights. Just like I always utilize my time to sleep inside the taxi that brings me from the Airport to the Hotel every time I travel. And I don’t think all my gadgets’ battery capacity, from my notebook, my Zen to my PSP, combined together can beat that 16 hours. So obviously I must go to sleep during the flight. (Unless if they have movies on demand in the plane! It can be so tempting to watch 300 or the Simpsons TV series on that small screen)

So here I am, on my way from my office in Singapore to the airport. And I’m actually writing this post inside the taxi that’s taking me to the number 4 place that I spend the most of my time, which is Changi Airport :D. Number 1 place is Shangri-La hotel. Oh, it’s just like a second home to me. In fact, I spend more time in Shangri-La compare to my own home in my country or my apartment in Singapore. Number 2 are Cisco customers office. Number 3, surprisingly, is my office in Singapore. It doesn’t mean that I spend much time in my office, but every time I’m in Singapore you can find me sitting in my partition from morning until late night.

It’s a perfect life, isn’t it?

Nevertheless, I have been trying to work on my CCIE lab in between my busy time. Even with the previous 3-day workshop and a requirement for me to submit some design documents while preparing myself for some other project with different customer, I was still able to gain some lab hours to make my number close to 200 until today.

I know with only 3 days left, minus the 16 hours flight, it’s impossible to reach the 300 lab hour target. And I’m not planning to either.

I just need to get 80% in CCIE lab to pass. Not 100%. And definitely not 79%. It doesn’t make any difference to pass the lab with 80% or 100% score.

For my previous 2 CCIE I was extremely prepared and always trying to get 100% preparation level. But I actually can still pass with only 80% preparation and 100% confident level. Well, the math here is completely crap and it doesn’t make sense. But my point is, I still have a chance to pass even the chance is slim. I feel like with all my preparation so far I can get about 80% of lab score. So with the remaining time that I have, I need to make sure I can really achieve that 80%. Instead of trying to achieve 300 hour practicing in the lab, I will do my best to get at least 240. Since 240 is 80% of 300. And it means I just need to spend another 40 hours from the moment I land in Brussels until my lab.

Enough with all that calculation.
Let’s just wait for the result on Monday night.

One thing that I know for sure, even let’s say I slip and fail on this attempt, I won’t regret anything in my life. Everything is getting better and better day by day. I learn many things from my field experience facing Cisco customers as well as from my CCIE lab preparation. So my life is quite balance in the sense of sharing my time between geeking out in the lab and meeting the customer.

Why am I writing this post? I don’t know. Perhaps I’m just a bit nervous. It’s been a while since the last time I had a long flight like this. Or perhaps I’m just bored since I can’t get sleep inside this taxi so I’m trying to kill the time by keep writing.

Oh well, this is the longest post that has no point that I have ever written in my blog. Based on my lab result on Monday I may delete this post. Or may be not.

I have reached the airport now. Will upload this nonsense once I get Internet connection and let’s see what’s going to happen on Monday.

Over and out.