Sunday, July 13, 2008

CCDE Practical

Okay, I have to make a confession first. I’ve just realized that I need license to ride two-wheel vehicle. I need license to ride my Ninja! Can you believe that? Yeah, it is true, even in this part of the world it’s still true. And the worst part, without the street license I can’t apply to get a special license that will allow me to ride my bike inside the circuit. Instead of learning how to turn in high speed corner just like Valentino Rossi, now I have to face the fact that I can’t even ride my Ninja outside my neighborhood.

So in between my boring time to just ride around my home every morning and evening, I start looking at what I should do for my personal development in networking. As you can see from my previous post, I need to catch up and re-fresh my knowledge to keep me in shape as consulting engineer. I used to think that I should take Jxxxx certification just for fun. Well, another reasons are to keep me busy as well and to re-learn anything I may miss during the previous CCIE lab.

But then CCDE came into the picture.

I wrote it once that I know it will be difficult to measure design skill of someone, so I would love to see how the CCDE team is going to do it. And looking at what they have prepared so far and tested as beta exam, it seems like they may be able to nail it down.

Let’s start with the written test. Okay, it’s just regular as another Cisco computer-based test. Think about CCIE written. Or, since CCDE folks said there won’t be any configuration nor bit-level questions in the test, and it will be focused on the design implication, I guess it will be similar as the ARCH in CCDP exams. Perhaps much deeper and the coverage is wider since CCDE is for large-scale networks. Oh come on, just read the blueprint! What is worth to discuss from the written test for me is passing it will re-certify my CCIE. Nice.

Now about the Practice exam. It’s 8 hours just like CCIE lab. But no, it’s not a lab. In fact, it’s a computer-based exam. Disappointed? Wait, there are more. It’s scenario based. It starts with some information, document and email conversation from the customer. Then based on those, we need to dig more information by asking the right question. Have you seen iRobot movie? Where the detective must ask the right question or the hologram of Dr. Lanning would say "I'm sorry. My responses are limited. You must ask the right questions." Well, it’s a bit similar like that. Or not.

That’s just the beginning. Once we get more and more information, we need to answer a series of question related to the scenario. We must choose the right features to accommodate the requirements. And we always have to think about the implications. So no configuration. But it will really test the knowledge how to make a design to answer real problems. And we have to integrate business problems into it too.

Sound easy? Let’s just wait until we have a chance to do this test. Remember, it’s an 8 hours exam. There are several different types of questions: multiple right questions, drag and drop network diagram, ordering a list, match two lists. And if you check the reading list, the coverage looks heavy. Remember, the exam is developed by the team consist of senior design engineers who have been working for many years in Cisco. So they know what kind of challenges normally any designer must deal with and they have done many designs from beginning until implementation.

Another reminder, passing the exam doesn’t guarantee that we are a damn good designer. Just like CCIE lab, we must build our expertise on top of that. Passing the exam is, as always, just a beginning. Our design skill can really be tested once we have to meet the customer in real world, deliver the design that can satisfy the requirements, and make sure it can be implemented smoothly.

So I think the good side about CCDE practical exam format is it can really test the knowledge of each candidate in analyzing, making design, knowing the implication, and justifying the decision of the design and features. It requires broad technical knowledge, even there won’t be any configuration, and integrate all pieces into a useful whole. It also means each candidate must be able to understand the relation of customer’s business in every design and decision when choosing the features to be implemented. O yeah, CCDE team mentioned the exam can be considered as vendor neutral. So I guess there won’t be any specific question related to Cisco hardware there.

The bad side, there is no other aspect of designer skills tested in the lab. Skill in leading a requirements workshop to gather information, for example. Based on my experience some customers are not quite open until I gather all departments and meet them and try to find the missing information by initiating the discussion. And no test of presentation skill either. It is required during requirement workshop as well as design workshop when normally designer must explain, justify, and defend the design. Last but not least, it’s a computer-based exam. I mean, unless the CCDE team has a huge bank of scenarios the questions may become popular and repeatable after some time and people may pass by just memorizing the answers. I hope they find a way to tweak and modify the scenarios quite often so this won’t happen.

Btw, from where I got all this information? Some Networkers 2008 slides. I think it was presented last month. And if you have registered to Cisco Learning Network you can get more information, and you can even enjoy the discussion with the CCDE team directly. If you are not lazy enough, you can also find some example of CCDE practical exam. Oh yeah, some folk even put link to my blog somewhere there.

I think this CCDE practical exam can set the benchmark of minimum knowledge required to become a network designer. Just as CCIE has become a benchmark for any network engineer nowadays. And I really think it’s worth to take it. I can’t wait for them to release the practical exam world wide.


Ranjan said...

Amazing! Didnt know about the CCDE practical exam . Am sure you will crack it ! All the best!

JanZ said...

this is a great blog....added to my favourites....would love to read all of it