Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Slowing Down

As the end of the year is approaching, few days ago I started my personal review process by looking at the things that I have done in the past. I finally joined Cisco Systems Advanced Services 3 years ago, as per my previous target in life, and it’s been more than a year since I moved to a WWSP practice team that focuses on the NGN Infrastructure and Solutions to cover Emerging Markets. This is the team that I always dreamed to join. This is the place that I wanted to be, at least for now, and I may stick around for a bit longer.

From time to time I like to put a personal target, and I like to visualize it. For example, long before I passed my first CCIE, I already had the picture in my mind about what I would do the day I really got my number. Before I joined Cisco, I used to visualize myself as Advanced Services team member who must provide the best solution to the customers even during a challenging situation. It may sound silly but sometime it can really help in maintaining my motivation to achieve the target.

So while waiting for the year to change in the next few days, I dare myself to put my target-in-visual and share it here, which I may add the version number 2.0 to it to differentiate with the previous one I made in the past.

Wait. No more certifications like CCDE, Cisco Certified Architect etc just as in my previous target? Yup. All those certifications (except the one from another vendor, you know what I mean) are written as my target from the company I currently work for. This means I have to do it anyway and for sure I will get it someday.

No newer product line like the Cisco ASR9K?
I don’t think it’s necessary. My team is dealing with the NGN solutions, so once any customer under the team’s coverage countries starts buying the ASR, the project will come to us eventually. So even without setting up a target, there will be a point in time where I have to deal with it and master the product.

No place as the new destination to live?
I believe home is where the heart is. And my heart belongs to any place where I can be together with my family. So it doesn’t matter if it’s in Dubai, my hometown, San Jose, or even Johannesburg (exclude District 9). Having said that, I don’t think I should mark any place as a new target to live.

My new visualized targets contain all the skills I want to learn, or things that I’ve been doing so far but now I want to put more focus on them. From snowboarding, ability to drive in multiple terrains, photography, playing drum (and forming a rock band?), travelling and a black box that I designate for the target that I can’t share in here because it’s too personal. None of them shows any items that I currently own or I want to have in possession. The pictures illustrate what kind of skills I want to excel, so all the items in there are just the tools to achieve the target.

And the best thing from all my new targets, I can do most of them together with my first kid. No more selfish target.

How about the target I want/have to achieve at work? I still have them, but I don’t consider as my personal targets since they are written anyway and always get reviewed during my company’s annual review process.

I’m slowing down in term of work. It doesn’t mean I will start deteriorating the quality of my work and delivering only rubbish. But it means I will allocate only 40 hours of my time per week to work. Just as what I was asked to do. If I do more in some week, because sometime I have to comply with the project schedule, I will compensate myself on some other week. This makes me able to allocate at least 40 hours per week too to spend with my family. And I can use the rest of the time to achieve my personal targets.

With this mindset, I’m ready for 2010.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Yet Another CCDE Attempt

I've just done my second attempt of CCDE practical exam. It's still a very long, painful 8 hours and frustrating exam. But even I spent only few hours last night to prepare for it I was much happier this time. Probably because I know what to expect.

As part of the NDA that I signed, obviously I can't share much information about the exam content here. But there are several notes I want to highlight from this attempt:

- There are more candidates taking the test in London, 26 compare to only 16 in August, and the administrator told me the testing center is actually capable to hold up to 39 candidates. Is this a sign that CCDE becoming more popular? I don't know.

- At the same time I heard the exam in Hong Kong was canceled due to the lack of demand. It was canceled over there as well on August with the same reason. So the exam is not that popular in the region where english is not the native language? Probably. Probably because this exam requires a lot of reading and number of questions (all in english) that we need to analyze in 8 hours.

- I feel like there were some modification in the questions. No more unnecessary jokes in the email conversation. And the questions are more straight forward. There are still some confusing questions that made me want to bang my head to the computer screen, but the number is much less compared to the previous attempt. Confusing because I can't agree with the options provided in the questions to improve the design. But hey, it was not a real world challenge. It was just an exam, and any exam is meant to be confusing.

- During this attempt I've just realized that this is the most 'vendor neutral' exam from Cisco. The only sign that showing it's an Cisco exam is only the router icon and lots of EIGRP questions! But the focus of the exam is the analytical thinking to provide the high level network design and to solve the problems caused by design flaw. No product limitation discussion. No specific hardware related to Cisco. No Cisco IOS configuration. I believe the skill to pass the exam can be useful and applicable even for another vendors as well.

-What make it difficult for a design engineer to pass this Design Expert exam is: because when we see the scenario in the questions we tend to relate it with the real world design challenge and start getting into detail. I believe that's not what it is expected by the exam maker. The technical scope in the exam is a broad and high level. The most important, I believe, is the ability to analyze the questions and select the answer from the options available.

- Lunch provided by the testing center in London is better than the previous attempt. At least now they have the tuna and vegetarian sandwich instead of ham only. For this attempt I was more prepared: I slept for 7 hours. I had a good breakfast in the morning. I didn't eat much during lunch because it would make me sleepy during the second half of the exam. Remember, we need to stay focus and maintain our sanity for 8 hours.

- Security in the testing center was really tight. Not only I had to show 2 government-issued documents to prove my identity, I needed to sign, got my picture taken, and both of my palm were scanned multiple times! And I thought a simple fingerprint scan was adequate, or perhaps because there are already so many movies showing how we can beat the fingerprint scan easily?

- Last but not least, there were 2 female among the candidates. Good. Another proof that the computer networking world is not solely dominated by men!

Well, the long and painful 8 hours is done.
Now comes the hardest part.
Waiting 8-12 weeks for the result.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Project London II

I got the CCDE result yesterday and it's negative. There are several things that I hate around the result other than the fact that I failed:

- It took about 3 months to get the result
- The result was delivered using a hardcopy letter (what happens to online result? Now I can see the status: Fail in Vue website but no email notification like in CCIE)
- The result only shows the percentage for few generic design tasks: gather and clarify requirement, develop network design etc.
So it does not list in detail the result per technology or per scenario that I believe will make it difficult for a candidate to know his weakness. Getting 50% in develop network design section, for example, I believe it's not a clear feedback in order to be more prepared for the next attempt
- And as per today I can't find any official statement that saying the minimum percentage to pass the CCDE exam. Is it 80% like in CCIE?

Indeed I have booked for another attempt on next Tuesday in London. But at the end of next week I have to submit lots of documents for the project I'm currently working on. And this weekend I have already planned to go camping with the kids.

I don't think I can give up either one for CCDE. So I will just walk in to the testing center and try to stay awake for 8 hours, and rely solely on my common sense.

Let's see.