Thursday, January 20, 2011

What is CCIE?

A friend of mine forwarded me an old link about “what is a CCIE”. It’s interesting, hilarious, but I never bothered to read it all in detail since I know for sure it’s just too far from the truth. There was a time when CCIEs are considered the gurus of computer networking. There was a time when not many study materials available and the candidates must rely solely on the experiences. There was a time when someone who has CCIE can close his eyes and pick any job he wants because there were just so many available.

Today many have passed and some of them could even pass within short time without having difficulties (you know what I mean). Some CCIEs can’t demonstrate the expected level of expertise when they have to work in the real world. Some CCIEs don’t even understand the basic knowledge. So people are looking for the new perception or definition of CCIE. To me, CCIE meaning has never been changed. But before I mention what CCIE definition is that I always have in mind, please allow me to share different experiences that I have during my journey to pass CCIE in three different tracks.

I passed CCIE in both 2-day exam and 1-day exam format.

I failed attempts to get CCIE, I also passed 1 CCIE in first attempt.

My first CCIE was paid by my previous employer. My second CCIE was self-funded. My third CCIE was after I joined Cisco.

I passed the first CCIE because I had to, else I would get kick out from the company. I passed the second CCIE because I wanted to join Cisco. And I passed the third just because I really liked the SP technology.

I didn’t take any official training to pass any CCIE lab.

I took a month off to prepare my first CCIE and used to study 16 hours a day. I had to study between 2 am till morning for 6 months to get my second CCIE. And there was just not enough time to study for the third so I had to rely on experience at customer networks, and did extensive practice in the lab only few weeks before the exam.

So what is CCIE, if you ask me?

It’s a certification program from Cisco Systems that is positioned with “expert” level of difficulty. It’s a technical certification that you can earn if you pass both the written and lab exam. The exam blueprint covers many aspect of networking technologies and one must understand the concept as well as implement it in the same lab topology. There are advanced technology, leading edge features and troubleshooting skills tested during the exam.

It’s not a design exam.
It’s not to implement best practice network.
It’s not a real world implementation.

It’s designed to ensure the candidate knows how the technology works, how to implement it, how to integrate it, and how to troubleshoot it in simulated network topology.

It can make you learn new technology. It can give you chance to test new things in the lab that you may not have chance to do so in your daily work.

Sometimes the tasks required to be done in the lab don’t make sense.
Sometimes the tasks required to be done in the lab won’t be implemented in the real world.

And due to the lab setup, features and technology asked during the exam, the complexity of the integration between many technologies, combined with the time constraint, travel required and so on make CCIE lab really challenging and difficult.

But no matter how difficult it is, it’s just an exam.

CCIE is NOT supposed to be the final target.
CCIE is just the beginning.

Once you pass the exam, it can open many new opportunities. It can give you more chance to get a better position or to get another job in better organization. It can give you opportunity to work in more complex project. It can give you chance to join Cisco directly, like me, and someday can contribute to develop the content and make the questions for the lab exam.

And last, I will make one statement that may cause many debates but I’m just saying this based on what I have seen in the field:
Every network engineer should have at least one CCIE.

It should be compulsory for any engineer who wants to implement or get involved in complex network deployment.

Get the experiences then get certified.
Or get certified then get the experiences.
Either one is fine, as long as at the end each CCIE has real world experiences not only lab or exam experiences.

And that’s what CCIE is to me.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Define Under Pressure

During my life as engineer and consultant I have been dealing with many different types of customer in many different types of engagement and project, in many different countries. There are some good customers and challenging customers. Good customers are those who know their network very well, know many technology options available and the most important is they know what they want. So they are just looking for advices and best practices from a networking vendor like Cisco. Once the customers get those, most of the times they even implement the solution themselves. Tough and challenging customers usually are those who don’t know their network, who don’t have proper documentation of their setup, and most of the time they don’t know what they want. It’s not a bad thing for someone who works in professional services organization like me, as part of my responsibility is to become technical advisor to provide guidance and direction for such customers.

Some other customers just don’t make sense, in term of considering the timeframe to do the tasks or projects. They want the project to be done overnight. Some don’t want to listen to technical explanation of why some tasks can’t be done in short time. Others don’t understand how to put priority to the tasks in the project so they just put unnecessary pressure to complete some non-important task and don’t bother with critical task. Some put very high expectation and demand the vendor to deliver everything, within short time, despite the scope of work agreement has mentioned and limit the deliverables during the project.

For some other customers, they are just acting the way they think they should be. Several years ago one government and powerful customer told me they couldn’t accept any failure in the project and they would cancel my working permit and kick me out from the country if I make any mistake during the migration. And they showed they mean it by asking me to bring my passport during one critical migration night. One high rank officer from different government customer said he would put me in prison if someone was able to break the WPA mechanism that I enabled to secure his wireless network. Other customer (yes I know, I got lucky I had chance to deal with many different government customers ☺) mentioned he would send police officer to pick me up from home if I don’t show up for the meeting.

So after dealing with many good, tough, challenging and weird customers above I thought I have seen it all. I thought I knew the meaning of work under pressure. Until one day I had a chance to interview one guy from Iraq, later became my colleague and friend, for a network engineer position in my previous company. The time was around a couple of years after the US Army invasion of Iraq and they were probably still looking for the Weapon of Mass Destruction just like in Green Zone movie.

After asking series of technical questions, I came to a normal question that I always ask to every candidate I interview: can you work under pressure? He threw funny look to me and started laughing. I didn’t quite understand. Then he said: Himawan, define under pressure. I just came to Dubai from Iraq 2 weeks ago. For many years I worked there, everyday on my way to work I heard the explosions. I have seen shooting actions. And just week before I came here I was driving to go back home and didn’t realize there was a US Army checkpoint so I was a bit too fast when approaching them. Everybody was pointing his machine gun and yelling me to stop and they might have started shooting if I didn’t push the break as hard as I could. I may not know the technology as much as other network engineer does, but I can tell you that Dubai is like Heaven compare to where I came from. In Iraq, every morning to wake up and find yourself still alive is a privilege.

I was surprised to hear his answer. Next thing I know I put my highest recommendation to hire him immediately. He was a mere CCNP at that time so from technical skills he lacks several things required for the job but it doesn’t matter. Lack of technical skill can be improved. But the attitude and the ability to handle the situation, especially if you have to deal with funny customers (please read the third paragraph again), is what matters. I know someone like him would be successful some day. And after working with him for few years he proved that I was right.

So next time you feel like you are working under pressure, there are just too many loads to handle, you think you are in the worst project ever, you have to deal with a very bad customer and the world is completely unfair to you, please remember this:
define under pressure.