The moment I clicked Next at the end of the CCDE practical exam today in London, and it showed Congratulations word, I was literally jumping out my chair. It was a bad move, I admit, because it was really distracting and it made many other candidates in the room to look at me furiously since we still had more than an hour to complete this 352-011 exam. But I couldn't help it. I passed!
I'm a CCDE now. Part of the group consists around 100 people only, in the world. Wow. Thank God.
(I haven't received my number yet. So I hope CCDE team don't change their mind)
How did I prepare for CCDE exam?
Well, it's been a long journey. I passed my first CCDE written exam four years ago. I have taken the practical exam when it was version v1.0. And now I passed with v2.0.
Before I took the exam today I thought I would have lots of things to write about my preparation for CCDE exam. But I'm typing this while having my "CCDE dinner" at Hard Rock Cafe in London, and I can only came up with these 10 points on How to Become CCDE. It might be completely useless, but hey, you must be desperate looking around for anything that may help with CCDE preparation, then end up reading this post. And desperate time calls for desperate measure.
1 - Get your CCIE first
I don't care if you shout "Himawan, don't talk rubbish! You don't need CCIE to become CCDE!" I have already had CCIE (three!) before going for CCDE. Most people who passed so far have CCIEs too. The folks who created the exams are CCIEs.
To pass CCDE yes, indeed you need to know more than "what, how" and focus on "why, when, where" to use the technology to answer business and design requirements. CCIE can help you with the what and how, so once you have it you just need to focus on why, when and where.
And trust me, during CCDE journey it's more fun if you are already a CCIE. It will even give you more chance to do point number 2 below. So get CCIE first, at least one.
2 - Get real experience with network design
You can't skip experience to become CCDE. Period.
And I suggest to have network design experience for at least several industries. For example, I used to work with Enterprise, Education and Government customers before I joined Cisco. With Cisco I've been involved in many design projects, mainly with Service Providers as well as large Enterprise.
CCDE covers various technology from IP/MPLS to Data Center to Campus Network to Remote Access and so on. The best way to learn about the solution, architecture, the design and all technologies around it is through the experience.
3 - Ask yourself if you really want to become CCDE
If you are a CCIE and you have extensive design experience as point number 2 above, why do you need to become CCDE?
Design skill is shaped with experience working with real customer. You will be known as design expert due to the reputation and real design you built in the past. Not from passing an exam.
If you ask me, I've been chasing CCDE because I'm a big fan of Cisco certification program. I call myself CCIE evangelist. I support the program with all my heart. But I do network design everyday, and I have solid 14 years experience, I don't really think my design skill needs to be 'certified'.
It doesn't mean the CCDE program is no good. I took CCDE practical exam v1.0 and yes, I have to admit it was terrible. The current version v2.0 is much better. It won't be able to simulate the real design project, but it's getting closer. It forces the candidate to think about why, when, and where to use which technology to answer business and design requirements. That's the essential skill every network designer must have.
So I'm doing it just because. Now it's time for you to think about the reason why you want to do CCDE.
4 - Pass the written exam and book the seat
I don't need to tell you how. If you are a CCIE, and you have extensive experience, it should be easy for you to pass the written exam.
If you still need to read book to refresh, take the CCDE Quick Reference and Optimal Routing Design book. Google them, I'm too lazy to create the link to amazon or Ciscopress website.
Once you pass the written exam, book the seat for practical exam. CCDE practical is not available every day, so you must check the schedule and the exam location nearby. This is the reason why you should pass written exam at the beginning of the journey and just book the practice exam, since you may not even get a seat and must wait for several months. And having a target date is always good to force us to prepare. Deadline always pushes to unleash the best of us.
5 - Understand the exam from those who created it
Russ White is the main man behind the exam.
Listen to his explanation of what CCDE is all about.
Google his interview on youtube.
Read his CCDE slides on Cisco Live 365.
It's better if you can take CCDE Techtorial at Cisco Live.
And btw, Russ wrote the two books I mentioned in point number 4 above.
This step is very important because in order to pass you don't design the network just like the real world. You design the network, or answer the design related questions in the exam, based on the scope and expectation from the author of the exam.
How to answer the question in the exam? Understand the author's mindset first.
6 - Read design guide, best practice and design case study
You can learn what and how from CCIE and real world deployment project. If you are lucky, you can learn why, when and where to use technology from experience too.
But it's always good to read someone's experience, especially the ones from Cisco stated as design guide, or best practice, or deployment case study.
One good resource is Cisco Validated Design. As well as Solution Architecture.
And read many Cisco Live presentations with "Design", "Deploy", "Practice" and "Architecture" keyword for different technologies.
One good book with sample design case study is Definitive MPLS Network Design.
Well, if you have lots of time you can read all the books listed in CCDE Practical Exam Reading List.
I didn't have time. And I had read some of the books when I did my CCIE. So I spent most of my time with Cisco Live and design material available on Cisco website.
7 - Take the practical exam
This is it. As Sir Richard Branson said: screw it, just do it.
Go and take your first attempt. Heck you never know, you may even pass!
8 - If you pass, stop here. If you fail, at least you know what to expect next
Let's say you fail. So what? Many have failed. Only 100 have passed.
What matters is now you have seen the real exam. Once you see the way the exam is delivered, different type of questions, the flow of the scenario in the exam, you will understand more what Russ meant in point number 5 above.
And this is a very important piece to pass the exam.
Analyze why you fail. If there is technology you still don't understand, read them. If you are still confused to choose one technology to the other, study them and make the comparison. Once you are done, book another seat.
Keep taking it until you pass.
Same like CCIE, if you persist you will eventually pass.
9 - By now you should know how to pass
Or not? Or perhaps, you don't want to follow point number 1 to number 8? Or you need help to guide you through?
I just bought ccde33.com domain name, so you can guess what I'm coming up next. Watch this space.
And did I say 10 points? I was lying. Or probably I'm just too full since the nice lady at Hard Rock keep feeding me with lots of nice dessert.