Random “Scenic Route Certification” thoughts

The “Sometimes the path is more important than the destination” post has generated numerous highly interesting comments. I already planned to write about some of the issues raised by the readers (certification grind mill) or wrote about others (knowledge or recipes), so I’ll skip those and focus on the other interesting bits-and-pieces (but please make sure you read the original post first).

In reality, at the lower levels of certifications, knowledge is limited anyway. It’s only at CCIE+ that knowledge comes into its own with or without the cert and that means several yrs of experience and learning down the scenic route.

I have to disagree. The medium-level certifications (CCIP, CCNP) have topics where knowing how things work definitely helps you. Just to give you an example: if a student manages to walk from a BSCI class (or reading equivalent book) without being able to explain how OSPF computes the cost of a distant IP prefix (but still knowing all the answers by heart), something is wrong with the course materials (or the book), the teacher, the student or the certification process (this is a multiple-choice question that includes »all of the above« answer :). Likewise, if a CCNP cannot describe TCP port number selection and session setup process, something is wrong (if nothing else, you need this knowledge to create sensible ACLs in some scenarios).

The fact is that even CCIE level BGP is not enough to design an Internet policy.

Of course. To start with, CCIE is not a design course; but if someone has designed an Internet policy and a CCIE cannot implement it, we have a problem. You're also mixing apples and oranges. Passing a driver exam does not mean you can get from point A to point B in the middle of the night without directions; you need further experience to do that.

QOS learned for CCxP and CCIE is not enough to be able to build a multiservice backbone with tight SLAs.

Absolutely agree. Read the previous answer.

Where is inter-as MPLS and MPLS TE (and reasons for tactical vs strategic) in the certifications?

The certifications have to stop somewhere. Are you sure that there are so many networks out there using Inter-AS MPLS TE that it should be included in the certification process? If everyone with a pet technology (or solution or product) would be able to get their topics into a certification course, they would become horrendous. Unfortunately it happens every now and then … and then you can see a superficial module in an otherwise well-designed course.

I would suggest you redefine your definition of advanced because up to CCIE level OSPF/ISIS et al are to intermediate level and moreover, pretty much implementation.

The certification folks at Cisco should yell »Hooray, we did it!« You've just described their goals. But knowing how things work nonetheless helps you at the intermediate level as well.

You are saying that BGP is an advanced topic per-se. I am saying that BGP can be basic, medium and advanced.

If we really want to go nitpicking: like any other technology BGP is basic, medium and advanced, but the basic BGP is probably at the same level as intermediate OSPF.

I am of the opinion that I will never truly understand some things until I really do them.

I couldn't agree more. But if you don't have the underlying theoretical knowledge, you will not be able to understand what's going on anyway. The cavemen were not able to understand solar eclipses even though they saw the same thing we do.

And the remark I liked best:

Why does it feel like Cisco asks you questions on exams in the most vague way possible.

Because that's one of the ways to make a too-simple test more complex. Writing good exam questions is tough (more about that in an upcoming post) and sometimes writers take dubious shortcuts.

3 comments:

  1. Well I agree having the underlying theory is important, no doubt about that. But I sometimes I feel like I am reading over the material constantly and it just feels like superficial knowledge until I really build(possibly screw up) and repair the network

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  2. I also thought about your response to the vagueness of the questions.

    If the examiners think that the test may be too easy, why not ask harder questions as opposed to vague questions to begin with?

    That seems to me to be counter intuitive to the process.

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  3. hey, a fairly comprehensive dismissal of my comments :-)... and I don't disagree with your thoughts.

    1) Your View: make sure you gain the knowledge whilst getting the cert.

    2) My View: You need the the Cert to get the job to get the knowledge. Focus on passing.

    so where we disagree is in fact gaining the knowledge.


    I suspect this plays out in Rogers comment whereby the knowledge is apparently superficial until you are using this knowledge in commercial environments where you really start to see why things were conceived off in the first place, which in most cases you cant get to without said Cert.

    A kind of catch 22 if you like...

    At the end of the day, for most of us this is a commercial endeavour and not to mention extremely competitive (Especially in light of a Credit Crunch and CCIE devaluation thanks to our cheaper cousins from China and India etc).

    I just think that a persons best interest is getting the cert as quick as poss, then getting the job and then gaining the necessary experience.. I appreciate this lacks the integrity of your method but see comments above about competitiveness.

    To summarise if I was studying for CCxP, specifically OSPF or MPLS VPNs and I memorised them and fully understood (by supplementing this with some real knowledge say Jeff Doyle OSPF Chapter and your very own MPLS VPN architectures where knowledge does indeed reside)

    I bet you by the time I came to a job where I really needed to use it (re-engineering a CORE network perhaps or troubleshooting an MPLS VPN) I would have forgotten and I would need to reread both books. Only then after marrying both these books with the specific issue will it really get into my head.


    just one last nitpick.. your comments are wrong regarding my "Inter-as MPLS TE" comment. I said "Inter-as MPLS" AND "MPLS TE". You are correct where the former must be rarely used, however, (for the benefits of your readers) the latter two I mentioned are indeed used extensively in many carrier networks. (speaking a of pet technology -- what to do with MTR? :-) )

    I hope you take the comments in the spirit the are intended (brainstorming) and I always remain pragmatic :-).

    perhaps a good topic for your blog could be "How prepared does you a cert make you for real life roles within our industry?"

    bad designer.

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Ivan Pepelnjak, CCIE#1354, is the chief technology advisor for NIL Data Communications. He has been designing and implementing large-scale data communications networks as well as teaching and writing books about advanced technologies since 1990. See his full profile, contact him or follow @ioshints on Twitter.