CCIE Lab – The Devil’s in the Details


Fresh off another lab experience in San Jose.  And while I didn’t get what I came after, I got a lot of valuable experience.  And I learned a lot about details.  And I don’t mean the ones that get you points on the lab.

What I reference is the “lab experience”.  There was a guy that was in my group that was just trying the lab for the first time.  He was nervous, and as we walked out from our butt-kicking, he remarked that it was definitely an experience.  And it got me to thinking about some things.  Things that you don’t get from workbooks or bootcamps.  From instructors (most of the time) or from catchy videos on Cisco’s website.  Yes, the little details.  The sometimes-stressful parts of lab day that can add up to a pressure cooker if you aren’t careful.  I find these questions asked a lot among candidates on message boards and in person.  Most of what I’m going to say applies equally in San Jose as well as RTP, and I think they’ll take some things off your mind so you can concentrate on the tasks at hand.

1.  The Early Bird – It goes without saying, but you probably don’t want to be late.  In San Jose, the proctor comes out to get you at 8:15 a.m.  At RTP, it’s 7:15.  I’d say be there 15 minutes early, accounting for traffic.  Just today, 3 of the candidates came in late.  Well past the actual 8:30 start time for the lab.  When you do that, you’re just costing yourself time.  Better to stare at the walls for 5 extra minutes than need 5 more minutes to fix BGP.

2.  Pens and Pencils and Papers, OH MY! – I probably see this question get asked more than any other.  Yes, you get a whole cup of pencils at your desk.  Pencils, pens, markers.  Red, black, brown, green, blue, and periwinkle if you want it.  You also get two pieces of paper to take notes on.  You can have as much paper as you want, but only two sheets at a time.  The paper also has your ID printed on it, so they know who you are.  And they have to account for EVERY scrap, so don’t tear off a piece to wad up your gum.  Rather than worry about the writing utensils and scratch paper, you can concentrate on making diagrams and checklists as necessary.

3.  Gimme a break! – There is a break room available in all lab locations just down the hall.  Back in the old days (circa 2008), the refreshments were open to all for free.  Then…(ta da!)…This Economy(TM).  Now, the refreshments are only free if you want water or coffee.  If you are a caffeine junkie like me, you better bring along some change or dollar bills for the soda machine.  My last attempt in 2009 caught me unaware of the new rules for caffeinated release.  Fortunately, I was able to break a $20 bill at the cafeteria so I could get my fix.  Just make sure to have some change handy and it’ll be one less stressful thing to worry about.

4.  There’s Such A Thing As A (sort of ) Free Lunch – In RTP, you take your lunch break in a conference room just off the lab.  You eat what they bring in.  The RTP site cafeteria is too far away in order to get you over there and back in a reasonable amount of time.  For some people, it’s acceptable to stuff your face and get back to configuring.  Others find it off-putting that you can’t get away from the damned lab for any small break.  In San Jose, 10 minutes before lunch the proctor passes out a $12 voucher for lunch at the building D cafeteria.  When it’s lunch time, you all get up as a group and head over.  You have ~45 minutes to eat and not think about icky IGP stuff.  You also get to breath fresh air and see sunshine, which rates pretty high in my book.  The cafeteria lunch is one of the reasons why I keep coming back to San Jose for my lab attempts.  I figure after 10, they’ll upgrade my lunch voucher to at least $15…

Just some things to throw out there that I never see answered in one form or another.  The key is that details of no importance are of no importance.  When it comes down to making sure that your QoS class maps are in the right order, not worrying about what’s for lunch makes sense.  But when you’re sitting in your hotel room the night before the test and your mind starts dwelling on all the little things and blowing them out of proportion, it’s important to realize that things like the above items aren’t really worth mulling about.  It’s better to refocus your efforts into your studies and crush the lab.  So you don’t have to keep coming back to the land of $12 lunches and colored pencils.  And the devil that is the CCIE lab.

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2 thoughts on “CCIE Lab – The Devil’s in the Details

  1. All very true.
    I wrote my lab in San Jose last year and can relate with every single detail…….lol!

    Reading your experience brings back an adrenaline rush…..all the best with it man!

  2. While I’m a bit away from sitting my lab, I wonder about things like what to bring for lunch, where to park, how early to get there, etc. I’m sure a few blood-pressure points will be alleviated by knowing all this.

    – Aaron

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