Every year at Cisco Live the CCIE attendees who are also NetVets get a special reception with John Chambers where they can ask one question of him (time permitting). I’ve had hit-or-miss success with this in the past so I wanted to think hard about a question that affected CCIEs the world over and could advance the program. When I finally did ask my question, no only was it met with little acclaim but some folks actually argued against my proposal. At that moment, I figured it was time to write a blog post about it.
I think the CCIE needs to adopt a Continuing Professional Education (CPE) route for recertification.
I can hear many of you out there now jeering me and saying that it’s a dumb idea. Hear me out first before you totally dismiss the idea.
Many respected organizations that issue credentials have a program that records CPEs in lieu of retaking certification exams. ISACA, (ISC)^2, and even the American Bar Assoication use continuing education programs as a way of recertifying their members. If so many programs use them, what is the advantage?
CPEs ensure that certification holders are staying current with trends in technology. It forces certified individuals to keep up with new advances and be on top of the game. It rewards those that spend time researching and learning. It provides a method of ensuring that a large percentage of the members are able to understand where technology is headed in the future.
There seems to be some hesitation on the part of CCIEs in this regard. Many in the NetVet reception told me outright I was crazy for thinking such a thing. They say that the only real measure of recertification is taking the written test. CCIEs have a blueprint that they need to know and they is how we know what a CCIE is. CCIEs need to know spanning tree and OSPF and QoS.
Let’s take that as a given. CCIEs need to know certain things. Does that mean I’m not a real CCIE because I don’t know ATM, ISDN, or X.25? These were things that have appeared on previous written exams and labs in the past. Why do we not learn them now? What happened to those technologies to move them out of the limelight and relegate them to the same pile that we find token ring and ARCnet? Technology advances every day. Things that we used to run years ago are now as foreign to us as steam power and pyramid construction.
If the only true test of a CCIE is to recertify on things they already know, why not make them take the lab exam every two years to recertify? Why draw the line at simple multiple choice guessing? Make them show the world that they know what they’re doing. We could drop the price of the lab for recertification. We could offer recert labs in other locations via the remote CCIE lab technology to ensure that people don’t need to travel across the globe to retake a test. Let’s put some teeth in the CCIE by making it a “real” practical exam.
Of course, the lab recert example is silly and a bit much. Why do we say that multiple choice exams should count? Probably because they are easy to administer and grade. We are so focused on ensuring that CCIEs retrain on the same subjects over and over again that we are blind to the opportunity to make CCIEs the point of the spear when it comes to driving new technology adoption.
CCIE lab revamps don’t come along every six months. They take years of examination and testing to ensure that the whole process integrates properly. In the fourth version of the CCIE lab blueprint, MPLS appeared for the first time as a lab topic. It took years of adoption in the wider enterprise community to show that MPLS was important to all networkers and not just service provider engineers. The irony is that MPLS appears in the blueprint right alongside Frame Relay, a technology which MPLS is rapidly displacing. We are still testing on a twenty-year-old technology because it represents so much of a networker’s life as it is ripped out and replaced with better protocols.
Where’s the CCIE SDN? Why are emerging technologies so underrepresented in the CCIE? One could argue that new tech needs time to become adopted and tested before it can be a valid topic. But who does that testing and adoption? CCIEs? CCNPs? Unwitting CCNAs who have this thrust upon them because the CIO saw a killer SDN presentation and decided that he needed it right now! The truth is somewhere in the middle, I think.
Rather than making CCIEs stop what they are working over every 18 months to read up and remember how 802.1d spanning tree functions or how to configure an NBMA OSPF-over-frame-relay link, why not reward them for investigating and proofing new technology like TRILL or OpenFlow? Let the research time count for something. The fastest way to stagnate a certification program is to force it in upon itself and only test on the same things year after year. I said as much in a previous CCIE post which in many ways was the genesis of my question (and this post). If CCIEs know the only advantage of studying new technology is gaining a leg up with the CxO comes down to ask how network function virtualization is going to benefit the company then that’s not much of an advantage.
CPEs can be anything. Reading an article. Listening to a webcast. Preparing a presentation. Volunteering at a community college. Even attending Cisco Live, which I have been informed was once a requirement of CCIE recertification. CPEs don’t have to be hard. They have to show that CCIEs are keeping up with what’s happening with modern networking. That stands in contrast to reading the CCIE Certification Guide for the fourth or fifth time and perusing 3-digit RFCs for technology that was developed during the Reagan administration.
I’m not suggesting that the CPE program totally replace the test. In fact, I think those tests could be complementary. Let CPEs recertify just the CCIE exam. The written test could still recertify all the existing CCNA/CCNP level certifications. Let the written stand as an option for those that can’t amass the needed number of CPE credits in the recertification period. (ISC)^2 does this as do many others. I see no reason why it can’t work for the CCIE.
There’s also the call of fraud and abuse of the system. In any honor system there will be fraud and abuse. People will do whatever they can to take advantage of any perceived weakness to gain advantage. Similarly to (ISC)^2, an audit system could be implemented to flag questionable submissions and random ones as well to ensure that the certified folks are on the up and up. As of July 1, 2013 there are almost 90,000 CISSPs in the world. Somehow (ISC)^2 can manage to audit all of those CPE submissions. I’m sure that Cisco can find a way to do it as well.
People aren’t going to like my suggestion. I’ve already heard as much. I think that rewarding those that show initiative and learn all they can is a valuable option. I want a legion of smart, capable individuals vetting new technology and keeping the networking world one step into the future. If that means reworking the existing certification program a bit, so be it. I’d rather the CCIE be on the cutting edge of things rather than be a laggard that is disrespected for having its head stuck in the sand.
If you disagree with me or have a better suggestion, I implore you leave a comment to that affect. I want to really understand what the community thinks about this.