A Decade of CCIE Certification


I was notified this week that I’m eligible for the 10-year CCIE plaque. Which means that it’s been a decade since I walked out of Cisco’s Building C in San Jose with a new number and a different outlook on my networking career. The cliche is that “so many things have changed” since that day and it’s absolutely accurate because the only constant in life is change.

Labbing On the Road

I think the first thing that makes me think about the passage of time since my certification is the fact that the lab where I took the exam no longer exists. Building C was sold to the company that owns and operates the San Francisco 49ers stadium just down Tasman drive from the old letter buildings. Those real estate locations were much more valuable to the NFL than to Cisco. I can’t even really go and visit my old stomping grounds any more because the buildings were gutted, renovated, and offered to other operations that aren’t from Cisco.

Now, you don’t even go to San Jose or RTP for the lab. Three years ago the labs in the US moved to Richardson, TX. The central aspect of the location is pretty appealing when you think about it. A part of me wishes I would have had the opportunity to take the lab there since I wouldn’t have to jump on a plane and burn three days of my work schedule. The costs of my lab attempts would have been a lot less if I only had to drive down for one night in a hotel and got to come back and sleep in my bed that same night. I realize that it’s equally inconvenient for people to need to fly to the middle of the country when they used to be closer to the lab when it was on either coast. However, real estate in RTP and San Jose is beyond crazy when it comes to price. Moving the lab to somewhere more reasonable means Cisco is getting value out of their buildings elsewhere.

The mobile lab is another aspect of the changes in the CCIE certification program that are a welcome change. By putting the lab on the road and giving people in countries far away from a lab location the opportunity to get certified the program can continue to be relevant. This is due in large part to the changes in the lab that allow a large part of it to be virtualized or operated remotely from a rack located somewhere else. I remember starting my lab studies and thinking to myself that the rack that I was working on was just across the room. Not that there was much that I could do about it. The idea that there could be something going on that was just out of my reach was an itch I had to get over. Today, you would never even start to believe that you had a hardware issue in your lab because of the streamlining of the process. That can only happen when you optimize your offerings to the point where you can just virtualize the whole thing.

The Next Ten Years

Right now, I still have a year to go on my certification before I have to make the decision to keep it current or go to Emeritus retirement. My role on the CCIE Advisory council doesn’t matter either way. I’m likely going to just go Emeritus when the opportunity presents itself because I don’t use those lab skills every day. I’m not configuring BGP filter lists and port channels like I used to. The technical skills that I honed in Building C serve me more now to understand technology at an architecture level. I can see how people are using tools to solve problems and offer commentary when they are making poor decisions or when a better protocol exists.

The CCIE itself is still a very valuable certification to hold and study for. IT certification on the whole has been trending away from being the gold standard for hiring. Cloud and DevOps focus more on skills instead of papers hanging on a wall. However, operations teams still need ways to differentiate their people. If nothing else the CCIE is a great forcing function for you to figure out how deeply into networking you really want to get. It’s not enough to be curious about BGP or Frame Relay and traffic shaping QoS. You have to understand it at a level that would bore most others to tears. If you’re not prepared to know the minutia of a protocol the way that some people memorize batting averages or random movie trivia than you might not be up for this particular challenge.

The CCIE also isn’t going away any time soon. I remarked to someone the other day that the CCIE is a technology bellweather. I can remember the clamor to introduce the “new” SDN changes into the program so many years ago. I also chuckle when I think about the CCIE OpenFlow that more than a couple of people proposed. The certification program exists to refine and highlight the technology solutions that people are using today. It’s not a sneak peak at things that might be important later on in life. Think about how long it took for them to remove ISDN, ATM, and even frame relay from the test. And even frame relay was debated heavily because more than a few claimed they still used it in production.

The CCIE is a testament to the way that people study for and build networks at a high level. It’s not a cool badge to keep on your list like a hunting trophy. It’s a testament to the commitment that it takes to attain something like that. The JNCIE and the VCDX are much the same. They represent an investment of time and energy into something that proves your capabilities. More than any other certification, the CCIE challenges people. It creates study habits and builds communities. It makes people ask themselves hard questions about desire and commitment and helps the best rise to the occasion. It’s more than just a certification.


Tom’s Take

I wouldn’t change a thing about my CCIE journey. I learned as much from the failures as I did from the success. The opportunities afforded to me because of that number have been immeasurable. But through it all I realized that the process of getting my lab has helped shape me into who I am today. A decade past late night study sessions and soul-crushing failures I know that it was all worth it because it helped me take technology more seriously and form the habits and process that have served me well from then on. I’m happy to get the new plaque that marks me as a veteran of the lab plus ten years. My status as a CCIE might pass into Emeritus but the lessons I learned along the way will always be there.

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