My Journey to CCDE

The purpose of this article is to document a brief summary of how I obtained the CCDE certification with the hope that this information will help you to achieve your goal to be certified as CCDE. None of the following information violates NDA because no specific scenarios or questions are covered.

First of all a little about my background, it is important because your experience and knowledge before you start CCDE study determines how much time you will need to prepare for the written and practical exams.

I have been working with computers since 1994 and have been doing networking professionally since 1998. I obtained CCIE R&S in July 2001 and have spent many years working on design, implementation and operation of large enterprise WAN. I lived in the routing protocols world (RIP, EIGRP, OSPF, BGP) on networks with over 1000 routers. This experience was very useful because the core topic of CCDE is routing.

I started to have interest in obtaining CCDE in October 2012. To begin, I just want to know what topics are covered under CCDE, so I began my research on the web. You can find out what I have discovered on the Internet Study Resouces page.

Once I have a pretty good idea on the depth and breadth of topics that are covered in exam, I started to study for exam. I passed the qualification exam (352-001) in the Orlando Cisco Live on June 24, 2013 and immediately scheduled the practical on that day and was able to get a seat in Chicago on August 27, 2013. I spent the next two months studying and passed the practical on my first try. In total I spent approximately two months to study for the qualification exam and another two months for the practical exam. On average, I spent three to five hours daily during those four months.

The following are my suggestions on how to study for CCDE:

Cisco CCDE Practical Practice Demo

Cisco has a free online demo of the CCDE practical exam. It is very helpful to go through the demo to get a feel of the styles of the practical exam. Because it is a demo, it did not go through the stringent QA as the real practical exams did, you will not be able to find satisfactory explanation to many answers. However do not give up if you get low score, the main idea to do the demo is to be familiar with the format of the practical exam, not to get 100% score.

Safari Books Online

You will need to read a lot of books in order to pass CCDE. The cheapest and fastest way to get access to these books are through Safari Books. I recommend the 10 books monthly subscription. It is only $20 per month. You can cancel the subscription once you pass the exam.

GNS3

CCDE is a vendor neutral exam. You do not need to known any CLI at all. The reason is you do not need to know any CLI in order to design networks. However obviously you do need to know the concepts, features and limitations of network protocols in order the design networks. For most us, having hands-on experience will reinforce and enhance our understanding of what we read or hear. Since not all of us have production experience with all the network protocols that could be on the exam, using GNS3 is an excellent way to help us to understand and to validate what we have read. I simulated a large topology that consists of over 20 routers. I created with three ISP, each with multiple customers to help me to understand concepts that were less familiar to me. You can simulate pretty much any scenario using GNS3. The only protocol I was not able to simulate was VPLS.

If you are already familiar with a protocol, do not waste time on GNS3 to figure out the CLI. However if you are having problem trying to understand a particular protocol, it may worthwhile to spend few hours to make it work on GNS3. Once you get the protocol working in GNS3, you will be in better position to understand the protocol.

Cisco Live 365

I went through all Cisco live sessions that cover MPLS, OSPF, IS-IS, EIGRP, BGP, QoS, IPv6, Multicast and routing security. To save time, I download the sessions into my laptop and watch them at 1.5 to 2.0 speed using VLC. Concentrate on the foundation of the protocols, do not worry about some of the greatest and latest features the came out in the last couple of years. It is because it takes a lot of time to develop the practical exam scenarios, it is unlikely the latest protocols feature will show up in the exam.

Bootcamp

I generally do not use bootcamp while preparing for certification, first because the cost is usually very high, second because bootcamp is an one time event. I prefer to use spend the money on training materials that allows me to review many times after I have purchased it.

However for CCDE, I did attend a Cisco Live CCDE One Day Techtorial. The cost is $999 on top of the standard Cisco Live ticket. The speakers are the program manager, and the exam authors. It is an 8-hour day and they would go through the topics are covered in the exam, as well as a scenario with the class. The main benefit of the techtorial is you will get to hear insight from the authors on why and how they developed the exam the way it is. Having that knowledge of the thought process of the authors help me in my preparation. For example they told us not to be concerned with frames and packets format because those knowledge is not what the certification was mean to test on the candidate. Overall it is a good value.

Three days before the practical exam, I signed up for Jeremy Filliben’s Self-Paced Practical Exam. The cost was $995. You will receive some exam preparation tips and two scenerios, each with two sets of questions. In the real exam, you will get four scenarios. You can go through the practice test at your own pace, and when you are done, you can listen to a recorded or live webex session where Jeremy would go through the questions and explain his thinking behind each and why he think a particular answer is the best answer. I find this practice test very valuable. The main benefit I gain from the practice test is to prepare myself for the format of the exam. Because the exam is scenarios based, you will be given many documents and exchanged many emails with your customers, you will need to have a strategy on how to read the materials and how to remember them or how to find them. You will also need to prepare to handle the various styles the questions could be asked.

NANOG

CCDE consists of service providers and enterprise network designs. One of the best resources on the web for service providers routing design is the NANOG tutorial page. I suggest you review all the IS-IS, OSPF, BGP and MPLS tutorials. You can skip the MPLS-TP and GMPTS topics since those are outside of the CCDE topics.

The Day before Exam

If it is out of town, make sure you arrive at least one day before the exam and know exactly how to get to the test center. My practical was in Chicago, the test center is in the heart of Michigan Avenue. I choose to stay in a hotel that is within walking distance to the test center to eliminate any potential surprise on morning commute, especially in a big city.

I do not study at all on the day before the exam. I just relaxed with my family, take good nutritious meals and went to bed early.  

During The Practical Exam

There are two sessions in the practical, each session is 4 hours and contains two scenarios. Even I am a slow reader, I had more then sufficient time to complete the scenarios. So do not rush through the scenarios. Ready every single documents, emails, topology and questions carefully. The answers are normally hidden in the sea of documents that were presented to you in that particular scenario. You just need to find them.

You will be given a erasable marker and a sheet of plastic pad to write. You are also given the ability to highlight any documents using various color. For myself, I found that it is more efficient to highlight then to write the info down on the plastic pad. I just used one color to highlight the information that I think will be helpful to me later on. You could use many colors but I found that to be distracting.

Final Words

I hope this article will be helpful to your own journey to CCDE. I have read over 20 network design books, watched over 30 Cisco Live sessions, and spent tens of hours on GNS3 within the four months of preparing for CCDE exam. The journey definitely makes me a better network designer.

One of the key skills the CCDE authors intended to test is the ability to analyze existing network, understand customer’s business and technical requirements as well as challenges, and apply his knowledge of network protocols and design principles to come up with the most desirable solution. This skill is very hard to verify in an computer based exam but I think the CCDE team did a fantastic job.

The CCDE is heavily gear towards WAN routing design, I hope the CCDE team will integrate more data center protocols, technologies and scenarios into CCDE, that additional will make CCDE a much more well rounded expert level network design exam.

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6 comments

  1. dcasanares

    Excellent read – I’m presently preparing for the CCIE R&S with doing the Design next and after reading this article I think my mind is in the right direction.

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