Slack… 18 months since my last blog post. Initially I had the excuse, or made the excuse that I was studying for the CCIE and no longer had the time to write any blog posts. Then about 6 months ago I finally passed the CCIE. I decided after that to take a break for a bit. Then maybe do a post to write up how I passed the CCIE – because I had changed so much between the 3rd and 4th attempt. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months – you get the idea. After being committed to something for so long it was good to take a break. Well now I’m back and what better way to start than with how I passed the CCIE.
The First Two Attempts
Looking back at my first attempt at the lab, I was over eager. After doing the written exam I then scheduled the lab for 8 months later. This was version 4 of the R&S exam, and at the time I remember being quite overwhelmed with what was presented at not at all surprised when I found that I had failed my first attempt.
Hastily I re-booked the exam for 5 months later, I revised those topics I had not done so well in and made my second attempt. This also resulted in a failed attempt. After actually looking at what went wrong I realized I knew many of the topics, but not to enough of an Expert level to get a deep understanding of the technologies.
A 2 year study break and the Third attempt
I continued my weekend study, for more than another 2 years, with a very supportive young family that would often miss out on activities and outings because Dad had to study. After breakfast I would go study, emerging for lunch and a bit of play and then back to the study for the afternoon. We had a few occasional breaks from this routine, but these were few and far between. Without such a supportive family I never would have been able to achieve the CCIE.
Taking the 3rd attempt I really felt ready this time. This was the first time I attempted the v5 R&S exam. Unfortunately this wasn’t meant to be. Another failed attempt. I really couldn’t believe it, by this time I had very strong knowledge of the technologies, and this attempt had got me down. My wife and I discussed the exam, and the approach I had taken. After analysing the attempt made I decided to give it one last shot, but I also decided this time I had to have a better study/life/work balance.
How I passed the CCIE – What I changed
Firstly I decided I needed to improve my physical fitness. I joined a gym conveniently located up on the main road, about 200m from my house. 3 days a week (Mon,Wed,Fri) I would wake at 4am, go to the gym for around an hour and get in some cardio and weights. By the time I got back home at 5am I grabbed my water and kicked off my labbing. Tuesdays and Thursdays when I didn’t go to the gym I still got up at 5am to study.
Next, and this might come as a surprise, I studied less than before previous attempts. I believed I had been ready at the 3rd exam attempt, and after labbing up what I remembered from attempt #3 I put down most of my issues to silly mistakes or not enough attention to detail. In order to keep the study/life balance I only studied on weekday mornings, lunchbreaks at work and occasional weeknights where I wanted to finish something off from the morning session. This gave me more family time in the weekends, and contributed to my motivation in a positive way. Now I’m not advocating for cutting down study hours in general, but if you’re at a point where you feel you’re at an expert level already but the numbers are eluding you, maybe figure out what hours and life/study/work balance works for you.
My wife suggested I try meditation, something I hadn’t ever tried before. I didn’t know where to start with this one, so as a good techie I googled it. I got a basic idea of what was involved, and after finding a free app called HeadSpace that guides you through the basics in a few minutes each day I found my mental focus had improved and I didn’t get as distracted when labbing, or in the exam. In fact I ended up meditating for 5-10 minutes in the middle of the exam room on Exam day of the 4th and final attempt.
Sleep was less than usual with the 4am/5am starts. I needed a smart alarm clock, something that could sense what stage of the sleep cycle I was in, and wake me at a time when I would feel the most refreshed. After a bit of research I learnt that a sleep cycle is typically 90 minutes in duration. If you can wake up at the end of your sleep cycle rather than in the middle of your sleep cycle you will wake up feeling refreshed. The average person also takes around 15 minutes to fall asleep at night. Calculating sleep times then becomes a matter of calculating 15 minutes + (90 minutes x number of sleep cycles). So for example to wake up at 4am it is best to go to sleep at times like :
- 8:15 PM
- 9:45 PM
- 11:15 PM
- 12:45 AM
Luckily http://sleepcalculator.com did all the hard work calculating sleep times for me and I just kept the website saved on my phone for days when I wasn’t going to bed at the regular time and had to make slight adjustments to my wake time.
I believe these 4 components together were the final parts I required to allow me to pass the CCIE exam. Good luck with your studies !