Journey to the CCNP Enterprise

CCNP logo courtesy of Cisco Systems

My journey to the CCNP Enterprise started last year in February, after I passed my CCDA exam. I jumped right in, full steam ahead. In 2019 the CCNP Routing and Switch required three exams, the 300-101 Route exam, the 300-115 Switch exam, and the 300-135 TShoot exam.

First up: The Switch Exam

Hot off the heels of my CCDA I was pumped full of STP knowledge, plus I did a bunch of Layer 2 at work. I quickly set off on my switch studies and using the Official Cert Guide and a series from Pluralsight, I passed the switch exam. It was certainly a challenging, professional level, exam. In fact, I only narrowly passed it by a few points. The margin of passing was so low I initially wished I had’t! I thought I could do better, and wished I had.

In conversions with a friend about my recent success I told her that while I was happy to have passed that I wished I had done better. Her response was eye opening: “What do you called a med student that got straight D’s? A Doctor!”

She was right! Although I did not pass by huge margins like I had dreamt, I still worked my butt off and passed, and I should be proud of that and not be disappointed. A pass is a pass.

What do you called a med student that got straight D’s? A Doctor!

Free Exams are Nice

In June of 2019, I flew to San Diego to attend Cisco Live. Full pass attendees get a free shot at an exam as long as they can be at the temporary Pearson Vue testing center on the Cisco Live campus. It was here in the very previous year I passed my CCENT exam, so I was excited to be back. I already had my route exam scheduled so I figured I’d give T-Shoot exam a try.

While hopeful I’d pass the exam that day, once I got in I realized the T-Shoot was a beast all it’s own. It was the choose your own adventure of exams. The scenario in each question was the same, Client 1 can’t ping the webserver. The object was to troubleshoot the entire topology to determine where the issue was. Each answer had a possible list of sub-answers, which had even more sub answers possible. It was impossible to guess your way through this thing and eliminate enough other answers in a timely fashion to make it through the entire exam in the time allotted. The end result, I failed, and that was okay.

New Certs are Coming

At Cisco Live in 2019 Cisco announced a HUGE revamp to the Certification Program. The new certifications would essentially be shallower in depth, but wider in content. This would better prepare candidates for a wider variety, rather than just having someone deeply skilled in Routing and Switching, Wireless, or Collaboration, it would allow more of a network generalist: ready for anything.

Cisco’s new certification line up

The real depth would occur at the Professional level exams. The big kicker was the addition of Automation and Software-Defined topics in the new blueprints, and an entire line of new Cisco DevNet Certifications.

The clock was now ticking in my eyes. I wanted to get my CCNP Routing and Switch AND my CCDP before the changeover.

Limited Availability

To make a long story short over the rest of 2019 I would attempt t-shoot two more times and route four more times. I studied hard, I read, I watched videos, I felt confident… and then I failed the exam. But every time I came closer and closer and closer. The most frustrating part was the local Pearson Vue testing center’s availability.

Despite living in a somewhat populated area in Northern Vermont there was only one testing center close to me, about a 30 minutes drive, the rest were nearly two hours driving time away. The closer center, however, had poor availability more often than not. So poor that if I wanted a seat there I had to schedule at least a month in advance, and sometimes that wasn’t enough.

On a few occasions I came so close to passing the exam I immediately rescheduled for the following week. However, in order to land a spot so soon I had to accept a time at the exam centers that were further away.

Driving for two hours before an exam you can really get into your own head second-guessing your knowledge and capabilities. And driving home for two hours after a failure will kill your self-confidence.

Study for the exam you’re about to take – Not the One you just took

On more than one occasion I made the fatal mistake of trying to just studying those things I felt like stumped me on the exam, and not the entire blueprint as a whole. Feeling prepared walking into the testing center on my next attempt I was thrown the curviest of curve balls and got questions I did not fully prepare myself for.

Remember, anything on the exam blueprint is fair game, and there are hundreds if not thousands of questions in the exam pool. You may see see a few questions from the exam you just took on the next one, you may not, and it’s a certainty that will not get the same exam twice. Make sure you study everything and not just the areas you feel stumped you on that particular attempt.

Shaken

After walking into the exam center feeling more and more prepared to face these exams but continuing to fail my confidence was shaken. I didn’t understand what I didn’t understand. I started having these awful feelings of self doubt come over me whenever I sat down to study. For a while, I avoided studying as a result. Then when the scheduled exam drew near I went into cram mode, but failed again.

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.

Winston churchill

It’s all About the Journey

As I did when I was taking my CCNA I was very transparent about my trials and tribulations as I sought my CCNP. As I sit here on the evening that I passed my Design exam and obtained my CCNP Enterprise I am reflecting on this entire journey and came try some very solid conclusions.

You always hope for the pass, but in the end it’s all about the journey.

Kevin myers, @stubarea51

Had I not failed these exams so many times and struggled I likely would not have posted it to Twitter and Kevin Myers wouldn’t have made the comment that changed the course of history for me, and I may have never have created the study group – It’s All About the Journey. I’m happy to report that this study has gained a lot of members and seems to be buzzing all the time with people sharing what they are working on/labing/studying for. There’s been nothing but words of encouragement flying around in there too.

Had I not failed all of those exams or created the study group I would not have come up with the idea for, and started The Art of Network Engineering podcast.

The study group came from a response to a post I had made about failing an exam. Kevin Myers literally said to me – in the end, it’s all about the journey. And it’s true, it is. The people I’ve met, the new friends I’ve made, are all more valuable to me than the CCNP itself, and the CCNP has more value to me than had I just passed it the first time around. The podcast came to me during our study group sessions. We had such good conversation that a podcast seemed like the next logical step.

And the clock runs out

One last attempt at route and the clock runs out! I took my last attempt at route the Friday before the deadline. I was “doomed” to start back at square one with the CCNP Enterprise.

Game Changing

While COVID19 has brought a lot of horrible things into our world it’s also brought about some positive change too. One such change, in my opinion, is the ability to test at home. No more two-hour drives (or 4 hour round trips) to exam centers for me. Testing from the comfort of my own home couldn’t be better. While some OEMs have been allowing for some time this was new for Cisco.

With testing from home you have to login prior to exam start time, take a bunch of pictures of you, a valid ID, and your work area. The work area must not have anything in it like books, notes, electronics (other than the device you’re taking the exam on). Additionally, you can’t be connected to external monitors or use more than one monitor. All applications not related to the exam software must be closed. Given the above alone this precludes me from using my home office from taking the exam. It would be far too much work to make it exam ready.

So, I take the exam in my youngest son’s room. He’s 5 now and has none of the above listed distractions in his room. I bring a spare desk into his room, roll my office chair into there and prepare for the exam. And by prepare I mean I play with his monster trucks for like five or so minutes. It really helps calm my heart rate and distract me before taking the exam.

Slow Down!

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

I took the ENCOR exam twice and in both times I scored above 800, but below the minimum passing score of 825. So, if you’re keeping score that’s 10 failed exams. Some people ask me, how do you do it? How do you keep coming back failure after failure. Because I want it. Because I know I’m capable. Because employers don’t ask how many times you failed an exam. Points aren’t assessed against you because you failed. It literally doesn’t matter how many times you fail, all that matter is that time that you did. I’m not better or worse a CCNP for having failed 10 exams before passing the two that I needed to in order to get my CCNP.

Here’s a great video on the Super Mario Affect from famed YouTuber Mark Rober. If you haven’t watched this video you simply have to.

Mark discusses the effect on learning when learners do not concern themselves with failure.

While trying to figure out what I was missing, during practice exam I got a question wrong that I swore I should’ve got right. I went back ready to argue my stance and report the “bug” to the software developer. However, upon closer inspection, I realized I didn’t fully read the question. It was at that moment I also realized I was rushing. I was rushing in dev and I was rushing in prod. The speed was causing me to misread the question, not all of the answers, and select the close, but not so correct, answer. While I can’t say for sure I can only assume I’ve suffered from this for a long time.

In addition to seeking help from a co-worker and friend, I started being more deliberate in my exam attempts. I began practicing to be more thorough and slower. I carefully read the question, sometimes twice, read the answers, selected the one I liked but still read the rest of the available answers before making my final choice. My practice exam scores were getting higher and higher. Practicing this new approach was paying off.

On exam day I completed the ENCOR and it took me much longer than my previous attempts and I walked away with my first score over 900 points, a new personal record. I was amazed.

One Door Closes and Another Door Opens

On Thursday 7/30/2020 I passed my Design exam and earned my CCNP Enterprise. It still doesn’t seem real. But I am so thankful for all those times I failed. Every time it tested how far I was willing to go. I learned to keep a positive attitude, I always scheduled my next attempt right away, and I always got support from this awesome community. While my journey to CCNP Enterprise may be over a new journey begins. From here the plan is to set my sights on Cisco’s DevNet Associate.

Final Thoughts

While the failures sucked and felt like setbacks I wouldn’t change this journey for anything in the world. I’m happy things went the way that they did, failures, struggle, and all the rest. Always be proud of your journey no matter where it takes you.

One thought

  1. Amazing description, I appreciate the at home testing info, I get to do that for DEVASC soon. I found my failures on exam scores really beat me down, but somehow eased my anxiety on the next attempt.

    Excellent write up!

    Like

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