My Journey to the Cisco DevNet Associate

From the moment Cisco announced the DevNet certifications at Cisco Live 2019 I knew that I wanted to get DevNet Certified! I remember the announcement because I was siting in the audience in San Diego at the CLUS keynote when the announcement was made. But, I didn’t bump my DevNet dreams to the front of the line, I still had a date with CCNP.

My point of view as I watched Chuck Robins, Cisco CEO, announce the new Certification line up at Cisco Live 2019

The Side Quest (copy right Manny)

Recall, earlier this year I finally got my CCNP Enterprise. I was ready and excited to jump right in on my DevNet Associate, but work had… other plans for me. I was asked to pursue five Juniper Certifications for work that would help improve our partnership with Juniper. But, these 5 certs came with a deadline. It was the end of July, and I had to get all 5 completed before the end of September. I gladly accepted the challenge, and once again, put my DevNet desires into a temporary holding pattern.

Back to DevNet!

Side quest completed I was now able to turn my attention back to DevNet Associate. Part of the 5 Juniper certs included JNCIA and JNCIS DevOps certifications. So, I felt like I had a good base of information for the DevNet Associate. If you compare the two blueprints there is probably a 65%-70% overlap of topic coverage. With this in mind I decided to just take a shot at the DevNet Associate exam.

In early November I state the 200-901 exam for the first time. I had zero intent of passing here as I had not studied other than what I did to prepare for the other DevOps exams. The obvious delta here was the Cisco Specific APIs and SDKs. While not passing, I was still pleasantly surprised with the score that I received and pushed on with my studies.

The Tools

To prepare for the DevNet Associate exam I used the following resources:

CBT Nuggets DEVASC training – This was my first time as a CBT Nuggets Leaner and I have to tell you I had a fantastic experience! I think that CBT Nuggets stands out because it’s very engaging video content. It’s engaging because I feel like the instructors are talking directly to me. I have used other video based training offerings in the past and it’s death by power point, there are some demos, but in the end you never see the instructor. Now, I was okay with that in the past because I had success. But, I honestly feel like it was just a different, and better, experience this time with CBT.

Let me make this clear and say that this is not a paid advertisement for CBT Nuggets, these are my honest feelings about my experience using CBT to train for Cisco DevNet Associate.

200-901 Official Cert Guide (including the premium digital edt with extra practice questions) So, the book has the “Do I know this already questions?” (aka DITKAs) at the beginning of each chapter, and the premium edition comes with digital versions of the DITKAs as well as four practice exams (available through pearsontestprep.com). Before reading any chapter I’d start by doing the DITKAs. After reading the chapter I’d use the practice exams. More on that later.

Cisco DevNet Modules and Sandboxes. – What a fantastic resource the DevNet team has put together for our consumption! Anything you need to learn for the DevNet exams you can do it here for free! I recommend you spend a ton of time using this resource, you will not be sorry you did!

Cisco DevNet Free Video Series – This video series I used as a final review of sorts. I watched it the week prior to my exam and used the quizzes in each module to gauge my retention of the content.

CML2 – A lot of the DevNet sandboxes are read only. You can’t make any significant changes to them. With CML2 in my lab I was able to do things like spin up a CSR and configure guest shell, or prepare it for RESTCONF/NETCONF. I was also able to use a Nexus 9K device and play with the Nexus APIs. It allowed for a slightly deeper learning experience than the Sandboxes alone. Plus, I didn’t have to worry about scheduling resources, I could just do it as and when my schedule allowed me to.

Anki Flash Cards – Topics I was struggling with I put on flash cards and used those any chance I got. Great app for Windows/Mac/iPhone/Android/Web. I use it on my work laptop (Windows), my personal laptop (Mac), and my iPhone.

The Process

My process is fairly straight forward. I’d start with the video series and watch a skill start to finish. If there was labing of any kind I’d watch the nugget first, then take time to prepare my lab environment, go back and rewatch the nugget and follow along.

Read the book. Sometimes I would parallel the topic I was watching a video on, but not always. Before reading any chapter I’d do the DITKA questions online first. After reading the chapter I’d do practice tests but only on the chapter I read. To keep the topic fresh every morning I’d start by reviewing questions on the topic I had studied the previous day. And, throughout the entire process I’d throw myself into surprise practice exams covering either some or all of the chapters I had covered up to that point. As I approached my exam date (like a week or so) I’d create an exam like environment. Block out any distractions and go into practice exam mode at the same time every day as my exam was scheduled. This helped me shake some the exam anxiety I normally get on test day.

For topics I was struggling with I’d create some flash cards. (not physical cards)When I had a free moment I’d break out the flash card app. At the Dentist office waiting to be seen, chilling on the couch in the evening, and (let’s be honest here) while in the bathroom. Basically, anytime I was reaching for my phone instead of going on social media I opened Anki and did some flash cards.

Now, there’s a right way and a wrong way to use flash cards. Don’t just flip flash cards and read the answers in a half-assed attempt to memorize the content. Challenge yourself to really recall the information. If you really must flip it over to review the answer do so, but tell Anki the card was hard/difficult and it’ll file it appropriately. The longer it takes to recall the information the stronger the connection you’re making. Resist the urge to immediately flip the card and try hard to recall what you’ve learned. Aaron taught me that.

I got as much hands on as I could. I followed labs, but then I spent more time just tinkering and learning. This was time well spent!

The Exam

Now, I can’t spill the beans on the exam too much. But, what I will say, is just like the pervious new Cisco Exams I’ve taken I felt that this exam was very fair. I didn’t ever feel like I was caught off guard. What’s on the blueprint is what’s in the exam. I feel like these new exams are the most fair exams I’ve taken. If I didn’t pass it was because I wasn’t fully prepared.

If you really watch the videos, don’t just press play and then screw around on the internet. Engage the video. Lab with the instructor. Lab some more. Use the practice questions. You’re taking an exam! The more practice you get answering questions the better. Don’t just go for the correct answer. Spend some time reviewing all the possibilities. Explain to yourself why each answer is either correct or incorrect – that’s how you know you’re ready to take the exam! With a limited question pool it can be easy to fall into a trap where you’re acing the practice exams. But if you spend the time getting to know ALL of the answers and not just the correct ones you’ll be in a much better place.

DevNet Class of 2020!

I’m super excited to have made it into the DevNet Class of 2020! Recently, Cisco DevNet announced they were resetting the clock and giving people until February 24th, 2021 (that’s the anniversary of the release of the DevNet certifications) to get into the DevNet Class of 2020!

My Final Thoughts

I think a lot of Network Engineers not familiar with DevOps, programming, Python, etc, get a little intimidated when thinking about these certifications, and others like it. Let me be the first to tell you that you don’t need to be a Python master to take this exam. This exam covers a lot of topics at an introductory to intermediate level. There is an awful lot to remember, but through the course of preparing for this certification you get exposed to an awful lot of cool stuff!

The way I look at something like this is that while I may not use everything I learn here frequently what I’ve ultimately done is added more tools to my toolbox. So, when I come across a situation in the future I’m better equipped to handle that challenge because of the training I’ve gotten through this experience. I would highly encourage anyone to go for this exam, even outside the push for the Class of 2020.

As always, thank you so much for stopping by. Got questions I didn’t answer here? Please feel free to reach out to me here or on Twitter!

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