Wednesday, December 26, 2012

History of the CCDE Part 1

This article is cross-posted from the CCIE Flyer, published December 2012

If you are looking for the registration page for the January CCDE Practice Exams, please go to http://www.jeremyfilliben.com/p/ccde-practice-exams.html

What happens when some of Cisco's most senior CCIEs realize they don't have the correct knowledge of IOS trivia to pass the CCIE R/S written exam? They create a new certification program that more accurately covers their current roles, of course! In addition to this predicament, Cisco was getting pressure from customers and partners to develop engineers who could build more scalable and resilient networks. Many readers will agree that the CCIE program develops excellent network implementation skills. Active CCIEs know most of the IOS knobs that can be turned to make networks do things no one else could imagine. One thing the CCIE program does not develop, however, is a solid understanding of network design. The CCIE lab exam is an excellent guide for what not to do in a production network, with three (or more) active routing protocols in an eight router topology. Many CCIEs (especially senior ones) are looked upon to provide network designs and are given titles like 'Network Architect' or 'Network Design Engineer', but historically there was no way to differentiate CCIE-certified individuals who have design skills and those who do not.

In 2007 Cisco commissioned a team to develop a certification program that would test candidates on their ability to design and redesign networks that support the goals of resiliency, scalability and supportability. While I was not a member of this team, I have spoken with team members about this phase of the CCDE program. Cisco included several large customers in this program design phase to ensure that the resulting certification actually covered the skills that customers were seeking in the hiring decisions. The program was formally announced to the Cisco engineer community at Cisco Live 2007 in Anaheim, California. I was fortunate enough to be invited to this meeting. Russ White, Steve Barnes and Bruce Pinsky (all Cisco employees at the time) discussed the goals of this program and offered several example written exam questions. During the following Q&A period there was a spirited discussion concerning the focus of the exam. Was it a Service Provider exam, or an Enterprise exam? The team asserted that the skills being tested were universal, and that a good design engineer with proper technical knowledge of the tools at his/her disposal could develop network designs that meet the needs of either company. At the time this was an eye-opening concept. While I had worked in both the SP and Enterprise realms, I considered myself an Enterprise network engineer/architect and found little use for concepts like MPLS and L2TPv3 in my work. Follow-up discussions with other meeting participants revealed that many others felt the same as I did. I've come to find that even today the CCDE exam is a bit of a Rorschach test; engineers with an Enterprise background often remark on how SP-focused the exam is, while SP engineers feel the exam has too much Enterprise-related content!

The CCDE team, led by David Bump, invited all participants to take the CCDE written Beta exam in the Fall of 2007. They supplied an extensive book list, which was only slightly different than the current book list found at https://learningnetwork.cisco.com/docs/DOC-1673. I immediately decided that this would be my next certification goal, as I had recently taken and passed the CCIE R/S written exam to maintain my CCIE certification, but I too found the process to be difficult (I failed the exam once due to my lack of knowledge concerning L2 LAN technology).

After what seemed like an eternity, the CCDE team announced that they would unveil the CCDE practical exam format during Cisco Live 2008. The Cisco Certification Lounge hosted a computer with an early version of the CCDE Practical Exam Demo (the current version can be found at https://learningnetwork.cisco.com/docs/DOC-2438). For most of the week there was a crowd around this PC, and to add to the pressure the screen contents were simulcast to a large overhead display monitor so everyone within 25 feet could watch you take the exam. Talk about pressure! I earned a score of 22% on the demo and surprisingly that made it onto the makeshift leaderboard. I checked back at the end of the week and noted that the highest score achieved was only 44%. Clearly the practical was going to be a difficult exam.

The first offering of the CCDE Practical exam was an ungraded Alpha exam presented to selected Cisco employees in mid-2008. It did not result in any passing scores; its goal was to iron out any bugs in the testing engine.  At Cisco Live the certification team also announced that there would not be a large-scale Beta exam for the CCDE practical. While the first offering was referred to as a Beta exam, it was not restricted to CCDE Beta team participants and only CCDE Beta program participants were able to receive the reduced price ($980 instead of $1260; current price is $1500). This first official CCDE Practical Exam was offered in October 2008. While I was unable to attend due to a personal commitment, my friend Colin McNamara did a nice job of writing up the experience on his blog. The post can be found at http://www.colinmcnamara.com/my-experience-taking-the-ccde-practical-beta/. After ten weeks of grading, three of the forty-two candidates received passing scores.

Next month's article will cover the history of the CCDE program to the present time and the numbering system used to identify successful CCDE candidates.

For additional information about the early days of the CCDE program, see Michael Morris's blog at http://www.networkworld.com/community/morris. He no longer updates it, but he wrote extensively about the CCDE beta program and Michael was one of the first three candidates to pass the CCDE Practical exam.

About Jeremy:

Jeremy Filliben is a 14-year CCIE (Routing/Switching #3851) and a CCDE-certified network architect. Jeremy was a member of the CCDE beta program and passed practical exam in 2009. Jeremy has trained eleven of the roughly 63 individuals who have passed the CCDE practical exam since 2010 (more than all other training organizations combined). More information on Jeremy's CCDE training offerings can be found at www.jeremyfilliben.com.
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