Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Introducing Malcolm Booden!

 I am excited to announce that Malcolm Booden, my friend and fellow networking instructor, has agreed to take over my CCDE training business. I first met Malcolm when he attended my training course during his pursuit of the CCDE certification. Malcolm earned his CCDE certification in 2017 (CCDE #2017::37). Since then he has started an independent consulting business and his own highly-successful training company, concentrating on network design.

Malcolm will be an excellent CCDE instructor; he knows what it takes to succeed in this certification program. He is hard at work adapting my training content for the transition to CCDE version 3. I am excited to see how Malcolm brings his fresh perspective to this program.

Malcolm’s website can be reached at, and his CCDE training courses will be available at If you want to purchase the self-paced CCDEv2 content, please reach out to Malcolm via email at

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Departure from Teaching

 To the CCDE Community:

I have decided to step away from CCDE training to pursue a new opportunity. For all of my current students, I will continue to support your CCDE efforts. My last CCDE review session will be held on August 21st, 2021. If you have already signed up for my training you are invited to attend. Any new students who sign up before that date you may also attend. After that, I will be available via email and Slack to support your CCDE preparation until you've passed the practical exam.

I will not be offering any additional training opportunities beyond August 21st, 2021. I am working hard to find a strong instructor that I can trust to continue supporting CCDE candidates. As soon as I have finalized this handover I will make an announcement.

Thank you to all of my students over the years. This has been the most rewarding and interesting professional endeavor of my career. The CCDE program is in great hands at Cisco; I look forward to hearing success stories from CCDE candidates for years to come.


Friday, January 15, 2021

What CCDEv3 Means to You and Me


What CCDEv3 Means to You and Me

Cisco's CCDE Version 3 announcement brings about significant changes to our favorite certification program. As the year progresses I will write articles about the specific changes and how candidates can prepare for the new version of the exam. For now, I would like to cover what moving to the next generation of this program means to three groups - Existing CCDEs, Active CCDE Candidates, and Prospective CCDE Candidates.

Existing CCDEs

"Once a CCDE, always a CCDE"... provided you complete your recertification requirements every three years, of course. Cisco lists six different recertification possibilities:

The CCAr method is unavailable, as that program has almost certainly been retired. The CCIE Lab method is also unlikely to be helpful, as it is extremely rare for CCDEs to pursue an additional Expert level cert (a tip of the hat to those of you who have done it!). The easiest recertification method, in my opinion, is to pass the CCDE Written Exam (either the current 352-001 exam, or after November 1st, the new 400-007 exam). Oddly enough, the CCDE Written is the only exam in Cisco's portfolio that will, by itself, recertify your Expert-level status (whether CCIE or CCDE). The other recertification methods require two or three successful exam attempts. Perhaps this will encourage more CCIEs to pursue the CCDE certification.

It is also possible to earn credit toward recertification with continuing education credits and by contributing to the Cisco certification programs through writing or reviewing exam questions. As a CCDE instructor, I am ineligible to use this last method, so I can't provide any insight into it.

One other fun aspect of the new CCDE program is that all existing CCDEs (as of November 2nd, 2021) will earn an additional accolade, the "Cisco Certified Specialist – Design Core" badge. No exam necessary.. congratulations!

Active CCDE Candidates

Active CCDE candidates will have three opportunities to pass the current version of the CCDE Practical exam before the November 2nd 2021 switchover. If you are a student of mine, please be aware that you will have access to my updated CCDEv3 content as it is released (target is October 2021). It is my hope that you pass before the switchover, so please let me help you in any way possible.

Prospective CCDE Candidates

If you are considering pursuing the CCDE certification, you have a minor dilemma. You can try to start your pursuit now and pass before the switchover, or you can target the new version. The differences between the technical content on the two exams is not significant (something like 80% overlap, in my estimation). If you need help deciding which path to take, please reach out to me. You can reply to this email and describe your situation. Given the content overlap and my policy of continued access to materials, there is no risk to studying using my materials now, and targeting the version 3 of the exam.

As mentioned above, I will provide more detailed information on the differences between the exam versions in future blog posts and newsletters. CCDEv3 is going to give a great boost to this certification program; I am excited to be a part of these developments!

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

CCDE Thoughts After Cisco Live 2019

My CCDE Thoughts After Cisco Live 2019

The CCDE exam was conspicuously absent from the grand re-imagining of the CCNA/CCNP/CCIE certification programs. Here's a brief summary of the announcements (everything takes effect on February 24, 2020):

  • CCIE Routing & Switching is being renamed to CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure
  • CCIE Wireless is being renamed to CCIE Enterprise Wireless
  • All CCIE labs will be rewritten to include a three hour design module (similar in style to the CCDE Practical, focusing on lower-level design). The lab portion will be five hours.
  • CCDA and CCDP will be retired and transitioned to equivalent CCNA and CCNP designations
  • CCNA will be a single track
  • All Cisco written exams (except CCDE written) will earn candidates a certification; mostly Specialist certifications
  • Cisco is launching a suite of DevNet certifications (Cisco Certified DevNet Associate, Cisco Certified DevNet Professional, Cisco Certified DevNet Expert)

There is much more to this. Check the web for others' takes. I'm only really interested in CCDE :)  A good place to start is There are plenty of tools to help us understand the transitions to the new designations.

Now, for my CCDE-related thoughts. That is why you are reading, right?!

CCDE Recertification
Active CCDEs will have three years to recertify, rather than the current two years. The third year replaces the 'suspended' status (I think that was a thing for CCDE.. I never got into the situation to find out). If you do not recertify by the end of the three years, you go inactive and will need to re-take the written and practical exams to re-earn your CCDE certification.
Recertification can be completed by one of the following:

  • Passing the CCDE Written
  • Passing three Specialist exams
  • Earning 120 Continuing Education (CE) credits
  • Various combinations of Specialist exams and CE credits (check the Cisco Learning website for details)

One important note is that your new 3-year certification window begins on the day that complete recertification. Your recertification date is no longer tied to your original pass date. I anticipate lots of us playing a game of 'chicken' with that 3-year window.. the closer to the end of it that you pass (or submit your CE credits), then longer you can wait before doing it again. But if you wait too long, you lose and start back at the beginning. Be safe out there! :)

The Future of the CCDE (Jeremy's Speculation)

I must preface this by telling you I have no insight into the actual plans for the CCDE. What you will read below is my 'best guess' at where things will go, based on my historical knowledge of Cisco certification programs and my own personal logic.

Name Change?

The new Cisco Certified DevNet Expert program will almost surely be known as the CCDE program, based on the naming of it. I suppose it could be CCDNE, or CCDevE, but those seem clunky to me. This makes me think that the CCDE program will get a name change. Perhaps something that combines the Architect and Design names into a single designation? I've never gotten on board with the differentiation that Cisco has placed on Architecture versus Design. Given that the CCAr program is all-but-dead (no one has attempted it in 3+ years, if my knowledge is accurate), and that only a handful actually passed the exam, I don't think too many would be upset if they were combined.

Where Will the CCDE Fit?
I expect the future CCDE program will be an umbrella over the CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure (former route-switch), CCIE Enterprise Wireless (former CCIE wireless), CCIE Data Center and CCIE Service Provider exams. It may/may not have a distinct qualification exam. If the specific CCDE written is retired, qualification may be something like “Earn two or more Cisco Certified Specialist Design badges.” This would bring the CCDE roughly in line with the CCIE lab requirement of “Pass the subject Core exam.”

If this comes to pass, and I need to repeat that this is purely my speculation, the CCDE Practical exam could turn into “four scenarios, one on each of the four mentioned silos (Enterprise Infrastructure, Enterprise Wireless, Data Center, Service Provider). The successful CCDE candidate would then become interface between the business and each of these technology areas (Security and Management would be components of each scenario). CCDEs would be tested in several ways:

Upstream toward the business- Extracting business requirements from documents, asking for missing information, recognizing constraints

Downstream toward implementation- Building coherent designs, communicating the design, adapting design to additional constraints

Multi-disciplinary design- Integrating two or more technology areas as required (for example, combining a Campus and WAN design, or adding an ACI data center to an existing environment to meet business requirements)

I do fear, and even expect, that the CCDE will become less vendor-neutral in any upcoming redesign of the program. As this past Cisco Live made abundantly clear, the Enterprise will no longer be a vendor-neutral area. All of Cisco’s most talked-about technologies (SD Access, SD WAN, ACI) are proprietary. In my view, Enterprise networks will become increasingly proprietary for the next few years, before they inevitably bounce back to open standards. We’ve all seen this before; at least those of us who’ve been around as long as I have:

Whatever happens to the CCDE program, existing CCDEs will be migrated over. Current candidates will be given at least six months notice (I expect at least two Practical dates as well) to wrap up their certifications. The CCIE announcements from this CLUS gave 8.5 months notice to candidates.

My advice, if you are seeking it, is to continue pursuing the CCDE if that is a goal of yours. Plan to finish by end of 2020, just in case the program changes significantly after that time.

Good luck, and let me know how I can help!

Monday, September 17, 2018

How to Differentiate Yourself in the Job Market

Most readers of this newsletter can safely be classified as experts in the field of networking. This article is intended to provide advice on how to differentiate yourself in the field, and perhaps leverage your unique experience into a more profitable career. 

This post was inspired by the Seth Godin’s Akimbo podcast, specifically episode 12 . While the podcast episode is geared toward freelancers, I think we should all consider ourselves freelance network engineers. If you work for a consulting firm, you are basically a freelancer with a specific employer. Especially at the level of most CCDEs and CCDE candidates, it is the marketing of your personal experience and reputation which allows your consulting employer to find work. If you work for an end-user organization (ISP, enterprise, content provider), you may not be with the same organization for your entire career. It is quite rare for an individual to spend their entire career with a supportive, successful employer. You should do what is necessary to prepare for a move to another employer, even if you intend to stay in one place as long as possible. The best time to prepare for your next job is when you don’t need one.

There are at least one million active network engineers in the world. In the US alone, there are nearly 400,000. How can you stand out in the field? Getting certified is a big help! There are about 50,000 CCIEs in the world, and only about 400 CCDEs (many of which are reading this article). But that isn’t enough. To truly stand out, I suggest experts find a small networking niche and dominate it. The aforementioned podcast defines the term Minimum Viable Market. This is the smallest market which will support an individual freelancer’s business. Defining and owning a Minimum Viable Market seems counterintuitive; after all, why would someone want to narrowly focus their career? Isn’t it better to broaden your market so you can be open to additional opportunities? Surprisingly, no, it isn’t. The reason for this is “available time”. Once you’ve become an expert, your compensation is defined as the product of your time and your bill rate:

Hours x Rate = Income

Of these two inputs, the number of hours available is fairly static. For most, it is around 30 - 50 hours per week, or roughly 2000 hours per year. If you push yourself, you may get to 2500 or even 3000 billable hours in a year. And if you’ve tried working this many hours in a year, you’ll realize quickly that it isn’t sustainable. The range is pretty much fixed.

The actual variable in the equation is your Bill Rate. This is the lever you can push to increase compensation. The best way to do this is to become the world renowned expert in your chosen niche. The tighter you define that niche, the more likely you can stake out your position. Proving to the world that you are the best ISP engineer is difficult. You have a ton of competition, and the field is incredibly broad. It would be much better to work toward defining yourself as the world’s expert on DOCSIS 4.0 in suburban cable deployments. Rather than claiming to be the most experienced wireless access network designer, define yourself as the world’s expert in designing wireless access networks for open-air sports stadiums. IPv6 expert? Instead, IPv6 deployment for content delivery networks. I’m sure you can think of many additional examples. When determining your niche, look at your experience. We all have unique backgrounds; there should be something in there to leverage going forward.

Once you have chosen your niche, how do you stake it out? Writing books and articles will surely help. The more publicity you can generate specific to your niche, the better. Speaking engagements, especially in front of your target audience, are wonderful opportunities to define yourself to your market. You should attempt to focus your future work on opportunities in your chosen niche. This will build your reference file. I also highly recommend starting a website or blog and focusing it on the type of business you wish to work with. Name it something like “Stadium Focused Networking” and publish articles about the problems faced by these organizations. Be sure to include recommended solutions and links to other publications that address the same challenges. Your goal is to be the first person thought of when a new project in your niche begins. Rather than competing with the masses, you will be the go-to architect for you area of expertise. This makes rate negotiation much easier. Instead of competing for the opportunity, companies will be competing for your time (eventually.. hopefully).

Obviously, this sort of transition can’t be completed overnight. Like anything worthwhile, it will take work. But it is work you likely to do anyway; the goal of this article is to help you focus your work in a way that provides additional value over the long term.

By the way, I don’t recommend focusing on a specific piece of networking equipment or even a vendor. Companies generally look for experts in their field. It is better to define yourself from the business perspective instead of the technical side.

If you do decide to go down this path, I wrote an article once about Books or Blogs. I recommend reading it, as well as Scott Lowe’s well-informed reaction post. Scott’s point is valid; writing a book is quite different than writing a blog. If writing a book is something you wish to do, I recommend defining your professional goals in advance of the effort. Writing a technical book does not lead directly to profits; but writing a book to define yourself as the expert in a field is potentially worthwhile.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

A Short Summary of Planes

A Short Summary of Planes (the network kind)

When the CCDE program was first developed, Cisco conveniently broke down the included technologies into five categories: Routing, Tunneling, Quality of Service, Security and Management. Cisco also provided an extensive resource list for the first four topics, consisting of RFCs, Cisco Press books and videos. The network management section was noticeably bare. I bought the one Cisco Press book listed in the category, Network Management Fundamentals. I'm sure I picked something up from from the book, but I still felt that there were gaps in my knowledge. One area I was especially unsure of was the difference between the Control/Data/Management planes. The following is my attempt to provide clarify in this area.

Let's start with the Data Plane (also known as the Forwarding Plane; they are both terms for the same concept). The function of the Data Plane is to receive packets and forward them according to a pre-programmed forwarding table. This table is known as the Forwarding Information Base (FIB). The Data Plane does not have intelligence; it is best to think of it as a hard-coded set of forwarding tables. With modern hardware, such as the Nexus 9k platform, these forwarding tables are distributed to the individual line cards. Incoming packets are classified by specific attributes, such as a layer 3 destination address and QoS marking. This information is compared to the FIB, and an outbound interface is chosen. The layer 2 destination address is updated and the packet is forwarded.

How does the Forwarding Plane get programmed? That is the Control Plane's job. The Control Plane is where routers run routing protocols. By exchanging control-plane messages, routers build a Routing Information Base (RIB). This RIB is translated into a Forwarding Information Base (FIB), which is downloaded to the Data Plane. The separation of the Control and Data Planes permits us to forward packets even when the Control Plane is unavailable, such as during an In Service Software Upgrade (ISSU).

Finally, how is the Control Plane built? That is the Management Plane's job. Whether you log into a router via CLI using telnet or SSH, or you push a configuration via SNMP or NETCONF, you are using the Management Plane to program the router. The Management Plane is also used to retrieve information from the device, such as interface statistics or the current running configuration.

I hope this helps clear up any confusion you may have had about these concepts.


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

What Drives Change in Enterprise IT

This week I am in Las Vegas attending Future:NET, a two-day conference on the Future of, well, Networking. The conference is aptly named :)

The Packet Pushers asked me to join a moderated panel with the topic “Can we Accelerate Change in The Enterprise?” This spurred me to think: Why does the Enterprise need to change? Once we build a great IT environment, why can’t we just sit back, drink our coffee and hammer TCP 80 all day long? I came up with five broad categories; presented in no particular order. Well, almost no particular order. I saved the worst for last. The examples below will be networking-centric, but the general concepts apply to most IT silos.

Reason For Change in Enterprise IT: Obsolescence

You may love your Catalyst 6500 with SUP32 supervisors. They still meet all the requirements of your network: gigabit to the user, routing protocols, security capabilities. Unfortunately, Cisco has made it clear that they no longer want to support them. Now you need to either take on the risk of using unsupported hardware/software, or you need to upgrade to the new model. Traditionally my view was to move with the vendor since the new gear provided enough benefits, like faster ports or new protocols. I am now more open to taking the risk and running unsupported gear. In some areas of networking, such as the campus, there are no compelling new capabilities to require upgrades.

This goes for provider technologies as well. Many of us remember using Frame-Relay networks which meet all of our needs. In most cases the benefits of L3VPN MPLS (or L2VPN/VPLS if you are a sadist) were not compelling, but our carriers forced us to move forward to one of those solutions.

Reason For Change in Enterprise IT: Cost Pressure

When your CIO/CTO says next year’s budget is going to shrink, often this requires new IT solutions. Perhaps we need to move from private WAN bandwidth to the public WAN. Or we need to change equipment vendors due to constantly increasing support costs.

Reason For Change in Enterprise IT: (Internal) Business Change

If we are lucky, as soon as we’ve solved all of our current IT needs, new ones arrive. If we aren’t lucky, they arrive before we’ve solved the current challenges. The latter happens far more often. Physical office/data center moves, new applications with new requirements, business-level mergers/divestitures… these all present opportunities for change.

Reason For Change in Enterprise IT: External Change

Regulators, auditors, business partners — They all have input into our IT solutions. I can’t count how many times I’ve implemented a new security product to meet some other organization’s requirements. Suppose your company has decided that Network Access Control is unnecessary. If a valued business partner makes it a requirement for ongoing cooperation, it now has become your requirement. Do not be afraid to push back, sometimes a bit of clarification with the auditor/partner is enough to find out that it isn’t as required as first believed.

Reason For Change in Enterprise IT: New and Shiny Things

When was the last time you bought a new (or new to you) car? Why did you do it? A significant number of new car purchases are result of “New and Shiny Syndrome.” There’s nothing wrong with your current vehicle, but the new one looks/smells better.  Or all your neighbors are driving new cars, and you feel left out. These are generally bad reasons to buy a new car, but it’s your money, so do what you want. Here’s a tip — maybe you should consider leasing.

If "New and Shiny Syndrome” causes you to swap out your data center LAN, or change routing protocols, you are a poor steward of your company’s IT budget. Sure, it’s more fun to attend conferences and talk about the new protocols/equipment that you are using, but this isn’t a reason to go through the expense and time of changing your environment. If you simply can’t go another day looking at your tired, boring LAN switches… change employers!

Am I missing a driver for Enterprise IT change? Let me know in the comments or via email.

Thank you,