CCDE certified, now what?

So it’s been a few weeks since learning that I passed the practical, and other than NOT having to attend the next practical in December, not much has changed. I think the marketplace is still trying to determine the value of this certification, and my feeling is that some employers may think it’s nothing more than a written exam. They’re right, of course, but it is a hard written exam. It remains to be seen just how / when employers will start to recognize the value. I think if the CCDE team published some statistics on the pass/fail rate it might help (along with the level of experience most taking it have), but I’m not holding my breath.

The path I took in studying for this exam made me a much stronger network engineer, and IMO that’s the whole point. Now the question will be whether or not others become stronger engineers in their pursuit of the CCDE.

Some people have emailed me asking how they should prepare for the practical, and I would say the following has been invaluable preparation for me:

1. Get a job where you’re tasked with maintaining & troubleshooting a production network.
2. Never be satisfied when something magically starts working – troubleshoot & solve real-world issues and find the root cause (wireshark is your friend).
3. Visualize how you would change the network to solve systemic problems with the network (and maybe even implement some changes).
4. Work with the applications people to help them understand how the network affects their applications (and vice-versa).
5. Become the ‘buck stops here’ person, meaning that if you cannot solve the issue, nobody can. You need to take ownership of the entire system – don’t pass off issues to the applications people / server people.

In short: you cannot just have book knowledge to pass this exam, you will need real-world experience troubleshooting and designing solutions to solve systemic problems. If you gain this experience, you won’t need the CCDE to prove your level of knowledge, your CV will speak for itself.

My background is in UNIX systems administration, networking, and security. I’ve also worked in several industries including Financial Services, SP, and DoD. I worked in small companies where I was in charge of everything, and large organizations where I was in charge of just one small part of the network. In all cases, I knew not just what I was responsible for, but all (or most) of the applications and systems running within the system. Personally, I believe this experience was key preparation for the CCDE. You need to understand real-world design issues, not just the best practice picked up from reading in a book. You need to never be satisfied with the design either – always look for ways to improve it. This quote from fellow blogger Jeremy Filliben sums it up nicely:

“When I take two eggs out of the carton, I take one from each row. It isn’t more correct, but it makes me feel better.”

Isn’t that the whole point anyway? If you have a passion for this stuff it will show, and you will be rewarded with an infinite number of interesting problems to solve.