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What Do I Want In A CCIE Bootcamp?

1,486 Words. Plan about 10 minute(s) to read this.

This comment was made in regards to an earlier post.

At the risk of sounding naive… what would comprise a bootcamp in your book? Or, which bootcamp would you hold up as an example of what you’be be considering valuable? I don’t think that Internetwork Expert group offers one of them in their lineup, do they? Or would it just be the live class that their ‘class on demand’ is based on? Wouldn’t a bootcamp involve your participation in the training vendor’s gear in lab scenarios, though?

I’ve been to a couple of bootcamps in the past. I earned a CSS-1 certification via bootcamp, which I later converted to a CCSP by adding the SAFE exam through self-study. I also earned CCNP via bootcamp. Before I went to either bootcamp, I had lots of hands-on experience designing large and small networks using Cisco gear. I had worked for a Cisco partner as a lead engineer. I was already a CCNA. I had worked on a large enterprise network supporting over 10,000 nodes which was all Cisco routers and a mix of Cisco & Enterasys switches. I’d managed several security projects involving PIX, VPN3000, and Cisco IDS appliances. By “managed”, I mean I identified the needs, designed the solutions, ordered the hardware, then racked it, configured it, documented it, and supported it on an on-going basis, training and mentoring other staff along the way.

Therefore, going to a bootcamp wasn’t me as the wide-eyed n00b wandering about the classroom with a dazed look on my face while trying to figure out what all the equipment was for. I knew what was going on, maybe 75% of the way to pass the Cisco cert tests. I used the bootcamps to put me over the top through a concentrated week of excruciating lectures, labs, and practice exams. And that’s what the bootcamps did. At both bootcamps, I was able to be completely free of work and family distractions. I was able to work with a knowledgeable instructor and fellow “campers” with a similar mindset to mine: let’s be serious about this and get this done. Let’s learn an amazing amount of information in a compressed amount of time, to fill in the gaps we need to pass the tests. The days were 12 – 15 hours long, brutal marathons not even interrupted for food. We kept training while they brought the food in, and munched while listening to lectures or doing labs. The bootcamps were everything a committed geek like me could hope for.

For CCIE training, I’ve been all self-study thus far. I started with a big knowledgebase of CCNP and CCSP, plus even more on-the-job experience using ever-bigger Cisco iron. I’m a lead engineer on a huge Cisco network now that covers much of North America, and is reaching out to international sites. We finished building a new data center last year, where I was one of the project leads for the L2 & L3 infrastructure. We migrated a whole data center, lighting up new equipment, tearing down old equipment, migrating frames, etc., and we never took the network down to do it. We kept processing. For routing and switching, we’ll be 100% Cisco within the next couple of months, the last few Enterasys switches heading for the scrap pile. We do a little of everything on our network. EIGRP, RIP, BGP, security, AAA, a carefully crafted STP topology, distribute lists, offset lists, all sorts of ACLs, SNMP, etc. Nothing abnormal for a large enterprise network at all, but helpful to my CCIE goal nonetheless.

If I go to a CCIE lab bootcamp, I’ll be going with a year of determined self-study under my belt. I passed the written exam. I’ve been doing practice labs as quickly as I can fit them in, about one a week since August, logging over 250 hours on the rack. I’ve blogged nearly 300 articles here, most of which have been technical regurgitation of what I’ve been studying.

The last four paragraphs of spew I hope make a point. They make the point that I talk a lot, right? :) Yes, I guess that much is true. But I felt I needed to set the stage for what *I* want out of CCIE lab bootcamp. The context of where I’m coming from is important to make the most sense out of what I’m looking for.

  • I want to be able to put my life on hold to allow me to focus on lab preparation. Going to a bootcamp satisfies that requirement. My life constantly distracts me from studying. While the network I feed and care for helps from time to time with CCIE-level topics, for the most part, my network is in maintenance mode. I don’t have exciting new design challenges every day. Work is a bit of distraction from CCIE, overall. Family is also a tough distraction. Family is more important to me than CCIE, don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean my family is a “distraction” in the sense of them being a nuisance or irritant. I simply mean that being a Dad and husband takes study cycles away. So going on a trip to Bootcampland for a set period of time allows everyone that needs me to let me go and wave goodbye, knowing they’ll see me again real soon. I can put my “real world” on pause, and enter into a different world of hardcore CCIE lab preparation.
  • I want to fill in the gaps in my technical knowledge. Like other bootcamps I’ve attended, I expect to walk away from a CCIE bootcamp with a better technical understanding of some topics I’m not great with. I could be better at redistribution, BGP bestpath manipulation, general speed, and a whole lot of other things. I’m “good”, but I’m not “great”. I need to be “great” to pass the lab. I need the bootcamp to help me be “great”.
  • I want the best instructor possible. I want a teacher who’s seen it all, knows it all, and has that special gift for making the arcane accessible. I want the instructor who readily understands the challenge I’m facing, says “Think of it this way…” and that what he says helps me to “get it” faster than teaching it to myself. Having taught a few Cisco classes, I know that a good instructor can help a student move on to the next level faster than they would by themselves. I want the guy that can help me in that way.
  • I want stick time on a rack. I don’t want all lecture, and in fact I’d prefer as little as possible, knowing that some amount of lecture will of course be appropriate. I want to work on a rack doing as many exercises and scenarios as possible, closely guided by the instructor so that I’m getting out of it what I’m supposed to be.

That said, here’s what I don’t want in a CCIE lab bootcamp.

  • I don’t want to sit there and listen to the instructor explain basic network theory for hours and then toss some half-baked lab exercises on my desk that I’m supposed to do while he goes out for a smoke. I’ve been to a few of those classes. <shudder>
  • I don’t want a notebook full of PowerPoint hardcopies that the instructor reads verbatim, calling it “lecture”. That’s the guy who doesn’t know much about his topic. When you poke him with a question, he deflates like a balloon, and says he’ll “get back to you on that”. Uh-huh. Yep – I don’t want that guy, either. Those classes are so boring you want to kill yourself after the first hour.
  • I don’t want a bunch of rushed sessions where the instructor decides “we’re finished early for the day, so everybody get out of here.” Then he acts like he did everyone a big favor letting them skate. Ugh. That guy is just a waste of time. It’s one thing to get out a little early on a Friday so people can catch a flight, especially if the rest of the week was a rockin’ class. But if the instructor is just cutting the days short, it cheats everyone.
  • I don’t want n00bs in the class. If I’m in a CCIE lab bootcamp, and some guy asks what BGP stands for, I’m going to flip out. I’m expecting to be sitting a class with other serious candidates who have already passed the written, have a lab date scheduled, and have a plan to pass the lab. They’re experienced professionals, they are self-motivated, and they’ve studied a lot to get to the point of being ready for the bootcamp. No n00bs.

If I go to a bootcamp, I’ll review it in detail here. I have a possibility in the works, but I’m waiting for a financial situation to be settled. I should know in a few days.