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Will CCIE Certification Lose Value Like MCSE Did Back In The 90’s?

733 Words. Plan about 5 minute(s) to read this.

Carl Yost published this on his blog yesterday, and it got me thinkin’…

Does anyone remember the MCSE crazy back in the late 90’s? In Western NY we had a company called Ikon that promoted “Tech 2000.” The cost was $10k and they offered you the promised land after they taught you and helped you pass all your MCSE exams in either NT 4.0 or 2000. Now I remember the MCSE being the big thing back then until these training companies where helping push out MCSE’s non stop for a few years. Now in the end the training company was really the only people that made any money off of this. Most of the people I know that did this ended up either bankrupt or back in college ;).

Now my concern is that our present day CCIE training companies are starting to do the same thing. Companies are offering 12 day lab bootcamps now for 10k. Everyone else is pushing new end-to-end programs for some big bucks. Is anyone else concerned about the CCIE label? Am I just paranoid from the MSCE craze? With the CCIE being a tough lab exam make sure it never suffers the same fate?

Here’s my take on this, for what it’s worth.

I was a participant in the MCSE craze of the last 90’s.  I became and NT4.0 MCSE while the craze was on the rise.  My company at the time bought a set of VHS training videos.  I watched them, studied hard, and passed all 6 tests.

In the following 2 years, I watched my MCSE become progressively de-valued as the braindump sites grew and thousands upon thousands of MCSE’s who couldn’t properly perform “must know” tasks like name resolution using DNS and WINS, backup domain controller promotion, redundant DHCP, etc. were flooding the market with their resumes.  As a tech services manager at a small SMB integrator, I even hired one of these guys.  Great resume and references, interviewed well, hopeless in the field – unsure of himself, confused about what certain technologies really did, always over the time budget for engineering projects.  Why?  “Paper MCSE Syndrome”.  His cert was next to useless.  I needed an MCSE on staff besides myself because of our Microsoft partnership, but sadly, his MCSE status didn’t guarantee the success of our customers.

Can that same sort of thing happen with the CCIE certification, particularly the routing and switching track (by far the most popular)?  Certainly passing the CCIE written qualification exam is no great achievement anymore.  One can go do and download the entire 350-001 v3 question set for $99.  Memorize the answers, and it’s conceivable that you’ll pass the written, just as ignorant as you were before stepping into the exam room.

The CCIE lab can’t be passed in that way, however.  There is no one “lab exam” that candidates are up against.  There is no single course of study to follow.  Cisco’s blueprint requirements are broad, implying a deep knowledge of many complicated technologies.  The lab exam scoring is challenging, requiring a minimum score of 80 points earned.  Those 80 points come in the form of long, multi-task questions, where it’s “all-or-nothing”.  You must correctly perform every component of the multi-task question to earn the assigned points.  Some of the lab exam points could be awarded for obscure, tucked-away tasks that most engineers have never seen, and possibly have never even heard of.

A vendor that offers a $10K bootcamp to make you a CCIE isn’t offering quite exactly that – not really.  With the possible rare exception, no one can walk into a CCIE-level bootcamp a stone cold rookie, walk out 2 weeks later, and then ace the lab.  There’s too much to know and practice to truly grasp what’s going on such that you can apply any technology Cisco might throw at you in the lab.  I don’t think any vendor would make the promise of CCIE success after 2 weeks with them.

I will concede that some insufficiently experienced engineers will become CCIEs with the help of an end-to-end program.  However, I don’t think that will become the general rule.  My opinion is that the lab exam is too difficult to fake.  If you pass, you earned it.  When I took my lab exam, at least 3 candidates told me they were making their 3rd attempt in their particular track.  All were experienced engineers working for large enterprises or large Cisco partners.

Ethan Banks writes & podcasts about IT, new media, and personal tech.
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