Balancing CCIE Preparation with Life


If you’re pursuing the CCIE, you realize just how much it takes. The studying is endless. The list of topics you are required to have an in-depth knowledge of is long. If you are prepping for the written or the lab, the materials list is staggering. You study and review, study and review, then you study and review some more. You create lists of arcane facts, memorize trivia, and drill practice questions. You hack through lab scenarios, working on your speed, accuracy, and issue-spotting ability. The CCIE journey is a time-consuming beast, eating up every spare second you can offer it. And it never seems to be enough.

I am almost 10 months into this process. I spent from January to the end up July of 2007 prepping for and ultimately passing the written exam. I have been prepping for the lab ever since, working through roughly 1 NetMasterClass.com DOiT scenario every week. I stopped counting the hours a while back. It became too tedious to actually track all of the time. But I easily have 400 hours into prep time for written and lab by now. That includes time spent reading, drilling, blogging, taking practice tests, prepping the rack, doing practice labs, and listening to lectures in the car.

This has cost me in a personal way. No, I’m not getting divorced, as my wife has been supportive of my endeavor. But I found out last week that my children have forgotten who I am. I went from being the Daddy who’s fun and wants to do stuff with the kids to the Daddy that tells the kids to be quiet because I’m trying to study, or who hides behind his headphones cranked up really loud to drown out the rest of the family. Last week, both my kids made it plain, in their own ways, that they need my attention. My son is 6; my daughter is 9. And without going into details, they pulled some stunts at school last week that got my attention in a big way.

I’ve had to adjust my CCIE preparation strategy accordingly. My kids need my attention, and they are far more important to me than CCIE. At one point last week, I considered abandoning CCIE altogether. But after talking to my wife about it, we agreed that it didn’t make sense to abandon CCIE, when I’m within a few months of my first lab attempt. But we also agreed that some changes were in order. So, I’ve shifted my studying to fewer, more concentrated times, as I mentioned in an earlier post. So I’m not studying every night that I can manage it anymore. And I may not do each and every exercise in the NMC scenarios anymore. We’ll have to see how that goes, but my idea is to get all scenario tasks done if possible. But if I run out of time in a week, then I’ll read through the answer key to understand what I didn’t hack through, but still soldier on to the next scenario the next week.

I have added another step to my prep strategy as well. I am planning to do an NMC “CHECKiT” (their mock lab product) in November, at just past the halfway mark in my practice scenarios. I want to know where I stand at that point. I talked to Konstantin from NMC at Networkers, who told me (if I remember right) that scoring a 60% on a CHECKiT was an indicator that you might be able to pass the real lab. It will cost me $250 and a day out of my life, but I think I need to know how I’m doing before I continue on with prep come November.

There’s another idea behind the CHECKiT, too, more than just the progress report. Aside from the family concerns that I outlined above, I am burning out on all this. My day job is a handful. I work for a nimble, fast-paced company that’s tops in its industry and growing quickly. But the senior networking team I’m on is understaffed. All 6 of us are going at a breakneck pace constantly. The deadlines never stop. The projects never stop coming. The pile never gets smaller. We all just crank out the work as fast as we can, and keep treading water. While I happen to love that pace (I bore easily), it takes its toll on my mental health, wearing me out at times. Add CCIE prep on top of that, and family on top of THAT, and I’m turning into a crispy critter. I have to get CCIE done. Soon. The sooner, the better. So if CHECKiT tells me that I’m closer than I think I am, I may try to schedule for January or February instead of March or April, and just hammer through as much of the remaining DOiT scenarios as I can, even if that means just reading through the answer key and Univercd material towards the end just to get the concepts down, without actually doing the rack time.

I’m not quitting. But I need my life back at some point. CCIE is slowly killing me. I need to conquer the beast before I’m actually dead.

UPDATE: 11/22/2007:  I haven’t done a CHECKiT yet for a couple of reasons.  (1) I don’t have the money right now.  (2) I absolutely have to finish all 25 practice labs first.  Plus, I’m thinking of doing the first 10 labs (that include the 3560s) over again.  Also, I think I’m going to do a CCIE Assessor as well as a CHECKiT.  The comments I read about the CCIE Assessor tell me that although it’s only 4 hours instead of 8, you get to work on the same rack as you will on the actual lab day, and it’s graded by the same proctors that grade the actual labs.  I’m into January before I attempt either a CHECKiT or a CCIE Assessor at this point.

About the author

Ethan Banks

Most people know me because I write & podcast about IT on the Packet Pushers network. I also co-authored "Computer Networks Problems & Solutions" with Russ White.

Find out more on my about page.


  • Don’t give up Ether!

    I consider CCIE from two points of view:
    1. Just certificate
    2. Level of knowledge.

    If you want to receive certificate – you can do it in several attempts within small interval of time in the same passing centre. I think that there are 4-6 main variants of lab with little variation.
    So theoretically, you will achieve certificate in 4 – 6 attempts, just analyzing your failed attempts and gathering variants.

    CCIE level of knowledge it is completely another story. This level of knowledge let you to resolve almost any problem within R&S topics. This level of knowledge can be achieved through the permanent handful theoretical and practical studying. Usually people, who are preparing to the CCIE – anti-social. They have no parties, friend meets, holidays etc. They have only DocCD, workbook and rack equipment.

    I our country (I’m from Eastern Europe) – CCIE means bigger level of salary. So people try to get this certificate in any ways (mostly through cheating methods with gathering lab variants).

    I plan to pass my first attempt in the May 2008. Your diligence was example for me :). So I think that the best way to pass is understanding of any issues in workbooks and knowing almost any configuration and verification command.

    Reading answer key is not right way, because this approach does not give you skills in fast resolving tricks, fast configuration, verification and troubleshooting.

  • Ethan, I’m sure you have overwhelming support here for your difficult decision (or maybe it wasn’t that difficult). You’re obviously a talented guy who’s capable of doing this. You’ve shown how focused you can be and how much you love this stuff (both of which are necessary for success), but now comes time for some balance. You’ll be fine.


Most people know me because I write & podcast about IT on the Packet Pushers network. I also co-authored "Computer Networks Problems & Solutions" with Russ White.

Find out more on my about page.

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