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


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 pass4sure.com 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.

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.


  • Its shocking to know how many people use dumps to get to ccnp/ccie written level, I believe that is ‘one’ of the reasons why the lab pass rate is so low.

    That said, I read a post somewhere a few months back that dumps for the lab exist, I thought that the post was quite funny, but recently learned that apparently these exist. Taking the rate of people that are dishonest regarding the theory exams, it would be interesting to know how many use them for the lab. Cisco should re-introduce the two day exam. The fist day is a series of polygraph tests, if you fail these you dont get to come back for day two and banned from the ccie track for life. At the end of the day its up to Cisco to protect the value of the qualification. Their training strategy has a large impact on their overall success.

    I did a search on google a few days for ccie workbook labs from different vendors… what I found took a big chunk out of my motivation level.

  • The future of the CCIE is in the hands of the people running the program, plain and simple. There are two issues bundled in this concern, and they need to be separated.

    1. Too many CCIEs, cert becomes devalued.
    2. CCIEs enter the market not knowing their butt from a hole in the ground, cert becomes devalued.

    I think #1 is a fake concern. After about 10 threads on groupstudy bemoaning the growing number of CCIEs I stopped opening them. The CCIE isn’t valuable because there are only a few out there, it’s valuable because the intensity of the lab exam weeds out all but the most dedicated and knowledgeable. That CCIEs are few in number is simply a byproduct of this. It happens to increase the value of the cert, but to assume causality is a mistake.

    #2 is the principle concern for current CCIEs, as they had to pass a grueling exam. If the Cisco CCIE program team makes future labs too easy, after enough mediocre candidates pass the exam and unleash their fumbling upon unsuspecting network managers, the cert will lose credibility. I have no reason to believe the CCIE dev team will do this – not after 15 years of being the gold standard in industry certifications.

    Even if #2 comes to fruition, each current CCIE will know that *they* are the real deal, and to me that’s far more important than what some recruiter thinks. If you know your own value, it’s a simple matter of demonstrating it to others, and if they still hold a different opinion, part company. The MCSE was always a joke, although I hear it’s actually somewhat difficult now.

    Personally I have trouble giving two craps about any cert without a lab – a real lab, not some book report on the basics of SSL. The only cert I have now is the CISSP, and that’s just because MBAs like it – it’s still an introductory certification, regardless of how many stupid pre-requisites ISC2 puts in front of it in their doomed quest to thwart the bootcamps. The test is simply too easy, even after you factor in the triple negatives and other verbal roadblocks they throw into the questions. I’m pondering the point of paying those goofs $85/year at this point, but whatever.

    If you want to be respected, well-payed and secure in your self-worth, find something difficult and do it well. That’s the CCIE to me.

  • I’ve been dreaming of attaining but CCIE for the past 10 years. I always thought I would never know enough to pass the lab so I settled for the CCxP certifications instead. Today with all the training material out there, CCIE blogs, dynamips, workbooks and end-to-end training programs it seams much more reachable somehow. Before I wouldn’t know were to begin but now I know exactly how and what to study and I know it won’t cost me a fortune just a lot of hard work and dedication.

    I think that in the future the number of CCIEs will increase faster then it has in the past but hopefully that will not decrease the value of the certification to any greater extent. Just because the training material is more attainable these days does not mean the people that pass is less knowledgeable or less worthy.

    PS. I also worked hard to complete my NT4 MCSE in the late 90ies and I would hate to see the value of CCIE deteriorate in the same way.


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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