CCIE R&S Syllabus (2008), Part 1


Many CCIE candidates have asked for my comments on their studies. What do I think of a particular vendor or product? What books did I use to prepare? Is CCNP a prerequisite? Etc. This series of “syllabus” posts will answer those questions and more to the best of my ability.

If you read this series, remember that I’m not a Cisco employee, nor do I speak in an official capacity regarding the CCIE program. Like many other CCIE bloggers, I have had conversations with Cisco folks, but I have no special dispensation from Cisco to speak on their behalf. Therefore, my blog posts are exactly that – mine and mine alone. Currently, the best place to go for official Cisco information on the CCIE program is to visit http://www.cisco.com/go/ccie.

As a reader of this blog, you’re aware that the CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert) certification is Cisco’s premier certification. The CCIE certification has a deserved reputation as being difficult to achieve. Depending on your compentency, experience, and the amount of time you can dedicate to preparation, expect to take between 6 and 18 months to earn the CCIE designation. With a full-time job (that includes an hour commute), 2 young children, and a church I am actively involved with, I managed to earn the CCIE certification in 16 months. I passed both the written qualification exam and lab exam on my first attempts.

Q: What was your experience before committing to the CCIE program?

A: Before beginning CCIE preparation, I had about 10 years of experience in the networking industry.

  • I supported a small college campus with about 2,500 students. I worked as an MCSE and ethernet engineer, handling AppleTalk routers, NT servers, classroom labs, fiber and copper wiring plants, and Internet firewalls.
  • I did pre- and post-sales work for a network integrator serving the SMB market as an MCSE, CNE, and CCNA. I handled NT/2000 servers, PIX firewalls, frame-relay routers, Novell Netware 3.x and 4.x systems, MS Exchange, and Novell GroupWise.
  • I acted as the WAN manager for a government entity, supporting about 12,000 people spread over a large geographic area. I handled OSPF, ISDN, frame-relay, ATM, PIX firewalls, VPN3000s, IDS4235s, 2600s, 4500s, Cat4000s, Cat6500s, as well as Cabletron gear. I was a CCNP and CCSP.
  • These days, I am a senior network engineer for a payment processing company. I work on a team of 6 people supporting an international payments network, most of which is in North America. One of our projects was to build a new data center and then migrate to it without interrupting customer processing. I won’t make a list of equipment I support, but it’s a lot – most of it says “Cisco” on the front.

Q: Why did you decide to go after the CCIE certification?

A: In my opinion, people go after the CCIE certification for one of two main reasons: money or knowledge. My primary motivation was not money. Simply stated, I was tired of being intimidated by the CCIE certification. I didn’t want to stand in awe of CCIEs any longer. I wanted to prove to myself that I could achieve what I’d shied away from for years. Therefore, my primary motivation was knowledge.

I would be lying if I said that you can’t tempt me with money. Almost every time I changed jobs, it was to advance my career through greater challenges, greater opportunity, and quite often, more money. However, I did not (and still don’t) have any expectation of earning more money just because I earned the CCIE designation. A couple of days ago, I was told that I’m giving myself away at my current base salary. Perhaps that means there’s more money out there if I start looking around. But allow me to caution you – if your primary motivation to earn the CCIE certification is money, you might have a rougher go of it than if you’re seeking knowledge.

Q: CCIE candidates talk about personal sacrifice and dedication. What about you?

A: I created study schedules (my “roadmaps”) and stuck to them. To stay on track with my study schedule, I had to cut other things out of my life. I didn’t watch very much television. I didn’t go out with friends very often. I neglected my hobbies. I used vacation time to study. I gave up sleep. I gained about 15 pounds in the last 6 months of prep. I spent money, although not nearly as much as many candidates spend.

I’m not being melodramatic when I state that the preparing for the CCIE exams, particularly the lab exam, will be the central focus of your life. You will talk about it to people who don’t “get it”. You know they don’t get it, and you’ll talk about it to them anyway. You will think about it to the point of obsession. You will probably dream about it; I dreamed about taking the lab exam several times. You will collect folders on your PC with prep material. You’ll take notes and store them all in binders. Etc.

Preparing for the CCIE exams was so much a part of my life, that it’s been hard to restructure my life now that the lab exam is behind me.

In part 2, I plan to comment on vendor preparation materials and how to use them to help you prepare.

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.


  • It is no small feat to balance family-church-work-study demands that you did. Would you elaborate how you structure your weekdays & weekends?

    Part of my challenge is how to structure my day (i.e. bad time management).


  • I’m looking forward to reading more of your thoughts.

    I’m sure everyone here who reads your blog would agree in my appreciation, as well as my admiration, to your diligent and well-written chronicles of your journey. That goes the same with Keith as well.

    There are hundreds of guides that we can look to out there to help us, with lists and recommendations and all. but to follow an honest and earnest accounting of your trials and tribulations give us all inspiration/motivation because it’s real. I look at your journey and think to myself, “Now there’s a guy that gets it.” or “Yeah, that’s exactly how I feel!”

    That’s why your blog (along with others I follow) are instrumental for me getting through times when I don’t feel like studying. And if you don’t mind, I even modeled some of my note-taking blog style to yours ;)

  • It doesn’t help when trying to impart the magnitude of the task that most networks are pretty basic, hence most developers, sysadmins, etcetera believe that networking is fairly easy. I agree that it is … if you want to babysit a few T1/3s and have the telco manage your BGP, your IDS, your FW …. At that point you just need to know how to read, talk on the phone, and type.

    So when you tell a programmer who did some networking once that you just spent a year cramming for a test, and you very well might fail, they look at you like you’re an idiot, never thinking that you will be the guy on the *other* end of the phone, telling people like him what to type so he can go on thinking there’s nothing to this networking thing he can’t pick up in an hour at Borders.

  • Hopefully I will pass my R/S pre-qualification exam scheduled for next week and after that go back doing labs again.

    I will be looking forward for part II and any advice on vendors and products will be greatly appreciated.

    There are just so many products out there at the moment and you want the most for your money.

    – Technology focused labs?
    “Soup-to-nuts” vs. “Narbiks Adcanced R/S Technology Focused” vs. “Internetwork Expert WB I”

    – Full labs?
    “Narbiks books?” vs. “Internetwork Expert WB II” vs. “NMC DOiT vol2”

    – Are there any vendors out there except Internetwork Expert that have core labs you take to improve your speed (like WB III)?

    – What about IP Experts material and CCBOOTCAMP workbooks?

    Hopefully you will be able to shed some light on some of these questions. Having read many of your posts I think I know the answer to at least some of them :). I will start doing technology focused labs myself next before I start with the full scale ones.

    Great reading as usual!


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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