Donavan S Fritz, CCIE #39518


I started my journey right after college. I graduated college May 2011 a CCNP and decided not to go to graduate school, but instead pursue my CCIE. So after I got all settled in at my first full time job, I hit the books. As far as a timeline, I started studying for the written around July 2011, and passed January 2012. I started studying for the lab soon after. Passing the CCIE lab was honestly the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life. Challenges were two-fold. First, the monetary limitations of being a new college grad; pursuing this certification takes a good amount of money. Second the amount of time it takes to fully understand everything on the blueprint is astonishing. I was lucky to start out with a company that was willing to invest in me. I *very* quickly blew through the training allowance and also spent a great deal of my own money purchasing rack rental tokens. I unfortunately did not see Petr?s blog post about how to pass the CCIE lab exam until midway through my studies. If you?re unsure of what I?m referring to, here?s the link: Because I didn't know about this right away, I watched the entire ATC video series, then I went through the workbooks and did every problem; sequentially. Workbook #1 took almost 6 months to go through alone. In my defense, I also re-watched almost every ATC video while I was going through WB1. If I had to do it again, I would not choose this method. The problem here was that in the 6 months I took to go through every topic, I ended up forgetting some details of earlier topics. On the bright side, I was exposed to everything and topics came back very quickly. For the most part, my life while studying was work -> study -> sleep; repeat. Seriously. As I said before, this was the hardest thing I have ever done. Sure, there were times where I would take a night or weekend off. But overall I would spend between 20 - 40 hours a week studying. I unfortunately cut a lot of stuff out of my life to be able to do this. I decided against building my own CCIE rack because of the system that INE has set up. INE makes renting rack time very easy and the configuration tools integrate perfectly with the workbooks. It?s very easy to switch between new labs and I feel like I was able to get an amazing amount of repetition because of this. Repetition was key here because unlike most people pursuing this, I didn't have the 7+ years of work experience. I attended an INE 10 day boot-camp June 2012 hosted by the one and only Brian Dennis. This was an amazing experience for me. I would highly recommend it to anyone. It was tough to swing with work, but 100% worth it. Brian Dennis is probably one of the funnest people to learn from and makes the long days much more bearable. After the boot-camp, I stayed with my study strategy. I did all of the workbooks in the following order: 1, 3, 2, 4. Getting closer to my lab date, I went back through the harder labs in WB2 and did the INE troubleshooting labs. I tried to mix it up, and get myself prepared for anything. In the two months before my lab date, I went through all the mock labs offered by INE also. I scheduled my first attempt on a Tuesday. So 8 weeks before the lab, I took every Tuesday off of work and did a mock lab on that day. I was right where I thought I needed to be. On the mock labs that were ?as hard as? or ?easier? than the CCIE lab, I was scoring around 80. I did have one bad one that was ?harder than? the CCIE lab that I scored in the mid 50s. I used the IEOC quite a lot to get answers to my questions. I didn't have to post much because answers to almost every question I had was posted here in some form. Any questions that still were not clear, I would dive deeper into. I read some RFCs to get a better understanding of some topics. Bottom line here is to make sure you fully understand everything. My first lab attempt was December 2012. I had gone through everything that INE had to offer. All the workbooks, all the mocks labs as well I thought I would have this lab completed in no time. I flew into San Jose on a Sunday, lab was on Tuesday. Sunday I just looked over my notes and tried to relax. Monday I rented 12 hours of rack time and did some labs, pretty standard. On the day of the lab, I was dropped off at Cisco. I was around 45 min early. I made small talk with the other candidates and tried to relax. The lab- first things first, the troubleshooting section. The first ticket was a pretty easy. My confidence was pretty high, I was excited. The next couple of tickets were pretty easy too! I was getting even more pumped. The next ticket was pretty tough, I went over 10 min on it so I skipped to the next one. Next two tickets same problem, taking too long- skipped. Ten minutes has passed on the next ticket. I realized that I couldn't skip another one so I continued to troubleshoot. Next thing I know, 30 min on a single ticket and I haven?t finished yet! I skipped ahead and I was able to finish the rest of the tickets with ease. I went back to the first ticket I skipped, simple problem overlooked. By this time, I was out of time. On to config section- I honestly have forgotten many of the details now. But I do remember that my frustration from the troubleshooting section carried over and I couldn't even type correctly. I was a wreck inside because I knew I had already failed. The layer 2 section was easier than I thought it was going to be. Much easier than the INE mock labs. Layer 3 was... tough. I was only tough because there was a certain topic that I omitted from my studies. Why? Because I never heard of anyone getting tested on it, and there was only 2 questions in WB1 about it. And wouldn't you know it, I was lucky enough to get a few questions on it. Long story short- Even with the amount of effort I had put in, I wasn't *completely* prepared. I did try to cut corners and taking the lab was an eye opener. I learned what level I had to be at if I wanted to pass. The difficulty is not insanely tough, it?s just the amount of material that?s covered by the lab. They don?t test on everything, but you need to be prepared to be for anything. Between lab attempts, I took a few months off. I changed jobs, moved across the country and spent more time with the loved ones. If I could do it over, I would have started studying for the next attempt the next day. Getting back into the rhythm was tough. I got back into the same swing of things, work -> study -> sleep; repeat. The grind really sucks, but it?s worth it. I dove even deeper into topics that I thought I knew well during the week and full scale labs during the weekends. I made sure that every single topic that is on the blueprint was second nature to me. So one thing that caught me up during the first lab exam was the keyboard. I had an ergonomic keyboard at home that I always used when studying. I got very used to it and I was able to type very, very fast. The problem was that I did not have this keyboard during the actual lab. So to remediate this, I went out and purchased the exact keyboard that I saw in the lab. It may sound trivial, but I feel like it helped a lot. The night before the second lab attempt, after I got home from work, I just read over my notes and relaxed. I felt like if I didn't know it by now, studying isn't going to help me at this point. When I got to the lab location, I didn't talk to any other candidates this time. I just stayed focused on the task at hand. The troubleshooting section went really well. Some tickets took a couple of min. The longest one took me a half an hour. I just stayed cool and continued troubleshooting. I did all the tickets in sequential order. I did not skip any tickets that took more than 10 min this time. The biggest difference this time was that I never felt like I hit a wall on troubleshooting. For example, I always knew what the next show command I would run if the current one didn't point out the problem. I was amazed with how quickly I got through the troubleshooting section. I had just under an hour remaining after I was done. Before I exited this section, I re-verified all tickets and did a write mem- just to be safe. I used different tactics during the config section my second time around. I did not redraw the lab diagram like almost everyone tells you to do. All my practice was done on a 19? screen, so the 24-ish? screen was a huge step up to me. I had a lot of real estate and cascaded the windows so that I could get to any device without having to move a window. I also did not read through the full lab before I started. I did an overview of the diagrams and did all tasks sequentially. I used one piece of paper to keep track of my tasks, that?s it. I configured everything in notepad and pasted it into the terminal. Similar to what Brian McGann does in the ATC class. This is also how I practiced when I was studying. I highly recommend this method, it allows you to configure faster and more accurate while typing less. You?ll also see how it may have saved me later. Back from lunch, I cruised through the rest of the tasks. I only got caught up on one task. I wish I could go into more detail, but basically with the task requirements, and the other task requirements, I?m pretty sure it was impossible. I took the 3pt hit as I didn't feel it was worth the time and I did not want to risk breaking my other tasks? requirements, possibly missing out on even more points. Nothing was dependent on it, so I figured the best thing to do was to skip it. Now that I moved through every topic, I started to verify everything. I went back through the lab and meticulously checked every requirement. I even went so far as to put my hand on the screen to make sure I was reading every single word in the task like a 2nd grader. And yes- it did help, I found one thing that I over-read. Who knows, that could have been the difference between pass and fail. At this point, I have the lab configured and verified and there?s about 15 min left. I decided to move to the start of the lab again and verify some more. And wouldn't you know it, I found a pretty big mistake. My layer 2 section was not correct. I know I configured it correctly, I looked back at my notepad (the one that I kept all the config saved in), and verified that I did do the task correctly. I have absolutely no idea how it became un-configured; but it scared me. I pasted the config back in, but did not have enough time to verify it did not impact any of the upper level protocols. The proctor kicked us out and I walked to my car. I was very uneasy at this point. I just made this potentially impactful layer 2 change at the end- without time to verify. I went out to a movie after the lab and during the movie I got the email. I immediately did what anyone would do in my situation. I tried to log in from my phone.. but the reception was poor. By the time I got out of the movie theater, my cell phone shut down because it was low on battery. Awesome. I assumed I had failed because I got my results in less than 4 hours. It must have been bad. Those last minute layer 2 changes must have killed me. Last time I didn't get the results until in the AM. When I got home I logged in to see how I did.. what I need to study more. I felt the biggest sigh of relief when I saw it. I passed!

- Donavan S Fritz, CCIE #39518 (CCIE Routing & Switching)

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