I took my Cisco CCIE around 16 years ago now, but like everyone who's attempted the lab, you don't forget it quickly.
Passing the lab is no easy feat - there's a pre-qualification exam, followed by the lab itself. I've heard it said that 80% of people that start the CCIE journey never pass, so there's a reason it's right up there with the hardest qualifications in IT.
What does CCIE stand for?
If you've not come across the CCIE before, it stands for Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert. The overall process is a written exam (up to three hours last time I sat this), followed by an 8-hour lab exam.
This tests engineers with complex scenarios, problem solving - and most importantly detailed understanding of problems being solved.
No one passes the CCIE lab without a significant portion of time being spent on double checking their work - this is a key skill that will stay with CCIEs once they pass.
Cisco CCIE: 15 Years Update
I took my CCIE lab exam back in 2006, and by 2020 have passed the 15 year mark.
I'm a current CCIE and thanks for the continuous learning avenue can remain current.
15 years is quite a long time as a CCIE and offers a fair bit of time of reflection. The exam was *so* hard to get - hundreds of hours of study, but the satisfaction of knowing I was amongst only around 12000 other people on the planet made it worthwhile.
If you're thinking of doing your CCIE - go for it - and the best of luck on your journey.
Cisco CCIE Journey
I'm not ashamed to say that I took a few attempts at the 8-hour lab exam.
I passed on the 5attempt. For me, I think it made me a better engineer to have to try harder, and reach deeper.
I had to learn the technology to ever greater levels and find ever deeper motivation to continue. I spent around 18 months of very long days (and nights), studying for the exam, and I don't think most people's journey is too different to that.
One bit of advice I had from the outset was once you start you can't stop - all that effort has to end somewhere and so it was that I kept trying.
Passing the Cisco CCIE Exam
I had passed all my Cisco exams first time, up until I attempted the lab - CCNA, CCDA, CCNP, CCDP, then the lab came and broke my perfect rate of exam achievement. It was like a sledgehammer!
My first attempt, I thought I was well prepped. I took about 7.5 hours to complete the lab, with a woefully inadequate amount of time to check. By the time I passed, my ability to type and think quickly had evolved immeasurably. I finished the lab in under 4 hours, with another 4 for checking.
The Benefits of the Cisco CCIE Lab
When I see a CCNP struggle to quickly configure an ACL or configure a bit of dynamic routing, I think back to how quickly it's possible to implement config. In the end, CCIE will give you a mastery of the technology that a CCNP never will.
In essence, CCIE forces you to burn for the technology - the late nights, the expense, the sheer personal cost of the time and emotional commitment you put in ensures that.
Every CCIE has a story to tell about what it took to get over the line. You will grow as an engineer, and your speed and accuracy will improve - but to pass you need to show the sort of insane commitment of someone who's willing to spend $1500 for a lab attempt and yet keep coming back.
If you start the CCIE journey and give up after one or two goes, you probably shouldn't have started. It's a long haul and you have to aim for 3 or 4 attempts at the outset. If you pass quicker, that's a bonus. It's a very, very tough exam, no doubt, so go in with your eyes open.
Cisco CCIE Emeritus
So, what of Cisco CCIE Emeritus?
I achieved this status after 10 years as a CCIE, I even got a new plaque from Cisco. I can now pay to remain as a CCIE, without re-certifying.
This is handy - let's face it as we all get older, you want to slow a little, so Emeritus allows me to stay as a CCIE, but not be involved in the intimate detail of the technology.
That said, engineers are made a certain way - we all love checking out the new technology, so I've not hung up my console cable just yet :-0 (October 2020: Hence why I am once again a current CCIE and have left the Emeritus status behind).
Cisco CCIE Summary
You need to know what you're getting yourself into - hundreds of hours of study and many thousands (maybe even tens of thousands) of dollars will be spent. You need to be ready in life for this kind of commitment.
The feeling of achieving such a high qualification is second to none though - you have worked so hard and accomplished what few have done - that will stay with you for a long time.
If you think you are ready to kick off your journey - I applaud you. All CCIEs love to see new CCIEs coming up through the ranks and welcome you to the table.
Hopefully you'll get to work as part of a great team - this makes all the difference when you have great support. Within our IPTel staff, I work with Arne Bier and he's got one up on me - he's a 20 year CCIE!
On reflection - is it worth becoming a CCIE? Yes is the answer.