Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Exam Day

Back in August 2009, I managed to book a lab exam seat in Sydney on 20th November 2009 when someone dropped the booking last minute. I paid for the CCIE exam fee (USD1400 excluding VAT) on the spot. Time flies and 3 months had been fully utilized for final preparation and I was pretty confident for my first attempt.

My flight to Sydney was on 18th November at 10:40PM, and I reached Sydney airport on 19th November at 9:30AM. I took CityRail to the Central Station which is located just a few stops away, that costed me AUD15.60. The hotel which I stayed is Sebel Surry Hills, situated nearby Central Station. The hotel check-in time is 2PM, so I still had plenty of time to hang out before I can settle down. After I left my luggage at the hotel, I went back to the Central Station to take a train ride to St. Leonards station, which is where the lab exam center is, that costed me AUD3.40.

Since I couldn't sleep during the flight to Sydney, I was pretty tired. I had an early dinner at the Sussex Center's food court at Chinatown, it was just like 15 minutes of walking distance from the hotel, pretty convenient. After I returned to the hotel, took a hot shower, I felt really exhausted. I intended to go through the notes before I goto bed but I couldn't help and fell asleep as early as 8:30PM. It's actually a good news. Most people fail to sleep early the night before the exam, and that'll affect the performance on the exam day.

I had a total of 8.5 hours of sleep and woke up at 5AM. My mind was so fresh that I can remember every single thing I've studied. I headed down to the hotel restaurant to have a hearty breakfast at 6AM till 6:30AM. I left the hotel at 6:45AM and walked towards Central Station to catch a train to St. Leonards. The journey was predictable as I've done my homework the day before. I reached Cisco's office at 7:15AM and nobody was there yet. I waited till 7:25AM and the first person I met was the famous proctor - Scott Anderson. He opened the door and asked me to wait at the reception area.

At around 7:50AM, the other CCIE candidate (Voice track) arrived. Scott briefed us about the dos and don'ts for about 10 minutes. Most of the things were expected as I've been asking around and surfing forums to find as much information as possible regarding the lab exam. Two pieces of paper, pencils and color pencils were given.

The lab exam started at 8:10AM. I spent about 15 minutes reading the whole set of questions. I drew a simple table on the given A4 paper with the first column indicating the task number, second column indicating the remarks and the third column indicating whether the task is completed. The first four sections (L2, IGP, BGP and MPLS) took me 2.5 hours to complete. Then here comes the core section of the whole lab which is the VPN. Another 1.5 hour flew, lunch time was approaching and I was basically done with the VPN section, except for a subsection. I didn't have the time to reboot my routers right before the lunch break, but that was OK as I would prefer to reboot it only after I'm done with the whole lab.

A food menu was given before the exam started, and I chose Smoked Chicken Sandwich and Apple Juice for the lunch. I didn't have much appetite during the lunch break, and I couldn't finish the sandwich. As soon as we're done with the 20 minutes lunch break, we're back to the lab by 12:30PM. So the proctor told us we have 4 more hours to go. I spent about 15 minutes on the left over VPN subsection. As soon as I'm done I proceeded with the remaining sections (QoS, Security and Services). By 2:30PM, I was done with all the questions, except with a few doubts on multiple subsections.

Overall I feel the information given in certain questions are not sufficient. This might lead to multiple methods to answer the question. It's rather easy to interpret the questions wrongly, so it's best to clarify with the proctor. But please do not expect the proctor to help you. He or she might or might not even answer your questions. I struggled with a few questions by doing my own assumptions, that was a very tough decision and I shouldn't spend too much time thinking about it.

The remaining 2 hours were just enough for me to reboot all the 9 routers and thoroughly verify the result. Ping, traceroute and those necessary "show" commands were heavily used throughout the verification process. I had to make sure all my routers are working perfectly fine after a reboot. Also, ensure that all the required interfaces are up after you shut it down for testing purpose. By 4:30PM we were asked to stop working on the configurations. I left the lab by leaving all the equipments in privilege mode.

I took the train back to hotel with a blank mind. I thought could have felt more relief after the exam but I was wrong. If my answers for those few unsure questions are wrong, I could easily fail this lab exam. The more I thought, the more down I felt. I then checked my email at around 5:30PM but no news from Cisco yet. Instead of waiting in front of the laptop, I headed towards Sydney CBD for a walk. I took the opportunity to visit the Apple Store which is located along the George St., after the Queen Victoria Building. I reached the Apple Store around 7PM and I found out there were lots of people using the free internet over there with Macbook/iMac. I too found a vacant and quickly open up the browser and start checking email. This round there's an email from Cisco stating that my lab score report is ready. I clicked on the URL inside the email and logged in using necessary information. My heart was pounding extremely fast as the result page was loading half way. And at last...I saw the word "PASS" appearing on the screen, including the CCIE number assigned to me, which is #25728.

Screen capture of CCIE Verification Tool

That was the golden moment in my life! It's hard to describe how I felt with words as there're really not many people in this world could pass this exam in single attempt. With the amount of effort I've put in, I think it's really worth the reward. It's as if a new life has just begun, as this certification allows me to achieve a big leap in my career. One week has past, I still feel great and can't believe what I've achieved...I now can do the things which I've always wanted to do before this, and also buy the things I've always wanted to buy before this. It's time to enjoy for awhile before I start my new journey with Juniper certification...


CCIE #25728

Hey guys! OMG, before I make any announcement, let me apologize for not updating my blog for 5 months and 20 days. The reason being I'd been so busy with my CCIE lab exam preparation like there's no tomorrow. After suffering for more than 365 days, finally I've PASSED the exam last Friday at Cisco Sydney's lab exam center in single attempt! My CCIE number is #25728. This number will be tied to my name forever.

FYI, CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert) is the highest level of technical networking certification offered by Cisco. According to Cisco's statistics, there are a total of 20782 of CCIEs worldwide since 16 years ago, as per update on 26th October 2009. I should be the 105th Malaysian CCIE, and one of the less-than-ten-people specializing in Service Provider track. The statistics are frequently being updated here.

Below is a long list of people I would like to especially thank for helping and inspiring me throughout the CCIE journey:
- Father, mother, sister and brother
- Girl friend, Kim Yew (You're the best dear!)
- Best friend and his wife, Alvin and Any
- Joseph Goh (CCIE R&S/SP/Security/Voice, JNCIE) from Cisco AS
- Brian Ng (CCIE R&S) from GK
- Goldman Lee (CCIE R&S/SP/Security) from GK
- Ruby from GK
- Loi (CCIE R&S/SP), Edward (CCIE SP), Ethan (CCIE R&S) and Muzamil from Cisco
- Aizudin, my manager
- Mohan (CCIE R&S), my team leader
- Chong, my buddy/colleague
- All my colleagues
- Hann Yong (CCIE Voice), my ex-colleague
- And many more...

The journey was extremely rough, with more than 1000 hours of lab practices, several hundred hours of reading and thinking. Without their help and motivation, I might not be able to pass this 8-hour killer lab exam, especially in first attempt. I'll be documenting the process of my studies, hopefully can help some of the CCIE candidates.

Ever since I knew the result of my exam last Friday night, I felt so much relief and had never feel so great before. It's one of the biggest achievement in my life. I extended my stay in Sydney over the weekend till Monday. I had 2.5 days to explore this wonderful city. Sorry guys, no DSLR for this trip, only depending on Fujifilm F11, Gorillapod and iPhone's camera.

Below is the marvellous view of Sydney CBD from the CCIE lab exam center situated at St. Leonards.

Sydney Harbor Bridge captured from Sydney Opera House