Sunday, June 19, 2016

CCIE RS Lab Attempt (RSv5) : what to expect and what not to do

I failed my 3rd attempt on RSv5 lab 2 days ago. My 4th one is scheduled and hopefully it will be my last one. Throughout these 3 attempts, I've gained lots of experience. I want to share them here, for anyone who is studying and thinking about attempting the lab. I hope whatever I post here will help you gain some confidence, avoid panic attack and hopefully don't have to pay too much money for a free lunch in San Jose or RTP.

A few things I would like to mention before we move on:

  • There will be 0 information about the contents of the actual labs.
  • I will not tell you how to study, or how many hours you should prepare before attempting, because lots of people have already done that, and I haven't passed yet so I don't know how many hours total I'm putting into this.
  • I will not compare, or even attempt to compare training vendors.
Let's move on. I've used both RTP and San Jose for my attempts. Therefore, I'll start with what you want to prepare before physically stepping into the room and sit down for 8 hours. You might laugh at some of the bullet points below, but trust me, I do not list anything I haven't seen.
  • Be On-Time. Do not expect the proctor to wait for you, because he/she has to ensure that it's fair for your fellow test takers who come on time. 
  • Bring your jacket, wear long sleeve. The lab is cold. To me, RTP room is a bit colder than San Jose room. I highly recommend a light jacket and long sleeve. Make sure your sleeve can roll up easily, the proctor need to see your wrists and a bit higher toward your elbows. Don't be that guy/girl that wears tight shirts and get yelled at right before the lab.
  • If you have medicine, you can bring them, Advil, Tylenol, or whatever it is. Just make sure to tell the proctor before you sit down.
  • You will be asked to turn off your phone. Here is my tip: turn the darn thing off before you walk-in. On my 2nd attempt, one guy was checking email while the proctor was going through the rules, of course he got yelled at. 
  • All of those lead to this important point. We are all adults, and I'm sure we all have some kind of success in our career right now, before stepping into that room in hope of getting that beautiful 5 digit number. Be professional and follow rules and you will be ok. It sounds simple, but since everyone is under stress, I've seen lots of funny situations. Rules are pretty much written everywhere, either on the board, or at your desk. Read them and follow them, you will be fine. I'm strictly talking about Route and Switch. There should be 0 issue about the contents, or devices in our lab. 
  • If you easily get nervous, don't talk to people before the lab. If you run into me, who failed 3 times and I tell you that, I'm sure you will freak out. 
  • Watch out for Voice guys. Bring your earplugs. If you're in the same room with one or a couple of voice guys, their phones will ring. Oh and they don't ring at the beginning when you're mentally strong and focus. They will ring at the end, when you are 6 hours in, about to loose your focus. 
  • Last is totally unrelated to test day: buy Logitech K120 keyboard. It's the same keyboard in the lab. I'm glad I did it. When I first switched my fancy keyboard back to this one, I made tons of typo. You don't want to do that in the lab. It's cheap, get it, and use it to lab at home.
That should be enough for the miscellaneous notes. I'll jump right into the fun stuff.. 

I'll talk about Diagnostic section first because this is the one part that everyone finds it's difficult to practice at home, therefore it turns out to be the section that we prepare the least.
  • 30 minutes is really short. Shorter than you would ever imagine. It is also a fixed 30 minutes, means if you finish early, you wait until 30 minutes elapse.
  • I've heard people said diag is like CCNP tshoot. No, no and no. You have 4 hours in CCNP tshoot, you have 30 minutes in diag. CCNP tshoot is CCNP, this is CCIE. Do not walk into the lab, thinking this is the easiest part of your lab. It will be the part that you hate the most.
  • But... there is always a but, Cisco knows you only have 30 minutes, so stay calm. Cisco do not ask you to fix crazy stuff, they save that for troubleshooting.  The moment you panic, you're done. 
  • Make sure you plan out your time correctly. Divide 30 minutes out according to your total number of questions. You will know how many tickets you have on your DIAG on the very first page after you begin the section.
  • Sometimes, the answers options are the best clue. Please note I say sometimes. Give yourself time to look at the answers options, it might help. 
  • I put this here because I got cocky on my 3rd atttempt, and panicked because the assumed resolution didn't show up as one of the answer option. I lost 15 minutes on first ticket, cost me my 3rd attempt. 
Are you ready? This is the very first section you get in the lab. You have 2 hours, I think. I apologize, after 3 attempts, I'm still not sure if we have 2 or 2.5 hours here. In addition, you can add 30 more minutes if you want to. You just loose 30 minutes from your Configuration section. I used up the entire extra 30 minutes my first two attempts, only in the 3rd attempt I finished this section on-time. 
  • The tickets are fairly independent from each other. So this is the only section I would say it is safe to go from ticket #1 to ticket #2, then so on. I do not recommend it, but you can try resolving your tickets sequentially for TroubleShoot section
  • Be aware of the awkward of Google Chrome in the lab. The topology resolution is really large, and yet the text are normal. So by default, you will see something like this.
  • I normally do not troubleshoot well if I cannot see the entire topology. If you're like me, you will want to zoom out, and once you zoom out, you will end up with something below. Please note that it will also look like that even if you use two separate Chrome Windows. It's not that extreme, but it's close enough. You will not be able to read the text if you zoom out the topology.

  • So be prepared and do not panic. Although the time is limited, give yourself 15 minutes to look over the topology, get a quick understanding of the overall before diving into the ticket.
  • Be organized. Write down your tickets. Quick and dirty, no detail, maybe write down the protocol mentioned in the ticket and the location of the devices. I'll touch more on this when we get to Configuration.
  • If you get stuck in one ticket for a while, move on. Again, they are mostly independent from each other, or even if it ties with some other tickets, who cares, move on, fix another independent one, get extra points before you run out of time. 
  • Make sure you match the requested output. More on this in Configuration section also. This is really important.
  • I walked out of my 2nd attempt thinking for sure I woud pass. I fixed all tickets, I got all Diag, and completed Config. My result is 50% on TSHOOT. The only thing I could think of, is I forgot to write mem.
  • Notepad is your friend. Do your config in notepad first, then paste them into the devices. If you do a show run for any particular section, paste them into notepad so you don't have to scroll up and down to look for it. 
  • In Notepad, do a small section at a time. I haven't seen it happening in real life yet, but I have heard a guy did everything in notepad at once, for all tickets. Then when he pasted them into the devices, nothing worked. Don't do that. 
  • Yes, you can save text file onto the computer's desktop.

You're finally here. The last section of your entire journey, and the longest one. The biggest challenge here, in term of non-technical matters, is your mentality. You will get tired toward the end, means you will loose concentration, and miss small detail, or worse, you forget the entire task. 
Therefore, the #1 non-technical thing in Configuration is "be organized".
  • Draw a table like below. Practice this skill when you lab at home. This is probably my only study-related advice for you. My next few bullet points will concentrate totally on this sheet of paper.
  • Draw the table out before you start your lab (the real one), and I mean the entire lab. Normally the proctor give you about 5 minutes at the beginning for everyone to settle. Use this time to draw the table out. You don't want to waste your time drawing it out later.
  • Fill out the content of the entire table before you put your hand on the keyboard for Configuration. I spent about half hour for my first and second attempt writing the content of the table. I spent close to 45 minutes on my third attempt.
  • Let's touch on the detail why you need that table.
    • You can keep track of what ticket you finished, and what you have left. How and which method you want to keep track is up to you. I just crossed out the tasks when I finished.
    • The tasks are related, and not in the order of how you need to configure. Cisco has a very specific way to organize these tasks, and it's not helpful to you. Although my examples are not technical related, I want to give you an idea of how things are.
      • Task 1.2 ask you to, at the end, test the telecom between the kitchen and the kid's room. but the detail of the task only ask you to fix telecom in the kitchen.
      • Task 2.5 ask you to fix Electrical that is related to the entire telecom of the house
      • And finally, task 4.5 asked you to fix telecom in the kid's room.
    • So technically, you cannot test task 1.2 until you fix task 4.5. And my example is still follow some sort of order. Imagine if you have to fix electrical for telecom first, without even knowing what is wrong with the telecom itself. 
    • The table also help you fix things in group. For example, fix everything in the kitchen, then move on to bedroom, then move on to Living Room.
    • The "Test" column has been the most important column for me. I passed all three configuration sections thanks to it. Like I mentioned above, you pretty much cannot test anything right after you finish that task, so at the end, this column will help you keep track of what test you still need to perform.
  • The table is not the only thing you need. Do not forget the actual tasks list, especially for the "match-this-output" request. Most likely Cisco will ask you to fix something so it will match an output that they put in the ticket. Here is the rule: match it and match it exactly. There is no but or what if, nothing. If there is something you don't have to match, Cisco will tell you. Don't even bother go to the proctor and ask: "I cannot match this, is that ok?", they will not answer you, simply because they cannot answer you. Just match the output exactly. 
  • What if you cannot match it exactly although the ticket's faults are fixed, and have spent a decent amount of time on it? Move on, as long as you fixed the ticket already, move on. The worst thing is you lose points for that ticket, but you have the rest. I did that on my 3rd attempt for one ticket, and I still passed Configuration.
  • Use Notepad. Just like troubleshooting, put your config into Notepad, then paste it into the device. 
    • You can avoid typo.
    • You can copy and paste
    • You can Search and Replace
    • You can save, and review the config three tasks later without going into the device and do show run.
  • Put "wr mem" at the end of each config to ensure you don't have to rush through over 30 devices at the end to do it. My config always look like this
Those are all I have for you. Hopefully I haven't broken any NDA, and I help you be a bit more prepared for your coming attempt.

This is a really long, tough, and lonely journey. There are lots of crazy people out there like yourself, taking on the same journey. Find them, join their study group so it's less lonely, and you can motivate each other. Don't be afraid of paying $1600 for a lunch, the next time you will be less surprised and more prepared. And if you failed more than once (like me), keep going. 

Just for the fun of the post, I have edited and add my results in here, just for fun.

First Attempt in RTP
Second Attempt in San Jose
Third Attempt in San Jose

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