CCIE Routing & Switching Meets the Real World

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Since Cisco’s flagship certification program — CCIE Routing & Switching — evolved from a general networking exam, the credential has focused mainly on the technologies of the industry. However, the brains behind Learning@Cisco realized that, since networking is now a mature industry, the time had come to align the certification to real-life job roles.

“We wanted to make sure that we weren’t just pushing our product, but that we were actually making sure that these certifications reflect what people are doing in their jobs,” said Lora O'Haver, product marketing manager at Learning@Cisco.

The process toward making sure the certification was in line with what networking experts experience in their everyday jobs started with a survey of 1,500 networking professionals. Their responses provided Cisco with the information to create a map of the networking career. This blueprint, in turn, provided Cisco with a list of the responsibilities that networking professionals vetted as important in their jobs.

“The good news is, it wasn’t hugely different from our old list,” O’Haver said.“[In] this revision, we didn’t remove anything. Sometimes we remove technologies [or] protocols that are no longer used, [but] this time we didn’t need to. We did add quite a lot.”

These additions have candidates wondering, how did so much more content get packed into an exam of the same length? O’Haver said to accommodate for the extra material, some lower-level questions were eliminated.

“We’re really focusing in now on the expert level, so we took out questions that people at a professional level should already have been tested on,” she said.

So what exactly is the new material that will be included on the exam, which will be launched  Oct. 18? Some of it will focus more on planning and evaluating network changes, as well as new technologies in the routing area, O’Haver said.

“We wanted to include performance routing and optimized edge routing,” she said. In addition, IPv6 (Internet Protocol version 6) and MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) technologies have been added, as networking experts indicated these technologies will reach “critical mass” in the very near term.

Some equipment tested on during the exam also has been modified. “In the [eight-hour] hands-on lab, we want to make sure that people are not necessarily seeing the latest and greatest equipment, but the equipment that is the most common in an enterprise environment,” O’Haver said. “It’s not going to scare anybody because this is the kind of equipment they probably have been dealing with in their own environment.”

The biggest change in the new exam, however, is the addition of a troubleshooting portion to the hands-on lab. This section originally was included on the exam, but was scrapped after Cisco decided it did not accurately reflect real-world troubleshooting skills.

“The way we used to do it was someone would come in and build a network in the eight hours and then the proctor would go in and break it, and then they’d have to come back in and fix it,” O’Haver explained. “The problem with that is that the people who were fixing it had already built the network, so they were really very savvy about where to look.”

In the new exam, the troubleshooting portion will last two of the eight hours of the hands-on lab, and “is built on a simulation technology that allows us to simulate a whole network sort of behind the scenes,” O’Haver said.

“What we’ve done is set up trouble tickets, just like you would [have] if you were supporting a network, and so the candidate has to diagnose what’s going wrong and find the fault and fix it,” she said.

O’Haver noted that this new exam, as well as future versions, will be harder for a networking professional to pass if he doesn’t have a lot of real-world experience. This is because the test is now based on job-role information from experts currently in the field, rather than focusing solely on specific technologies.

“We don’t want to discourage young, ambitious people from trying to achieve certification because, in some countries, achieving certifications is the best way to really get a job,” she said. “If somebody has the equipment and the time and the motivation, they can study for this exam. It becomes more meaningful, though, when you’ve had a job in this area.”

For this reason, O’Haver recommended candidates gain three to five years’ experience before sitting for the exam. But those who are ready to begin studying now can enroll in the Cisco 360 Learning Program, which already has updated course content for the new exam.

– Mpolakowski, meaganp@certmag.com

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Meagan Polakowski

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