Heinz Ulm on Cisco’s CCIE Program

Networking guru Heinz Ulm recently celebrated his 10th anniversary as a Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert (CCIE), one of the most prestigious certifications in the IT industry. During his decade with this designation, he has operated a boot camp that has helped produce—by his own estimation—about 450 other CCIEs, about 10 percent of the total number of IT professionals in the United States who hold this level of certification.

The CCIE confers almost instant admiration upon certificants from their colleagues, Ulm said. “If they’ve heard about the CCIE, they really appreciate it and respect it,” he said. “They’ll say, ‘Wow!’ and ‘What’s your number?’ If people know about the CCIE, they know that there’s a number associated with it. The number relates to how long you’ve had it. When they hear that my number is 1561, they almost can’t believe it because that’s from the first 500.”

Interestingly, obtaining the CCIE wasn’t even Ulm’s idea. He was working as a Cisco instructor at the time he received the suggestion, but he already had the certification he needed: the Cisco Certified Systems Instructor (CCSI 93038). “I became a Cisco instructor in 1993, doing the regular Cisco class—introduction to configuration, advanced configuration, troubleshooting, design and such,” he said. “I didn’t need to be a CCIE. It wasn’t a requirement. I didn’t do it because I wanted to do it. At that time, I was doing freelance training for the NCR Corp., and they asked me if I would do it in order to count as one of their CCIEs. There was a kind of general agreement between Cisco and NCR to accept me as an NCR CCIE even though I was never directly employed by them.”

He took the exam in 1995, though, and passed it on his first try. He said Cisco’s testing methodologies for the CCIE were significantly different back then. “It was a two-day exam. There was an interaction between the candidates and the proctors. Proctors kept asking several times a day why candidates did something this way or that way. There was a kind of interview, which was actually a verbal examination done in the interview style, where you could explain your configurations and why you did it that way. The proctor told you that Cisco expected it another way—the so-called Cisco style—but they still awarded you the points because you could explain it.”

Additionally, candidates worked with a variety of different tools and techniques, including technologies from companies such as Apple and Novell and standards such as XMS (Extended Memory Specification). “It was very much multi-protocol-oriented, which is not the case today,” Ulm explained.

Ulm said his career as a networking technologies trainer really took off after he received his CCIE certification. “That added a lot to me as a trainer because there weren’t any Cisco instructors at that time who had CCIE status. It drew a lot of students into my classes. Those students followed me to the next class, and then to the next class. I got these followers who just said, ‘Wherever you go and whatever class you offer, we’ll be there.’ When I decided to start my own boot camps, I already had a customer base.”

Based on his experience as both a CCIE candidate and trainer, Ulm advised that anyone undertaking this certification should build up a good deal of working familiarity with the subject matter that it covers before actually attempting it. “I get so many students who just started the path maybe a year ago, and they’ve pushed themselves—or their company’s pushed them—through all of these classes,” he said. “Then they show up at the boot camp and they lack lots of experience. I do tell students that they have a long way to go, but I don’t know them until I see them in the class first. That’s the main reason why we’re doing classes now below the CCIE boot camp—so we get to know these people before they get there and guide, direct and have an influence on them. Everyone wants to achieve the CCIE, but what really counts is years of experience in practical work.”

For more information, see http://www.heinzulm.com.

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