R&S Candidate Offers Money-Saving Tips for Preparation
Michael Calhoon has self-funded his studies, his practice equipment and his exams. While he acknowledges that everyone has different study practices, he offers some tips on how to cost-effectively approach the CCIE exam process.
You could say that CCIE candidate Michael Calhoon is "bucking the odds" in his CCIE pursuit. He's young (23 years), he isn't directly involved in Cisco networking at work, and he is pursuing certification entirely on his own dime. But he has taken the Routing and Switching exam twice and has every intention of passing it upon his next try. "I feel like I've paid for a beautiful car in my garage that's missing a steering wheel," says Michael. "I'm determined to get the steering wheel so I can drive and enjoy the car."
Michael currently works as a senior network engineer at Nova Technology, a small consulting firm located in Columbia, MD. His first exposure to Cisco was in 1999 while working as an intern for a company providing networking consulting services to the US Senate offices. "I received a CCNA during that internship and later realized how much I liked routers. Networking was much more fun than programming." Hooked, Michael began pursuing a CCNP in 2002, obtaining the certification after completing a ten-week training course. CCIE certification was the logical next step for Michael, so he signed up for a 5-week course given by Joseph Anokye, CCIE #6624, at a local training center and rented a rack of networking equipment. "That's when I realized how big the certification was," said Michael. "You can't just move from the CCNP to the CCIE in a few months. Once I started studying, I realized it might take me years."
"You can't just move from the CCNP to the CCIE in a few months. Once I started studying, I realized it might take me years."
Still determined, Michael began an intensive self-study program, renting more time on the networking racks, buying countless books and taking practice labs. He felt prepared for the exam when he took it the first time, but realized he had failed only half way through the lab. "You just can't know what it's like -- how much of a mind-game it is," he says. "A simple thing like a different interface or terminal tool can throw you off. The exam is hard and it's tricky too. You can't appreciate the respect due a CCIE until you've taken the exam."
His efforts have taught him a thing or two about cost-effective preparation. Michael suggests that candidates plan for a long-term effort and realize that it's unlikely they will pass the exam on their first try. "This makes a difference in rent or buy decisions," he explains. "It's a lot cheaper to buy racks than to rent them in the long run, and you can generally find good used racks from EBay and other resellers. Another resource Michael appreciates is the Cisco website. "It has nearly everything you need posted and available for free in the technology section," he adds. "You just have to take the time to work through it." He found the CCIE boot camps useful as a way to immerse oneself in the CCIE world before the exam, but adds: "Some of the online web courses like those offered by IPExpert.net are really great and much less expensive." Michael also suggests that CCIE candidates take advantage of the many CCIE message boards, specifically IPExpert, and www.certificationtalk.com. "They really help," he says. "The boards offer group study, great information and moral support when you need it most."