Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Coming Down from the CCIE-V Bootcamp High

Last week I was out in San Jose, CA for the CCIE-V "One Week Lab Experience" delivered by IPexpert. Now that I am back home, I am starting to go through withdrawal. I think I would like a 3-week bootcamp! That would be a lot of fun. I suppose you would learn something too. However, that isn't really what I enjoyed the most about the experience. I enjoyed having an excuse to focus my full attention on a specific task.

I put the bootcamp experience up there with the various Cisco Proof Of Concept (CPOC) sessions that I have had the good fortune of being involved with. It is a real joy to focus on a task that allows you to build something from the ground up.

If you are pursuing a CCIE and have the means, you should invest in the bootcamp experience. I think it is worth it just to have an excuse to focus on the technology. Not to mention, I definitely think it will go a long way to ensuring success when sitting for the exam.

The Experience in a Nutshell

There is nothing like spending a full week (or two) of 12+ hour days where you get to focus on building up completely functional systems from scratch. It is simply awesome to allow yourself to become completely immersed within a specific task. You can put aside all distractions. Well, I should say you have the choice to put aside all distractions. Some people don't take full advantage of the opportunity and that is a shame.

IPexpert has several bootcamp options for the IE voice. There is a 5-day bootcamp, a "one week lab experience (OWLE)", and a 10-day bootcamp. The 10-day is basically a combination of the 5-day and OWLE.

I attended the 5-day camp back in June. At that time, I personally felt (and still feel) it is a better approach to separate the two bootcamps. The 5-day bootcamp is a walk through of a single mock lab (albeit a big one). The instructor provides technical education along with tips on how best to approach a specific task. This turns into 12 - 14 hour days and is a very educational experience. I used the 5-day bootcamp as a way to put things in perspective and kick my butt into gear. The first bootcamp gives you a bare bones tool set, but it is enough to get you moving forward in a deliberate direction. I feel that is (or should be) the ultimate goal of the 5-day bootcamp from IPexpert.

The OWLE is more of a guided self-study experience. IPexpert positions this bootcamp as the "tune-up" bootcamp. Meaning, they assume you have been practicing and are damn close to taking the exam. What remains is fine tuning your strategy and identifying rough edges that require polishing. According to IPexpert you should plan to take you lab within 2-4 weeks following the OWLE bootcamp.  

The OWLE is the bootcamp I attended last week. I have been practicing mock labs since August and I was really looking forward to a week long lab experience. I was pretty damn happy that my stick time would start on Monday. You have three mock labs that you work through on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The instructor reviews test taking strategy along with deep-dive tech talks on Tuesday and Thursday. 

IPexpert recently updated the OWLE labs. There are actually four (4) labs. Lab 1 is used for the 5-day boot camp. So, this was a lab I encountered in June. The remaining three labs are covered during OWLE. I actually decided that I would do all four labs, even if it meant I lost some Zzz's. 

I really, really wanted to to take another crack at Lab 1 since it kicked my butt so soundly back in June. I admit, I made it personal but that is one of my "self-motivation" tools. The cool thing is that in June, the entire WEEK was dedicated to lecture and lab. Each day, we worked on a portion of Lab 1. I spent 12+ hours in that class room, and approx 8/day were spent doing the actual lab. Last week, I was able to complete the entire lab in 7.5 hours. That was huge for me. Now, I still had not gone through a complete verification, so it isn't a sign of being ready. It is just a marked sign of improvement and yet another reason why I think tackling the two bootcamps at separate phases in your study plan is key. 

Another unexpected benefit from the OWLE was that the instructor was willing to check your work and give you a "grade". He let you watch him tear apart your work. While not necessarily the same grading method used by Cisco procots, it is interesting to watch someone with experience dissect your work. Why interesting? Because, it highlights a new skill you must learn: when validating your work, try to approach it as it it was someone else's work.

It is all about the instructor...

I wanted to wrap this up with some kudos for the IPexpert instructor, Vik Malhi. When I was researching training partners earlier this year, I narrowed my choices down to IPexpert and INE. Both companies have a good reputation and, to be honest, I think that current candidates can find success using either company. What swung me to IPexpert was the instructor. 

When deciding on which program you want to use when pursuing the CCIE, I think that your decision must take into account the person delivering the content. I like Vik's approach to demonstrating solutions and educating candidates on the theory. He also makes sure each candidate has his full attention. Finally, I really liked the fact that Vik didn't force his strategy on people. He has a preferred approach but he presents it as one method to consider while emphasizing that the key point is to develop a strategy that you can execute consistently. This became pretty clear to me last week since the key focus for the IPexpert OWLE is to commit to a strategy and work out the kinks.

Thanks for reading. If you have time, post a comment!

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