Friday, May 31, 2013

CCIE Needs its Voice Back

May 29, 2013 marks the day that Cisco announced the new CCIE Collaboration track. For many existing voice CCIEs, this was a welcome change to the blue print as it lined up with what we really do. We were excited about the blue print change and then we read the catch: 

"CCIE Voice will be retiring and the new CCIE Collaboration will become the standard for telecom, unified communications, and video professionals". 

What does this mean? It means that if you have a CCIE Voice, you will remain a CCIE Voice and if you want to be recognized as a CCIE Collaboration you have to go through the whole lab process again. 

Needless to say people will pitch a fit over such news. I don't think anyone (especially Cisco) is surprised by that. There are a lot of unhappy campers in the Cisco "Collaboration" world today. I can't speak for all of them but I can lay out my argument for why I believe Cisco made the wrong decision.


Critical update, on June 5th Cisco announced that they agreed with the community's argument. The spirit of our argument is outlined below. Thanks to everyone for your support.

Look at my Spiffy New Duds

Before I get into what I feel is "wrong" about Cisco's new IE launch, let's talk about what is "right". The "Voice" in CCIE Voice is clearly an outdated label. Applying a label that is more comprehensive to the entire portfolio only makes sense. I think therein lies the dilemma. 

Thinking of this from Cisco's point of view, they need to have an exam that brings in all (or most) of the collaboration portfolio. They could continue the Voice "as-is" and add a new IE program but that doesn't make sense and is not economically sound. They could rename the Voice IE and carry the tradition forward, which is what I think should have been done. Of course, this isn't as "clean" as I'd like it to be. Finally, they could kill off the voice and start fresh with a new track, which is what they opted to do.

I completely understand the logic behind the name change. I also understand the dilemma Cisco found themselves in. They are, after all, trying to protect the integrity of the IE program as a whole. I get all of that. I have spoken with some of my colleagues (non-Voice IEs) about this and they were able to help me put my emotion aside and look at the bigger picture. 

So, I agree with the name change. I can appreciate the dilemma of trying to determine the best option to tie to the launch. I just disagree with the conclusion. 

Nothing New Here

A little background before we dive in: Does anyone remember AVVID? Architecture for Voice, Video and Intrusion Detection? Just kidding, it stood for Architecture for Voice, Video and Integrated Data. It was one of the original programs tied to the whole IP Telephony/VoIP push circa 1998-2000. It pre-dates the CCIE Voice.

Cisco was promising video to customers a long time ago. They had video products to sell (granted they were lackluster and OEM'd). Over time, Cisco added other solutions to the portfolio such as Cisco Meeting Place (which was an acquisition). As Cisco added these products to the mix you had channel partners and customers adopting (or attempting to adopt) new ways to collaborate. 

Why bring this up? Well, there are two reasons. First, I argue that "voice" folks and especially Voice IEs, have never really been just "voice" engineers. And if they started as just "voice" engineers, they likely evolved to more than that over the past 10 years. Cisco has been offering video, conferencing, and IM/Presence for years. In recent years, I would say the offer has become more viable. Lots of great energy and innovation are coming up from the Jabber and Tandberg acquisitions. 

Second, and more importantly, these "more-than-just-voice" applications have been around long enough for Cisco to incorporate them into the IE program. But they didn't. Why? I don't know for sure but I am sure there are lots of reasons. Of course, there is only one that counts: money. It takes a lot of money to manage a program as large as the IE certification program. You don't just slap in a meetingplace server, a video MCU, and give it a whirl. 

Bottom line: Cisco has touted video, conferencing, and presence (aka Collaboration) capabilities for a long time. Engineers in the field have been shoulder to shoulder with Cisco sales teams trying to make it happen. The IE Voice program has lagged behind the field. Though, it is worth noting that there are fair number of apps in the v3 blueprint that are carried over to the Collaboration blueprint (albeit, updated versions). 

Color Me Angry

So, why do I feel slighted by Cisco's decision? (I can't speak for everyone, so I use "first person" here)

Before I pick things apart we have to put the branding/naming aside for the moment. I know that is a big factor and I am not ignoring it, but you have to look at that separately to understand why people like me feel the decision is unfair. 

Comparing Blue Prints

With the name put aside, compare the new blue print to the previous blue print. You will see a clear relationship between the two and you can draw a natural conclusion that the latter is based off of the previous. The overlap is not negligible. A substantial part of the blueprint is carried over from a core technology perspective. IOW, it is clear that these two blue prints are in the same technology vertical. They are kin. 

Other IE Track Blue Prints

Now, look at any other track and compare current and previous blue prints. You will see the same type of "evolution". Manifested in different ways but still very similar. You will see varying degrees of change. You may even observe more change than what exists between IE voice v3 and the new Collaboration blue print. 

Cisco Policy for Refreshing IEs

Next, think about Cisco's policy for keeping IEs current. IEs are required to take a test every 2 years to ensure they stay up on technology. That seems to be an acceptable solution based on my conversations with other IEs (in other tracks). It certainly makes sense to me.

The "Real" Voice IE Skill set

Finally, consider the fact that any current Voice IE that is actively selling/designing/deploying Cisco UC/Collaboration solutions is most likely evolving with the industry. This isn't universally true just like I doubt it is universally true that every IE R&S is 100% up on the new technologies in their particular patch. But, Voice IEs who are actively pushing Cisco UC/Collaboration solutions are up on the latest technologies. 

How do we prove the engineer has evolved? Go back to the previous point. 

The Lag in the IE Program

Cisco sat on v3 for a long time and the rest of us moved on to expand our own capabilities within Cisco's collaboration portfolio. Over the past 2-3 years, many people who went after the IE voice did so because Cisco provided no other option.  

Compile and Run

So, taking branding out of the discussion, this new blue print is nothing more than v4 in an existing track that happened to start 10 years ago. It is a natural evolution of the exam and it has been a long time coming. This is not a complete overhaul of the blue print. Other tracks have gone through similar changes and it is arguable that other tracks had even more drastic changes between blue prints, without retiring the cert.

Cisco was slow to evolve their IE program. Engineers loyal to the brand and looking to climb the ladder went after the only career path offered by Cisco, the IE Voice. Meanwhile, these engineers are evolving lock-step with the portfolio Cisco is trying to sell. Now that the Cisco IE program has finally caught up with the rest of us, we are pushed aside. 

A large subset of the Voice IE population has demonstrated loyalty to the brand and we are pushing the new solutions to our customers daily. We are upset by this decision not because we are lazy but because we have been loyal and we have been evolving and we feel that Cisco has unceremoniously  pushed us aside. 

Finally, I also feel that Cisco is measuring this particular IE program with a different stick than they use for other IE programs. Keeping in mind I am ignoring the name change for a moment and just looking at blueprints, how they evolve, and the process to validate we as IEs evolve with them.

To wrap the compile phase I'd like to welcome the IE program to the Collaboration world. We've been waiting. 

What About the Brand?

I don't know what to say about the brand. This is marketing and marketing is both annoying and important at the same time. It is important when you are trading blows with the big boys, and I get that. I never liked the "Voice" moniker on the IE. Even from its inception, I thought it was short-sighted. I have never even liked IP phones. I ain't lyin'. I don't care about the plastic on the desk. I dig on what is under the hood, the call flow, the protocols, creating an efficient workflow, solving real communication problems, etc.. I have always been that way. So, I always thought that voice was just a piece of the puzzle and it never was an apt characterization for what I do. 

The v3 IE does have more than voice (let's not forget that) but how these pieces fit together in the exam was "voice-centric". I expect the IE Collaboration to be more experience-centric but I could be wrong. So, there is an indication (a hope, if you will) that the "feel" of the new exam will be different. But this is also likely true in other tracks.

Maybe if Cisco called the IE Voice the IE Communications at program launch, we wouldn't need to have this conversation. Marketing probably wouldn't have much heartburn over swapping "C's". Who knows. 

[Edit. The following was redacted since it is supposition from non-Cisco sources and it is pretty irrelevant who made the decision.] Oh, just in case you missed it. The decision to change the name is a marketing decision. My understanding based on conversations with folks in the training field (but not in Cisco) is that the final disposition on existing Voice IEs was also made by *a* marketing team. If this is true then this means the decision to retire the Voice IE was made by someone (or some group) that has no freakin' idea how much time, energy, money, etc. goes into getting an IE. Well, they'll have a good bit of data on the money bit because it easily quantifiable. 

The decision to rename the IE is a no brainer. I can't argue that. I also know that deciding what to do with all those dirty voice IEs isn't clean cut. I appreciate the challenge. I just believe that assuming an IE Voice engineer is as out-dated as the IE voice exam is erroneous. Ignoring our efforts, our dedication to the brand, and our influence on your customers is a mistake. Cisco should account for the "human" in their "human network".

What I Want?

My opinion is that Voice IEs should be grandfathered into the new program. I know that my assertion that "some" Voice IEs are actively up on the latest Collaboration technology may not carry enough weight. For this I fall back to the fact that Cisco has a built-in process for re-affirming an IEs worthiness. Cisco could adjust the program so that the only way a Voice IE migrates to a Collaboration IE is to take the Collaboration IE written. 

I know that what I suggest is not so clean and easy. I just think kicking us out because you change a name on a blue print that is an evolution and not a revolution is pretty lame. 

Program Information

You can get information on the CCIE Collaboration program here:

What Can You Do Now

Well, I am not sure we can get Cisco to recant. We are a small group in the grand menagerie that is the CCIE program. That said, a few people out there have started some guerrilla campaigns:

Post a comment on the Learning Network community pages:

Use Twitter:

You can send messages to @LearningatCisco
You can use the hash tag #FixCCIEVoice

On Facebook:

You can go to the Learning at Cisco FB site:

Sign the On Line Petition:

You can also post a comment on the Collaboration System Release 10.0 Community to keep the topic at the top of the page:

What Can You Do if Cisco Stands Fast

A popular carrot for people to dangle in front of us dirty Voice engineers is the fact we can get a double IE out of the deal. This is sometimes offered on the coattails of "if you know the collaboration stuff and the new blue print only changes 20% of the content then this should be easy peasy.".  Hmmm. Well, first off making the assumption that real-world knowledge equals a passing grade on any IE exam is stupid. Secondly, we all know you can't walk into an IE exam cold, no matter how bad ass you are. Finally, why should I have to do what other IE tracks aren't required to do for what amounts to a net 20% different in program "evolution" content?

I know the counter argument to my statement as my statement is purely personal and stems from the emotion I have invested. Suffice it to say that at this time having dual CCIEs where both are basically the same or where one replaces the other doesn't hold a lot of value and isn't that appealing to me. I think that broadening my cert portfolio to include other vendor's expert level certification may have more value. I won't say "never" as I haven't come to conclusion on this yet. I'd rather let the anger dissipate and make the decision with a clear head.

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


  1. Awesome post. This is the place where it's all laid out and well articulated. Thank you.

  2. Thank you William for your great articles.

  3. Hey Bill, I thought this link was great. I haven't see it referenced much. Really good explination of what's changing.

  4. William,

    You've swayed me. I was originally in the "What's the big deal" camp, but now I get it. If the job market starts to value 'CCIE Collaboration' differently than 'CCIE Voice', it's a bit unfair to those who achieved what is nearly the same certification.

    The one upside to Cisco's strategy is that you (and the other ~3000 Voice CCIEs) will have a certification that no one else can ever get. I've always held those holding CCIE WAN Switching, ISP Dial and IBM/SNA certs in very high regard. Maybe that's a small silver lining?


    1. Jeremy,

      Thanks for your support. I definitely appreciate it.

      -Bill (@ucguerrilla)

  5. I agree that Cisco made the wrong call in how to handle the Voice-->Collaboration CCIE transition.

    Most of us non-voice CCIE's don't have a lot of skin in this, but you've captured the essence of the issue well here. The part that really resonates with me is your comment about forgetting the "human" in the "human network." I think that's the essence of Cisco's mistake on this. I hope they're willing to revisit it.

    David Yarashus
    CCIE #2292, CCDE #20120013

    1. Thanks for the reply David. It is nice to have some non-Voice IEs actually try and understand where the Voice IEs are coming from.

      -Bill (@ucguerrilla)

    2. I think this impacts all IE's. If the community accepts this, which IE is next?

  6. Well, I think is two fold here though.. There a few and maybe more than a few CCIE voices fellas that basically read the book 5x, practiced the labs and passed the tests. Now, if if you think about collaboration and you actually have *think* about what *should* go with what, for example... when does a PVDM3 make more sense to use over an MCU in scenario XYZ. Paper CCIEs Vs will flunk this question hands down. Granted, Im not a CCIE, I have tried to set my goals to finally get it after id say 10 years of doing Cisco UC, but I cant find the time. I applaud you and the effort you did to complete your journey.
    Now, about that Jabber XML file.. how does it work again with voice over frame? :)

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.


    2. I can't comment on "paper" IEs as I don't think I am one. I actually followed a track similar to what you have laid out for yourself. I have been working with voice, video, IM/Presence, call centers, etc. and app development around all of these for over 10 years. I then decided to put the effort into doing the IE.

      Now, here is the thing about that. The Voice IE exam was behind the technology but it was the only Expert level exam in that space. So, I went on a 9 month journey. Put in a ridiculous amount of lab time and passed the exam. Shortly thereafter Cisco releases a new blueprint which is not so drastically different than the previous and decides to retire the INDIVIDUALS along with the cert. So, you are on the same trajectory. Keep that in mind.

      In regards to PVDM3 vs. MCU. That is really funny. I hear everyone saying "but the IE Collaboration has video and the voice guys don't know video". First off, assuming that a Voice IE who is active (like full time) in the Cisco UC/Collaboration space doesn't know video is likely a mistake (though, I agree there are probably plenty of IE Voices who never touched video). Second, there is no MCU in the new blue print. There is no VCS, no VCS-E, no TMS, no TCS, nor any of the Cisco pre-Tandberg TelePresence gear.

      There is a Jabber Video for Telepresence (aka Movi) client in the "cloud" and a goofy 99xx with a USB camera attached. There is also Jabber for Windows which can do video too. So, the video presence on the new blue print is very small. I actually am disappointed by that. I was hoping for a much broader scope. I agree with you, there could be some cool questions challenging the IE candidate on knowing the capabilities of a PVDM3 vs MCU vs MultiSite vs MultiWay.

      I was also hoping that there would be some Inter- or Intra-domain federation between IM Presence (formerly CUPS) and Lync. That would be pretty cool. But there is no Lync server listed in the blue print. That could change as we get closer.

      "Voice over Frame"? You are a comedian I see. What is really funny is that they kept Frame Relay in the new Collaboration blue print. Unbelievable. The real world has been doing MPLS for years and the new Collaboration blue print still has Frame Relay.

      Oh, and I don't get the relationship between the Jabber XML configuration file and voice over anything. The former is a provisioning mechanism and the latter is a communication mechanism.

      Finally, getting back to the "I can't find the time" statement. I know what you mean. I felt the same way for a long time. Doing the IE lab is a huge time commitment. In the end, I think it is worth it. Even with the recent controversy. Bottom line, you can learn a lot about yourself while you are working towards the IE. I think this is true for any IE. It isn't just technical savvy or speed. It is about being centered, in control, and totally focused. If you can find the time, I say don't delay.

      Thanks for reading and for the reply.

      -Bill (@ucguerrilla)

    3. I must say that I am truly amazed at how well the entire IE community is handling this announcement. Shows true professionalism. If I were in a postion to speak publicly about this, my feedback would be quite a bit less restrained.

      What about the other tracks? this impacts all CCIE's even if not immediately. Just a hint at whats coming next.

  7. Hi Bill! I have seen a few paper voice IEs and they were horrible at simply putting together a coherent sentence around Unity and what it takes to setup Exchange. Oye... You bring up an interesting point.... Cisco defines Collaboration as everything under the UC sun. Voice, Video, IM, etc. But from what you are saying, CCIE Collab is not covering video and IM, more or less point to point video in CUCM and voice. To me, that is a shame unless they are making the requirement to be a CCIE Collab with addon skills such as Video, Jabber, etc. In today's UC engineering roles (pre or post) I would expect at a minimum they know core UC (CUCM, CUC, ISR, Networking). The other skills that really do fall into this now are video architecture and the add on clients such as Jabber or CUPS or how video integrates into CUCM (IE, PVDM3 and MCUs, etc). Just silly they have VoFR, no reason what so ever to make someone learn this. I have not run across VoFR in probably 8 years.

    I still find many Cisco UC (traditional) engineers scared of VCS, TMS, etc and do not understand how it works or why it should be used. Two years ago, I was probably in the same boat, but since then I have put way more focus on layering the video architecture onto "Core UC". How will this video endpoint talk to this video endpoint on or off the network, etc. Even redesigns of how I would have approached PT/CSSs have changed to better incorporate click to call or SIP URI dialing (someday :))

    Some of my comments are more to be a comedian which Im horrible at or simply sarcasm. (ha)

    Keep up the great blog. Cheers!

  8. Thank you William for your great article! Why is Cisco treating the people who are selling and deploying their UC products in the market like this? We invested substantial time and money to achieve this certification and this is the answer?

    I was always very loyal to Cisco, but now for me it is time to focus on Microsoft Lync instead.