I was working in a small manufacturing business doing a lot of Windows Server work when I began to explore the networking world. We were small so we purchased a lot of Dell, which included Dell PowerConnect switches. These were what I would call now a days “blue light special”. I started with these by exploring the GUI and then found out they had a CLI, who would have thought. I started exploring the CLI a bit and while searching Google I was seeing lots of posts about it being similar to Cisco switches. At this point I had no idea what anything Cisco routing and switching looked like or how it functioned. It was then we had a large customer that invested in some Cisco CSS11500 Load-Balancers. What a piece of work these were! The GUI was buggy and outdated and the CLI was anything but something Cisco’ish. I dove into these for weeks until we had something working to Load-Balance some webservers. Shortly after that we upgraded their PIX firewalls to ASA firewalls so I was able to “tinker” with those and thought this stuff is challenging and interesting. Well this is where I began my Cisco certification journey.
I started self-study and bought some routers and switches on ebay to build my own home lab for the CCNA. At the time the cheap stuff was 2950’s and 3550’s for switches and 2600’s for routers. I even sprung for the good stuff on the 2600’s…The XM series. I took my first exam was ICND 1 on April 15, 2010 and mind you I had only taken Microsoft exams up to this point so things like “simulations” was not a thing for Microsoft in the day not even sure what a Microsoft exam is like these days because I stopped taking them. I was worried about the whole “simulation” thing so I spent hours and hours in my lab. Well needless to say first attempt was a fail. I walked out pretty bummed, but wasn’t going to let that get my down. First thing I did when I returned home was schedule the exam again for April 23, 2010. Traveling the testing center again a week later having thoughts in my head that were like “Wonder if that question will be on there again? Wonder if I will get a harder simulation?” Second attempt here we go…..and…..I passed.
On to the next part ICND 2, which was scheduled on June 11, 2010. I didn’t want to wait too long so the information was fresh in my mind. This time was a one and done, I passed and felt pretty good about myself. After my CCNA was achieved I took a position as a Network Administrator at a school district. I had not been able to use my Cisco knowledge in a real environment yet, but this was my opportunity. The network was 53 locations and all Cisco, there were over 600 Catalyst 3560’s, Cisco 6500, Nexus 5010, and Cisco Wireless. I was thrown into wireless pretty hard, pretty fast. I knew nothing about Cisco Wireless. We had 5508 controllers, LAP’s, and WCS. I have worked with wireless so much during my first year with the school district I scheduled my CCNA Wireless exam for the heck of it to test my knowledge and passed it on the first attempt. I didn’t even pick up an OCG on Wireless. I spent so much time in Cisco documentation and actually working with the system the test was a breeze. I wanted more…Two CCNA’s was not enough for me at the time, I was hungry for more. On to CCNP, where I started with the SWITCH exam. I had failed this exam 3 times over a period of two and half years and basically ran out of money and motivation. On the last attempt I failed by about 3 points or so and just finally gave up. I let my CCNA R&S and Wireless expire in August 2014.
I continued my Cisco studies for the means of maintaining my skills for my career and not certifications over the years. I had worked for companies deploying Cisco Routers and Switches, Cisco Datacenter UCS and Nexus, and Cisco Firewalls. I never really stopped learning, I just stopped measuring my success by certifications, but more by projects and positions I was moving into throughout the years. I was 5 years without a certification in anything until summer of 2019 when I ventured off to Palo Alto Ignite and was given a free exam with the purchase of my event pass. Again, another exam I never studied for or looked at any OCG materials for the certification, but I passed the PCNSA on a first attempt to my surprise. I had worked with Palo Alto pretty solid for a few years and knew enough to get that certification cleared. Granted not the PCNSE certification, but its something to boost my moral. Returning home from Ignite I kept thinking maybe now is a time to go back and get my CCNA at a minimum, I mean how hard can it be, I have been working with Cisco for years rebuilding networks, upgrading networks and Datacenters for organizations.
I scheduled the CCNA composite exam and had nothing, but negative thoughts about it arriving at the testing center, basically PTSD from failing SWITCH three times in a row. Going through the exam question by question I kept thinking “Why does this exam seem so easy?” Well probably because I have been doing higher level things within Cisco that were beyond the CCNA level. Test was done and a pass was in the books. I have regained my CCNA. I felt that was enough and I would just wait till they changed all the exams and tackle the CCNP after that. I had a team leader on my network team that was motivating me to never settle and my current position was just a stepping stone to the next level. At this point I had redesigned and rebuilt the entire primary datacenters core network including new core switches and new core firewalls. I had designed a very segmented network for compliance and moved our entire internal routing protocol to BGP. I really felt I knew what I was doing. I was in my lab everyday, I was researching new methods everyday, I was involved withing communities everyday, so my knowledge was growing during my redesign period. I decided to listen to my team lead and start scheduling my CCNP exams before February 24, 2020. I scheduled T-SHOOT for November and passed with flying colors. I really loved this exam, it was nothing but fun. Then on to ROUTE which I failed back to back in December and January. The window was shrinking to finish the current exams before they all changed. I had two exams left and enough money and time for two more exams. Do or Die I said. Scheduled the ROUTE again for February 6 and the SWITCH exam for February 21. If I didn’t pass ROUTE the SWITCH exam wouldn’t have mattered and I would wait until Enterprise Core came out and take my shot at that exam. I walked into ROUTE pretty positive after two back to back fails. I walked out of ROUTE with a passing score and immediately went home and started studying for SWITCH since I had about 2 weeks to be ready.
The night before my SWITCH exam I was not feeling confident at all. This exam is daunting obviously because I have failed it 3 times in the past. I mean lets face it the objective of building modern networks is minimize or eliminate STP, never use VTP, and what is PAgP?? Why they test on these topics still is beyond me, good thing this exam is getting a face lift. I studied until 9:59am on the day of the exam and left at 10am to be at my exam by 11am. I didn’t waste any time clearly. During the exam I kept answering questions and kept thinking I do not remember this exam being this easy because I failed it 3 times!! I finished in about 42 minutes and spent a good long time on one of the simulations I was given. I was double checking my double checking because I didn’t want to screw up the simulation because that is a good amount of points. It was at the last question when you click next and you know the test is over and you wait the fate of your pass/fail status. A pass was my fate, I had done it, I had achieved my CCNP right at the buzzer before the new exams. I finished up CCNP in about 4 months, with 5 exams total and 2 fails accompanied by 3 passes that rewarded me with my CCNP in R&S. I can finally relax now!!
I have not dove into how the new CCIE works or how my current CCNP will work toward the new CCIE or if CCIE is even a thing I want to go for. Last I knew CCIE took like 4 lifetimes and 3 failed marriages with kids who call you by your first name and not Dad. My plan is to start looking into AWS/Azure certification to expand my skill set. While I feel traditional networking will always be a think and even people working in “cloud” will still need to know traditional networking, I believe the shift to the cloud is a real thing and companies are moving faster than we would like as IT professionals. That being said cloud certifications seem like a solid path and an investment to my career.