There were quite a few big announcements at Cisco Live this year.  One of the big ones was the overhaul of the certification program.  A number of new certifications were introduced (such as the DevNet CCNA/CCNP), and the existing ones were overhauled.  I wanted to do a post about this because I was involved with the certification program for quite a while on launching these.  I’m posting this on my personal blog, so my thoughts here are, of course, personal and not official.

First, the history.  Back when I was at Juniper, I had the opportunity to write questions for the service provider written exams.  It was a great experience, and I got thorough training from the cert program on how to properly write exam questions.  I don’t really remember how I got invited to do it, but it was a good opportunity, as a certified (certifiable?) individual, to give back to the program.  When I came to Cisco, I quickly connected with the cert program here, offering my services as a question writer. I had the training from Juniper, and was an active CCIE working on programmability.  It was a perfect fit, and a nice chance to recertify without taking the test, as writing/reviewing questions gets your CCIE renewed.

As I was managing a team within the business unit that was working on Software-Defined Access and programmability, it seemed logical for me to talk to the program about including those topics on the test.  I can assure you there was a lot of internal debate about this, as the CCIE exam is notoriously complex, and the point of our Intent-Based Networking products is simplicity.  One product manager even suggested a separate CCIE track for SD-Access, an idea I rejected immediately for that very reason.

Still, as I often point out here and elsewhere, SDN technologies do not mitigate the need for network engineers.  SDN products, all SDN products, are complex precisely because they are automated.  Automation enables us to build more complex things, in general.  You wouldn’t want to configure all the components of SD-Access by hand.  Still, we need engineers who understand what the automation tools are doing, and how to work with all the components which comprise a complex solution like SD-Access.  Network engineers aren’t going to disappear.

For this reason, we wanted SD-Access, SDWAN, and also device programmability (NETCONF/YANG, for example) to be on the lab.  We want to have engineers who know and understand these technologies, and the certification program is a fantastic way to help people to learn them.  I, and some members of my team, spent several months working with the CCIE program to build a new blueprint, which became the CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure.  The storied CCIE Routing and Switching will be no more.

At the end of the day, the CCIE exam has always adapted to changed in networking.  The R/S exam no longer has ISDN or IPX on it, nor should it.  Customers are looking for more automated solutions, and the exam is keeping pace.  If you’re studying for this exam, the new blueprint may be intimidating.  That said, CCIE exams have always been intimidating.  But think about this:  if you pass this exam, your resume will have skills on it that will make you incredibly marketable.

The new CCIE-EI (we always abbreviate stuff, right?) breaks down like this:

  • 60% is classic networking, the core routing protocols we all know and love.
  • 25% is SDx:  SD-Access and SD-WAN, primarily.
  • 15% is programmability.  NETCONF/YANG, controller APIs, Ansible, etc.

How do you study for this?  Like you study for anything.  Read about it and lab it.  There is quite a bit of material out there on all these subjects, but let me make some suggestions:

Programmability

You are not expected to be a programming expert for this section of the exam.  It’s not about seeing if you can write complex programs, but whether you know the basics well enough to execute some tasks via script/Ansible/etc instead of CLI.  DevNet is replete with examples of how to send NETCONF messages, or read data off a router or switch with programmable interfaces.  Download them, play with them, spend some time learning the fundamentals of Python, and relax about it.

  • Learn:  DevNet is a phenomenal resource.  Hank Preston, an evangelist for DevNet, has put out a wealth of material on programmability.  In addition, there is the book on IOS XE programmability I wrote with some colleagues.
  • Lab:  You can lab programmability stuff easily on your laptop.  Python and ncclient are free, as is Ansible.  If you have any sort of lab setup already, all you need to do is set up a Linux VM or install some tools on to your laptop.

Software-Defined

This is, as I said before, a tough one to test on.  After all, to add a device to an SD-Access fabric, you select it and click “Add to Fabric.”  What’s there to test?  Well, since these are new products you of course need to understand the components of SD-Access/SDWAN and how they interoperate.  How does policy work?  How do fabric domains talk to non-fabric domains?  There is plenty to study here.

  • Learn:  Again, we’ve written books on SD-Access and SD-WAN.  Also, we are moving a lot of documentation into Cisco Communities.
  • Lab:  Well, this is harder.  We’re working on getting SD-Access into the hands of learning partners, so you’ll have a place to get your hands on it.  We’re also working on virtualizing SD-Access as much as possible, to make it easier for people to run in labs.  I don’t have a timeframe on the latter, but hopefully the former we can do soon.

These are huge but exciting changes. I’ve been very lucky to have landed at a job where I am at the forefront of the changes in the industry, but this new exam will give others the opportunity to move themselves in that direction as well.  Happy labbing!