Like Swiss Cheese – The road to being certifiable – Part 2

I tested, and received my first certification in 2000. I had been in IT for only 6 months, and I passed the Windows NT Server exam, which gave me the title of Microsoft Certified Professional. I did so after spending $7000 on a 6 month MCSE course. Finishing the course, just so happened to coincide with Microsoft announcing the end of the 4.0 track, and the beginning of the 2000 track. I didn’t have enough time to pass all 6 exams, to complete my MCSE, so I spent $7100, including the exam fee to attain my MCP. Needless to say, I wasn’t happy.

Moving forward over the next 5 years, I worked in every aspect of IT. I worked as help desk support, DBA, .Net programmer, and Web Developer. Eventually, I got sick of programming, and decided to plot my return to servers and networking. It was that or walk away from IT all together.

It took me a year, but I finally found a job that would trust me with their network, and I quickly made up for lost time. I fell in love with networking, and realized that I had finally found my niche in IT. Wired, wireless, firewalls, it all just made sense to me on a level that nothing else I had ever touched had.

Since that time, I have considered getting certified multiple times. In my opinion, the Cisco certifications are the most well respected vendor certifications available, and since I was working with about 90% Cisco equipment, there was no reason for me NOT to be certified. The only problem was, there didn’t seem to be any reason for me TO be certified either.

Salary surveys and employment studies seemed to indicate that certifications didn’t equal better pay, or higher level of employment. I have always been a busy guy, and passing certifications would require me to give up a lot of personal time that could be used to pursue other interest.

I was facing a motivation crisis. Couple that with my past experience in certifications, and the fear of, dare I say it, not passing an exam (also known as failure). I had plenty of reasons NOT to take a certification exam.

This all changed a couple of months ago. I made a couple of realizations that made getting certifications important to me, not for resume building, but for me as an individual.

I had just finished having a conversation with a junior level engineer over TRILL. I had explained in detail the finer points of TRILL vs. every vendors’ competitor. I discussed how it would most likely push L3 routing back into the Core and Distribution layers and out of the Access layer. I explained IS-IS.

Then, I was asked for help to setup a static Frame Relay map. My response was “Google for it” and I walked away quickly. I could discuss complex new technologies and yet somehow, a basic CCNA level task had escaped me. There were holes in my knowledge that I couldn’t escape.

I thought about that experience over the next couple of weeks. I realized that I was suddenly surrounded by real network experts through twitter: @etherealmind, @amyengineer, @matthewnorwood, @jtie_6ee7, @networkingnerd, @ecbanks, and many more. I liked the conversations that were taking place through blogs and other avenues. I also felt like I had a dirty little secret that would one day be discovered. I didn’t know (some) basic CCNA level stuff about networking.

It didn’t matter how well I could discuss PAGP vs. LACP, OSPF vs. EIGRP, IPv6, TRILL, or any other topic. It didn’t matter that my home network included an ASA and aironet AP. I could be easily stumped (without the internet) on basic topics that I never bothered to learn and memorize.

That was when I decided it was time to begin my certification journey. I would start with ICND1, taking no shortcuts. I wouldn’t take the CCNA composite test, in-case it didn’t cover a topic in-depth enough. I would become certified, and more importantly I would fill in the gaps, and know where I stood.

I easily passed the ICND1. According to Cisco, I have at least entry level experience and knowledge (surprising, right?). I quickly scheduled the ICND2, and there is where the holes appeared. On the portions of the test I knew, I didn’t miss any, or at least not more than one. ACL’s, OSPF, STP, and IP subnetting wasn’t a problem. There were problems though, and despite a few HORRIBLY worded questions, I can only blame myself. I missed passing by 21 points out of 1000.

Needless to say, I will be retaking the exam next week. I expect to pass, and more importantly, I will have filled in a few more holes.

ICND- Is Cisco oN Drugs – The road to being certifiable – Part 1

So I have a dirty little secret that I’m going to let you in on. Until recently the only IT certification that I held was an expired MCP certification dating back to the days of NT4.0. That’s right, I wasn’t a CCanything, and didn’t really see the need. I had years of experience on my resume, and didn’t want to put myself through the emotional distress caused by chasing certifications. There was also the question in the back of my mind: “if I begin taking exams, when do I stop, ccna, ccnp, ccie?”

So for reasons that will be explained later, I decided that it was time to begin the journey to become certifiable certified. Rather than jump directly into the Route, Switch, and Tshoot exams, which I really wanted to do, I instead decided to make myself step through it one step at a time, beginning with ICND1. I spent a week going over the material, just to be certain I knew what to expect, and scheduled the exam.

I wouldn’t say that I have “test anxiety” but anytime you spend $125 on an exam there are going to be strong emotions involved. I went into the exam a little nervous, but still expecting to pass easily.

This brings me to the reason that I HATE certification exams. I was shocked throughout the exam at how many poorly worded questions there were. I felt like I was arguing semantics with someone over whether or not “yes” means “yes” always or just on the odd and even numbered days. It finally led to the question that if I had been in an argument, I would have walked away before resorting to violence.

A loose paraphrase of the question was:

Which are swapped to change a straight-through cable to a crossover cable?
1 and 2
2 and 4
1 and 3
etc.
etc.

Now, the very first answer was “1 and 2” , which I understood to mean “the orange pair that includes wires 1 & 2” so I clicked the check box and then began looking for “3 and 6” to indicate the green pair. The only problem was, there was no “3 and 6” as an answer. I re-read the question, and all of the answers, still no “3 and 6”, I re-re-read, and still no dice.

At this point, I had seen a couple of poor questions or examples, and I was about to chalk this up as “another screw up on this stupid exam” and just click a box so that I could move on. But, I couldn’t stand to be beaten by such a simple question. I re-re-re-read the question, and finally figured out what they were really asking.

The question was really asking which STRANDS, WIRES, or PINS are swapped, not which PAIRS. Why one of those simple words was not used, I cannot tell you. It would have made the 4 minutes I spent on that question less than 20 seconds. At this point I was so frustrated with the many poorly worded questions, I spent 5 minutes writing a comment on this question before I moved on.

By the end of the exam I was sure that I had passed, and when my last two questions were “complex” subnetting questions, I guessed because I didn’t feel like doing the math, and wanted to be done with the exam. I passed with a great score, and ~20 minutes left.

I don’t mind challenging questions. I like to think, and want to know that when I complete an exam I have accomplished something. At the end of the ICND1 exam,  I had figured out what Cisco was TRYING TO ASK enough times to pass. That is all that I feel I accomplished.

Making people decipher and decode poorly written questions does not vet them as a capable certification candidate.

I now know that ICND really stands for “Is Cisco oN Drugs”