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Become a Cisco Design Expert with CCDE Certification

Become a Cisco Design Expert with CCDE Certification

I work as a Network Architect and Consultant, focusing on designing and managing networks in areas like businesses, service providers, and the cloud. My experience covers Telecommunications, Finance, and the Automotive industry. Network Design is my passion, and I’m excited to share insights on the Cisco Certification Path of Design.

This article will dive deep into the Cisco Certified Design Expert (CCDE) Certification. I will cover everything from what the certification includes to its importance. We will look at the certification process, including the exams you will need to pass.

You will find tips on preparing for the Cisco CCDE, study plans, and what to expect on exam day. Whether you are deciding to pursue the CCDE or are already preparing for it, this guide aims to support your journey to becoming a Cisco Certified Design Expert.

Overview of Cisco CCDE Certification

The CCDE is becoming a top IT certification, like the well-known CCIE. Many companies now see how important network design and architecture are to their businesses’ success. The CCIE certification covers implementation, but the CCDE certification focuses on the network’s design and architecture. This article provides a personal perspective on the CCDE certification path and processes, aligning with Cisco’s official guide.

The CCDE certification procedure is demanding and requires a lot of work to complete. To complete this certification, you need to study hard and be consistent. You also need to learn how network technologies work and how to use network technologies and protocols to create designs that meet business needs. This certification teaches how to connect technical ideas with business goals. Preparing for the CCDE is all about turning business needs into network designs.

Understanding Cisco CCDE Certification: Process and Importance

Cisco created the CCDE certification for IT professionals who are experts in designing networks for various fields. While the CCIE covered broad network knowledge, it focused more on setup and “how to” aspects. This left a gap in design skills. So, the CCDE came in to focus on “why” certain technology choices are made for a network, not just how to set them up.

The CCDE turns business needs into network designs, focusing on why choices are made, not just how to set things up. This big difference even shows up in the exams. When I was thinking about going for the CCDE, I looked at many Cisco materials. One really showed the different mindsets of CCIE and CCDE clearly, which is as shown below:

Mindset comparison of CCIE mindset and CCDE mindset

CiscoLive: CCDE Overview TECCCDE-3005 (now in Cisco Archives of 2017) ( )

This comparison shows that the CCDE was mainly developed to focus on network design skills. It checks if you understand business needs and how to meet them through network design and architecture. The CCDE certification has two steps that go together, and I’ll explain more about this in the next section.

CCDE Certification Process

The CCDE certification is a 2-stage process:

  1. The qualification exam (popularly called Written)
  2. The Practical exam (known as the Lab exam)

CCDE Qualification Exam

This exam tests your network design knowledge with 90-110 questions in 2 hours. After passing this written exam, you can register for the Lab exam. Since the CCDE was updated to version 3, you have up to 3 years to pass the lab exam after the written exam. If you don’t pass the Lab exam in 3 years, you need to retake the written exam for another try. Passing the written exam gives you a Design Specialist Certification, which is a bonus while aiming for the Lab exam success. The written CCDE validates your understanding of many technical topics related to network design and architecture.

Refer to the links here: CCDE Written Exam Topics.

CCDE Practical Lab exam

Once you finish the qualification steps, two things happen:

  1. Your current Cisco certifications are updated, whether they are associate, professional, or expert-level certificates.
  2. You can register for the Lab exam.

During this period, you should get to know all lab exam topics well enough to tackle scenario-based questions. The lab exam lasts 8 hours and tests how you design a network from given business needs. It’s important to note that this exam doesn’t require configuration requirements—it’s all about design and is vendor-neutral. You will get Cisco Documentation guides for help during the exam and face four scenarios to solve in 8 hours.

In the lab exam, you can focus on one of three options related to your Area of Expertise (AoE).

  • Large Scale Network
  • Workforce Mobility
  • On-Prem and Cloud Services

See CCDE Lab Exam Topics for more details provided by Cisco Systems Inc.

The CCDE Certification Process Stages

Importance of the Cisco CCDE Certification

The CCDE Certification is key for Network Engineers who want to understand networks more deeply than setting them up and managing them. CCDE’s study materials and training give you a design view of networks. This helps you understand how things work and why certain choices are made, like routing protocols, network design models, placement of a technical role, etc., in the network.

With CCDE skills, a network team can better link the business and technical aspects based on the business goals. The CCDE has many benefits that depend on your experience, location, and what skills you need.

The Benefits of Having Cisco CCDE Certification

As a Certified Network Designer and Architect, I have seen many benefits of having skills, experience, and certification. While some debate the value of certification beyond just skills, it’s clear that certifications help confirm your abilities. In today’s job market, recruiters often use certifications as a filter among many applications. A certification like the CCDE can be the deciding factor in landing an interview, where you can show your knowledge and skills.

The CCDE certification brings undeniable benefits, including:

  • Learning about more technologies.
  • Gaining experience, especially in designing based on business needs.
  • Better pay is often a big reason people seek certifications.
  • Earning respect in the field.
  • Opportunities to speak as an expert.
  • Moving forward in your career.

CCDE-certified professionals often work in high-level roles like Senior Network Architects or IT Directors. Beyond the paycheck, being CCDE-certified can lead to opportunities like speaking at international conferences or helping shape industry standards. In short, being CCDE-certified makes you an IT professional and a member of the Design Expert Hall of Fame.

Preparation for the CCDE Exam

In this section, we will look into the preparation process for the CCDE certification, from how to prepare for the qualification exam up to passing the lab exam. I have always advised anyone who shows interest in pursuing the CCDE to run a self-assessment to identify the following:

  1. Why do I want to earn the CCDE certificate?
  2. Is it my long-term goal to become an Architect or an Advisory Body to an organization?
  3. Am I ready to speak to a non-technical audience in several long meetings to explain technical topics, considering their business requirements?
  4. Can I focus more on the standards based on business goals rather than practice standards based on technical requirements?
  5. Do I want to do more Consulting than Configurations?

There are many factors to consider when thinking about going for the CCDE certification. But, if you answer the questions above honestly and still want to pursue the CCDE, it shows you are interested.

CCDE Exam Plan

It is now time to draw out a plan that should include the following:

  • Study timetable.
  • CCDE Written Exam topics
  • CCDE Official study materials
  • If available, join a CCDE Study Group.
  • Lab equipment for practice to understand “How” the technologies work to help the “Why” technology must be considered over another technology.

Preparing for the CCDE certification is a challenging yet exciting journey. It demands significant investment in various resources. Time is crucial, as you’ll need plenty to study and practice. Money is also essential for training courses, books, and rental racks or software licenses. Mental energy is essential for absorbing and understanding complex topics and maintaining your physical health to keep up with the demanding preparation schedule.

These resources are key to your success, and you need to manage them wisely. Although preferences vary from person to person, combining these elements can make a big difference in your preparation. The first test you will take, the CCDE v3.0 Written exam (400-007), tests your knowledge of designing large business networks.

Candidates are tested on the following fields:

  1. Business Strategy Design
  2. Device Plane Design [Control, Data, Management and Operations Planes]
  3. Network Design
  4. Service Design
  5. Security Design

See more details here, according to Cisco’s official CCDE website.

Preparation for the Lab exam

After you pass the first exam, you have three years to finish the lab exam and get your CCDE certificate, which is suitable for three years. Preparing for the Lab exam is a lot different than the first exam because it involves deep study and understanding of complex topics. For the Cisco CCDE Lab exam, you must be good at various skills and tools used in designing. You need to turn business needs into technical plans, spot challenges in these needs, and deal with technical limits and rules. You will also need to know how to pick the best design and setup to meet business goals using tools like Decision Matrix and Trees.

Study plan

Another area to consider developing is the aspect of Emotion Management in the exam. Anxiety, Fear, overwhelming panic, or nervousness is to be under the candidate’s control. This is one sensitive aspect of the exam that could cost the candidate more. So, I recommend that each candidate focus on something other than the complex exam level due to Fear. Instead, learn to be calm when faced with difficult questions that may throw you off balance for some time.

It’s a fact that nobody passes the CCDE or any expert-level Cisco exam without missing some points. So, don’t worry about being perfect in every topic. But remember, focus on answering each question well so you don’t carry over mistakes to the next one in the exam.

In that case, an organization needs to set up a service provider model network to enable MPLS Traffic Engineering to increase service performance. You may choose between OSPF and ISIS using a decision tree or matrix. Your choice will depend on the specific details given in the scenario, guiding you to the best network design using one of these protocols. If, for instance, the system specifies the need for an L2 protocol, then this would favor ISIS.

Decision Matrix: Routing Protocol Comparison to support MPLS-TE in Enterprise Network.

From the table above, it is clear that ISIS won the contest, capable of achieving the business requirements as an L2 protocol and supporting MPLS-TE. These are the main business requirements that other protocols need to meet. Hence, ISIS is the optimal answer to such a question. This concept will be more useful in all the questions in the CCDE lab exam.

Another example would be choosing the best design and why your selection meets the need. Consider the topology below as the question requires the candidate to select the most optimal method to fix a service availability issue faced by an enterprise:

Optimal Design

Scenario Design: Enterprise Enterprise with Service Availability issue

You have to choose a design solution to improve the central server’s availability. This could mean adding a new Gateway router with FHRP, putting in an extra link on the current router, or other similar options like the one shown below:

Scenario Design

Possible Design Options on the scenario above.

As you may ask, what is the reason to pick any option from A – D? That is precisely what the CCDE is about, the “Why ?” behind every selection. That is why you must connect to and with the scenario to make informed decisions based on the information given in the system.

Lastly, for this section, the candidate can move on to the next question with a fresh mind without carrying the burden of the previous question. It is important to remember that some questions are independent of the previous ones, so dealing with each question afresh is vital. Thus, dissociate your concentration from previous questions in the current query.

The preparation for any exam differs based on the candidate’s learning style. So, be creative in designing something more comfortable that fits your style. Refer to my previous “CCDE – My Preparation Experience” article for more points.

Meanwhile, the book list entries do not guarantee success by default after reading all the books. Instead, it brings more awareness of design topics from the different perspectives of the authors and their experiences in specific design areas and domains, from large enterprises and service providers to data centers and cloud network architectures. So, the book list is essential in the study kits. It is also vital to consider forums such as the Cisco Learning Community on Design and Architecture and join study groups if available.

See the links below:
Official CCDE Booklist
CCDE Learning Community

Enroll for CCDE training with trusted and reliable vendors.

The most effort to pass the CCDE is with the candidate’s understanding of the technologies, the exam style, and the mindset applied to answering each question.

A day before the CCDE Practical Lab.

No matter how far away the CCDE Lab exam date may be after booking it successfully, there will be a day before the exam. This day is really important. As the exam gets closer, many things start happening, and how you handle these moments can affect how you do on the test. Undoubtedly, the CCDE exam requires mental stability throughout the 8-hour process. So, a day before the exam is one of the best moments to tidy up your mood for the exam.

  • Take a break from the long hours of study.
  • Treat yourself to something nice. You can do this with your family or close friends.
  • Think about your exam strategy and how you’ll handle different situations. Stay calm when you’re confident; if you’re unsure, move on to the next question without getting distracted.”

If you’re flying to the exam, stay close to where it’s happening so you’re not late. If you’re local, don’t take it easy. Either way, get a good night’s sleep (if you’re not too nervous) and prepare for your exam for the big day.

What you should not do when at the Lab

I recommend a couple of things for you to hold on to throughout the exam period. These are personally developed factors based on my experience

  1. Do not be anxious throughout the process.
  2. Stay focused on the experience from outside the scenario presented to you in the exam. Don’t focus too much on your own work experience because the CCDE exam isn’t about the choices you make every day. It’s about finding the best solution for the specific situation in the exam. But, some cases would be clear and identical to the real-life system.
  3. Don’t worry if the next question seems you got the last one wrong.
  4. Refrain from losing hope in yourself due to doubt in your choices of previous answers.
  5. Please do not skip any part of the scenario when reading it; every piece of information is essential to making the right decision.
  6. Refrain from merging your ideas between scenarios. Thus, they are all exclusive and not linked in any way.
  7. Don’t let the whispers of the other applicants in the room divert your attention. If you must get a set of earplugs, ask the proctor for one and stay focused.
  8. Remember to refresh yourself on the timer at intervals. There could be more from others, but flow with the ones that work for your personality. There is no one-size-fits-all approach in design, so customize what works for you.

The Waiting Period

It’s time to wait until you receive the email with your results after the exam. During this period, stay calm and do your business; if you have to tour the city while waiting, do it. Enjoy the rest of the day in that beautiful city, have an experience beyond the exam in that foreign land, and learn a few things about the city. Be easy on yourself for selecting a presumably wrong answer to that question. Just wait for the result and prepare for the next phase in your plans. It usually takes a few hours for the result to be ready. It will undoubtedly come within 48 hours of taking the lab exam, but this could be very long for some candidates.

Take away

The key takeaway from becoming a Cisco Design Expert with CCDE Certification is that it’s a journey that demands dedication, strategic preparation, and a deep understanding of network design principles. Remember, the Cisco CCDE isn’t just about technical know-how; it’s about applying this knowledge to real-world scenarios to create optimal network designs.

As you prepare, focus on understanding the ‘why’ behind design choices, not just the ‘how’. And on exam day, stay calm, read every scenario thoroughly, and trust in the preparation you’ve done. With the right approach, the CCDE Certification can open doors to advanced career opportunities and establish you as an expert in network design.

How much does the CCDE lab exam cost?

The CCDE lab exam costs $1600.

How can I get ready for the CCDE written exam?

To prepare, you need a good understanding of routing, MPLS, BGP, QoS, security, and how to manage networks.

How difficult is the CCDE?

The CCDE is known to be quite challenging. It requires a deep understanding of network design principles and the ability to apply them to complex scenarios.

What is the passing score for the 400-007 exam?

The passing score for the Cisco 400-007 exam is 700 out of 1000.

What is the exam number for CCDE?

The exam number for the CCDE v3.0 is 400-007.


CCDE Written Exam Topics
CCDE Lab Exam Topics
Clearance Jobs
Official CCDE Booklist
CCDE Learning Community

The scenarios are personal development based on experience as a Network Architect.

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