In simple terms, I am a Network Architect and a Consultant in domains such as Network Design and architecture, Implementation and Management of Enterprise Network Architecture, Service Provider Networks Architecture, and Cloud Network Architecture—I have experience in several industries, including Telecommunication, Finance Sector, and Automobile (In-Vehicle Network). I am passionate about Network Design and Architecture and would like to share a few thoughts on the Cisco Certification Path of Design. I hope you will find this article helpful in your decision-making process in pursuing the Cisco Certified Design Expert (CCDE) Certification.
Table of contents
- About Me
- The Certification, its process, and how important is it?
- CCDE Certification Process
- CCDE Qualification Exam:
- CCDE Practical Lab exam
- Importance of the CCDE Certification
- The Benefits
- Preparation for the CCDE Exam
- Recommended Books
- A day before the CCDE Practical Lab.
- What you should not do when at the Lab
- The Waiting Period
- Take away
The CCDE is a well-received IT certification in the industry today. Although the CCDE is fast gaining more popularity, like the famous CCIE in recent times, this is understandably so because more organizations are beginning to realize the importance of network design and architecture to the success of their businesses. While the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) focuses on the Implementation aspects, the Cisco Certified Design Expert (CCDE) dwells exclusively on the Design and Architecture of the Network. The purpose of this article is to give a view of the CCDE certification path and processes from a personal perspective in line with the official guide provided by Cisco Systems Inc.
The CCDE certification procedure is demanding and takes a lot of work to complete. Any candidate pursuing this certification must possess several essential qualities, including a relentless mode of study and learning, perseverance, consistency, and an interest in the operation of network technologies, as well as how network technologies and protocols are incorporated into a design to satisfy business needs. The CCDE career path ensures that qualified individuals receive the training necessary to bridge the knowledge gaps between technical and non-technical organizational stakeholders about the design and architecture of an enterprise network.. It is important to note that when studying for the CCDE certification, there is much emphasis on developing the skills to translate non-technical business goals into technically implementable design and architecture of an enterprise network.
The Certification, its process, and how important is it?
The CCDE Certification
Cisco Systems Inc. developed the Cisco Certified Design Expert (CCDE) to provide a career certification path for a distinguished group of IT practitioners whose skills are rooted in the Design and Architecture of Networks across different IT domains and industries. Many years ago, the CCIE was expected to provide overall coverage of expert’s knowledge of networks of various sizes; however, concerning the concentration of the CCIE on the Implementation and deployment, which focuses more on “How to” configure different technologies to meet the specific requirements of the Network. Over the years, it became apparent that the CCIE has a unique mindset, which deviated from the design perspective; hence, the CCDE was necessary to create a path saddled to “Why” certain technologies must be considered.
With the CCDE, non-technical business requirements are translated into technically implementable network design with many considerations on why certain decisions are made rather than how the technologies are implemented. This is a vital difference even in the exam style of the CCDE in comparison to the CCIE. In one of my lessons, while deciding whether to pursue the CCDE, I had to run a couple of comparisons by documentation from different Cisco documents. Still, one stood out as it provides an explicit mindset comparison between the CCIE and the CCDE, which is as shown below:
CiscoLive: CCDE Overview TECCCDE-3005 (now in Cisco Archives of 2017) (https://www.ciscolive.com/c/dam/r/ciscolive/emea/docs/2017/pdf/TECCCDE-3005.pdf )
Concerning this Mindset comparison, it is clear that the CCDE was mainly developed to focus on network design skills. In addition, the CCDE validates the candidate’s understanding of the business requirements and how they could be met through network design and architecture. The CCDE certification path is a 2-stage process that is mutually inclusive, and more details will be shared in the next section.
CCDE Certification Process
The CCDE certification is a 2-stage process: the qualification exam (popularly called Written) and the Practical exam (known as the Lab exam).
CCDE Qualification Exam:
This 2-hour, 90-110 multi-choice question exam was designed to validate the candidate’s understanding of network design and architecture topics.
A candidate can only be eligible to register for the Lab exam after the qualification (written) exam has passed. Since CCDE was upgraded to version 3, every candidate that passed the written exam has up to 3 years to attempt and pass the Lab exam. If the candidate could not pass the Lab exam to earn the CCDE certification within the 3-year window, another qualification exam would need to be passed for another three years of eligibility for the Lab exam. It is worth noting that the qualification exam presents a Design Specialist Certification status (which I regard as an incentive for being eligible), so it’s not entirely a waste of funds while pursuing Lab success. The CCDE Written validates the candidate’s theoretical knowledge on many technical topics, cutting across Core and Unified Knowledge based on network design and architecture. Refer to the links here: CCDE Written Exam Topics.
CCDE Practical Lab exam
After the qualification process has been completed, the following happens:
1. The candidate’s active certifications are renewed; associate, professional and expert-level certificates are renewed.
2. The candidate becomes eligible to register for the Lab exam.
During this time, the candidate is expected to become more aware of all the lab exam topics or mainly to a significant extent that is sufficient enough to position the candidate to be able to answer the scenario-based questions based on the provided information in the lab scenario. The Lab exam is an 8-hour scenario-based process validating the candidate’s knowledge and skills in designing a network based on provided business requirements, constraints and considerations. It is worth knowing that this is a vendor-neutral exam without any configuration requirements. The candidate will not be tested on configuring any device at any point in the exam. Candidates will be given access to the Cisco Documentation guide for references during the exam, and four scenarios will be presented to the candidate within 8 hours.
It is vital to note that in the lab exam, the candidate would have a choice to select the Area of Expertise (AoE) in which the test will focus out of 3 options, namely:
1. Large Scale Network
2. Workforce Mobility
3. On-Prem and Cloud Services
See CCDE Lab Exam Topics for more details provided by Cisco Systems Inc.
Importance of the CCDE Certification
For many Network Engineers who seek more knowledge of a network beyond the configuration of routing protocols, access controls, wireless technologies, security policies, and filtering, to mention a few, the CCDE study materials, training and lessons offer a design perspective of the Network and its technologies which gives better understanding not only on how things work but why specific considerations were made on aspects such as the choice of routing protocols, network design model, placement of a technical role, etc in the Network.
The CCDE knowledge and skills ensure that an organization’s network team has a validated understanding of bridging the gap between the business and technical aspects based on the business goals. Numerous benefits come with the CCDE certification, and it varies based on the individual’s experience, location, skills need to mention a few. In the next section, I shall touch on a few benefits of the CCDE certificate in the following areas.
From my experience as a Certified Network Designer and Architect, there are numerous benefits attached to being skilled, experienced and certified. Although there have been a lot of opinions regarding the importance of certification besides the knowledge and skills on technical topics, this article is focused on that. However, it is vital to identify the reality regarding the validation that comes with the certification process. The reality in the industry today is that recruiters filter the millions of job applications they receive by criteria such as certification, skills, experience, recommendation, and a few common points. To at least get to an interview, the filter on the certification you hold may be a tie-breaker to the interview, where your knowledge would be tested in line with the expectation of the certificate holder, after which your skills would be validated on the job.
Thus, the following are, without doubt, benefits that come with the CCDE certification:
1. Exposure to more technologies (depending on the role, organization, industry and location you work with and in).
2. Experience Advancement, especially in Design and Architecture concerning Business requirements.
3. Remuneration: the economic benefits that are indeed one of the most popular of all (also vary based on many factors such as experience, role, organization, industry, location, and corporate politics, among others).
4. Respect from industry peers.
5. Self-Positioning for Expert Talks.
6. Career Advancement, and many more.
Based on the focus of the CCDE, certified candidates are always hired as Senior Network Architects, IT Directors, IT Architects, Infrastructure Architects, Network Design Engineers, and so on. Besides the remuneration, other exciting benefits come with being CCDE certified, which may include speaking at international conferences, being integrated (by invitation) into regulatory bodies for development purposes, and designing compliance policies in the industry. In simple terms, it establishes the recognition of a candidate as an IT Elite being a member of the Design Expert Hall of Fame. In summary, the benefits of having the CCDE differ based on the candidate’s experience, which means this submission is based on personal research and experience.
Preparation for the CCDE Exam
In this section, we shall look into the preparation process for the CCDE certification process, from how to prepare for the qualification exam up to the point of 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 my long-term 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 standard based on business goals rather than Practice standards based on technical requirements?
5. Do I want to do more Consulting than Configurations?
Many other assessment topics could be helpful in the decision-making process regarding pursuing the CCDE certification. However, after the questions above have been answered objectively with a clear indication that the CCDE is a genuine desire.
It is now time to draw out a plan that should include the following:
1. Study timetable.
2. CCDE Written Exam topics
3. CCDE Official study materials
4. If available, join a CCDE Study Group.
5. Lab gear for practice to understand “How” the technologies work to aid the “Why” technology must be considered over another technology. Preparing for the CCDE is one of the most challenging but exciting parts of earning the CCDE certificate. It is expected that a candidate would invest a large amount of resources such as time (a very vital resource), funds (this is needed to attend training, purchase books, rent racks or licenses if you desire), mental energy (highly required), and physical well-being (irreplaceable resource). These are resources that are commonly expended during the process, and as I have indicated, each resource has its level of importance, which cannot be exempted or ignored. Although everyone has personal preferences, they are exclusive but collaborative if carefully integrated to work together. The qualification exam [CCDE v3.0 Written exam (400-007)] tests the candidate based on the core topics of the design and architecture of complex enterprise networks.
Candidates are tested on the following domains:
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 passing the qualification exam, a candidate has three years to complete the lab exam before receiving their CCDE certificate, which has a three-year validity period. Due to the intricate knowledge that must be investigated, researched, and comprehended, the preparation for the Lab exam differs significantly from that for the qualification. The candidate must be thoroughly prepared for the CCDE Lab exam in terms of a variety of abilities and design tools. Skills such as being able to interpret business requirements into technical design, the ability to identify constraints embedded in business requirements, technical limitations, and compliance regulations, to mention a few and how to use different design skills and tools such as Decision Matrix and Trees in determining the most ideal and optimal design and architecture to achieve such business goals.
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. Therefore, I recommend that each candidate not focus on 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. The truth is that no one in record I have seen has passed the CCDE or any Cisco expert-level exam without losing a few points, which means you are not expected to be an expert in all exam topics. However, this is to encourage you to focus on yourself in handling questions in a manner that will not extend your weakness to the next question during the exam.
In that case, it means that an organization needs to set up a service provider model network to enable MPLS Traffic Engineering in order to increase service performance. The candidate must be able to compare the options in a decision tree or matrix, which leads to a tie-breaker point between OSPF and ISIS, and eventually find a design decision that favours either of the two link-state protocols depending on further information provided by the scenario. If, for instance, the system specifies the need for an L2 protocol, then this would favour 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 requirement. 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:
Scenario Design: Enterprise Enterprise with Service Availability issue
The candidate need to select a design option to fix the availability issue of the central server, which may be by adding another Gateway router with FHRP, adding another link to the existing one on the same gateway router, or other possible design options that are similar to the figure below:
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 is the candidate’s ability to 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. Therefore, dissociate your concentration from previous questions in the current query.
The preparation for any exam differs based on the candidate’s learning style. Therefore, be creative in designing something more comfortable that fits your style. For more points, refer to my previous “CCDE – My Preparation Experience” article.
While the book list entries do not guarantee success by default after reading all the books. Instead, it brings more awareness on design topics from different perspectives of the authors and their experiences in specific design areas and domains, from large enterprises and service providers to data centres and cloud network architectures. Therefore, 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
Enrol for CCDE training with trusted and reliable vendors.
It is worth noting that 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. The importance of this day cannot be overemphasized as many things are activated as you get closer to the exam date and time, and how you process this chain of abstract events that only you, as the candidate, can feel matters a lot during the exam. Undoubtedly, the CCDE exam requires mental stability throughout the 8-hour process. Therefore, a day before the exam is one of the best moments to tidy up your mood for the exam.
Relax, Refresh, and Review.
1. Relax from the long hours of study.
2. Refresh with a delicious treat for yourself; you could do this with your loved ones or your support system (family and trusted friends)
3 Review your strategy for the exam and set up your mood in different situations, such as when you are confident your answer is correct and when you doubt (remember, move on without any distractions to the next question afresh).
On the day before the exam, if you are travelling by flight, you ought to be close to the exam venue as you want to catch up with the start time on the exam day. If you live within the city of the exam venue, then ensure that you do not take it for granted. In either situation, ensure you sleep well (if you can control your emotions well enough to have a nice sleep 🙂 ) and prepare your personal exam kits for D-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. Please do not dwell on industry experience, as the CCDE test is not about the decision made in your daily experience; instead, it is about the optimal decision for the scenario you have at hand. However, some cases would be clear and identical to the real-life system.
3. Refrain from being alarmed if the new question suggests that you gave the preceding question’s incorrect response.
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 critical to making the right decision.
6. Refrain from merging your ideas between scenarios. Therefore, 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.
Stay focused, learn with an open mind, be humble to ask questions on any topic you struggle with and be positive. Your desire to be a CCDE is yours, not anyone else’s. So, no matter the result, pursue your dream and never mind the side talks of those who do not have the same dream as yourself.
The scenarios are personal development based on experience as a Network Architect.