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Surviving the CCDE LAB: My Experience and Preparation Strategies

My Experience on Cisco CCDE

If the Cisco Certified Design Expert Practical (CCDE Lab) exam were a movie. There can be several titles that would fit its nature as it corresponds to different experiences encountered by different people. Some already call it “The Beast”, others call it “The Dragon”, a few named it “The Quest”, but I prefer to call it “The Key in the dragon’s mouth”. While several professional certification paths exist in the Information Technology (IT) industry, a few tracks become unavoidable for several reasons. Some of these reasons are related to career development, personal fulfilment, a raise in remuneration, or industry recognition.

Despite numerous attempts by network engineers to pass the CCDE Practical exam for certification, many struggle to succeed. This is because the exam is an Expert-Level certification designed by Cisco Systems Inc., which is incredibly difficult.


Having said all this, I would like to share my preparation experience in this blog with anyone thinking of threading this path now or later.

CCDE Lab: My Journey and Thoughts as a Network Architect

I work as a Network Architect with over ten years of experience in IT/Networking. I’ve worked in Enterprise, Service Provider, and Datacenter environments, and held various roles such as Network Engineer, Network Specialist, Network Administrator, and Network Implementation Engineer. These roles all have one thing in common: they involve providing solutions for network operations. Over the years, I’ve spoken to many people in the networking field who’ve asked me common questions about why I chose to focus on the CCDE directly instead of getting my CCIE number. I want to share my thoughts in this blog. 

Why are you focusing directly on the CCDE Lab and not the CCIE instead?

A common question that has been asked most of the time is, “why are you focusing directly on CCDE”. I have also read several answers to this question. My response is that “I intend to earn the CCDE number to validate my knowledge in Network Design and Architecture, acquire more knowledge to be more than just a Network Engineer but a Solution Provider in Network Design and Architecture, and join the list of the few people in the whole wide world to hold a highly prestigious certificate among other goals. My passion and career path have also been focused more on the Network Design and Architectural part of businesses, even more than the implementation part, which is mainly the factor driving my focus. Interestingly, the CCIE is not stipulated as an official prerequisite to the CCDE. Therefore, this is a good step in the right direction in my case. There are a couple of CCDE holders today who do not have the CCIE numbers. 

Who should pursue the CCDE Lab Certification? 

There is quite some documentation on this question, which is vital because the CCDE is meant for only some in the field of IT/Networking. However, the CCDE can be taken by Network Engineers, Network Specialists, and Network Architects, to mention a few. Although the CCDE requires specific attributes to be pursued, this write-up is not aimed at being rigid, and my submissions are based on my research and preparation experience.

One of the unique attributes a CCDE candidate must possess is the ability to offer a solution to the business challenges specified in the business requirements. Another uniqueness comes from the power of the CCDE candidate to provide a communication channel and understanding between the Technical and Non-Technical teams (management) through the development and correlation of Low-Level Designs and High-Level Designs which are in line with the business goals. Several other essential attributes are helpful in this path of becoming a CCDE, such as being able to think of an optimal solution on the spot and many more. 

How to Prepare for CCDE Lab: Tips from Network Consultant

 This is one of the most critical questions I have been asked by many certified CCDE personnel with whom I have had the opportunity to come in contact. One platform that is very useful for this purpose is the Cisco Learning Network, among other available avenues like 591LAB, which is also offering CCDEv3 practical study groups. 

Tips from a Network Consultant

Preparing for a certification exam can be daunting, especially for exams like the Cisco Certified Design Expert (CCDE), which requires a broad base of knowledge and expertise. However, anyone can excel in the exam with the right approach and mindset. In this article, we’ll share some tips from a Network Consultant on preparing for the CCDE exam.

Personalized Study Schedule 

Everyone has a different learning method; what works for one person may not work for another. The first step towards preparing for the CCDE exam is to create a personalized study schedule. The Network Consultant recommends an average of 18 hours per week, which distributes into 2 hours on weekdays and 8 hours on weekends. He suggests studying at night when he can achieve a higher concentration level. However, finding the best time within your schedule that works for you is essential.

I follow several conversations regarding Network design topics on different platforms, such as: 

And a few other CCDE-certified individuals’ Twitter handles

Engage in Conversations and Follow CCDE Lab-Certified Individuals

Another great way to prepare for the CCDE Lab exam is to engage in conversations and follow CCDE-certified individuals on different platforms. The Network Consultant follows several discussions regarding network design topics on The Cisco Learning Network, CCDE Certification Training Videos, and other CCDE-certified individuals’ Twitter handles.

Adopt the “Gap-Year” Method 

The Network Consultant adopts a unique technique called the “gap-year” method, which creates a break in his study plan. He plans to write more about this later in a different thread on the 591LAB blog posts.

Hands-on Experience with CCDE LAB Designs 

One of the most effective paths toward understanding is hands-on lab experience, a vital part of the Network Consultant’s preparation. He developed different LAB designs with other requirements implemented in his virtual LAB using EVE-NG, GNS3, a few physical devices, and Cisco SandBox (SDWAN free practice platform). This helps him focus on specific technology in terms of design and implementation.

Decision Trees and Decision Matrix

The Network Consultant draws out a Decision Tree and a Decision Matrix to itemize specific design considerations, which can then be compared between different technologies subject to the business requirements. This way, he becomes even more conscious of design considerations in his projects.

Mock It Up

Lastly, the Network Consultant recommends working with a few workbooks for the CCDE Practice Lab to evaluate strengths, weaknesses, reading speed, information processing speed, assimilation speed, and endurance level. He suggests the “CCDE v3 Practice Labs: Preparing for the Cisco Certified Design Expert Lab Exam By Martin James Duggan” and “Cisco CCDE v3 Training – Created by Orhan Ergun” as some of his favourites.

Preparing for the CCDE exam requires hard work, dedication, and a mindset focused on design considerations. Anyone intending to follow the CCDE path in their career should study wide, work hard and be intelligent according to the official exam topics. Be intelligent according to the official exam topics, which can be found here.

What Strategies and Study Materials are you using? 

After successfully passing my CCDE written exam 400-007 from a few months ago, I had to prepare more to face the final part of the certification process; the CCDE Practical lab exam. Here are the strategies I have developed for myself and the study materials to prepare: 

CCDE Practical Lab

Strategy List for preparing CCDE Lab:

  • Review the Report Sheet from the CCDE Qualification or Written Exam.
  • Identify the topics that indicate your weakness and study more about them to understand them better.
  • Decide which Area of Expertise you would like to focus on. See CCDE – Area of Expertise
  • Validate the topics that indicate your strength.
  • Gather the recommended study materials based on the Cisco Official book list for the CCDE.
  • Set up your study timetable but make it a realistic version of your schedule.
  • Follow webinars and events on the CCDE official page
  • Follow up with events like Cisco Live for possible updates on Technologies, Designs, etc.

Tips for Preparing for CCDE Qualification or Written Exam

Preparing for CCDE written or qualification exam can be overwhelming due to the broad range of topics covered in the exam. However, with the right approach and study materials, you can make it less challenging and increase your chances of success. Here are some tips to help you prepare for the CCDE written or qualification exam.

Review the Report Sheet from the CCDE Qualification or Written Exam

After completing the CCDE qualification exam (the CCDE written), a report sheet is provided to the candidate, which reveals the candidate’s performance on every topic domain tested in the exam. This feedback system helps candidates identify their strengths and weaknesses across all the tested topics. Reviewing the report sheet will help the candidate focus on issues that require more study and improve their understanding of the design concepts and technology use cases. 

Identify Your Weaknesses and Focus on Them

Identifying your weaknesses is an essential step in rectifying or solving a problem. Similarly, preparing for any exam, including the CCDE Written or qualification exam, is vital. Focus on your areas of weakness to improve your understanding of the specific technology’s topics, design concepts, and use cases. 

Decide on the Area of Expertise You Want to Focus On

By introducing the Areas of Expertise (AoE) concept in CCDE – Area of Expertise CCDEv3 candidates can select one of three options for AoE. The AoE concept allows each candidate to focus on a specific network design and the core topics, making the exam more comprehensive. Choose your AoE based on your interests and knowledge and prepare accordingly. More information about the AoE can be found in this link CCDE – Area of Expertise.

Validate Your Strengths

Validation of the exam topics that show your strength is essential to reassure yourself that you still retain the exam topic’s knowledge. Apply it in the context of design during the preparation. Spend less time on such topics but refresh your knowledge and move on. 

Several books and other materials recommend on the Cisco official webpage for the CCDE written (400-007) or qualification exam. The CCDE Booklist is a good starting point. RFCs also provide a neutral description of how some technologies work, which all vendors align with. Cisco Live Presentations and Videos (Cisco live. On-Demand Library )can also be a quick reference guide to all topics studied in detail or those intended to review next. 

Set Up a Realistic Study Timetable

Preparing for the CCDE written (400-007) or qualification exam requires significant time to study each topic thoroughly. Therefore, budget enough time to learn each subject up to the necessary level of understanding to pass the exam. However, be realistic when creating your study timetable, as unplanned activities and personal responsibilities may interfere with your plans. 

Follow Webinars and Events on the CCDE Official Website

The CCDE official website offers webinars and events that can be helpful in your preparation. Attend these events to gain insight and learn more about the exam’s topics and requirements.

Review the Report Sheet from the CCDE Qualification or Written Exam. After completing the CCDE qualification exam (the CCDE written), a report is provided to the candidate revealing the candidate’s performance on every topic domain tested in the exam. This feedback system gives the candidate an idea of strengths and weaknesses across all the tested topics. A review by the candidate would provide a sense of topics on which the candidate needs to work more on. Therefore, this was the first material I used to evaluate my readiness for the LAB then. Then, I realized that I needed to do more studies on a few topics, and I am glad to have concentrated on and improved my understanding of those topics. Here the topics are 

  1. CCDEv3_Practical-Large Scale Networks Technology List
  2. CCDEv3_Core Technology List


It is paramount to know why you want to pursue the CCDE Lab as a career advancement path and not let anyone change your orientation to follow the way your heart yearns for it. 

Also, remember that one of two sides to most examinations is Pass or Fail, but no one is a failure until he has stopped trying to Pass a test.  Stay focused and determined, and success shall eventually be yours.

I look forward to sharing another post later this month on how I passed my CCDEv3 Practical Lab with the help of 591LAB services. Best of Success to everyone who plans to attempt the CCDEv3 exam soon. 

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