Thursday, 6 August 2015

Not passing the Cisco CCDA exam

"Do not underestimate this exam" - comment seen on the Cisco Learning Network.

Over the years, I've published a few posts with the title "Passing the [insert_cert] exam". Sadly, this post is "Not passing the Cisco CCDA exam". I've taken the exam twice, and failed both times.

While I can't talk about the exam (for NDA reasons), I can talk about the studying...

The CCDA is an odd certification. It sits alongside the more familiar CCNA certifications (R&S, Security, Voice etc.) and, as an "Associate" certification, is classed as entry level. Despite that, reading the Cisco Learning Community discussions reveals that a lot of people only tackle it once they have most, or all, of their CCNP or have at least taken all the CCNA concentrations. There is a common theme in the discussion forums that I've read, that this is not an easy exam.

My CCNA R&S and Security certifications were coming up for renewal, so I thought I'd give CCDA a go. I'd bought the (now out-dated) 640-863 "Designing for Cisco Internetwork Solutions" years ago and while I'd found parts of it interesting, I'd never put the effort into actually studying it.

So I equipped myself with the following:

  • Designing for Cisco Internetwork Solutions (third edition)
  • The Cisco CCDA Official Cert Guide
  • CCDA Simplified

To go alongside that, I also bought the ARCH book, "Designing Cisco Network Service Architectures" which is actually part of the CCDP and goes into a lot more detail. I also read a bunch of the Cisco SAFE reference guides.

All in all, a lot of reading!

I then spent nearly two months of study, going through the above and learning the material. I've seen some people comment how the CCDA is a Cisco sales/marketing certification, and I sort of see where they're coming from because it does use a lot of Cisco jargon that relates to Cisco products.

However, that's not to say it's easy or that it isn't technically demanding. There are a lot of details to understand and the main challenge is that while it's very broad and in some ways theoretical, the material expects you to have an understanding of some pretty technical details, such as:

  • In OSPF, what does LSA type 7 do?
  • Syslog level 5 is what level of severity?
  • Which H.323 protocol is responsible for call setup and signaling?
  • Which IPv6 routing protocol uses FF02::9?

Quite a lot to understand and know.

So, in order to cover all the bases, I dived into:
  • Network architectures (three layer, modular enterprise, borderless, collaboration, data centre)
  • Campus LAN and Data centre design
  • Branch office and WAN design
  • IP addressing (both IPv4 and IPv6)
  • Routing protocols: RIPv2, EIGRP, OSPF, BGP
  • Security
  • Wireless
  • Voice
  • Network management procotols

My first attempt, a couple of weeks ago, was a bit shakey. As I went into the exam I felt it was going to be a close thing and I failed with a score of 752 out of 1000 (pass score was 790). However, I was able to see the areas that I was not strong in and focus on that. So with nearly two weeks of additional revision and study, I took it again, feeling more confident...

This time I got 777, much closer than before and potentially only a couple of questions away from a pass. Without wanting to sound like a sore loser, I've actually flagged a couple of the questions with Cisco as the wording was very poor and ambiguous. I'm not honestly expecting much to change, but we'll see.

Sadly, this is the end of the road for my Cisco certifications for the time being. My current certs will expire in a few days, so I'll have to take them all again if I want to get back to this point. Disappointing, but that's how it goes sometimes.

So is it worth doing the CCDA? I think so. Once you get past the marketing stuff, there is a lot of good content that helps focus the architect in identifying what's important in designing a network solution. It's not a hands-on exam, but you do learn a lot that can be applied to actual network implementations. The current syllabus is getting pretty old and refers to products that have now gone end-of-life, but the concepts are sound and I assume an update will fix that.

After all these weeks of spending spare time studying, I might take a few days to sit in the sun (weekend's coming!), spend time with my neglected family and play some Elite:Dangerous. I think I deserve it.