After long months of study the big day has came. To be honest, I didn't feel 100% prepared, but I finally wanted to see what I'm up against. I was traveling with a friend, also 1st timer. As our lab day was Monday, we chose to leave on Friday night to catch a plane Saturday morning and arrive to Diegem on Saturday afternoon. In my opinion it is very important to get there early enough. First, it minimize the risk if something goes wrong with the flight. Second, there will be time to recover from travel, relax a bit and maybe do some light studying.
There are two airports in Brussels to choose from when going for the lab - Charleroi and Brussels International Airport. We chose the latter, because it is really close to Cisco facilities. Charleroi is located about 60 km away and the only reasonable way to get to Diegem is by train. To get to the hotel you either can take a shuttle bus or a taxi. We ended up ordering a taxi because for some reason the shuttle buses are available only early in the morning, at least on Saturday.
Diegem is a business park, so there's nothing apart from business buildings, hotels and a train station. It doesn't really matter which hotel you choose, because all of them are close to Cisco's buildings. We chose to stay in Ibis hotel located about 8 minutes walk from the lab facility.
On the day before I did some light reading and watched some videos, because I didn't want to overwhelm my brain at this point. If I didn't knew something on the day before, I wouldn't make any difference anyway :) I tried to apply some advices I've heard from fellow candidates.
Rule number 1 - make sure to get enough sleep the night before. Rule number 2 - don't take any medicines or eat fancy food. Rule number 3 - don't wear any new clothes.
The lab day
Applying these rules worked amazingly well, because I woke up in the morning feeling really well. We eat some light breakfast and headed towards Cisco buildings, wondering if it will be a "walk of fame" or "walk of shame".
When we walked in to the building we got a badge with our names. There is a nice lobby with comfortable couches and they asked us to wait for the proctor. There were three other guys, one for SP, one for Sec and one for DC. Nobody was very talkative. The proctor came around 8:30 AM and took us to the upper floor explaining the rules. He also gave us a voucher to use at lunch time.
The room was quite big, with many seats and lockers in the back. We had to put our belonging to the lockers in the back. Proctor checked our IDs. We were allowed to take water and some snacks to our desks. Desks and chairs turned out to be quite comfortable. On each desk there was a container with colored pens / pencils. Unfortunately from our experience most of them were not working. Before we started the lab we received a couple of sheets of paper with our names and candidate IDs. They have to be returned upon finishing the lab.
Once I was ready I clicked start button and the TS topology appeared. My strategy was built on three fundamental rules:
- I keep track what I'm doing. I mark tickets attempted, solved, most likely solved along with my notes.
- I keep track of my time to ensure I never spend more thant 10 minutes on a ticket.
- I won't use time extension under any circumstance.
I cannot say about the tickets themselves, but I found them challenging. I managed to solve 8 tickets within 2 hours and 5 minutes.
Once I finished TS section, the DIAG section began. Here the time is fixed. You cannot finish earlier. This section also was quite demanding. I didn't manage to solve all three incidents, but I felt pretty solid with the first two of them.
Finally I attempted the monster - CONFIG section. I have managed to complete layer 2 and some part of L3 connectivity when the proctor called us to go to lunch. I didn't feel very hungry, but took some pasta and water. Proctor sat with us and we had a little chat. The lunch break was exactly 30 minutes. Then we returned back to our lab. This part didn't go well. I got stuck at some point and it all fell apart. I tried to move around the tasks to gain some point here and there, but essentialy I knew I failed. The lab finished around 4:40 PM.
The way back
We had our return flight the same day on 7:30 PM. Proctor told us it's kind of risky to schedule flight so early, because something might go wrong and the lab could begin at 9 or 10 AM. But I asked some people who took the lab and none of them had significant delay. I've heard that if the delay is significant, like 2 hours, they rather force a reschedule.
At the point where I left the exam room I knew I failed. I had mixed feelings about the TS, was pretty confident about DIAG and very dissapointed about CONFIG.
I started checking email once we got to the airport. I knew that in some cases the email from Cisco comes very fast, in other cases you might have to wait a few hours. Nothing came until takeoff, so I had to turn electronic devices off and start developing a revenge plan ;) As soon as the plane landed in Warsaw I turned on my phone and started checking email. It was there. They don't tell you right away in the email, you have to log in to the Cisco system and check from there.
Well, surprise ;) I think it's easy to predict the results at the moment of hitting "end lab" button. Based on your verification, you should know what went right or wrong.
Overall I'm okay with these results. I think it's a step forward, because I know my weak areas and where to focus. Now I will take a week or two off and then I'll think about scheduling next attempt, maybe near the end of the year.