I'm happy to announce that on 26th Jan 2015 I passed the R&S lab in Brussels. This was a long road, but definitely worth it!
Getting to Brussels
Because my 1st attempt went smooth in terms of travel arrangements I decided not to make any changes on my 2nd attempt. This time I was very happy to have my girlfriend traveling with me. The minor difference was that we went to Warsaw by car, not by coach like on my previous attempt. This gave us much more comfort and flexibility.
So we left on Saturday, Jan 24th somewhere around 9 AM and arrived to Warsaw by 1 PM. We had some time to eat lunch and without hurry get to the airport to catch our direct flight to Brussels. Our plane landed in Brussels at 7:30 PM. Exactly as before I decided to stay in Ibis hotel. First, it is cheaper than NH Hotel, second, it is about 1,5 km walk from Cisco building. I believe it is a good idea to take a short walk before getting into the lab.
I think that taking the lab on Monday has certain advantages.
Tip #1 - why to sit the lab on Monday?
- Usually hotel fees are lower during the weekend
- Probably you will have to take less days off at work
Interesting thing is about shuttle bus schedule. It runs only between 4:00 AM - 10 AM and 5 PM - 9 PM, so arriving early in the morning or late in the evening might save you around 15€ for a taxi.
On Sunday we went to Brussels to do some sightseeing. There is a train from Diegem to Brussels Central leaving every hour during the weekend.
Tip #2 - the ticket machine at the train station takes only coins. This might be an unpleasant surprise, especially when your train is leaving in 5 minutes and you have only notes in your pocket ;-)
We came back around 4 PM. I did some quick reviews and went to bed early. Although I felt relaxed entire day, I had some serious problems sleeping during the night. I woke up several times looking at the clock being a bit anxious.
I arrived to Cisco building at 8 AM. There were 4 other guys sitting in the lobby. I sat down and just in a few minutes the proctor appeared. This time the procedure was exactly like on my 1st attempt, we went to the upper floor and proctor explained the rules. However, there was a difference in terms what we were allowed to bring in to our desks. Only sheets of paper this time. No snacks, no water, no colored pencils. I don't know what happened, maybe there were some incidents during few last months and they decided to increase security level.
Tip #3 - don't expect you will be able to use your own colored pencils. Be prepared to use only what they give you.
This time my lab strategy was similar, but I decided to make several small changes.
During troubleshooting section I decided to follow tickets according to their point value. Less valuable tickets (and most likely easier) first, the hardest ones - last. The purpose of this was to start gaining points as soon as possible and not to get stuck on harder tickets.
This worked well. I solved eight tickets very fast and went for the hardest ones. I was keeping track of my work on a sheet of paper, so I exactly knew how much time each ticket costed me. It turned out that I spent much more time on harder tickets. One such a ticket took me over 20 minutes!
In the end, I finished TS by borrowing 5 minutes from configuration section, but having verified every single ticket.
Diagnostics section went smooth, but timing got caught me. I was about to mark answers for the last question, when the screen went blank and then config section appeared.
Tip #4 - there is no countdown timer on Diag section, so be careful and write down when you started. Starting this moment, you have exactly 30 minutes to finish this section.
This time I was better prepared and a lot faster. I also decided to make some optimizations that should get me through the config much faster.
I finished with 30 minutes to spare, so I spent that time on verification. And it was well worth it, because I found a couple of stupid mistakes which could cost me multiple points.
Tip #5 - do NOT skip verification. Remember that every bullet point you see in the lab has two parts - configuration and verification
I left the testing room with a good feeling. I tried very hard and did my best. Now the wait!
I received results around 11:30 PM, while drinking coffee driving back home. A bit later than 1st time. I was both happy and relieved seeing the result!
Tip #6 - according to my experience and based on what I heard from friends, the bad news come quickly, the good news need some time to arrive ;)
The journey in numbers
In my case, overall cost of CCIE R&S is close to $11k and it took me roughly 1300 hours to get there.
I started serious studying in the beginning of 2013. I tried to keep track of every hour spent on studying and I suggest doing the same to every CCIE candidate. The awareness of ticking clock will make you treat the whole thing much more serious. Every 15 minutes that you spent on studying does matter.
Tip #7 - use the software of your choice to keep track of your time while studying
When you don't keep track of your time it might be easy to fall into the trap of having an illusion that you are studying hard. You think "okay, yesterday I read something about OSPF, two days ago I labbed this and that, it's all good". No, it isn't actually. There are no shortcuts to getting that number. You need to spend certain amount of time on certain activities. Multiple people have passed this exam, so today we have a pretty good estimation how much time this can take. Keeping track of your time will help you maintaining the pace.
Apart from that, this can be great motivation tool. If you fail your 1st attempt, most likely you will have something like 1000 hours under your belt. Once you see these statistics, I guarantee you will not drop out :)
What has changed?
Generally this has been a thrilling ride. A wonderful opportunity to learn, discover, and meet new people. Certainly it made me a better engineer, I also learned a lot about myself.
While I'm still doing the same job, I see that my thought process has changed. When working on projects, I see things I would not normally see. During troubleshooting my approach is more precise and usually the issue is resolved much faster.
However, this does not mean that I feel like I know everything. In fact, this journey opened my eyes and showed me how much there is to learn.