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My experience taking the CCDE Practical Beta

October 5th, 2008 · 4 Comments · CCDE, certification, CISCO

To answer the question that everyone is bound to ask –  “did you pass?”. The answer is, I’ll tell you in 6-8 weeks. The CCDE Practical Beta is just that, a beta. From what Dr Sarah and Russ White have said, there will be many iterations of psychometric analysis, as well as throwing out certain questions with the intent of finding the “true” right answer. While I hope that answer is the one I supplied, it really is out of my control.

The one thing in my control is preparation. Preparing for the CCDE was extremely hard for me. Oddly enough, the challenge wasn’t the complexity of the content, but the breadth. For example, stack the nineteen recommended reading books on your desk, and become an expert on them.

Look at the CCDE Practical Blueprint  -

The CCDE Practical Exam is designed to assess a candidate’s ability to perform the following
Gather, clarify, and analyze existing and new network requirements
•   Identify requirements and determine how they shape the purpose and expectations of a
given network.
•   Demonstrate the ability to gather and validate information about an existing network.
Develop network designs to meet functional specifications
•   Choose the correct technology to resolve a specific network design problem.
•   Create a network design that minimizes or eliminates negative impact on the existing
network and services.
•   Create a network design that is scalable.
•   Create a network design that is elegant and supportable.
•   Create a network design that is resilient.
Develop a plan to implement network design changes
•   Evaluate the impact of implementation options.
•   Develop contingency plans for network restoration.
Convey design decisions and rationale
•   Justify network design choices based on functional specifications.
•   Justify technology choices based on technical requirements.

I used that outline, as well as the reading list to prepare. I think you will aggree with me that if you look soley at the blueprint, that you have to cast a pretty wide net to get all of it. I interpreted this as being so open, that it was like walking with a lantern. Light from the lantern shines equally on everything, so you pay attention to litterally everything. Now, after taking the exam, I gained a bit of perspective on what exactly the developers were looking for. In this case, it would be like exchanging your lantern for a flashlight. Now, while the beam is wide, it is a lot more focused then walking with the lantern.

This perspective on the exam, or more specifically the intent and target market of the exam is invaluable. Well, I guess it is valued at the seven hundred dollars it took to take the exam ;). Now that I understand what they are looking for, I think I am in a good position to have a decent chance in Febuary if I don’t walk away with a CCDE number in six weeks.


Pearson’s professional testing centers were a new experience for me. The center was clean and professional, and the staff was very helpful (including getting a couple tankards of coffee after me explaining it was the lifeblood of us geeks). However the one thing, I didn’t get the same feeling that you get when walking into the CCIE lab. If you haven’t been to the CCIE lab yet, it is almost like walking onto the football field at Notre Dame. Where in the lab you walk past the wall of pain, at Pearson it feels just like sitting down and taking any other written exam.

I do have to warn anybody who is taking this exam in the future though. If you have big feet like mine, be VERY careful of the power plugs. I managed to kick the power plug from my computer just over an hour into the exam and lost all my work. Rest assured the proctors said that the test would keep state in the production exam.


Prior to October, I had been to chicago four times. Sadly each of those times was limited to grabbing some spankitopita at the little Greek place at Miday and then flying on to some other part of the country. This was the first time that I had managed to escape the terminal and make it into the city itself.

The first thing that struck me was how Chicago went up and not out. Coming from the west coast where cities grow out and not up, it was very weird to look up and see 1500 foot tall buildings. This urban canyon was mixed in with buildings from the 1800’s. All in all I have to say that it was pretty cool.

All 1500 feet of the Sears Tower

The other thing about Chicago is that the food is AMAZING. In less then a week in the city I managed to put on two well earned pounds. We hit up Merlot on Maple the first night. It was a quaint little northern Italian resteraunt housed in a little brownstone on the southside of Chicago. The second day we hit up Dua, the second deep dish pizzaria in chicago for lunch. Then we went to Lockwood at the Palmer Hilton for dinner.  All these places were amazing, though I have to say that I prefered the down home delicious of Dua to the others.

Deep dish done right at Dua

The last night, it was time to blow of the stress from the CCDE Practical. The CCDE team was nice enough to host a cocktail party on the ninety fifth floor of the Hancock Building.  I managed to deliver a nice little diatribe on Trill, L3VPN’s and security networks a the user and app level vs. stopping at layer 4 while being about one beer past the point where technical items should be discussed. If I managed to get into any heated discussions aboutthe importance of business relevance versus technical optimization then you have my appologies.

Sadly that party ended at 10:00 pm. Luckily Chicago is Brian McGehan’s home town. He recommended Fado’ , a great little Irish pub in the russian hill section of town. Brian, Scott, Gene, Genes wife, Ryan and I headed down there and made a good time of it till 2:00 am in the morning.

Summing it up

Eighteen months of studying culminated in 8 hours of blurry eyes in front of a computer screen trying to figure out a proctor’s intent. Looking around at the people in the waiting room, I saw many people that just blow my brain away. So if they grade on a curve, I am pretty sure I’ll be back in Febuary. Even if it goes that way, it is a good thing, because it just pushes me to learn more and become a better engineer. At the end of the day, I’m all right with that.

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4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Pages tagged "practical" // Oct 5, 2008 at 11:37 pm

    [...] bookmarks tagged practical My experience taking the CCDE Practical Beta saved by 5 others     orgasimicCookie bookmarked on 10/06/08 | [...]

  • 2 h0ckeysk8er // Oct 6, 2008 at 10:07 pm

    Your “…nice little diatribe on Trill, L3VPN’s and security networks a the user and app level vs. stopping at layer 4…” only pinned me to the wall for about 15 mins or so. Still a good discussion nonetheless :-)

  • 3 colinmcnamara // Oct 7, 2008 at 5:52 am

    Thanks Bruce, I am glad to hear it wasn’t to bad for you. Mixing geeks and beer can have interesting side effects ;) .

    I have to say thanks again for you guys putting the cocktail party together. It was a big hit, and a nice chance to decompress.

  • 4 Collection of CCDE Study Approaches & Testimonials // Jun 5, 2013 at 6:04 am

    [...] My Experience Taking The CCDE Practical Beta by Colin McNamara, 5-October-2008 [...]

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