So things have calmed down a little bit for me since yesterday. Firstly I would like to say thanks for all the comments on the site and via email – its great to hear from so many people! Id like to write a little bit about my lab experience in Brussels – it wont go into too much detail about the contents of the lab, but more general covering the complete experience.
Getting there and the night before
I planned to be in Brussels for just one night, but due to a general strike starting on Sunday night for 24 hours I was notified by Eurostar that my return journey on Monday evening had been canceled, so I had to rebook for the next morning. Not a big deal, but it meant I had to take an extra day off from work and pay for another night in the hotel – but at least I would get to Brussels in time, which was the main thing.
The journey was painless from London to Brussels on the train, once I got to the station I had to make my way to Diegem, the suburb where Cisco is located, and had about an hours wait for the connecting train. Once there I headed to my hotel. I booked in at the Formule 1 Hotel, mainly because it was €43 per night and I was on a budget (do yourself a favour – if you are spending $1400+ on the lab exam, spend however much it costs to stay at a decent hotel, like the NH or Holiday Inn, the night before). If I had the choice I wouldnt go back to this hotel, it was pretty basic with no bathroom in the room itself, but out in the hall way cubicle style and shared with all other guests. The TV only had 2 English TV channels (Eurosport and MTV – which was mostly in German). I brought some notes with me and a few solutions guides from IE and IPexpert, and made a start reading through them. I wouldnt recommend doing any last minute cramming, just more of a general read through of some of the basics.
When I got bored with reading (it didnt take long) I got some rest before heading out to check out the Cisco campus and make sure I knew where to go the next day. The weather on Sunday evening was terrible, lashing down with rain and blowing a storm – good job I brought my umbrella. Once at Cisco I had a wander around the deserted campus. The first building I went to I banged on the door and spoke to the security guard who directed me to another building where the lab would be the next morning. I made my way back to the hotel which was a 10 minute walk away – and my umbrella broke under the force of the wind half way there, so I spent the next 5 minutes getting soaked through going back to the hotel. Now that I was umbrella-less I booked a cab for 7.20 the next morning so I wouldnt turn up to the lab looking like a Titanic survivor if the weather was the same.
That night I didnt do any more reviewing of my notes – if I didnt know it by now it was too late – I put the TV on and watched Southpark and Family Guy in German (and didnt understand any of it). I managed to get to sleep somewhere between 12-1am as my mind was racing a little, but thankfully I woke up at 6.30 to get ready for the big day.
In the morning I got up, showered went down to have breakfast. The weather was better than the day before but I still had a cab booked which turned up at 7.15 so in I jumped. I was at Cisco by 7.20 and headed into the building. There were three guys there already so we all said hello, but conversation wasnt flowing for obvious reasons. One guy was there to do his R&S lab like me and it was his second attempt, the other two were in to do SP and Voice. Over the next 20 minutes the reception filled up with around 10 of us in total, some people were chatting others were concentrating on the day ahead. We were due to be collected by the proctor at 7.45, but by 7.50 there was still no sign of anyone, which added to the anticipation and nervousness! We all kind of got our hopes up each time someone entered the foyer hoping it was the proctor. Bruno the Brussels proctor finally turned up at about 8.15 and apologised for being late but he was stuck in traffic due to the strike – but we didnt need to worry as the lab is 8 hours based on the start time. We all headed up to the lab, showed our ID and sat at our stations. We were given a briefing by Bruno to check the configs on our racks to see if they tie up with the workbooks. Then the exam started.
I did what all vendors tell you to do and read through the exam – twice. My first impressions were kind of OK – there is a lot of information to digest. Reading the exam twice took about 15 minutes, I wasnt studying it just seeing if I could handle the contents. Once I finished reading I checked over the rack. Initially I was a little confused, there may be troubleshooting tasks in the lab, so I was expecting some errors in the initial config. One thing I wasnt sure about was the level of any preconfiguration that may or may not be applied to the rack. What I was seeing was a fully configured lab in front of me, with totally different IP address schemes. I was thinking to myself I know this is the CCIE lab but this amount of troubleshooting is ridiculous! I jumped up and spoke to the proctor to verify and he said that I still had the config from last Fridays candidate! It turned out that 4 other guys also had the same issue and Bruno may have to grade these labs before clearing the config and giving us our labs. I think its a good job I didnt change anything, and I hope the guy before me passed his lab!
This meant we had to go to the break room for 45 minutes while this took place – we all had a laugh about it, and it gave us a chance to introduce ourselves to each other properly. There was a good mix of people there, a guy from Australia who now lives in Denmark doing his Security exam, a fellow Londoner (via India) who was on his second attempt at R&S, a guy from Norway and a guy from Nigeria (working in Sweden) who were both on their first attempts at R&S. A couple of these guys were flying back to Denmark at 18:45 so were worrying about what time the lab would now end for them, and if they would make check-in for the flight. Luckily for me I was now going home the following day, so no such worry for me.
Once we got the call to come back in to the lab 45 minutes later, we were told that our end time was 45 minutes after everyone else. I made a start on the lab properly. I wont go into any detail about the contents of the lab itself, but it was a solid exam with parts of it that make you think about the solutions. There were a few tasks that I wasnt sure on, but the great thing about this exam is that the answers are all the in the documentation somewhere – its up to you to find it, digest it and apply it appropriately. I know for sure that I used the docs to answer some questions that I didnt know the answer to, but was lucky enough to track down.
I was actually done with the exam (including my first check through) by 15:30, and was due to finish now at 17:43, so I had plenty of time to double check things again. I wasnt 100% confident on all of the solutions, but I had to trust my instinct a little. I was actually really terrified of changing too much, but I answered every question in the lab. My usual weak areas of Multicast and QoS I was sure I had nailed – which was a great confidence booster. I know I missed some points in the core IGP sections, as I had workarounds in place, so I concentrated on these, but didnt change them in the end due to paranoia of breaking other things that I knew were working!
On leaving the exam, I thought I had a good chance of passing. A lot of it is down to interpretation, but I checked a few things with the proctor, who was helpful if you asked him nicely and didnt fish for the answer. He basically would say – ‘what is the question you are asking’ if he felt you were probing too much. The other guys all finished up at 17:43 and we headed out. All of them were sure they would be back for another attempt, and I was feeling quietly confident inside, but never sure. It would be a long wait until I got the result…