My CCNA Data Center certification experience

Today, I passed the Cisco 640-916 DCICT exam, achieving the CCNA Datacenter certification. This was my third attempt. I failed my first attempt by 4%. I failed my second attempt by 1% and wrote about my less-than-stellar customer service experience with Pearson Vue in this post.

I primarily studied with Anthony Sequiera‘s CBTNuggets series – if you have some hands-on experience with basic Nexus configuration tasks, his videos are enough to pass the exam with one caveat. The exam developers at Cisco have taken a step backward in exam quality compared to the CCNA Route & Switch. Most Cisco exams don’t expect you to memorize pages of technical specifications, but that’s not the case with this exam. It’s almost as if they hired a few Microsoft exam developers and had them write Microsoft-style “Under which menu option would you find X feature” questions. Then they mixed those nonsense questions in with the typically straightforward Cisco questions. The result is an annoyingly blended exam that bounces between fair questioning on concepts and worthless memorization. Unfortunately, the straightforward questions aren’t enough to balance out the straight memorization.

While using somebody else’s braindump is against the rules, using your own exam experience is not. If you do happen to fail, my suggestion is to write down all of the areas you were confused by immediately – don’t even wait for the drive home, do it in the parking lot of the testing center. You can then take this extremely valuable information home with you and focus your study. Doing this made me understand exactly what pieces I had to memorize and resulted in a pass.

My CCNA certification experience

I achieved the CCNA certification in April. A number of people have asked me what I did to pass the exam, so I thought I’d write a quick post about it.

I had basic knowledge of how IP networks function, but knew very little about the nuts and bolts. I had distant experience doing basic T-1 support (is the interface up? Red or yellow alarm?), but hadn’t touched a Cisco router in over 4 years. I had never configured anything other than default VLANs and I had no experience with routing protocols.

When I decided to pursue the CCNA, I found I had 2 options – take the full CCNA exam, or take the ICND1 and ICND2 exams. ICND1 gives you the CCENT certification. Passing the ICND2 exam then gives you the CCNA. I typically prefer to take fewer exams, but in this case I thought splitting the exam content was a better choice. Cisco does a great job separating the focus of the exams. The ICND1 truly is basic networking. The OSI model, tons of subnetting, and basic Cisco configuration. The ICND2 is much more difficult for a server admin. There are plenty of exam areas that the average server admin hasn’t even heard of, let alone configured. OSPF, EIGRP, and frame relay were the main areas where I came in with no knowledge at all.

Just as I was about to start studying, my company made a corporate purchase of the entire CBTNugggets library. Jeremy Cioara’s ICND1 and ICND2 videos were the only study materials I used. The man knows his stuff and I clicked with his training style. I can honestly say that his videos are an amazing blueprint for the exams. If you can perform every task he goes over in the training, I would almost guarantee a pass on the exams. I watched the ICND1 series straight through without much difficulty. The ICND2 videos took much longer. I spent a long time watching and rewatching routing protocols to understand what was going on.

I had a client who was kind enough to lend me a pair of old switches that worked just fine for studying VTP and trunks. I wanted to follow along by building the same lab infrastructure as CBTNuggets, but I didn’t want to go buy a bunch of aftermarket routers and a frame relay switch, so I used GNS3 instead. I built a replica of the instructor’s equipment inside GNS3 so I could configure the exact same network that he was configuring. GNS3 can not emulate switches, so you either need to already know switching or you need to practice on physical switches.

I found the exams to be tough but fair. The typical Microsoft exam is memorize-and-regurgitate. The CCNA is nothing like that – you have to understand the material, then apply it. Cisco throws all kinds of questions at you – multiple choice, multiple answer, matching up columns, and live router configuration exercises. One thing that I really like about Cisco multiple answer questions is that they never give you the Microsoft style “Select all that apply”. Is it two answers? Three answers? Cisco always tells you how many answers they’re looking for.

Good luck in your certification pursuits!