IT Career JumpStart

Dec 21 2012   4:36PM GMT

Say “Cheers” to all those unsung IT cert heroes out there…

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Yesterday, I saw a Facebook post from an old friend — my former local pool league team-mate, Joe, who announced in 2009 he was taking 5 years off from league to earn his CCIE — to let us all know that he’d taken and passed the CCIE written exam earlier this week. From his start in 2008, he quickly knocked off the two-part CCNA exam (the CCENT and the ICND2: I blogged about this on Christmas Day, 2008). After that he took about 24 months to earn his CCNP (three exams), which got him started down the CCIE path in mid-2011. In four years he’s made it from zero to the CCIE written exam, but it’s been a pretty major effort.

I just got off the phone with Joe (a pseudonym) to congratulate him on his latest achievement, and learned more about what it has cost him to get to this point in terms of time, effort, and money:

  • So far, he’s spent over $1,200 on exams, nearly double that amount on books and practice tests, and almost $4,000 on equipment for his home test lab. He tells me his employer is going to let him take over a rack in their data center to set up his CCIE test lab (which will incorporate the various switches, routers, and interfaces he’s already acquired), and that he’ll be spending $4,000 more to put the whole CCIE lab together
  • Over the past 4 years, Joe guesses he’s put in an average of 18-20 hours a week (936-1,040 hours per year) studying, practicing, reading, and researching. He told me he hasn’t taken more than 6 days of “real vacation” over that whole period, preferring instead to cracking the books and working in the practice lab when he has days off from work. He tells me he’s got a deal with his wife to spend two evenings a week studying, and one entire weekend day. Do the math: with 4-5 hours for the two evenings, that means he’s putting in 8-12 hour days on his weekend study day.
  • So far, earning the CCNA got him a raise in his then-current IT job, which he kept until he earned his CCNP. That got him a new job at a new employer with about a 40% raise in pay (though I believe he was underpaid in his first job, which hired him without any certifications and didn’t really bump him very much when he started piling up the credentials). Joe expects to have lots of options when he does complete his Routing and Switching CCIE.

OK, then, so what still lies ahead for Joe? When I called him this morning, he was off from work on Christmas leave, but already knee-deep in practice lab stuff, having logged in just after breakfast early this morning. He tells me he’s planning to make his first attempt at the lab exam in San Jose, CA, over his Christmas break in 2013, so he’s giving himself a year to get ready. His wife has given him the green light to up his study weeknights from 2 to 3 during that period, so he’ll be spending 22-29 hours a week for the next year gearing up for the CCIE lab exam. Joe knows that even though the lab exam costs $1,500 per attempt, only 1 in 20 candidates pass that exam on their first try. He’s gunning hard to be among that number, but understands that it may take a second and perhaps even a third try to get over the hump.

But that’s what it takes to achieve a high-end IT certification these days. Lots of “blood, toil, tears, and sweat” (in the words of Churchill) will be expended to get there, but Joe tells me he’s more than sure it’s worth it. “Earning the CCIE will change my life,” he says “and make things possible for my family that we could never do otherwise.” It does take some sacrifice, some serious change, and a LOT of work, but both he and I believe that it really is worth it. Please let this inspire those of you who are thinking about climbing a cert ladder to get up and get going. Happy holidays, too.

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