The CCIE certification is one of the most prestigious marks of achievement in IT, evolving over the years to address the needs of both the IT landscape and CCIE candidates. At the forefront of every change is our unwavering commitment to deliver lab exams at the same standard and rigor for which the CCIE is known. And as we face new challenges that have led us to a new normal, our CCIE program has evolved and emerged, more accessible and convenient than ever before.

CCIE and me

I started my certification journey back in the late nineties, around ’97 or ’98. I remember preparing in those days — the times were so different. There were no resources, no study materials. There weren’t even any directions or guidelines out there. Beyond very few Cisco Press books about technology, you were basically on your own. That’s changed dramatically over the years, with various courses, bootcamps, and even virtual CCIE practical lab rentals. We learned that providing better materials doesn’t trivialize the exam; it enhances the learning experience and improves outcomes.

The key to preparing for and maintaining a CCIE is the understanding that earning the certification isn’t the end of the road. You don’t finish up after five days of training and call it quits. Instead, when you earn your CCIE, it’s an experience validation. It’s the culmination of years of knowledge and expertise building and the initiative to maintain your certification.

The ability to change is essential. We live in a virtual world now. When I took my lab exam in the 90s, it took two days. We spent the first day connecting the wires and cables ourselves; we did all of this hardware stuff. It was tough. It was rigorous. But in the early 2000s, we made a change and moved to one day of testing. People didn’t understand at first. They thought it seemed like a downgrade of what we were doing. Part of the job meant explaining that, no, this was a recognition of the changing landscape of advanced technologies and their growing complexities. We removed the trivial stuff to make room for more advanced topics relevant to the field. It was our job to recognize these changes and account for them. That’s still our job today.

Your exam, your way

The new approach to CCIE is less about a fundamental shift in networking, but more about the fundamental change in our mid-pandemic world. Coincidentally, I was in China in November 2019, when the threat of COVID first began growing. It took a few months, but by March, the escalation of the pandemic had impacted work around the world, and programs like the CCIE certification program ground to a halt. Until this point, we could only deliver the CCIE certification in one specific way, in very specific locations. Obviously, that couldn’t continue. The program slowed as we tried to figure out how to protect the health of our customers, partners, and employees — while also protecting the integrity of the exam.

Six months passed without a single CCIE earned, and the pressure was escalating. Candidates were still hungry to earn their certifications, but they needed the exams to certify.

Why can’t you offer them [CCIE labs] remotely? Why can’t we test from home?

We considered remote testing, but it introduced severe issues. The exam lasts eight hours, is intense, and needs to remain secure. So that was out.

This thinking brought us to a new question: how can we offer an exam that is flexible and accessible while remaining secure? That’s where the Mobile Labs came in. The original version of these labs consisted of a shippable end-user environment provided by Cisco. We strived to create a mobile setup that would allow us to deploy exams in more places and get more people scheduled (with a longer lead time), while still maintaining a controlled environment for the safety and the integrity of the lab.

Of course, providing the end-user environment is an expensive undertaking. Setting up the labs in various locations means shipping substantial amounts of gear, which then raises the exam price.

So, what if we didn’t have to ship everything to the lab location? That thought led to creating the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) program. Instead of Cisco providing all of this costly-to-move equipment, we worked to develop a way for CCIE candidates to bring their own equipment. It allowed us to cut down on the costs for everyone. It also enabled us to run more exam sessions in a broader number of venues.

Cost savings aren’t the only benefit of the BYOD model. When it comes to such a rigorous 8-hour lab exam, confidence and comfort are key. Candidates benefit when the tools they’re using to test are the same tools they’ve used to prepare. They don’t have to go in and try to make themselves comfortable on equipment that isn’t set up the way they like.

Of course, this is all in addition to reopening our existing brick-and-mortar permanent locations. We’re not throwing away the successful things we’ve already created. We’re just opening up more doors.

CCIE next steps

If you choose the BYOD mobile lab option, you’ll bring your own kit. That means you’ll have the opportunity to bring your own laptop, keyboard, mouse, external monitor—everything. You’ll arrive the morning of your exam at which time you’ll be able to set up your workspace the way you like it. We’ll provide a bootable flash drive, a secure operating system you can boot from for the exam. That’s how we’re able to scale the mobile delivery of our Expert-level labs.

Where are we now?

As we continue to navigate the reopening of our lab locations, the health and safety of our customers, partners, and employees continue to be our top concern. Openings will be on a case-by-case basis, based on local conditions, regulations, Cisco Corporate, and medical guidance.

We’re expanding our mobile lab footprint and capacity, providing you with an alternative test delivery method to take your Expert-level Cisco lab exams in your proximity. CCIE Mobile lab locations support all Expert-level Cisco certification tracks.

Thanks for taking a moment to learn about the evolution of the CCIE and the official introduction to the Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD) Mobile Lab program. Visit the Cisco Learning Network for the latest on our new BYOD Mobile Labs testing option and how you can take your lab exam your way — using your very own devices. Please feel free to comment with your thoughts and share how your certification journey is going below.

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Yusuf Bhaiji

Director of Certifications

Learning & Certifications