And there I was. A fly on the wall, captured by this web of wisdom—captivated by their stories of CCIE certification success. It had been three long years since Cisco Live’s last event in Europe, and I was fortunate enough to be in Amsterdam to experience it in person. It was a lot to take in.

I scanned the Learning and Certifications space, from the Certification Lounge to the monitors animated by demos of Cisco Modeling Labs, to the Cisco U. Theater—when I spotted them. My gaze had turned to the corner of the theater, where I noticed three women speaking with Par Merat, the vice president of Cisco Learning & Certifications.

Despite the buzz of energetic chatter and shuffling footsteps that surrounded them, Par was dialed into their conversation. I watched as she leaned in, listening intently as one of the women spoke. I couldn’t get there fast enough. As I approached, finally within earshot, I could hear Par’s words as she addressed the women.

“It is hard. I have such admiration for you.” 

Beside Par was Snezana Mitrovic, Marisol Palmero, and Elena Pudge, sharing their personal Cisco certification experiences. And of all Cisco certifications—all three were CCIE certification holders. Earning a CCIE certification is such a valuable asset for IT networking professionals. It’s also a reminder of the hard work and dedication that goes into obtaining it. While listening to these three women tell their stories, I was awed by them and the work they put into their CCIE certification journeys.

Inside the circle of CCIE certification success

Par turned to the group and asked how the CCIE certification has impacted their IT careers. A hands-on leader, Par is constantly motivated by the appetite for learning in the tech industry. Par upholds the importance of community and is inspired by the fantastic success stories she has seen firsthand.

“They really don’t expect a woman to have this certification,” Snezana said, referring to the general reaction she’d experienced over her 13 years as a CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure certification holder. “Having a CCIE certification brings respect from people,” she continued, adding that it’s especially gratifying as a woman in IT. “Not to bring gender into the picture!” she laughed as she turned to Marisol, her colleague, mentor, and 23-year active CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure (formerly CCIE Routing and Switching) certification holder.

Marisol took her cue. “But, we are bringing gender into the picture,” Marisol said, noting the many times she had heard the response, ‘Oh, she really does know what she is talking about,’ from others upon learning of her Expert-level Cisco certification.

‘Oh, she really does know what she’s talking about.’

If you are wondering why this particular scenario captured my attention in the first place, it’s unfortunate but straightforward. Tech is known for its rapid innovation and cutting-edge solutions. It is not known for its overwhelming population of women, however. On the contrary, women make up less than a third of the global tech workforce.* (That kind of representation carries over to Cisco Live, hence, my curiosity.)

Women currently make up about 28% of the tech workforce. That is a significant improvement from the early 2000s when only nine percent comprised women. There is still work to be done, though; another estimated 133 years to close the economic gender gap, to be specific.**

Elena agreed with Marisol regarding the respect the CCIE certification commands in the industry. “As a woman in the IT world, having this qualification adds a sort of gravitas to the experience and years you put in the industry.”

Par asked ­Elena if she felt her CCIE certification had been helpful for her career. “Definitely—which is nice to see,” Elena replied. “It’s recognized; it’s respected.”

Elena believes in the power of IT certifications. She had started working toward CCNA and CCNP certifications before her IT networking career truly began. Soon enough, she earned the CCIE Collaboration certification.

Becoming a CCIE success story

In my experience, few CCIE certification holders pass the lab exam on their first attempt. In a perfect world, it is a humbling experience that motivates CCIE candidates to work even harder on their second attempt. When we face challenges, how we respond to them determines what we are made of. CCIE certifications don’t just ‘happen.’ Getting Cisco Certified at the Expert level means you must pass an 8-hour lab exam, a day many reflect on as the most challenging in their career.

If at first, you don’t succeed… 

“I didn’t pass my CCIE lab on the first go,” Elena said. “It took me two attempts. In my case, I went back as soon as I could.” Elena said she didn’t consider this move as failing; instead, she was picking up and getting on with it. She added that having experience implementing the technology she was interested in helped her pass the exam. “I couldn’t have learned it all off paper,” she said.

“I also didn’t pass the lab my first time; it took me three attempts,” Snezana said. “Every single time I failed, it was like, ‘I’m almost there.’” I could feel the tension in her voice between almost and there. But she resolved that tension with, “Just take time. Accept it, breathe, and then practice. Giving up is not an option.”

Giving up is not an option 

Snezana’s last comment resonated. Giving up is not an option. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you want to go. You have the power to dictate your future—with hard work and dedication. Cisco certification exams do not care what you look like, where you are from, or which gender you identify with. Your ability to prove your skills and knowledge on an exam is all that matters in the world of Cisco certifications. So, if you are working towards a CCIE certification (or any certification for that matter), never give up. Not until you get there. And when you do, don’t let it go. 

Thank you for letting me share this wonderful memory with you. I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences as well. Please join me in the Women in Networking Community on the Cisco Learning Network, or post your comment below.


Watch the inspiring conversation below:

They did it, now it’s your turn.

Become the next certification success story.



· Join me at Cisco Live Las Vegas, June 4–8, 2023. Register by May 9, 2023, to save on your attendee package. Learn more

· Discover how to maintain active Cisco certification status by doing what you already do via the Continuing Education Program.

· Explore how you can distinguish yourself as the best of the best with Cisco Expert-level certifications.

· Prepare for your lab exam with CCIE Practice Labs, available in 4-hour blocks for US$50 per session.

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*The World Bank, 2023
**Women Tech Network, 2023


Emma Pearce

Marketing Manager

Learning and Certifications