When it comes to CCIE certification, there is no single formula or recipe for success. Don’t be misled, however. You aren’t on your own. Earning an Expert-level Cisco certification takes a lot of work, but the resources, guidance, and support you need to stay on track are all available to you. In fact, you may even feel overwhelmed by the number of options that claim to be ‘the best’ for helping you prepare for your CCIE certification exams. After all, preparing for the 8-hour, hands-on practical lab is not for the faint of heart.

The journey to becoming a CCIE is incredibly challenging. Trust me—I know. And not only because I am CCIE certified: as the director of Cisco certifications, being an expert on the CCIE lab and what it takes to pass it is my responsibility. So, I’m going to share some advice on how to prepare for CCIE certification. In this blog, you will find tips, guidance, and resources that can help you prepare for the written and practical exams. I’ll also offer my thoughts on what it means to be a CCIE certification holder. So, without further ado, let’s see if you have what it takes to become a CCIE.

Preparing for CCIE certification is a life decision

Before you begin your CCIE journey, it’s critical that you realize the extent of this undertaking. Becoming an expert and earning your CCIE certification is more than a career move. It is a life decision.

Preparing for CCIE certification takes hours upon hours of study that will impact your personal time. Being diligent often translates to sacrifices. Sacrificing time with family and friends, sleeping late on weekends, missing out on events, etc.

I’ve been there. I have experienced the long nights of studying and the nerves that precede a test. But, I have also experienced the satisfaction and excitement that comes from persevering and passing the exams. I can say with absolute certainty that it was all worth it. When you become CCIE certified, the reward for your commitment is unparalleled.

Where your CCIE journey begins

Once you decide to take the leap into preparing for your CCIE certification, it’s time to start planning your learning journey. And like with any journey, you cannot plan ahead if you don’t know your starting point: your current skills and knowledge. That means you must know yourself. Or, as the Greek philosopher Pausanias wrote, “Know thy measure.”

You can do this by downloading and reviewing the exam topics for any certification exam on the Cisco Learning Network. These available exam topics, or blueprints for our written and lab exams, are an excellent starting point. While they won’t give you answers to the exam questions themselves, they will give you an idea of what you will be tested on. You must take an honest inventory of your skills and knowledge, considering the things you know and what you don’t. 

Reaching the point where you feel comfortable taking an Expert-level Cisco certification exam is an incredible achievement. However, let’s assume that you are still far from that stage. What is most important—right now— is the way you get there. So, once you have become familiar with the exam topics, it’s time to take the next step.

Into the CCIE learning matrix

I’m happy you chose the red pill. Now, it’s time to see how deep this rabbit hole goes with a learning matrix. Creating a learning matrix is like creating your master CCIE learning plan, or plot, for how you will learn all of the CCIE exam material. Don’t worry, you don’t have to start from scratch: the Cisco Learning Network has a matrix for each Expert-level certification, which you can download and edit for free. (I have provided links at the bottom of this post).

Lay the foundation for your CCIE learning plan

Once you download the matrix for your CCIE technology domain, you will see that learning resources have already been pre-populated by exam topic. Consider these a starting off point to help you kickstart your learning. Additional resources may be required to advance your strengths and bolster your weaknesses, so I recommend using this format as a template you can (and should) build upon.

As you customize and build your plan, you can identify the exact areas you need to focus on leading up to your test date. If you haven’t scheduled your exam, your CCIE learning matrix is an excellent way to estimate how much time you need to prepare based on your knowledge, training methods, and learning pace. Remember, every learning journey is different, so try to avoid the common pitfall of comparing yourself to other CCIE candidates and certification holders.

Build a strong network of supporters

As I mentioned earlier, you aren’t on your own—far from it, in fact. The Cisco learning and certification community is vast, knowledgeable, kind, and accessible.

While you are visiting the Cisco Learning Network to download your learning matrix, take a moment to browse the community discussions by topic. The Cisco Learning Network community is comprised of subject matter experts, CCIE candidates, certification holders, and more who can support your CCIE journey every step of the way. As you browse, bookmark the community discussions that pertain to your CCIE technology track so you can refer to them later.

You can find boundless knowledge in the Cisco learning community from those who have been there, done that. Sometimes the best way to reach your goals is to ask how others how they did it themselves. It sounds simple, right? Well, that’s because it is. Don’t underestimate the power and boundless knowledge contained within this community, however. I cannot overstate the impact a network of likeminded peers can have on your CCIE certification journey.

Research CCIE training, tools, and resources

Learning is a journey; an exploration. So far, you have explored the exam topics for your CCIE certification exam(s), started building your learning plan, and reflected on your existing strengths and weaknesses. Now it’s time to find the best training resources for your learning style.

Understanding your approach to problem-solving is as vital to success as finding reliable learning materials. Selecting the training, tools, and resources for your CCIE prep is far easier when you know which methods and materials work best for your learning style.

Choose wisely, then customize and combine

These days, there is no shortage of options available to help you get exam-ready. Back when I was preparing for CCIE certification, the vast catalog of training, courses, bootcamps, reference books, videos, etc. Cisco has today did not exist yet. So, use them to your advantage. They’re designed by people who have done what you’re doing and experienced the hard work and dedication necessary to succeed. Combine these different resources to fit your learning style and specifically target the areas you identified for growth.

As you research your learning and training resources, do so openly and honestly. Be honest about what you’re good at and where you legitimately need to improve. After all, Expert-level practical exams don’t test what you think you’re good at. They test your actual abilities.

Hands-on practice is critical

The CCIE lab is all about hands-on complex network setup, so make sure you get plenty of practice in a lab. However, a common challenge for CCIE candidates is they don’t have access to the equipment, pods, and infrastructure they need to practice in the first place. So, we created CCIE lab rentals for practical exam preparation.

CCIE Practice Labs is a new offer for CCIE candidates preparing for the lab. Once you have passed the technology core exam, the prerequisite for taking the practical exam, you can rent a CCIE Practice Lab. Labs are available in 4-hour blocks of time for US$50. This allows you to get hands-on practice using topologies similar to what you’ll see in the actual lab.

CCIE Practice Labs are available for CCIE Security, CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure, and CCIE Service Provider certifications, with more on the way.

What the CCIE lab is really testing you on

The CCIE lab exam is more than a test of knowledge. It tests how well you can merge your conceptual understanding with practical skills. You may be able to recall rote details and concepts, but can you put them into practice? Along with the deep expertise needed to pass the lab, you must be able to translate, synthesize, and solve problems. When faced with novel problems in the real world, can you solve them satisfactorily? Essentially, your expertise should be far greater than the sum of the parts that comprise it.

Earning the CCIE certification means you have the mental agility, confidence, and deep expertise to process through complexity, think critically, innovate, and deliver solutions effectively. If all of this sounds scary, it shouldn’t. But it does offer perspective on the level of success achieved when you become CCIE certified.

Do you have what it takes to become a CCIE?

Now that we’ve established the basis for what it takes to become a CCIE, you may have a newfound respect for those who are Cisco Certified with two (or more) Expert-level certifications.

Getting to the point where you’re considering taking a CCIE exam is an accomplishment. And as you read this now, you already have what it takes to get certified at the Expert level. I know this because every CCIE certification holder is made. We are not born experts. We become CCIE certified because of what we have given to reaching our goals. You must find the path that empowers you to give what it takes—the time, dedication, persistence, and desire—for CCIE certification success. If you are ready and willing to dedicate yourself to earning the CCIE certification, then you have what it takes.

I hope you found this blog helpful in understanding what it takes to become a CCIE and how to build a strong, structured approach. You’ll find useful links below to learn more about our Expert-level certifications, the testing experience, and resources to help you take your learning to the next level.

I wish you the best on your path and invite your comments if any of my advice resonates with you. Better yet, share your thoughts on this post in this discussion thread. And if you are already on the way to earning your CCIE certification, we would love to hear about your experience.

A special note for CCIE candidates attending Cisco Live 2023 Las Vegas

If you are joining us in Las Vegas, June 4–8, 2023, I highly recommend attending a Cisco Expert-Level Certification Techtorial at Cisco Live, where you have a unique opportunity to take a deep dive into specific Cisco technology tracks. We designed these 4-hour sessions for attendees who have advanced technical domain knowledge. So, if you are ready to pursue (or you are already in flight) a CCIE, CCDE, or DevNet Expert certification, I strongly advise you to make this a priority.

*If you are an active Cisco certification holder, these sessions are eligible for Continuing Education (CE) credits you can apply towards recertification.

Cisco Expert-level training and certification resources 

Download your CCIE Learning Matrix

Select your certification track from the options below, then navigate to the “Additional Resources” tab to find the link to download your customizable learning matrix.

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Yusuf Bhaiji

Director of Certifications

Learning & Certifications