A few weeks back I posted about attending training for my CCNP studies.  I had started/stopped studying for the ROUTE exam several times over the past year and was kicking off what I was hoping would be my final attempt at getting some momentum on this exam.  I am very pleased to share that last tuesday I took the ROUTE exam and passed the test with a healthy score.

For the most part the test was fair in the topics covered.  In typical Cisco fashion, I felt like someone who speaks english as a second or third language wrote the exam questions.  I much preferred the simulation questions as there are clear objectives and verifiable results.  Now that I have cleared the hurdle of ROUTE I have already started down the path of SWITCH and I am looking forward to the challenge that lies ahead.

I’m quite excited as this week I will be re-initiating my pursuit of the CCNP route and switch certification.  This is something that I have started a couple times but has been sidelined due to various personal and work related reasons.  I am hoping that this time around I can get some momentum behind me and am happy to be kicking it off with some instructor lead training.  I am typically more of a self-learner (more of necessity rather than desire) but this time around my work is providing for me to attend the ROUTE class at Global Knowledge.

I picked ROUTE first as this is the area I have the least amount of experience in and will most likely take the most effort to achieve.  I was previously responsible for a number of larger campus/metro networks that relied heavily on switching concepts and little on routing.  In fact…when I started at the company everything in the network was controlled with static routes…in 2005…

Moving forward to the current day I am still a bit surprised that I’m here.  When I made the move to my current employer about 9 months ago it was as a  SysAdmin with a focus on Virtualization.  I have never been a “Network Engineer” in the truest sense since I have never had a job exclusively focused on packet manipulation.  My manager knew I had some skills in the area but it took my friend Jeff Fry leaving the organization to even give me the opportunity to do work on the network side of things.  Talk about some large shoes to fill…

I’m hoping the the uninterrupted time, combined with some live instruction, is just what is needed to get me moving towards my CCNP.

This is a short list of the tools that I have been using to study for my Cisco certification exams.  I would love to hear if you have used other tools to effectively study/prepare for certifications.

Cisco Press

This one is a pretty obvious selection as they publish the official exam study guides for all of the Cisco certification exams.  I’m currently reading CCNP Route  but have also gone through ICND1 and ICND2 for my CCNA studies.  One really great thing about Cisco Press is that they have a an eBook deal of the day which often features the Cisco Press certification guides for CCNA and CCNP tests (in many disciplines, not just R&S).  It’s pretty hard to beat picking up a cert guide eBook for $10.  The only thing to watch out for is that some of the discounted eBooks come with DRM that only allows them to be read on a computer and not on a mobile device like an smart phone or tablet.  They have answered this concern by providing watermarked eBooks but you have to verify which version of the material you are purchasing.

Safari Books Online

This resource goes far beyond just studying for certifications and I can’t recommend having a subscription enough.  Safari is an online library of technical manuals/guides containing just about every technology you could think of.  They have different tiers of access that make it accessible for an occasional user like myself to obtain without corporate backing.  They also publish an iPad application that allows you to access the content from your tablet.

iPad

This is a surprisingly convenient tool when studying for certifications.  Having an independent display (on the go) that can house reference material or lab guidelines leaves your primary laptop/computer free for labbing or note taking.  I also use mine quite regularly to read the certification guides when I’m not sitting at a desk or have my laptop handy.  It’s definitely not a necessity but it has many great uses while studying.

Laptop/computer

You need one…period.  These are technical certifications and I imagine they would be pretty hard to pass without some sort of laptop or computer to work on.  If you are going to be doing virtual labbing with a tool like GNS3 then make sure it isn’t weak.  You can never have too much RAM.

GoodReader

If you are going to read any document on the iPad it is an absolute must.  It makes reading large PDF files easy, remembers where you were when you leave the file/app and can sync files from 3rd party storage locations like dropbox.  It’s $5 in the app store and is worth every penny.

Mental Case

Mental Case is a flash card application for the mac, iPhone and iPad.  Greg Ferro from packetpushers had tweeted a recommendation about it so I picked it up for my iPad…well worth it.  You can create your own question sets or use public sets available for download from FlashcardExchange.com and Quizlet.com.  The application tracks which questions you have answered correctly and incorrectly and can revisit questions you got wrong automatically.  This definitely another fantastic app that is well worth the money.

GNS3/Dynamips

GNS3 is an emulated routing environment that supports running Cisco IOS and Juniper JunOS.  It’s a godsend for labbing as you no longer need to have physical equipment in order to learn how to configure software components.  It certainly gives greater flexibility in setting up disparate media/connectivity types without needing a drawer full of interface cards and multple routers sitting in your garage/basement.  Unfortunately, emulating IOS is a grey area when it comes to licensing.  Technically every version of IOS you run should be licensed (which is tied to a piece of hardware) and Cisco does not provide a short term trial or limited version of their software for testing/studying.  Cisco isn’t alone in that as Juniper and the other major network vendors have similar stances on licensing but the reality is that you  don’t need 4 to 6 routers running in your house and drawing power when it can be emulated at far lest cost/aggravation…not to mention the benefits of bringing your lab with you wherever you go.  As far as I know Cisco has not ever pursued any type of punitive action against those using IOS outside of the normal contract for studying purposes (which has to be in the thousands) but you do so at your own risk.

GNS3Vault

If you do choose to go the emulation route this website is a great resource.  Rene Molenaar runs this site which provides labs for the different technologies learned while going through the study guides.  Some labs are better than others but having free access to lab guides can help validate that you’ve learned the material and provide the practice necessary to really commit it to memory.  Additionally there are many videos on YouTube explaining how to complete the lab requirements.