Back in 1993 the CCIE Cisco Certification, the first Cisco certification, was created and tested. Yes, the CCIE certification came years before the CCNA certification (1998) and thus Cisco needed a way to weed out candidates who were not ready for the CCIE lab exam. What they came up with was a Written pre-qualification exam to show that the candidate was ready to attempt the CCIE Lab exam. The CCIE Written is not a certification in itself, even though many job seekers seem to think that it is, it is just a qualifier to show that the candidate is ready to attempt the CCIE lab exam. To this day the CCIE written is still needed, regardless if the candidate does not have or has other Cisco certifications. Today though, with all the Cisco certifications, training, and the amount of Cisco networking gear in the enterprise, it is quite different and begs the question, “Does the CCIE Written still make sense today?”
Originally the CCIE written exam made sense as there had been no other certifications, no formal training existed at the time, and the people who could be qualified to take this exam all pretty much knew each other on a first-name basis. Today though, things are quite different. There are both Cisco official training (Cisco 360) that prepares the candidate for the CCIE lab exam as well as “alternate” training companies offering to teach candidates the topics on the CCIE lab exam. Today there is training, blogs, workbooks, mentors, etc that a person is able to learn everything they need about the lab before attempting. They do need to be an “expert” when it comes to what is on the Lab, but have they really shown their progression of knowledge by taking that one exam?
Back in the day when Juniper introduced their expert lab (JNCIE) certification they also had a written pre-qualification. This was because, similar to Cisco, the candidate pool was small and very close-knit yet understood that this was a certification open to anyone. They wanted to make sure that a person who wanted to attempt their lab had the necessary knowledge. Yet over time Juniper dropped the written pre-qualification exam in favor of candidates progressing through the Juniper certification path. Today in order to attempt the JNCIE lab exam a candidate must possess a JNCIA, JNCIS-xxx, JNCIP-xxx in the track that they are attempting. So if a candidate wants to take the JNCIE-ENT, they must have a JNCIA, JNCIS-ENT, and JNCIP-ENT certifications prior to booking the JNCIE-ENT lab. This approach actually helps the candidate build the knowledge and experience versus just preparing for a single exam.
The reason that I mention how Juniper has changed their certification program is because I think it is time for Cisco to do the same, Cisco should drop the CCIE written and start to require candidates to have a CCNP in the track. When you look at the unofficial CCIE Hall of Fame you notice that as of July 2015, we are in the 48xxx for CCIE numbers and according to BradReese.com there are over 38,000 active CCIEs in the world. The CCIE exam is a success and is still in demand to this day, yet has not changed since the day it was first started.
When a person looks at the topics covered by the current CCIE written exam, there are topics there that are not part of a CCIE R&S lab exam. There is no OTV on the R&S exam, that is on the Data Center Exam. There is no L2VPN services on the R&S lab exam, those are on the Service Provider exam. Describing WAN based Ethernet circuits does not sound like a CCIE lab exam topic at all. While I personally prefer IS-IS over any other routing protocol, IS-IS is a Service Provider topic. I have heard the CCIE written exam being described as more of a Cisco network trivia test than a CCIE qualification exam.
Today a person can be a CCIE with no real world experience due to all the training that is available, the “bootcamps” that are out there that will teach you to pass the lab, and sadly by looking for “dumps” on the Internet. The people who obtain the CCIE by these means do nothing but hurt themselves as well as potentially devalue the CCIE certification. By requiring a candidate to have the necessary lower level certifications in their perspective track, Cisco would be helping to ensure that the candidates have the necessary experience and knowledge that goes with the CCIE Certification. By progressing through the certification tracks, candidates will learn progressively and demonstrate their knowledge versus being able to just pass a Lab Exam and call themselves Certified.
If you are aware of how the CCIE program works, you know that a CCIE needs to recertify every two years to stay current. To recertify the candidate must pass any CCIE/DE level written exam, in any track, to receritfy. So what happens if there was no CCIE written to recertify against? I can see two options here for Cisco to adopt, the first option is Continuing Professional Education (CPE) and has been covered very well by Tom Holllingsworth over at NetworkingNerd Continuing Professional Education – the second would be to create a comprehensive CCNP certification written exam that can also be used to recertify. A comprehensive CCNP test would include two of the three current CCNP 300-xxx tests as one test, leaving a third test as a requirement to achieve CCNP certification.
Why do I think it is time for this change? I actually think that it has been time for quite a while as this topic has come up at many Cisco Live NetVet receptions in the past.