The Story

I woke up early the day of the lab and felt calm and relaxed. My co-worker and I joked in the hotel lobby that it felt like we were heading into a normal day at work. The proctors were running late and after the introductions, we were off to the races…

…only to hit an outage 25 minutes into the lab. There was a power surge and all of our computers (along with half the racks) rebooted. Luckily, all my work was saved so there were no major setbacks. I passed the TS section the last time around and I felt pretty comfortable this time as well. I used this ‘confidence’ to push me into the configuration portion of the lab.

I read the exam manual slowly and carefully trying to grasp the nuance and wording of the tasks. I felt that certain questions were poorly written and the proctors absolutely refused to clarify any answers. In the end, I decided to “over” config rather than risk missing something because it wasn’t explicitly spelled out. I guess it turned out to be the right strategy. I was able to finish the lab early and had plenty of time to review.

The drive back to the airport was rough. My co-worker and I felt like there was a shot we passed, but I felt the same way last time, so anything was possible. We both agreed that the proctors did a poor job answering any questions.

Once we reached the airport I continuously checked my email every 5 minutes. Of course, the score report was literally sent at the same time we boarded the plane. I was frantically trying to load my results when the flight attendant forced me to turn off my phone. There was no in-flight wifi, so I suffered 6 hours without knowing my result. As soon as we touched the ground I jammed my phone on and my number was waiting for me: 27704.

I couldn’t believe it and I started to text friends and family my result. It was an incredible way to end quite an incredible adventure.

My co-worker also ended up passing and I don’t think either of us could have done it without the other. We pushed each other hard during our study sessions and our brainstorming sessions were very productive.

I’d like to share some things I learned along the way.

The Lab

My home lab was crucial in getting me ready for the lab. It was also nice throwing together proof of concepts for work, etc.

The links are usually buried on this blog, but here are part 1 and part 2 detailing my home lab.

I went with the 4 switch dynamips-for-routers design.

If you use are planning to use Linux, check out this post on tips with Screen and make sure to read the comments. There is a valuable script provided by Adnan Hassan.

Some Tips

I highly recommend finding a study partner for your lab studies. You will push other and achieve things a lot faster. Two heads are better than one and it’s always interesting to see how someone else approaches a solution.

Here’s how we prepared for the troubleshoot section. We created a “test bed” in Dynamips with all the standard topologies – Frame Relay, P2P, MPLS, etc. We then set up all the protocols and services that we wanted. We then went in and “broke” things for the other person to solve. This achieved a few different goals. One, you get solid TS experience. Make sure to practice with time limits, etc, to get a feel for the real thing. Second, when you are the person breaking things, you certainly see things differently. And finally, the test scenarios will probably be harder than the real lab, making the real thing easier. I know I used hidden commands and all sorts of crazy things to test my co-worker.

The most important thing I learned, though, was to just lab up everything you questioned. My work laptop always had a simple dynamips lab running a hub-and-spoke topology and a simpler point-to-point topo with 3 routers. About 99% of things I came across I was able to quickly lab up and verify with my own eyes. The other 1% required me to turn on my rack at home, but even that was not a big deal. If you only get one piece of advice from this page: Lab everything and verify with your own eyes!

The Books

I used these mostly during my prep for the written, but they are a great resource even for the lab.

Cisco LAN Switching – Old, but the first half is excellent and still relevant today. It’s super cheap and the best book on layer 2 available IMO.

TCP/IP Routing Vol 1 – They call it The Bible for a reason. Get your core down with this book.

Developing IP Multicast Networks – Probably my favorite Cisco Press book. You can skips lots of chapters (that are not relevant for this test) and it’s smooth reading.

Internet Routing Architecture – Great BGP resource.

MPLS Configuration on IOS Networks – The examples in this book are amazing. Do a few MPLS labs and then clarify everything with this book.

More to come shortly…


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