Dear Cisco, I Have A Bone to Pick With You

For several years, Tom has excitedly anticipated the day he would receive that coveted number. The number that magically lets the world know, you have made it in the world of networking. It's a prestigious number to hold and carry, and the opportunities afforded it's owners broaden beyond the average network engineer.

This sounds amazing, and I'm sure it is; however, today's CCIE is not the same as it was just a few short years ago. How would I know? I'm a creative. I have no desire to architect grand networks. I enjoy the opportunity we have to travel while Tom works fulltime from our RV. I enjoy the moments we have together as a family because those moments won't last. These are the moments we traded for a mundane suburban life and we these are the moments we covet beyond measure.

But something has been missing for more than a few months. Tom. Our provider. Our rock and our favorite travel buddy. At present, he's just the bus driver that takes us from place to place, helps us set up shop and then goes to the back to his tiny little desk and where he has spent countless hours studying for the dreaded CCIE lab exam. Not for the first time. The average number of times required to pass is typically 3 attempts. And is it for more money at his current job? No. Is it for a bonus? Nope. There are a number of reasons I won't get into; however, only one matters to me. Because my husband wants it.

Now, Tom is not one to brag. But he is the closest thing to an expert in his industry. He tackles network architecture that goes above and beyond the details of the CCIE lab exam. He communicates between feuding vendors and customers and is able to settle a heated argument with professionalism and poise which then allows the process of designing and implementing a vast networking infrastructure to continue to fruition and success. He can break down complex ideas to their most basic denominator and explain them to where anyone at any level can understand.

He knows to ask basic questions to deep dive to achieve balance. He can effortlessly speak to contractors overseas who sometimes use different terms and often have different work ethic and he can manage multiple projects spanning multiple deadlines and see them to the end and beyond. Why? Because, he's a human. He has something that many folks in the IT and Tech industries lack. He has communication skills. He has an ease of personality that cuts through the puffed up gurus and can see the heart of an issue.

I have always had an issue with standardized tests. They don't measure the propensity of success. They don't measure the ability for a candidate to truly organize, design, structure and implement a project. All it measures is that you were able to climb into the test creator's brains for a few hours and think like they do. But here's the crux- the real world doesn't operate that way. There are questions that get passed between parties multiple times before architecting a network. There is usually more than one person available to bounce an idea off of and get feedback. There are opportunities to research the newer and better technology.

When I took my teaching certification exam, the University required the candidates to sit in an all-day seminar where they basically told us the way the state wants us to answer the questions. It wasn't about the knowledge or our own intuition, it was about what the state thought was the best right answer to a question. This is not real-world, practical. This exam did nothing to ensure the state that I was qualified to teach. It just measured if I could read their minds.

After the state continued to adopt more and more stringent testing methods within the schools and I was no longer able to teach to my passion of music and instead was required to maintain high standards and ratings at competitions while my students were pulled out of my class almost daily in which to be trained to take a state-wide standardized test, I realized teaching was no longer my passion and I left. Each time I look at the state of public education, I'm saddened at how little these tests are preparing students for life.

Tom reads voraciously to stay abreast of new technology as it comes. He continues to work with co-workers and other networking professionals on a daily basis. He does not architect in a vacuum. He is the epitome of a life-long learner. Someone who enjoys new technology and equally enjoys working with a variety of people in his chosen industry.

Those that have taken this test when Tom first attempted this beast, are in a whole other category in my mind regarding their level of knowledge. The CCIE a few years ago is nowhere near the level of crazy that today's lab exam has come. With each new update to the exam, there is very little information for the candidate in which to come up to speed on the technology and be able to implement it in the way the test makers want them to.

There's also the dark side of this exam. There are several CCIEs that Tom has interviewed in the past few years who know absolutely nothing or very little about the basic technologies that would be covered in the CCNA exam. This is puzzling to someone who continues to learn and grow and who has yet to realize this ethereal dream of gaining this number.

Those who dump the "exam" or who gain materials that allow them to study the answers of the exam are able to go in and take the exam and get this number without true understanding of being an expert. Because Tom is ethical and studies all "sanctioned" materials, he's the one penalized because he chooses to study the correct way and actually learn and understand the material.

Much like a Master's Degree candidate takes their oral exams or a Doctoral Candidate sets in front of a board and defends their thesis, why can't this high level, expert exam be handled in much the same way? Have a panel of experts either in person or remote ask the questions, have them configure but also allow them to provide that human interaction that sets a true expert apart from someone who only knows the answers to the test.

Cisco, your measuring tool is flawed and is not a true measure for an expert. An expert is more than a number. More than an algorithm. More than a person who can "beat" the system. An expert is a person who can communicate the technology, understand it and implement it within a real-world scenario or multiple scenarios. You have taken that human element out of your measuring tool; and thus, there are many "experts" who don't know what BGP or EIGRP means.

Each time my husband studies for this ridiculous measurement, our family is put on hold and my husband's health becomes less of what we would like. A typical study day begins no later than 6 a.m. and ends no earlier than 8 p.m. In addition to his busy work schedule, he studies with his co-worker till late in the evening. We're lucky if he has enough bandwidth at the end of the day for our kids to read a story to him for 5 minutes. I literally bring him his breakfast, lunch and dinner while he works, reads, and practices for this exam.

And this last attempt, he was so prepared and flew through the first two sections only to realize that there was a new configuration that he didn't know in detail sitting in front of him. He did everything he knew to do, and came up short.

And so after one week off, he's back to the grind in order to try yet again in one month. At With a few attempts, this exam can easily cost several thousands of dollars in fees alone; not to mention travel and lodging to the test center itself, and not to mention time spent away from living and enjoying the amazing people and scenery around him.

So, it's another month as a CCIE widow. The 5th time; but hopefully this will be the last. He will pass this exam. It has not made him a better husband, a better co-worker, a better network architect. What it has done is literally taken a man away from his family, has him barely staying afloat at work so he can focus on studying and has put a lot of people on standby while we continue to make things work without him. Several birthdays and holidays have been missed. We will continue to support and encourage him, but we are also weary.

Dear Cisco,

Please return my husband to the Winnebago Rally in Forest City Iowa at the end of this month with number in hand and please re-vamp your measuring tool to reflect what a true expert in the industry should know. That is all!

Thank You.

Valerie Kosa, CCIE Widow number whatever...


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