CCIE Boot Camp Review - Micronics (Narbik's) 12-Day
Studying for your CCIE? If you are, then you might be planning to take a boot camp to help you prepare. A lot of candidates use boot camps to help them prepare and there are many choices available to routing and switching candidates in particular. If you haven’t taken a boot camp yet and are still considering which one to attend or whether or not to attend one at all, then this blog post is written for you.
Earlier this year, I made the decision to seriously pursue the CCIE R&S certification for many reasons I touched on in a previous blog post. I knew I wanted to take a boot camp, but before I decided on a specific training partner, I was unsure which one to pick. CCIE boot camps are offered from many training providers and not all of them are created equally. I’m not going to go into detail on all of the vendor boot camps I have not attended because I’d like to focus on reviewing the one boot camp I selected. If you want to see the list of vendors I compared, simply visit the top three search engines and search for “CCIE R&S boot camp”. The options are vast.
This blog post is partially a review and partially a daily journal that I tried to keep while taking the boot camp. I kept the journal for two reasons: I wanted to help myself keep track of what was covered in the class, but I also knew I’d be writing this blog post and wanted to give you an idea of what it’s actually like in the training.
The Boot Camp
The boot camp I selected and ultimately attended was the Micronics Training CCIE R&S End-to-End “No Excuses” boot camp in September/October of 2012. Narbik Kocharians, a triple CCIE and all-around nice guy, is the owner of Micronics Training and the instructor for most of this course. Although I am still early in my training path toward taking the CCIE lab exam, Narbik offers a great retake policy in which you can retake the class for free as many times as you want if there are open seats. I figured taking the class early would expose me to the entire curriculum of the class at the beginning of my lab prep and help me form a strategy for studying for the lab exam.
Now that I’ve completed this class and have had some time to decompress and catch up on life, I feel I can give a clear assessment of how it went. Overall, the class was great. However, it’s hard to say something like “the class was great” without some explanation.
Let’s start with the room itself. The room (in my case) was on the second floor of a small, corner complex in Glendale California. You basically walk into a suite and aside from an entry way and a hallway leading to the restroom, there’s a classroom with tables a chairs and a white board. It is simple, but effective. If you feel like you have to be in a 5 star resort in order to learn, then this isn’t for you. However, if you are the type of person that can sit anywhere and learn just the same as a formal setting, then you’ll do fine. If I had to find some things wrong with the classroom facilities, there’s only one bathroom which caused some people to wait at times. Also, the room is a bit cramped when it’s full. But once you are settled in your seat, you hardly notice.
The other students in the class were a great group. Some of them were repeating the class (for free), but most of the class was there for the first time. The majority of the people in the room were currently working in the IT field and were there to improve their skills for their current or future work situations. Overall, the rest of the students are great. Pretty much everyone in there is insanely focused on the task at hand and it's kind of a cool feeling being surrounded by others with a common interest.
Narbik is a great teacher. He clearly explains all topics on the whiteboard (sometimes in multiple ways). There are no power points if that’s your thing (I'm not a fan of power point presentations, so this was a plus for me). Narbik typically starts out a section by writing all the topics that will be covered off to the side of the board. Then he provides one example after another of just enough routers and switches to demonstrate how something should work. He even writes out the commands from memory on the board. I think I only noticed him referencing his notes for one lecture out of the 12 days, which if you have ever taught a class is an amazing feat.
The best part of the lecture is Narbik will re-explain the same concept in a different way to try to help you get it. If you don’t get it the first time, ask a question. There were many instances of someone asking for clarification and after a second time through it cleared things up.
We were exposed to a tremendous amount of information during the two week course and we covered the majority of the topics on the blueprint. There are a good amount of lectures that cover the material from a theoretical standpoint as well as time given for completing labs.
However, if you need more of a hands-on training style, there is a good bet you will find that in the labs. I can still hear Narbik tell us, “it’s all in the labs.” When you start tearing through the material in the labs, you will find that it really is all in the labs, they are a great resource. You still need supplemental resources, like the DOC CD, for regular practice, but the labs are written in such a way that you can either do them independently then check your work, or you can follow along. There are also thousands of pages of labs. So, you won't actually be finishing the all the labs during the bootcamp. Rather, you will be taking the labs home with you in both a printed form and a secure-digital form (lock lizard PDFs).
Day 1 – Monday - The first day was primarily an assessment day. Since this is a Cisco 360 course, there is a “pre-assessment” that gauges where everyone is at. If the real CCIE lab exam is a 6 out of 10, this pre-assessment lab is about a 4 out of 10. Don’t let that fool you though; you have 8 hours to complete the test and it can take the entire time. Several people were working on it up until the hard stop of 7:00pm.
At about 7:15, Narbik started teaching Layer 2 security topics – port-security, 802.1x, dhcp snooping, etc. Very good lecture and at the end of the night, people were still actively engaged in the class and asking questions, although a little tired.
Day 2 – Tuesday - The assessment we took yesterday was graded over night by Cisco 360 gremlins and the results are posted in the 360 portal. The average score for the pre-assessment is in the failing range of 55/100. I scored above average, but still short of a passing score. After everyone floated in around 9:00-9:15am and got settled, Narbik started teaching OSPF. Something to note about the way Narbik teaches, he doesn’t seem to reference any lecture notes at any point. He just gets up there and goes for hours, one network diagram and scenario after another. He either has a photographic memory or he’s a robot, I’m not quite sure at this point.
We broke for a late lunch and after returning, he finished up OSPF. We completed an OSPF lab and then started with EIGRP. By about 9:15pm, people were starting to zone out. Narbik was still bright eyed and going full steam ahead at the front of the room. He paused at one point to poke fun at how tired some of us looked, “wait until I show you this next scenario, you won’t want to sleep for days you’ll be so excited.” His light-hearted sense of humor helped keep things interesting. On the bright side, we got out “early” at about 9:45pm.
Day 3 – Wednesday - Today started off pretty chill. Narbik let us finish up the homework assignment he gave us on Monday. Considering we’ve had two 12+ hour days, unless you skipped out on eating and sleeping, this was the first chance we had to complete it. We also worked on BGP labs until lunch time.
After lunch, lecture on BGP started off. The BGP lecture was intense, covering a lot of detail and at a quick pace. We didn’t stop until close to 5 or 6 hours after we started. After a dinner break, Narbik went into the MPLS lecture until about 9:30pm.
Day 4 – Thursday - Started off the day with breakfast (more of a brunch since we started late). Narbik generously offered to treat everyone before diving into an all-day QOS session. The QoS Lesson was rigorous. Narbik covered a massive list of QoS technologies and had us follow along on our racks to test the configurations.
After the QOS lecture, we started the treacherous 8 hour Cisco 360 mock lab. The first part was a two hour troubleshooting portion with a break for dinner afterwards. Around 10:45pm, we started the 6 hour configuration portion of the lab. This lab was rated “Intermediate to Advanced” and it is definitely no walk in the park. Time felt like it was moving slow, but every once in a while I’d glance at the clock and it was an hour later than the last time I had looked – 2:30am, 3:45am, 4:45am. By 5:00am, I had pretty much burned out every brain cell I had left, so I submitted my exam and headed back to the hotel for a few hours of sleep.
Day 5 – Friday – This was a somewhat chill day. We didn’t get started until 10:30am since everyone was working on their labs until just a few hours earlier. We covered IPv6 Migration techniques, tunneling, etc. It was a pretty straight forward lecture and lasted all of about 3 hours. We were free to work on labs the rest of the day, but just about everyone in the class cleared out to get caught up on sleep.
Day 6 – Saturday – Switching labs – Narbik gave us homework to work on for Saturday. We had the option to come in to the class to use the Internet or we could stay in our hotels and work on the labs remotely. There are over 500 pages of switching labs between the two workbooks you get as part of this training and they are packed with explanations on how every part of the configuration works.
Day 7 – Sunday consisted of an 8 hour guest lecture on IP Services via Webex. The guest instructor, Terry, is a former student of Narbik’s who recently passed the CCIE R&S.
Days 8 through 12 (the second week) are focused on Troublshooting labs and additional lecture topics.
Day 8 – Monday - Troubleshooting labs1 & 2
Day 9 - Tuesday - Troubleshooting labs 3 & 4
Day 10 – Wednesday - Troubleshooting mock lab & Redistribution lecture
Day 11 – Thursday - Open lab day & Zone Based Firewall lecture – Most of the 11th day was devoted to lab time. Around 6:00pm Narbik started his access control list and zone-based firewall lecture. Prior to this lecture I had not heard a simple or straight-forward explanation of how this thing works. The term zone-based firewall was simply “a way to setup a router like a firewall if your client can’t afford a firewall.”
Day 12 – Friday – The class finished off with a Multicast lecture. Honestly, by the end of the two weeks everything is just numb. Luckily I’ve studied multicast before and worked on it in a large network, so it made perfect sense. There were some fond farewells and well-wishing as everyone left at the end.
If you are preparing for the CCIE R&S exam and intend on taking a boot camp to help you prepare, Narbik’s “No Excuses” boot camp is a solid offering. I am glad I took it earlier in my preparation because of the materials that you get from the class (lecture notes and labs). Although it was a grueling two weeks, it was bearable with Narbik’s contagious energy and sense of humor. I'd encourage anyone interested considering a boot camp as part of their preparation to take a look at the Micronics boot camp as a legitimate option.