UPDATED: Say it Ain’t so, Cisco

UPDATE: Despite what I was told before, my CCDE plaque arrived today! Here it is –

Oh boy, here we go… More speculation on the state of Cisco? No. More WAAS team rumors? Negative. SDN strategy? Nope… So what news could be bigger than all of that? Nothing that you’ll read in this post, but apparently you no longer receive a plaque when you achieve CCDE. What has long been the icing on the cake for candidates that pass any CCIE track, and more recently its expert level counterpart for design, is something that new CCDEs will not receive.

Let me start by saying that I am still absolutely thrilled about passing the CCDE, and I’m ok with just receiving a number and certificate, but… What!? No plaque? When did this happen and why? I contacted Cisco Certification Support to confirm, and sure enough, they said that “only CCIE certifications provide plaques.” I also checked ‘Certification Fulfillment’ in the tracking system, and it basically indicates that plaques are just for CCIE. Sure, not a big deal and I’ll get over it, but I’m just trying to figure out the logic here.

I do know that CCDEs did receive plaques at one point in time, but I’m not exactly sure at what point that changed. CCDE is equivalent to CCIE “in terms of difficulty and expertise,” and both are expert level certifications on Cisco’s certification pyramid, but plaques are now only for CCIEs? There are ~70 CCDEs in the world since 2007, so you can’t really make the argument that it was done to save costs. I’m at a loss… Say it ain’t so, Cisco! <–they said it ain't so!

Anyway, I also wanted to take the opportunity to once again say to go out there and take v2 of the Practical Exam. I'm glad that I don't have to take it again, but I thought that it was very well written, and (in a sick way) I enjoyed taking it. I've posted about how I prepared, but you basically just have to go and take it. Practice scenarios would be a useful tool to prepare, but other than that, you just need to register and go take a shot at the “brain game.”

I know that there are a lot of concerns about ROI, but I can confirm that there is value to obtaining the cert. It was motivation for me all along to be recognized worldwide as one of the few certified network infrastructure design experts. My employer recognized how big of an accomplishment it was, and that’s always nice. I know people want to see jobs requiring CCDE, and maybe even new channel requirements, and I think we’ll see that as people get certified and CCDE becomes more widely recognized and respected.

Cisco has gone to great lengths to protect the cert as well. The practical is only offered 3-4 times a year, and only in Pearson Professional Centers. Content is continuously being developed for the exam, although I don’t see how it would even be possible to “dump” the practical. It devalues a cert when people are able to cheat their way to achieving it, so I applaud Cisco for their efforts there.

I also love the fact that the cert is vendor neutral, which will also be important as we enter into this new and exciting age of networking. It doesn’t matter if you work with Cisco products or not. The exam tests design and analytical skills, so there are no products or command lines to master. There is not even a mention of any Cisco product on the exam. The exam was designed to be “timeless.” Design skills are and will continue to be very important as networks continue to evolve.

Should CCIE be a Prerequisite for CCAr?

That’s a question that has resurfaced, and that will probably not go away. The same thing was discussed when the architect cert was first announced back in 2009. If you follow the comments you’ll see that it was exhaustively debated, and it was even botched in the news that either CCIE or CCDE would meet the prerequisite for the CCAr.

I absolutely agree with splitting implementation/config/troubleshooting and architecture/design into separate branches, but the pyramid should be changed to reflect that. Architect in the pyramid sits on top of Expert, which includes CCDE as well as CCIE. It doesn’t make sense to me for CCAr to sit on top of the CCIE if it isn’t a prerequisite for CCAr. If you have two pyramids, with CCAr on top of one and CCIE on top of the other, then no feathers are ruffled.

When it comes down to the question itself, I agree that CCDE is the prerequisite for CCAr and not the CCIE. The separation of the design track is there in the industry, and it doesn’t make sense to exclude a qualified architect that doesn’t have a CCIE. It would make no sense for them to have to go back and obtain CCIE to be qualified. Also keep in mind that CCDE and CCAr are vendor neutral for the most part (EIGRP on the CCDE the exception), while CCIE requires expert level skills specifically around configuration and troubleshooting of Cisco products (hardware and software components).

Someone at Cisco Live said that it’s no longer a pyramid, but it’s more of a tree. If that change is made, then one has to assume that something new should now be on top of the CCIE as well. Before the CCAr was announced, there were rumors of a “Super CCIE” cert that would cross multiple tracks and would require multiple CCIEs as a prerequisite. That would be pretty cool, but I guess for now we have to live with CCAr sitting at the top of the pyramid over Expert – over both implementation/support and design branches.

What’s Next After CCDE?

One question that comes up a bit is “what’s next?” or more specifically, will I pursue the Cisco Certified Architect (CCAr) certification? We’re talking about the PhD of Cisco certifications… the pinnacle. I’ll start by saying that I’d like to, but I’m going to take a long break from certs to enjoy this one and spend more quality time with the family. The cool thing is that in the meantime I’m preparing just by doing my job!

I’m taking my time to learn as much about the cert as I can. No harm in that, right? I always said first thing’s first, and now that I have CCDE under my belt, I can start to entertain the thought of pursuing CCAr. It’s definitely a big investment, and it’s not something that I want to have to pay for more than once (either part), so I want to be sure that I’m ready.

I attended the CCAr focused breakout session at Cisco Live, but my mind was still in CCDE land. It would have been awesome to have gotten the results back that week, but I’m not complaining. I’ve since watched the recording and have reviewed some of the material on Cisco Learning Network, but I still have some questions.

There are a lot of questions about return on investment and the market value of the CCAr. For CCDE, I didn’t worry about any of that. I didn’t want to get the cert to punch my ticket to a new job or to get a big raise (although that would be nice – hehehe), but I just wanted to be recognized as a design expert. This would be no different. I would really just like to be certified at the highest level and be recognized as a Cisco Certified Architect. We are talking about $15,000 though…

We’ll see soon enough how many new architects we have after this round of board exams in December/January 2013. I’d be interested to see how many CCDEs are starting the interview process, which begins in August. I did notice that there will only be one or two administrations of the board exam a year, and only one or two candidates will be accepted each exam period. I’m in no rush…

So what’s next then? I did vow to my family that I’d learn to speak Russian after I passed CCDE, so that may be my biggest challenge yet. I know a lot of words, but never have been able to put it all together. I’ll keep an eye on CCAr as I continue to work at being a better architect. I’m coming off of a short vacation with my family, and I sure could use some more of that too!