CCIE Preparation: Bootcamps

If you’re starting down the CCIE path, you’ve probably come across references to “CCIE bootcamps.” People rave about them, talking about how much they learnt, how tough they are, how “I couldn’t have done it without this course.” Is it true? I can just take a week-long course, and magically be granted CCIE status? Not so fast. This post takes a look at what bootcamps are, what you can get out of them, and whether you should take one or not.

What is a Bootcamp?

A bootcamp is an intensive CCIE study course, run over a short period - typically run between 1 and 2 weeks. It is heavily focused towards lab preparation. An instructor will work with a class of 15–20 students, usually for 10–12 hours per day. You’ll have a mix of lectures and lab exercises, and usually no PowerPoint - just whiteboards and consoles.

The exact mix of topics will vary, based upon student requirements and course length. Shorter (~1 week) courses will usually focus on core topics, while longer courses will cover non-core topics. There is a limit to how deep you can go - e.g. BGP might be covered in a morning, so you can’t cover every nuance.

You will need to already have a very solid understanding of the fundamentals - these are not introductory lectures, but are instead for refining your knowledge, and filling in the small gaps.

Don’t expect to be spoon-fed through the course - because people are at different levels, the instructors might have a suggested list of lab exercises, and it’s up to you how much you do. You might stay up into the night going through the lot, or you might need to spend all your time on the first few exercises. Don’t expect to have someone marking your homework - but there will be all the help you need, if you ask for it.

Courses are run often across North America, sometimes in Europe, and infrequently elsewhere. As far as I can tell, Narbik (Micronics) is the only one running courses in the Southern Hemisphere (usually in Sydney, Australia).

Who runs them?

Most reputable CCIE training companies offer bootcamps. Examples are INE, IPExpert, and Micronics Training. The last one is run by Narbik Kocharians, something of a legend in the CCIE training industry. He has his own inimitable style, and I guarantee you’ll enjoy it if you do attend his bootcamp.

All the reputable companies have high-quality instructors and courses. They all have their own unique styles, and I recommend seeking out reviews and sample videos, so you can check that their style suits you. Most will be happy for you to sit in on a course for an hour or two, to see how it works. This is a great option if bootcamps run in your hometown. You need to figure out what works for you - we’re all different.

A word of warning though - there are some extremely dodgy outfits offering cheap CCIE training in developing countries. Make sure you do your research on them before handing over cash - many are just using brain-dumps, and/or ripping off other vendors’ material. Search hard for genuine reviews first.

What Will I Get Out of One?

Firstly, you’ll either get a big confidence boost if you’re almost ready, or you’ll get a huge kick up the backside if you’re still a long way off.

You’ll finish the course tired but buzzing. If you’ve been spending your time studying alone, it is such a change to be in a classroom full of people who are committed to CCIE like you are. Because the people in the room are committing so much personal time and money towards this goal, there is a very different energy to that seen on normal training courses. You’ll tap into that energy, and surprise yourself with how late into the night you’ll want to work on OSPF problems.

The bootcamp should have solidified your understanding of all core topics, and probably a few other areas. You should have moved ahead far more in that week than you would in a month of regular studies. You will have had a chance to talk through problem areas with the instructor and other students, and probably had a few light-bulb moments.

Long days and nights will also highlight how you cope under pressure - do you fall to pieces, or can you keep it together?

What Won’t I Get Out of It?

The bootcamp alone won’t make you a CCIE. If you haven’t devoted the time to building a solid foundation through reading, labs, and more reading, then a short course isn’t going to change it overnight. You can’t slap a few walls and a roof on top of a weak foundation.

A week (or two) is not enough to build up the sheer configuration typing speed either - you will still need hundreds of hours of hands-on time at the console before you are ready to become a CCIE.

Don’t expect to be able to cover all areas either - there’s just too much content. That said, if you have specific areas you need covered, make sure you let the instructor know - they will be able to help.

When in my studies should I attend one?

Go late in your studies, not far out from your lab. You want to be able to take in as much as possible, but still have time to fix weak areas. Go too soon, and it will mostly be over your head. Go too late, and you may realise you don’t have enough time to fix your weak areas. Aim for around 6–8 weeks out from your lab. If you have multiple major areas to work on between the bootcamp and the lab, you probably weren’t going to be ready anyway. You should have a good idea of what your weak areas are before attending the bootcamp, and there should really only be 2 or 3 of them. If you can’t name your weak areas, it’s probably too soon.

Note: Many training vendors now offer you the option to re-attend the course in future, for only the cost of equipment access. This changes the equation slightly - you might want to go after say 6 months of study, then again closer to your lab date. This is probably only an option for those in North America where there are many classes run year-round. If you’ve got to travel a long way, you don’t want to do that too often - you’ve got lab trips to pay for.

Is it a must-do?

No, no it’s not. I highly recommend attending one if you’ve got the time and money, but don’t stress too much about it - plenty of people pass without attending bootcamps. You don’t need to attend a bootcamp to pass the lab. It can certainly help, but it doesn’t work miracles. You have to work bloody hard no matter what. A bootcamp can help by giving you access to excellent instructors, and forcing you to focus on nothing but CCIE studies for a week. But you could always stay at home, take the week off work, lock yourself in a room and study 16 hours a day - that’s pretty effective too!

This is where your personal style comes into play - some people learn best when they are left alone to study things on their own, while others really need the stimulus of a classroom environment. It’s another case where everyone walks a different road to CCIE - you just need to figure out which way is right for you.