Sadly, Cisco's certification exams may be headed down the same road. After receiving a 76% score on my CCNP Route exam this last week (passing is 79%), I was forced to ask myself the same question post-test that I found myself wracking my mind about 5 questions in - does Cisco even reasonably know what they're doing anymore?
While I'll try to avoid dropping any major spoilers on the exam, I would like to at least attempt to convey a bit of my concern and frustration with a vendor that some would argue as getting a bit "too big for their britches" in trying to hold on to the wavering market share they have at present. If their high-level certification exams are any indication, the #1 vendor in networking today may have a rocky future in the works for the next few years.
** DISCLAIMER ** - If you're reading this, and you're a Cisco employee trying to preserve certification exam integrity, please reach out to me to discuss further. I've already submitted a formal email to Cisco regarding my concerns about this exam and its notable straying from documented exam objectives, and would much rather talk over these considerations rather than be the subject of certification revocation threats. Thank you for understanding. - ** END DISCLAIMER **
First Off... The Backstory
Now, I've got a pretty old-fashioned mentality about certification exams. Get multiple study resources, run through plenty of practical hands-on labs, and do your practice tests - all vital aspects of dealing with today's technical examinations. And really, when the exam objectives are set out in "black and white", that's going down the proper road to success, am I right?
So, when Cisco recommends that for the 300-101 exam you get their official Cisco Press book, their Cisco hands-on lab guide, their NetAcademy course, and the MeasureUp! practice tests, I figured I'd go ahead and snatch these resources up to get adequately prepared (although I did wait for sales on the books and a voucher on the practice tests, mind you).
Armed with these tools, I read through the Press book twice, took the online course (scored 91% overall), scored low 90s on the practice tests, had no struggle with the labs, and figured that I was pretty ready to take the test itself.
...well, if you know me, you know that I never 'just' stop there.
After going through the guts of the Cisco Press book, I forged a command reference guide with every single command that the book uses in its examples and walkthroughs (I've attached it at the end of this guide for anyone who already owns the book and would find it useful). In addition to the IOS commands, it also includes some nifty matrix charts of concepts that would likely be on the test, such as OSPF and BGP neighbor states, stub area types and LSAs, etc.
One thing about the book, however, left me a bit confused and unsure of if further study was needed. See below, an except from page 169 in the official Cisco Press book (used here to prove a point):
Now, if you've taken CCNA recently, you know that Frame Relay isn't tested on CCNA anymore. Matter of fact, Frame Relay hasn't been on CCNA for over 8 years. However, some references from the book and the NetAcademy course used Frame Relay configuration examples, so in the forethought that it was going to be featured on the exam, I've added it into the command guide and did some additional study on it as well.
If I could be allowed one side comment here in passing, Cisco, why are you still featuring Frame Relay on a professional certification exam in the year 2018 instead of a more relevant technology such as MPLS, EoMPLS, or Metro Ethernet? First-world country engineers haven't used Frame Relay for over 10 years, and that's being generous! Are the CCIEs writing these books even paying attention to Cisco's tests and modern trends? But, I digress..
Minor detour aside, this raised some cause for concern on my part that I wasn't fully grasping the exam objectives. In an effort to try and confirm to what degree I needed to know Frame Relay instead of simply leaving this ordeal up to fate, I obtained a 12-month old brain dump for this exam to try and get an idea of what Frame Relay concepts here would be tested.
Allow me to VERY HASTILY clarify, I'm not an advocate of cheating your way through exams! I used the 12-month old dump that I did here because the questions from it wouldn't be on the actual test anymore, and it would at least give me a rough idea of Frame Relay depth on the test - which was the only real thing I was after. After doing a quick search for Frame Relay on the dump, I found a lot more than I bargained for. Additional study on Frame Relay would have to be undertaken.
As a second clarification for the Cisco employees that might be reading my ramblings here, my thought process in finding out about Frame Relay here is absolutely necessitated because Cisco isn't offering this knowledge themselves as part of their mid-tier R&S certification paths even though their books say they are. Please take this into consideration.
So, my exam test day pushed back another two weeks to make sure I was confident about having a grasp on everything, the only thing left was to finally, at long last, take the exam.
Or, so they say.
Test Day, or Judgment Day?
Armed with my command reference guide and the MeasureUp! practice tests, I felt that I had a pretty comprehensive knowledge of the test contents and would be able to react accordingly regardless of what commands or concepts were thrown at me.
I arrived at the test center an hour early to perform a final review. The test center staff (Metro Community College in Omaha, NE) were very courteous, and I was able to get checked in and started with my exam without too much trouble. They've got a very nice facility as well - I'd recommend them if you're looking for a local exam center in the eastern Nebraska area.
The test itself... was an uncalled-for nightmare.
Roughly 75% of the commands on the test weren't featured in either the Cisco Press book or in the NetAcademy course. Since I had an honest-to-God printed copy of every single command in the book that I crammed with all night and took to the test center with me, I'm saying this with a pretty forceful degree of confidence. I could feel my stomach filling with dread about halfway through the test, having guessed at the majority of the commands thus far and trying to keep track of some of the ones I hadn't recognized to look them up afterward but losing count. Numerous typographical errors didn't help, either.
In addition, several questions on the test weren't part of the documented exam topic objectives, with questions that should have belonged in CCNA Collaboration, CCNP Switch, and CCNP T-Shoot being thrown in. I found myself scrambling to guess at the more identifiable ones, and praying that the remainder were part of the "unscored" questions that exam vendors love to throw in to scare people.
Getting up from my chair at the end of it all, I knew without looking at my results that I'd failed. Frankly, I wasn't sure what to think - I'd received a veritable "gauntlet" of an exam that effectively robbed me of $300 worth of exam fees in addition to the time and gasoline it took to drive up to Omaha. I'd expect something like this from the legendary CCIE exam, but CCNP?
What was more confusing to me was that I'd done everything right in terms of prepwork. All the recommended study materials on Cisco's website? I'd done them all. Methodical, thorough notes of all the printed topics, and my understanding in relation to all the exam objectives was there in a neatly-sorted line.
So, holding my head in my hands while getting back in my car for the long drive home...
What went wrong?
A Lesson For Everyone To Learn
In my opinion, if you're going to clearly outline the necessary study tools and topics needed to pass an exam and demonstrate an accredited degree of technical proficiency on a platform, you need to stick to what you've said you'll do. The IT industry is struggling substantially right now in terms of trying to get test takers to avoid "brain-dumping" their way through as many exams as they can afford, and test practices of whoring exams into something drastically different from their documented scope aren't helping.
I've learned a lot from my first attempt at CCNP Route, although most of this knowledge was ultimately unwanted. While I'm confident having seen "the beast" firsthand that I'll know how to approach it the next time, I'm left deciding on how much time and money I can afford to throw at this venture now in the state that it's in.
Dropping $3,000 or so to achieve CCNP is a rough bullet to take considering you'll likely have to recertify within 12-18 months of getting it with the way that the cert dates are issued. While I can somewhat manage that, how would a blue-collar worker with a family and other obligations to tend to fare? Not a pleasant thought.
At the end of the day, I can laugh and be honest with you - I'm still pissed. Really pissed. I'm still somewhat fighting the urge to go on a mild rant that Cisco stole $300 from me due to absolutely no fault of my own on an exam that was NOT what they advertised.
But, as with all my vendettas, that score will be settled. In time.
Stay thirsty, my friends,