The 10 most useless tips to pass your JNCIE

Recently I’ve had a bunch of people asking me what to do on exam day to pass their JNCIE, from whether they should have coffee in the morning or not to what sort of breakfast they should have. Other questions have included concerns about screen size on the laptops provided. These sorts of things are mentioned on a bunch of websites and study guides. I’m going to address my view on this once and for all in this post…

I had to abandon my holiday yesterday (Easter Friday) and spend it debugging a fault. It was a particularly hard and complex one, which had left others stumped. While I’m not able to go into a lot of detail, I can disclose that to identify the cause of the fault I had to spend 15 minutes or so tcpdumping RSVP messages and examining them to find the issue. From this I was able to deduce that a particular box was doing something that was particularly odd and we were able to proceed with resolving it.

The above paragraph might seem unrelated to the point of the post… but it really isn’t. The issue I debugged yesterday was far harder than the troubleshooting elements of any JNCIE exams I have taken. This isn’t to say that the JNCIE exams aren’t incredibly challenging – they are – and I have great respect for anyone who has done one of these exams – as it displays a significant level of skill.

The point is however that, like many others, I spend most of my days doing a combination of debugging the most ugly of problems you will ever see in a service provider environment and architecting a huge range of solutions comprising technologies from many vendors to deliver to customers. A couple of times a year, people in these positions are going to face a mind-bendingly odd problem which will require significant debugging skill and an intimate understanding of the technologies and protocols involved to resolve.

If you are doing this sort of work regularly, you are not going to struggle to achieve a JNCIE. You are still going to have to do a hell of a lot of reading, labbing and learning. The breadth of topics covered in a JNCIE will stretch most to have to cover many technologies they have never touched to a depth they have not understood anything before. I personally spent a considerable amount of time reading, re-reading, and re-re-re-reading many RFCs, books, and other resources to make sure I had a solid understanding of the standards defining each protocol. Significant time was spent labbing technologies that were new to me (for example – NV-MVPN, draft-rosen, Carrier of Carriers VPN, and Interprovider MPLS VPN options B,C & E).

But what I didn’t have to learn was how this stuff fundamentally works. I get this stuff already, as do most people who successfully attempt this exam. I didn’t have to learn how to troubleshoot to do the JNCIE – I’ve been troubleshooting complex and horrible problems all of my career. Most people sitting these shouldn’t need to learn this.

About 8 weeks ago I was sitting in a hotel room in drinking with a few friends, when someone piped up and had what I considered to be a long and whiney rant where they blamed everyone else for their failures. Essentially this person was saying that the questions were not worded well enough, and this was why he failed his CCIE. I tend to disagree. Both the JNCIE and CCIE exams are extensively alpha & beta tested (I recently sat the beta version of the JNCIE-ENT). During this time much feedback is given around the readability and understandability of the questions. The questions will never be written to tell you what to do – that’s not the point of an expert level exam. But they are written in a way that ensures that if you have the understanding requred you will know what to do. Another person in the room pointed out that they’d lost half the time in the troubleshooting section of the his CCIE because they hadn’t seen that there was a topology diagram, but still passed. Because he understood the content to an expert level, and had a huge amount of experience, he was able to get everything in that section done in the 50% time remaining.

What’s the point of all this? Why is this all relevant? Well it’s actually all pretty relevant – the point is that for any of these IE exams, they are designed so that an expert in the subject areas will pass. If you have an intimate understanding of how multicast works, you aren’t going to struggle to deploy and troubleshoot it.

Many websites and study guides have tips and tricks for these exams. These range from not having too much coffee (duh!) to eating a certain type of bread in the morning. Most of them are utter rubbish. Or more to the point – while they’re going to help you focus during the day, and might even make the difference between having time for that one extra question that gets you over the pass mark and not having time – this isn’t going to pass the exam for you. For the record – both times I’ve done a JNCIE the morning has begun with a massive breakfast from the Juniper cafe that makes me sleepier than normal! And both times I’ve walked out hours before the finish time with everything done.

While I don’t want to throw stones at anyone in this article, I think it’s time for a bit of a reality check for those who think that the type of bread they eat, range of pens in the exam, different colour highlighters, or the size of the laptop screen are going to make any difference at all. The best difference you can make is regular hard work in the many months leading up to the exam, and having great amounts of hands-on experience to boost.

Happy easter everyone!