What the CCIE does not Prove

By stretch | Friday, May 29, 2015 at 2:27 p.m. UTC

I came across an article today about a 19-year-old who earned his CCIE. It reminded me of a Reddit post from a few weeks ago. Someone asked why, when evaluating a CCIE, hiring managers still demand a number of years of practical experience in the field.

I'm in a situation where I'm a CCNP with 3 years of experience. I want to get my CCIE but I keep being told left and right I don't have enough experience and I'll never get a CCIE job without 7 years of experience. Am I supposed to just laze around and wait until I get more experience? It just doesn't make sense.

This is a fairly common misunderstanding among people new to our field, and is largely the result of vendor marketing. People want so badly to believe that a certification proves their worth as an individual, when in reality its value is much more narrowly defined.

Putting aside for now the debate about the value of certifications in general, earning a CCIE proves that an individual is technically competent and understands to a high degree numerous protocols and technologies, and can implement them on a network. But that's all. It's critical to realize that these are just a few of myriad parameters on which a candidate is evaluated when applying for a job.

Holding a CCIE does not prove that a person can:

  • Manage and schedule projects
  • Translate business goals into network objectives
  • Design a network to comply with best practices
  • Compile a bill of materials and quote out equipment
  • Communicate well with customers
  • Accurately convey technical concepts to management
  • Work independently with minimal supervision
  • Function as part of a team
  • Schedule and conduct planned maintenance
  • Generate and interpret a packet capture
  • Adapt to other vendors' products and languages
  • Open and manage a TAC case or RMA
  • Templatize device configurations
  • Automate network operations
  • Write legible documentation

You can probably think of more points I haven't listed here, but the point should be clear.

"But surely a CCIE must know how to do those things!" Not really. The majority of CCIE holders can do all of these things well, but that's by virtue of experience. The fact that they also hold a CCIE is coincidental. Try to find a CCIE exam question that applies to any of the points listed above.

This article isn't meant to disparage the CCIE. The CCIE was intended to prove a high level of technical competence of an individual when dealing with Cisco products, and it does a pretty good job of that. But we're only asking to get hurt when we try to assign a certification more weight than it was ever meant to carry.

About the Author

Jeremy Stretch is a network engineer living in the Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina area. He is known for his blog and cheat sheets here at Packet Life. You can reach him by email or follow him on Twitter.

Posted in Opinion


lresp (guest)
May 29, 2015 at 2:50 p.m. UTC

great post, I concur because technical skills must support business goals. I'd like you to elaborate on how to manage a TAC case, until you mentioned it I've never thought on how this could be better handled from experience.

Ken (guest)
May 29, 2015 at 4:00 p.m. UTC

"Work independently with minimal supervision"

This is how I value everyone I work with. Most people worry about what information they weren't given, not what information they do have. My projects are generally given to me in one line, "We need to upgrade the Data Center network infrastructure" or "Our backbone is not scaling, what can we do." It's now my job to make recommendations, pro's/con's, potential product list, presentations, etc...

I see far too often people dragging their feet, since no one walked them through every requirement, rather then just trying to get the job done. If you are wait for proper requirements, you'll never get the job done.

May 30, 2015 at 3:13 a.m. UTC

I agree with you, a lot of the things we do as network engineers are sometimes not related to a CCIE track, for example migrate a network to a new platform and operating system. but I know that few stuff in the CCDE are related to best practice, budget decisions, translate business goal into solutions, etc.

But I think the CCIE really worthy as network engineer, but is not all you need. This as my personal opinion.

Keep with great post Jeremy!

Bob (guest)
June 1, 2015 at 1:47 p.m. UTC

Great post. As an example of this, my place of work had an applicant with a CCNP apply for a PC technician job. He had little relevant work experience and poor interpersonal skills. He was turned down for that job. The certification showed he had exactly the skills you mention: technical competence. There's much more to a job than that...

Seth (guest)
June 1, 2015 at 4:34 p.m. UTC

The cert will not get you what real world job experience will (and vice versa) - Its a plus to have a certification, but its the most important part of the working world to have top notch experience. Grasp every moment of those experiences like the professional you aspire to be.

Chris (guest)
June 2, 2015 at 1:52 a.m. UTC

Certifications come in handy for the Businesses or the Company because in order for a solutions provider to sell Cisco Products the company also need certifications. The more certifications a company have the more privileges it can enjoy.

Alexandre (guest)
June 3, 2015 at 1:54 a.m. UTC

Hi everyone,

For me CCIE is more than just a certification which give you a technical expertise.

Regarding my personnal experience, I ended my studies in 2011 and passed the CCNA during the same year. Then in 2012, I passed CCNP, these 2 certifications were really a good way to learn a lot of technical stuff when you start your career.

Honestly, at this time, I didn't thought to prepare CCIE exam because it's a lot of work, I see very good technical guyz which work so hard and fail... This is something which is a part of your personnal life.

Anyway, I tried, and work so hard during one year, I studied 2,5hours before work + 2,5hours after work, all week-end and 1 mounth of vacation.

It's really hard to describe the feeling...

Anyway, all the points you described are no-technical stuff, so it's normal to not learn them in a professionnal certification. But the CCIE isn't just technical stuff.

So I'll add some points :)

  • Keep motivation on a long period
  • Ability to :
  • learn effectively and work hard if necessary
  • able to find the correct information and not limited to you current knowledge
  • Passionated by network technologies
  • Be curious

And the most important point : - Never give up

So, you right on the fact that CCIE will not give you god power on the network. :) However, CCIE (whatever you pass or not) will give you an amazing and unique experience.

CCIE is an adventure, a dream, an engagment, something which leads you to push back your limit...

A good technical knowledge will not warranty you that you will be a good engineer and vis-versa.

Just believe in your dream and your future will be bright. :)

If you are interested, I made a movie to express my feeling about this certification, take a look if you are curious too. :)


By the way, this is my fist post on your website, and what you did is just amazing. ^^

Best regards,

Alexandre CCIE #41694

Julian (guest)
June 3, 2015 at 9:01 a.m. UTC

This is quite an achievement, and although this young lad might not have some of the necessary skills for employment, he certainly is on the right track; especially considering that CISCO somehow "advertised" him.

Ant (guest)
June 3, 2015 at 12:51 p.m. UTC

I agree with this post, vendor certifications are a tool used for marketing and sales IMO. I have met many people who have many certifications but for one reason or another are technically incompetent. I think experience is key, but there is a difference between technical and work/business experience that needs to be evaluated.

ZM (guest)
June 4, 2015 at 1:42 p.m. UTC

I agree with this post you would just have to search the job boards in the middle east where every one is asking for a minimum CCIE followed by a list of equipment which some may have never touched or seen in there life!

A guest
June 4, 2015 at 3:24 p.m. UTC

You can substitute the term a CCIE as mentioned with the word "degree" or "master" and get the exact same result/ same findings / same logic...As with anything the paper work and experience are both important..

Doctors give wrong medications, engineer make wrong calculations... however you can't get the official title without getting the paper and you can't get really good without experience.. it about continuous learning and making mistakes

Pete Welcher (guest)
June 5, 2015 at 2:21 p.m. UTC

I've got to agree. Design in particular. I've seen too many CCIE's with no design knowledge and no common sense.

What galls me most though is the alleged CCIE hiring candidates who don't know their stuff. They officially passed, but can't explain basics, including the sort of things that the written recert test covers (how stuff works, not finicky header info). Either very forgetful or cheaters? I just resent having my time wasted.

So I'd add that to your list: verifying CCIE number isn't enough. Check they actually know their stuff. That includes multiple CCIE's, who may be very stale on the older ones. Sign of a sharp motivated person, but retention might be a problem.

Himawan Nugroho (guest)
June 6, 2015 at 7:29 a.m. UTC

Jeremy, great post! Everyone who's planning to take CCIE should read this. I've been in networking field for more than 15 years, with 3x CCIE and CCDE. Those certifications are not the one who saved me from 'annual' layoff in Cisco the past 4 years. During design workshop none of my customers asked me how many certifications I have. It's all the things you mentioned in your post. It's how relevant we are with the latest technology. It's the ability to solve business problems with technology. It's the ability to see the big picture and connect the dots. And many more. All those come from experience. So yes, CCIE is important, but let's put it for the right context.

Many CCIE candidates today think what matters the most is to pass the exam. Many are willing to do anything to pass. At work, outcome matters. In learning, the process is more important. So yes, it is very important to target the outcome to pass the exam, but enjoy the process. Enjoy the failures. The frustration. The feeling when you get stuck in your lab at 2 am in the morning. Because that process matters. It can make you learn and experience some of the things listed in the blog. And when you really pass the exam someday, you know in heart you deserve it.

Compare this to someone without experience who's going to bootcamp to practice the very similar questions like the real lab, and pass the exam few weeks later. P.S. I took many interview of lots of CCIE, for Cisco and my own organization, I usually able to distinguished between the 2 group within minutes. Guess who I would recommend.

Dano (guest)
June 6, 2015 at 2:22 p.m. UTC

After all I have read about SDN replacing CCIE technologies in the future and how a CCIE doesn't mean you know everything, I have decided to pursue the CCIE anyway for the following reasons:

  1. I have learned more about networking and the Internet by studying CCIE than I ever would have without it.

  2. CCIE will still be mostly relavent, or at least not hurt, even if SDN goes in overnight.

  3. The CCIE opens channels with Cisco, but it also exposes candidates to so many useful standard technologies that apply across the board.

Kat (guest)
June 9, 2015 at 8:16 a.m. UTC

I do agree with all above said. However, the real world seems to be a bit different. I changed jobs about a year ago and having never bothered with certifications all my 10+ years experience (the last five very Cisco networking oriented), it was hard to even get an interview. 99% of job adverts required at least CCNA. Having the skills and experience without a piece of paper to prove it seemed to be worth sh**. 100+ applications later I found my new employer and they are happy to support me in developing my skills. So I will now get some pieces of paper just in case I need to show them to someone ;)

Laurie (guest)
June 10, 2015 at 10:53 a.m. UTC

I have the utmost respect for anybody who obtains their CCIE certification. However, I totally agree with this article. Certifications show you understand the theory but experience shows you can do the practical aspect of being in the Networking industry. We had a CV in yesterday for somebody who had done their CCNP R&S certification but their previous experience was almost zero, yet they were applying for a Senior Network Engineer role.

I have just done the CCNA R&S so far but to be honest, this was just to get it on my CV at the time. Eventually I may do more but having nearly 5 years experience and the desire to keep learning is all I need at the moment.

Kieran Panesar (guest)
June 12, 2015 at 5:14 p.m. UTC

Some of the best engineers i've learned from and worked with have no certs or expired NPs (even within Cisco) and some of worst engineers i've worked with had multiple certs!

Experience is typically aligned with a time factor, E level experience now being quoted around 7+ years, that being said some people do get lucky with deployments and engagements giving the individual considerable exposure to technologies in differing technical and commercial scenarios - you can't beat or cheat experience.

In my opinion being able to understand, communicate and execute effectively should have just as strong a focus as achieving exemplary certifications such as CCxE.

Lolita (guest)
June 15, 2015 at 7:38 a.m. UTC

I agree absolutely with your article! I know a lot of engineer who had CCNP&CCNA certifications who does not know how to troubleshoot simple problems. Experience is still the big factor . If you're CCIE you need to prove it! Remember certification is just a paper. You better back it up with your knowledge and skills to be well know in the industry.

Patrick (guest)
June 18, 2015 at 7:52 p.m. UTC

This is why the CCDE is terribly undervalued. The CCDE covers alot of the stuff the CCIE doesn't such as design, requirements gathering.

All the "E" certs are a journey rather than a destination IMHO.

John (guest)
June 24, 2015 at 12:12 a.m. UTC

It really depends if they guy has his head up his a... backside or not. He may not have much real life experience now, but if he is willing to take a CCNA level job and work his way up by the time he is 30 he will be known as the guy with lots of experience who had a CCIE at 19 years old. That in itself would be impressive on a CV along with 10 years experience. As my opening sentence sums it up, it all depends on his attitude to learning real life experiences now as to how far it can take him.

kapil (guest)
June 24, 2015 at 10:56 p.m. UTC

If some one is CCIE certified and has a little real time experience. It would not take them long to learn and implement it in real time.

A CCIE is a not a joke. Pushing one self to the limits. Ability to handle the pressure in the lab exam. Such person can learn the real time experience very soon

June 28, 2015 at 5:37 a.m. UTC

Hi I m pursuing CCNP through packetlife.net and inernet please suggest me how i have done routing practices and switching also and do some important topics like EIGRP,BGP,OSPF,HSRP,VRRP,STP CONFIGURATION my mail id is -pranay.ramau@yahoo.com

Warm Regard's Pranay Ramaul

defencebyte (guest)
June 30, 2015 at 5:42 a.m. UTC

I agree absolutely with your article! I know a lot of engineer who had CCNP&CCNA certifications who does not know how to troubleshoot simple problems. Experience is the thing which matters

NancyHammonds (guest)
June 30, 2015 at 1:58 p.m. UTC

I just want to share my experience. I am in this field more than 8 years. I have also seen many of CCIE students can’t solve the problems because they aware with current technology but not in depth and they don't have filed work experience, which is big matter too. They don't aware with old version technology and that’s reason they have to face big problems.

Alex (guest)
July 1, 2015 at 12:16 p.m. UTC

I'm even having difficulty finding an entry level/junior position because I don't have field experience. I've had interviews for entry level where I'm asked about BGP, Multicast and MPLS. I don't recall any of the CCNA curricula to have touched on this topics. I'm staying hopeful and will continue my studies.

kapil (guest)
July 2, 2015 at 11:52 a.m. UTC

@Alex : That happens a lot alex... MPLS and BGP are crucial for a good job. Check out the BGP series from jermy ciora from CBT nuggets... It is worth watching

Michal Janowski (guest)
July 7, 2015 at 7:09 p.m. UTC

When I started to read your post I kept saying in my head "I do not agree, I do not agree, I do not agree" and when I went to the end "I do not agree" changed to "fair point". Only wanted to state that CCIE is not the magic pill, however for sure does not hurt. Why do not get CCIE if that is your desire and then keep up with experience? You can have 10 years of experience, great knowledge, but cannot do half of the list as you newer had will to go out from your perfect cubicle and talk to others. Never the less let us try to find out the job position where the only requirement is CCIE. Good luck... :)

Unix-samba (guest)
July 8, 2015 at 5:17 a.m. UTC

with all due respect This just your Opinion about this subject but the reality is it is painful to achieve that certification in an academic level a specially these days where CISCO is targeting the copycat invaders.

Here is my two cents the truth is if you have a CCIE you will get an interview and get hired sometimes just for the number so the boss can get the product discounts in addition to that within two weeks He will also teach you all of those 15 subjects listed above. like you said it is just marketing .

I believe one should take his CCIE to prove to him self he/she is capable of any Internetwokring Technology and not to show off because real Networking is happening at the JOB that require handful of experiences and not at the Lab Exam!!! However don't forget the competitor JNCIE it is also good to have.

Remember it is only in the past few years where Colleges start offering Certs programs integrated in the Degree because the academic degree alone will keep you JOBLESS!!!

The Internetworking market has changed dramatically where vendors are now incorporating their genius marketing techniques for their products packaged with the certs. -"To be my partner you need to hire certain amount of CCIE and I will give you 75% discount" -"To maintain that discount you have accept my projects from the customers I will assign to you or any customer using our products."

Once the the projects arrives to your door "Oh Look they want us to hire 10 more CCIE to complete the project" let's post an ad saying looking for 10 CCIE and here it goes when the average Joe reads it "oh crap I need to get my CCIE" the rest you guest it ! now the Ball is rolling

so it is your choice now you want to play Ball or sit on the bench watching

Cheeze It (guest)
July 10, 2015 at 1:01 a.m. UTC

This post is so spot on. Absolutely spot on. Thanks Jeremy.

Saurion (guest)
July 10, 2015 at 6:54 a.m. UTC

Cisco recommended reading list: https://learningnetwork.cisco.com/docs/DOC-4601

Obviously not everyone needs to read everything, but check it out. Do your self the favor and sum up the page counts. And for thoes who start their journey to early in there networking career, well they have the hardest of reads.

Additionally, the INE compendium with all the practical stuff, wolume one is 2600 pages.

Plus all the boot camps, lab sessions, gear to buy and what not.

You think this is a no-brainer. Right...

Remember - the ones with less experience have to read the hardest! And all the bs about translating business value or whatever. Passing the CCIE requires strategy, training, resolve, kreativity.

Especially with blueprint v5 because you cant brute force the lab any more.


Joe Mendola (guest)
July 15, 2015 at 9:42 p.m. UTC

Acutally ccie is nothing compared to a bachelor degree in telecommunicaton engineering. Believe me, the ccie lab represents just only ONE of more than 30 exams, you have to complet ein order to take your bachelor. Think about the bachelor will NEVER expire. You can't call yourself engineer if you dont know Fourier Transform, Bode's diagrams, Nyqusit's diagrams, and so on... you just learn commands and the lab is not troubleshooting of real scenarios, it is troubleshooting of misconfigurations !

ITakeIssue (guest)
July 15, 2015 at 11:06 p.m. UTC

Here is where I take issue with your statement. There are people out there who want the experience, but since there are so many CCNAs out there, not all of us are given a chance to prove ourselves as potential Network Engineers.

Thus, the next step some people take is obtaining a CCNP in hopes that they would increase their chances of being hired. Hey if I have the knowledge, please allow me to gain some experience right?

ItakeIssue (guest)
July 15, 2015 at 11:10 p.m. UTC

@Unix-samba, I disagree with your statement that an academic degree will keep you jobless. To some extent it may (depending on what academic degree you obtained and what path you chose in your academic degree).

Electrical Engineers can work in so many fields for example (and so can Computer Scientists). However, if they choose a field that isn't in high demand, chances are that they will remain jobless. However, if they do choose a field where hardly anyone works in, they will definitely get a job.

In essence, what I'm saying is that obtaining a degree with a focus on a high-demand field where few people work in that field is a guarantee for a job. However, getting your degree and setting your focus where the position isn't in high demand will leave you jobless.

LessThanObvious (guest)
July 20, 2015 at 11:40 p.m. UTC

Since when is working a gaining experience lazing around? There isn't some magical difference between work you do as a CCIE and work you can do as a CCNP. Few jobs are so Cisco centric these days that CCIE alone covers the scope of all required knowledge. That said if you have what it takes to pass the CCIE lab, I don't see why you would wait for more experience. Go for it and let the career unfold as opportunities develop.

CCIExpert (guest)
July 25, 2015 at 4:12 a.m. UTC

True. not all but mostly are correct I faced with a guy with his 3rd CCIE but he could not troubleshoot even simple scenario. They know things but not so deeply. There s no book that can show everything all about troubleshooting scenario, you will get some ticket in ur exam not everything but just one. Before you will pass CCIE you need 7 years of exp. at least to find your path in cisco you working carrier and your future.

wanman (guest)
August 7, 2015 at 2:04 p.m. UTC

Idk how I feel about it. I've built CCIE labs for companies to maintain their Cisco Gold Partnership. I started with Cisco during IGS, AGS+ days when you bought a router then you got a bookshelf of books with it (pea green books edges ne one?) Anyhow passing the written and then getting through the lab is nothing you can do by accident. I was ready to try the lab at one point but eventually just decided it didn't really help me that much with getting paid that much better. I'd say it's a good goal if you're younger and have less experience actually because it really does mean something.

Babar (guest)
September 22, 2015 at 5:06 p.m. UTC

Every employer gives preference to one who holds certification "a piece of paper" but not technical knowledge and skills of field. They just think that if someone holds a certification he/she must has technical skill / knowledge of the same, but in most cases it is always against from such scenarios. A person who pass CCNA/CCNP exam just with efforts but don't have technical knowledge and skills of field work he/she will get job soon as compared to the one who does not holds the certification but has technical knowledge / skills got by doing a lot of practice or by doing field work, you can say he /she might be an Assistant / Helper to Network Engineer and don't have enough money to get certification. In short summary “It is very easy to earn a certification but if you don’t have technical skill/knowledge of field work its wasteful” You should earn CCIE certification but besides this you should possess technical skills.

DK (guest)
October 12, 2015 at 11:25 p.m. UTC

Jeremy, This is my first time posting on you site. Been following your site off and on since I started back in 05ish.

Great Post and I agree with many of the veteran engineer, The Certification are a great supplement to your experience. It is a good way to get noticed by a recruiter and hiring manager, but nothing beats real world experience. Some of the smartest Engineers I know don't have a CCIE. Off and On I ll go renew my CCNA when I m looking for a job..

DK (guest)
October 13, 2015 at 6:19 p.m. UTC

Great Post Jeremy,

Been following the PacketLife.net since 06'ish.. first time post. You used to have this great picture of the wall of yellow cables and the RAT looking thing on top of the Computer. Think you were still in the service.

Here is a little food for thought for the readers, Certs are a great supplement to real world experience. Unfortunately Labs and virtual labs will not give you the real world experience. I d like start by saying that getting the CCIE is a highly respected achievement. But a CCIE won't give you the experience dealing with unforeseen circumstances.

Example: Try being on the other side of the world in a non English speaking country doing an install and some equipment hasn't clear customs. The room is NOT ready! You have NO AC or permanent power. Oh yeah the vendor hasn't delivered the circuits yet. Since 9-11 good luck transporting any tools on Airplanes. Your awesome Boss says to you "I need your help on this we got to get this done in two weeks. Good Luck!!" If they have that on the CCIE exam I will be really impressed. Since Cisco prides themselves on Scenario Questions.

P.S Don't let the Jetlag keep you from being on top of your game or significant other, wife and kids distract you either.

Iain (guest)
October 14, 2015 at 3:25 p.m. UTC

Well said - I have only been a Network Analyst for 3 years with a single company. I have a CCNA and will soon be challenging my CCNP. Yes, it's important to have a solid foundation, but certifications are no replacement for experience. We often hire on contractors with 5-10+ years experience and quite often they hold CCNP or CCIE. What I have found is that most of them can sit and configure new gear for deployment all day without issue, but the minute you throw them into the Incidents queue to troubleshoot issues (especially involving other vendors like Juniper and Nortel), they don't know where to begin.

paolo (guest)
October 28, 2015 at 9:51 a.m. UTC

I've passed my CCNA ----> not much money in my wallet ----> nobody pay my exams -----> fuck the certifications!

January 23, 2016 at 7:54 a.m. UTC

This is very good and explains everything as what Ive seen in the industry as an intern in a system integration, not all the jobs are done by a CCIE that's why they are in a team and most non-technical aspects are acquired through experience or in a different training such as managerial skills.

Ethan (guest)
April 28, 2016 at 8:07 p.m. UTC

Achieving the CCIE certification is a tremendous accomplishment. The work one has to put in and commit to pushes oneself to the limit. I have been in the field for over a decade and have yet to meet a CCIE level engineer who wasn't worth their weight in gold. You can't cheat your way through this one. So how it is that some of you are stating I've met CCIE's who can't do basic trouble shooting seems ridiculous. The number of current not stale CCIE's holders in the field are still relatively low. The more common scenario I see are CCNA's and some CCNP's who cannot troubleshoot because they've cheated their way through.

Alex (guest)
June 9, 2016 at 6:50 a.m. UTC

Hi, i work at one of the biggest company providing all Cisco courses for certifications, holding 3 CCNP's - working on the 4th and came together with lots of unbelievable great experts(no CCIE's) from all fields(voice, RS, sec, wireless, DC and Design). My opinion and also theirs is, that mostly a CCNP might implement and work on the console of devices far better than a CCIE. A good CCIE makes to understand the big picture, has experience in getting to understand new technologies and knows where to get them from, knows how to work with all Design principles and most important: A CCIE will always and exclusivly work with CISCO BEST PRACTICES!!

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