Cisco is one of the best-known providers of professional IT certifications, and the Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert (CCIE) is among the most desired. CertCities' reader's choice awards consistently ranks the CCIE as the most respected high-level credential, while CertMag calls it the most technically advanced. According to Global Knowledge's 2011 IT Skills and Salary Report, CCIE Routing and Switching holders earned a mean annual wage of $120,008, making it not only the most lucrative of Cisco's certifications, but of all credentials evaluated from any vendor.
The ideal CCIE candidate
The CCIE is an expert certification designed for elite networking engineers and technicians. According to Cisco's official site, only 3 percent of Cisco certified professionals make it to the CCIE level, a very small fraction of IT pros worldwide. Pursuing the CCIE credential requires dedication: candidates must be prepared to invest several months and a few thousand dollars in training and exams.
How the CCIE certification process works
Those pursuing the CCIE must choose a specialty. Students can earn certifications in multiple CCIE specialties, boosting their employment potential even more. The specialty tracks as of 2011 are:
- CCIE Routing and Switching. The most popular CCIE certification, the CCIE R&S validates expert knowledge of networking across LAN and WAN interfaces using a variety of routers and switches. Candidates must be able to solve complicated connectivity issues to improve response times, bandwidth, or otherwise boost performance.
- CCIE Security. This credential certifies that one has expert knowledge of security and VNP solutions. Candidates must be able to configure complex networks and understand common attacks and mitigation methods.
- CCIE Service Provider. This certification ensures candidates are experts in IP fundamentals and technologies, demonstrating solid expertise in building an extensible service provider infrastructure.
- CCIE Service Provider Operations. The SPO certificate validates one's ability to troubleshoot and maintain complex service provider networks. Candidates must be skilled in IP NGN core network infrastructures in both IOS and IOS XP environments.
- CCIE Storage Networking. This certification demonstrates one's expertise in the implementation and troubleshooting of storage area networks. Candidates must be skilled with LANs, MANs and WANs across iSCSI, Fibre Channel, FCIP and FICON.
- CCIE Voice. The CCIE V certification ensures that one is an expert in Cisco Voice over IP products and solutions in large enterprises, able to build, configure and troubleshoot complex telephony networks.
- CCIE Wireless. This CCIE certification is designed for those with advanced knowledge of WLAN technologies.
About the CCIE certification exams
Pursuing CCIE certification in any of the above tracks requires one to pass both an extensive written exam, typically two hours in length, and a grueling, eight-hour lab exam. Cisco notes that you must pass the written exam before advancing to the lab test, and within 18 months. Written exams are updated often, and cover the current Cisco curriculum for the chosen track. Lab exams test one's ability to configure and troubleshoot networking equipment and software.
Cisco notes that CCIE candidates spend an average 18 months preparing for CCIE certification. Because understanding how to answer different types of questions and complete various simulations is almost as important for a passing score as the baseline material itself, CCIE candidates should complete several practice tests and lab simulations before registering for their exams. One can access official CCIE study guides and practice tests through Cisco's official website, or through professional organizations like the Association for Computing Machinery.
CCIE certifications are valid for two years. One can become re-certified by passing the current CCIE written or lab exam, or by passing other select Expert- or Architect-level exams.