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Interview with CCDE/CCAr Program Manager Elaine Lopes

August 2, 2015 2 comments

I am currently studying for the CCDE exam. Elaine Lopes is the program manager for the CCDE and CCAr certification. I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with her online and meeting her at Cisco Live as well. The CCDE is a great certification and I wanted you to get some insight into the program and ask about the future of the CCDE. A big thanks to Elaine and Cisco for agreeing to do the interview.

Daniel: Hi Elaine, and welcome. It was nice seeing you at Cisco Live! Can you please give a brief introduction of yourself to the readers?

Elaine: Hi, it was nice to see you, too! My name is Elaine Lopes and I’m the CCDE and CCAr Certification Program Manager. I’ve been with Cisco’s Learning@Cisco team since 1999, – I’m passionate about how people’s lives can change for the better through education and certification.

Daniel: Elaine, why did Cisco create an expert level design program? What kind of people should be looking at the CCDE?

Elaine: Cisco has very well established expert-level certifications for network engineers in various fields which assess configuration, implementation, troubleshooting and operations skills; however, these certifications were never aimed to assess design skills. The root cause of many network failures is poor network design and the CCDE helps to fill this gap. The certification was created to assess a candidate’s skills in real-life network design. The candidate should mainly be able to meet business requirements through their network designs as well as understand design principles such as network resiliency, scalability and manageability! CCDE focuses on design by making technology decisions and justifying the choices made. Since CCDE is meant to assess design skills, it targets infrastructure network designers.

Daniel: Are there any prerequisites before taking the CCDE?

Elaine: There are no pre-requisites for the CCDE certification, although it is recommended that candidates have 7+ years of experience on network design in diverse environments.

Daniel: What kind of experience should a candidate have to be a good fit for the CCDE? What is the technology range that needs to be covered such as RS, SP, datacenter, security?

Elaine: CCDE is a role-based certification, and therefore it is desirable that candidates have experience (breadth and depth) in large-scale network designs, as they will be tested on making design decisions within constraints. CCDE focuses mainly on Layer 3 control plane, Layer 2 control plane and network virtualization technologies, but also assesses QoS, security, network management with a little of wireless, optical and storage technologies.

Daniel: Can you give us a short description of the exam process and at which locations the exam is available?

Elaine: The CCDE certification is divided into two steps. The first step is the CCDE written exam, which focuses on design aspects of the various technologies described above, and can be taken at any Pearson VUE testing center at any time. Once CCDE candidates pass the written exam, they then need to pass the CCDE practical exam, which is made of four different scenarios where technologies and design concepts are interconnected. The CCDE practical exam is tridimensional: the same technologies tested on the CCDE written exam plus the different job tasks (merge/divest, add technology, replace technology, scaling and design failure), and the task domains (analyze requirements, design, plan for the design deployment, and validate and optimize network designs). The CCDE practical exam is administered four days a year at any of the 275 Pearson Professional Centers (PPCs) worldwide.

Daniel: You are also responsible for the CCAr program. What is the difference between design and architecture? What kind of candidates should be looking at this exam?

Elaine: CCArs collaborate with senior leadership to create a vision for the network, and their outputs are the business and technical requirements which will be input for CCDEs to create a network design that meets these requirements. The pre-requisite for CCAr is to be a CCDE in good standing, with the target audience being the infrastructure architects who navigate between the technical and business worlds.

Daniel: What kind of study resources are available for the CCDE? I know you have been working hard on providing guidance in the written blueprint, what else is coming?

Elaine: The biggest challenge for CCDE candidates seems to be how to get started, so we recently launched the Streamlined Preparation Resources. This site offers a study methodology and links to many recordings with information about the CCDE program. It’s mainly a list of preparation resources that can be personalized for one’s own needs and offers diverse resource types in a very prescriptive way for CCDE candidates to prepare for the CCDE written exam, but also can be helpful for the practical exam. Since the CCDE practical exam is situation-based, the team decided to provide materials to make candidates think as network designers. The materials are not mapped 1:1 to the blueprint but our long-term objective will be to release the materials in bits and pieces as they come available.

Daniel: Elaine, tell us a bit about the upcoming CCDE study guide. Why was this book written and how should it be used to prepare for the CCDE?

Elaine: Marwan [Al-Shawi] approached me saying he wanted to author a CCDE book, so we had some conversations and exchanged many emails which helped shape the book outline, aiming to be an “all-in-one” study guide for the CCDE practical exam. He then went through the whole publishing process with Cisco Press. There are great technical reviewers involved in it, and the book is to be released soon – I can’t wait to get my copy!

Daniel: After my last blog post on the CCIE program, I received some comments where people questioned the integrity of the CCIE exam. How do you work with the integrity of the CCDE?

Elaine: Integrity has always been top of mind when considering the delivery of the CCDE practical exam: it’s Windows-based and administered at the secure PPCs. The exam changes between administrations, and the nature of the scenarios makes it hard to guess the responses.

Daniel: I know you have designed the CCDE to be as timeless and generic as possible while still covering the relevant technologies. How will the exam be affected of new technologies and forwarding paradigms, such as SDN?

Elaine: True. I’d expect the CCIEs and CCDEs out there to be at the forefront of adoption of these new technologies in the field, and we’re already making plans for incorporating these new technologies into the CCIE tracks. CCDE will be no different, but I don’t have details yet I can share.

Daniel: Creating exams is very difficult and people often have opinions on the material being tested. It’s not well known that you can comment on the exam while taking it. Isn’t it true that comments are one of your sources of feedback on the quality of the exam?

Elaine: I heavily rely on statistical analysis to understand both item and exam performance before making any adjustments to the exam.. To get a more holistic view, I also read the comments candidates make on items while taking the exam. These comments sometimes provide good insight on how to fix low-performing items.

Daniel: Elaine, how can people give feedback on the program outside of comments while taking the exam?

Elaine: Just send me an email elopes@cisco.com. To be informed on what’s going on in the CCDE world, you can connect with me on LinkedIn (Elaine Lopes) and/or Twitter (@elopes01).

Daniel: There is a Subject Matter Expert (SME) recruitment program for certifications within Cisco. Do you have SMEs for the CCDE and how can any CCDE’s out there contact Cisco if they want to be part of the SME program?

Elaine: SMEs are critical to assure the exams are relevant, so yes, I do have several CCDE certified SMEs participating on the various phases of the exam, from development teams to authoring/reviewing/editing items, to working on the preparation resources, to the maintenance of the existing exams, etc. If you are CCDE-certified and want to participate, join the program and I’ll contact you for the next opportunity to participate.

Daniel: Thank you so much for your time, Elaine! I hope we’ll meet soon again. Do you have any final words and where do you see the CCDE program going in the future?

Elaine: I wanted to give a hint to CCDE candidates taking the practical exam: take the time to read and connect with each scenario and don’t make decisions or assumptions outside the context of the scenario. If you read a question and the answer is not glaring, go back to the scenario materials! CCDE design principles don’t change, so when the time comes I see “sprinkling” design aspects of new technologies in the CCDE exams. Hope to see you soon!! It’s been a pleasure to participate, thank you for inviting me!

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