Cisco DevNet Expert: My First Lab Experience

Intro

For those that don’t follow me on Twitter (@devnetdan) or my YouTube channel, I began documenting DevNet Expert study journey in the beginning of 2022 (dubbed #RoadtoDevNetExpert). I’ve learned so much along the way and, in this blog post, I’m going to go through everything I experienced along the way, hoping that it will inspire others to take that initial leap of faith towards their goal.

The Journey

Some of you may already be thrown off by the timeline of my journey. “This guy only studied for 4 months? I’ve heard CCIE-level exams can take years?!”. While that may be true for some, I think it’s important to be self-reflective on any journey you take in life. It’s important in understanding your growth. If you don’t bookmark where you’re at, it’s hard for you to appreciate where you’ve been.

Background

So before my documented journey began in the beginning of 2022, I’ve been involved with the DevNet certifications since they came out in February 2020 and am part of Cisco’s DevNet 500 (see past blog posts). I achieved my DevNet Professional certification in April 2021 and have been anticipating the release of the DevNet Expert lab exam since then. With the announcement of the DevNet Expert in October 2021, I began reading through the exam topics and labbing up some of the topics I felt strong in. At the beginning of 2022, I turned up my studying a bit and began livestreaming on a weekly basis. For those interested in watching my past livestreams, check out my YouTube channel.

When things got REAL!

When registration for the exam opened, I tried to register for one of the first available testing days for the exam. Luckily, I was able to grab May 3 (the first available testing day was May 2). After registering for the exam, I put down the money in order to lock up the date (yes, it hurt… a lot…). After registering and paying for the exam, it got a little more real, as I imagined it would.

Side note to those that are thinking about booking an exam: DO IT!!! Pick a date and book it! You can always push it out, but at least it’s on the calendar. There’s something about booking a date, and putting down the money, that will lock you in to your studies. Now, I don’t want this to be confused with motivation. Motivation is a short-term boost of energy that will die out without proper planning. You want discipline – continued focus that is supported by a maintainable schedule. The way to put yourself on the right path is to think about all aspects of the exam prep: daily study time, study duration, how many days/months it will take to cover all the exam topics, etc. Once you have that figured out (I like writing my plans out using pen and paper), you’re ready to book. Well that took a spin… let’s move on.

About a week out from my exam, things began to get REAL. Everything began to hit me. From thinking about the different types of questions that could be on the exam to what needs to go in my carry-on bag. After collecting my thoughts, I went through all of the exam topics one more time (reading docs, labbing, etc.), then with two days before my exam, I quit.

Thought I got you there? I didn’t actually quit… I quit cramming study material into my brain. I was trying to give my mind a break before the big day. I spent those last couple days watching basketball and movies. As crazy as it may sound, I think this was, by far, the best thing I could have done for myself. It allowed me to go into the exam with a clear mind and minimal stress.

The exam itself was difficult (as you can imagine), but also extremely fair. It didn’t stray far from the outlined exam topics, and all the proper documentation was provided to you (even a nifty search engine!). The few key things I enjoyed about the exam were the following:

  • Use of many open-source tools – check the exam’s equipment and software list here
  • The realism in the questions asked – nothing too trivial and the questions felt like some you may receive while on-the-job.
  • There wasn’t an expectation for you to “start from scratch” for every coding exercise – this was nice because most of the time on the job you are inheriting a codebase or a set of tools vs. building from the ground up (same applies to networking).

The Results

Now for the part you’ve all been waiting for… In my first attempt at the DevNet Expert lab, I failed. For those that have taken other Cisco Expert-level exams, this may not come as a surprise. Actually, I was expecting to fail on my first attempt. The goal of my first attempt was to really take in the entire experience (travel, testing location, the workstation (keyboard, mouse, monitors etc.)). Here are some of the things I would like to improve upon before my next attempt:

  • More familiarity with tools that I don’t work with day-to-day (Terraform and NSO to name a couple)
  • Better time management
  • Better context switching between topics – For those that haven’t heard of this term before, context switching is the process of switching between completely different topics (i.e. Building a NETCONF/RESTCONF payload to troubleshooting Python code).
  • Making sure I understand the task/question – confirm any constraints or specifics identified in the question are included in the answer

Now let’s move on to the lessons I learned during my DevNet Expert journey (so far).

Lessons Learned

You may be wondering why I took the time to write this blog post if I ultimately failed? The goals of my blog posts are to always show the entire journey – not just the part where I get the shiny, new certification. I want others to read this and know that it’s not always about the end result and that big goals can take time. I’ve learned so much about myself during this journey, and will continue learning as I try to accomplish the goal of becoming a DevNet Expert. To wrap up, here’s some of the things I learned along the way (from myself and the community):

  • Having a great support system is a must – That includes your family, friends, and online communities that you may be a part of (I’m looking at you The Art of Network Engineering!)
  • Documenting your journey – Whether through video livestreams, blog posts, Twitter, or just a personal journal. It can be very rewarding when you take a moment to reflect.
  • Chasing goals in tech (certifications, job promotions, new tools/solutions) is an ongoing process – Be patient and prioritize the goals that are the most important to you. Take time to focus on them individually. (I’m only recommending one goal at a time because that’s what has helped me succeed in the past)

What’s Next?

As you can guess, the journey isn’t over yet. I’m planning to make a second attempt at the exam in early June (about 30 days after my first attempt). Final plans are still in the works, but I plan to lock in a date this week. Life will be getting busy for me this summer, so I wanted to get in my next attempt ASAP. After my second attempt, I most likely won’t have another chance at the exam until sometime next year.

I’ll be following up this post with another one highlighting my second attempt at the DevNet Expert exam, so stay tuned! Until then, feel free to follow and/or message me on Twitter (@devnetdan) if you have any questions/feedback, or are just generally interested in my journey. Thanks for reading!

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