Been Back on the Attack

Wow, my last post was around 6 weeks ago which seems like forever. Before passing ICND1 in the beginning of June the original plan was to take a short break and then start on ICND2. Then I passed the test and was so excited that I changed my mind and intended to start ICND2 right away. However, the A+ opportunity presented itself and I ended up taking and passing it on June 6th. With another victory under the belt I was still ready to get chugging along on ICND2 right away. However, a lot of work trips really threw me for a loop. As a point of reference, I live in Tennessee. Since my June 12th post, I have made 4 trips to Alabama, 9 trips to Arkansas, and 1 trip to to Oklahoma for work. All of the Arkansas trips were day trips but the others involved overnight/multi-night stays. I got 1/2 way through chapter 1 of the Cisco Press INCD2 book 3 times at the beginning of July and just never could get the whole chapter read. (too many distractions, etc.) On July 10th, I decided that way too much time had slipped away and that I need to really put my nose to the grindstone and get to work on ICND2. So I created an aggressive schedule that started on July 10th and I have managed to get 9 full study days under my belt with tomorrow being the 10th and last. This accounts for the lack of blog posts recently. I just finished the last chapter (IPv6) of the ICND2 book earlier today. The test is scheduled for Friday, August 3rd. It has been very stressful and I do not feel 100% ready for the exam. However, I am scheduled to go to Alabama again next week so I just have to bite the bullet and take the test on the 3rd. If I fail then I can look at the breakdown of the score and see where I need more study. If I pass, happy days and I start the planning phase for CCNP Route. Tomorrow is going to consist of finishing the last couple NetSim IPv6 labs and then reviewing all my highlights from the book.

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I’m a Flip-Flopper

I stated back on May 3rd that my plans for the A+ certification were on indefinite hold. Well that hold has now been removed. A situation occurred that has enabled me to purchase the exam vouchers and both exams are now scheduled for Wednesday June 6th. Today I am hoping to get the 31 Days Before Your CompTIA A+ Exams book read cover to cover. If I do not finish it tonight, I will definitely get it finished tomorrow. This is a ridiculously short prep time for an exam (2 days) but I was essentially and practically (puns intended) ready to take the exams at the end of April. I had completed the IT Hardware Essentials course in Cisco Academy and had covered the material quite a bit. The next two days will serve as a final review on the topics and hopefully I will have great news Wednesday afternoon. Wish me luck!

ICND1 Tomorrow

It has been kind of a rough week. I got little done over the Memorial day weekend in regards to study and ended up having to do a 17 hour drive/work/drive last Tuesday. Wednesday I was fairly exhausted and had to make a big decision regarding my upcoming ICND1 exam. I still had several chapters to go in the Odom book as well as a lot of labs in Network Simulator and time was running out. I seriously debated rescheduling the exam date and pushing it out 5-10 days. In the end, I decided to keep the date and really hit the book today. I started early this morning and finished chapter 14, jumped to chapter 19, and completed the reading all the way to the end of chapter 24. I had intended to go back and read the sub-netting chapters but there simply is not enough time at this point and I feel good on sub-netting. I tore through a lot of the remaining NetSim labs and started a Pearson practice exam that was included with the book. This was the second practice exam I took. I took one on the 28th and failed with a score of 667. Tonight I passed with a score of 880, reviewed the questions I missed, and felt pretty good about the whole thing. I missed 5 questions and at least 2 of those were due to question wording. At this point my nerves are shot and I am definitely wanting to get to the exam and get it over. I have not been feeling well today and I am hoping that whatever is ailing me is gone tomorrow.

I will definitely be taking a break for a week to ten days after the exam tomorrow just to recharge my batteries. Hopefully, I will be starting ICND2 studies at that time and not prepping to re-take the ICND1 exam.

Studying with Network Simulator

I am almost finished with chapter 11 in Odom’s ICND1 book and thus will finish Part 2 of the text. I feel very comfortable with subnetting so I am going to save Part 3 (chapters 12-18) for last. Next, I will jump ahead to chapter 19 and complete Parts 4-6 (chapters 19-24) and return to Part 3 at the very end for a quick read through the subnetting chapters. I’ve been doing lab exercises using the CCNA 640-802 Network Simulator (2nd Edition) and recently wrote a review on Amazon about the product. If you have read my recent posts you may be asking why I am using the Network Simulator when I have an almost fully built CCNP lab at this point? The main reason is that it is a great companion to the reading and provides great structured labs/tasks that are pertinent to the material I just read. I downloaded the Lab Study Plan (PDF file) and have followed it along with the book. For example, I read chapter 9 and then I do the labs in Network Simulator for that chapter. I also have access to Packet Tracer and while there are many labs available for Packet Tracer, I have not seen any that closely follow the reading like Network Simulator. Also, you are not forced to choose only one option when deciding how to get hands on practice. In my case I am using 3 options (PT, NetSim, and real gear) and others might add GNS so it really is up to you. If you find benefit from something then by all means use the resource. I feel as if I am benefitting using multiple methods. Bottom line is that you needs hands-on practice for the Cisco test and that can be achieved several different ways. Choose one or more that best meet your needs.

Finished Part I (Chapters 1-6) of Odom’s ICND Book

A couple of hours ago I finished chapter 6 of Wendell Odom’s ICND1 640-822 Official Cert Guide which comprises Part I of the text. I am essentially 25% of the way through the 24 chapters even though I feels some of the upcoming chapters are going to require more time than the first 6 did. Part I was an exploration of the first 4 layers of the OSI model with some security topics thrown in at then end. Using this book has been a bit different than the other certification books I have used in the past. My previous method was to read a chapter, sleep on it, and then do the end of chapter review questions the next day. However, the Odom book does not have end of chapter questions. Instead you are faced with a “Do I Know This Already” (DIKTA) quiz at the beginning of the chapter. I’ve committed to reading the entire text so I take those quizzes and read the chapter regardless of how I do. I’ve done fairly well on the DIKTA questions and have only missed 1 question per chapter on average.

The Odom ICND1 book has been called dry and I can see where people get that impression. It has not been than dry for me, but I honestly feel that if I did not have some knowledge of this material already that I would be a little bit lost at this point. For example, I thought Lammle did a lot better job of explaining basic network concepts in his Network+ book than was presented here. It is not that it bad, but rather than it just is not as good in my opinion. Some of this may be preference, but I feel that those totally new to the topics would definitely be best served by not using the Odom books as their sole reading material. However, I have definitely picked up a few things in Odom’s book that I had not seen or learned elsewhere. For those with some networking experience, Part I is more of a review than anything else. I have a gut feeling that Odom is going to get a lot more thorough in the upcoming chapters in the book.

So next up is chapter 7 which represents the deepest I have ever read into any Cisco Press book thus far. It feels pretty good.

Gulp! On to the Cisco Certifications – First Up: CCENT

I’ve been wanting to post some blog entries all week but never got it done so I am posting multiple entries today. I actually learned about the lack of A+ voucher discounts 4 days ago and not wanting to pause, I started on Wendell Odom’s ICND1 book. Thus far I have read the Introduction and chapters 1-2 so I have 22 more chapters left. Monday night I took the final exam in my Cisco II course (part of Cisco Networking Academy) and made 100%. I was pretty happy and after two Cisco classes I feel pretty confident about the the ICND1 test. I probably could take it right now and pass. However, there are a couple of reasons I am waiting to take the exam and studying more.

First, here is the elephant in the room that I have yet to mention until now:

CCNAHistory.png

As is clearly illustrated in the graphic, I have actually taken the CCNA composite exam twice and failed both times. This was in 2004 (8 years ago) when I was working full time as a Network Engineer. It was very frustrating because I was doing CCNP level work on a daily basis but was lacking a lot of theoretical background. The first time I failed, I had not read a single book and did zero studying. Prometric and Cisco tell me there is no way to obtain my old scores but I remember that I wasn’t even close on the first attempt. For the second attempt, I had downloaded a 15-20 PDF off the internet and studied that for a couple days. I do not remember the exact score but I was fairly close to passing on the second attempt. As I recall I had purchased the Cisco books and was going to read those before a 3rd attempt but never managed to do it. So the bottom line is that I am scared of Cisco exams based on past experience.

Second, I have never read the Wendell Odom books. I still have both the 640-507 and 640-801 CCNA Exam Preparation Library sitting on my book shelves after all these years and I still have not read either one of them. I purchased the 640-507 set on March 7th, 2002 from Amazon and it cost me $126.19. I do not recall reading more than 1 or 2 chapters of the first book of that set. I picked up the 640-801 set at Borders in 2004 and remember paying in the neighborhood of $90 for that set. I also remember starting the first book of the 640-801 set but I never got past chapter 1. Earlier this year I bought the premium e-book versions of the ICND1 and ICND2 books from Cisco Press. So basically I have purchased the Cisco Press book sets 3 times over the years. However, this time is different and I am definitely going to finish the books. At chapter 3, I’ve already read more in the last couple of days than I did with the old sets. I feel as if every Cisco network person really has an obligation to read the Odom CCNA books. It is sort of rite of passage to being a Cisco guy.

Bottom line is that I think I could pass the ICND1 exam today, but I am not taking the exam until I have completely read the ICND1 book. I am hoping to get this done in the next 3 weeks as last Monday was the last day of school for the semester and I now have even more time to devote to certification studies.

Starting A+ Cram

The A+ certification is a bit of a strange situation for me. First, as a “network guy” I’ve always looked at the A+ certification as something that would be desirable for desktop support personnel. Personally, I never really had any desire to get the A+ certification for the reason I just mentioned as well as me viewing it as a very entry-level certification. However, I ended up in a situation where I needed to take the Cisco Academy IT Hardware Essentials course as part of my Associates Degree program. That course maps to the A+ objectives and discount exam vouchers are provided after completion. Basically, I will be able to take each exam for about $72 for a total of $144 for the A+ certification. The normal pricing would have been $169 per exam for a total of $338. At the latter price, I probably would have forgone the exams and focused on other certifications. However, the discounted price on top of the fact that I have been going over all the material in class for the last several months makes it too attractive to pass up.

I’ve built and maintained PCs since 1987 so I have a LOT of real world experience in this area. However, I switched to Mac in 2005 and thus Windows XP was the last version of Windows I used so I know very little about Vista and Windows 7. Therefore, I need to do some studying in those areas to prepare for the exam. I’ve decided to read two books that I have already purchased. (links to books here) The first is Exam Cram by David L. Prowse and the second is 31 Days Before your CompTIA A+ Exam by Ben Conry. The latter book is designed to be read by students who just finished the IT Hardware Essentials course and are planning for the exam. The former is more of a general A+ certification guide. I like the Exam Cram book because it is fairly concise without a lot of beginner fluff that I do not need.

I plan to get started this week on both books and want to really compress the time I spend on studying so that I can take the exams fairly quickly after receiving my voucher discounts. Unlike my previous studying for Network+ and Security+, I do not plan to do chapter review questions or take any practice tests. I feel as if I just need to review the material since I have years of experience in this area. Hopefully, I’ll do fine using this process.

48 Hours

In about 48 hours I will be taking the Security+ SY0-301 exam. I finished chapter 11 of Darril Gibson’s book and completed the end of chapter review questions about an an hour ago. This was the last chapter in the book. I combined the end of chapter review questions from chapters 1-11 into one document as I did with the Network+ questions. This will serve as one of my final practice tests. It is approximately 275 questions. The book also had a 100 question final practice exam. I will be taking both of these and using the results to determine any areas I need to re-study. Tomorrow I plan on hitting the iPhone/iPad app pretty hard and really drill myself with it. I also plan on reading the acronym list/glossary at the end of the book. Because of the delay, my final prep time seems a bit more compressed than with the Network+ studying but I feel everything is going to work out. Of course, I’ll know for sure in 48 hours whether I’ve done a good job or not.

Kindle and E-Books

I find 800 page books to be intimidating. When you hold one in your hands it is like holding a log. (Log as in a piece of a tree as opposed to a file with events — for us geeks) I bought the CISCO CCNA Exam #640-507 Preparation Library Set back in March of 2002 (yes, 10 years ago) and received 3 books that totaled 2000+ pages of text. The simple truth is I probably read less than 150 pages before becoming frustrated and getting caught up in other life events. Sadly, I never picked them up again. One of those books alone was around 1000 pages. The problem with reading a 1000 page book is that when you are 50 pages into it you literally feel the weight of the other 950 pages behind page 50. It is intimidating. I am an able reader and it is not as if I cannot read a book that size, but it is a formidable task that requires additional time and commitment.

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However, I have a great solution if you are like me and are intimidated by 800 page printed books. It is called Kindle! Technically, I used the Kindle application on iPad and Mac and not an actual Amazon Kindle hardware device but the principle is the same. A couple of months ago I read the Steve Jobs biography over a 2-3 day period. I was looking at some reviews on Amazon.com and it caught my attention that it was a 656 page book! Wow! I read a 656 page book in almost no time. Yup. I was really interested in the topic so I suppose I might have got through the printed version of the book but not as fast. You see, I read it on the iPad and I read it a chapter at a time. I never felt like there was a long way to go because the iPad weighs/feels the same with a 100 page book or a 1000 page book.

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This may be a small mental thing, but it definitely makes the Cisco Press and various other certification books more approachable and less intimidating. I just dig in and start reading without regard to the text size. In fact, many Kindle titles to not have page numbers at all and only show a location bar. I find I am able to tear through material faster. I have found other advantages as well. For example, I can read in the dark or in low light situations. I can read in places where holding an 800 page book would be an issue. (you figure that out on your own) I can zoom diagrams, make notes in the text, and put the errata into the text easily.

I currently have all of my certification study books in either Kindle or iBooks format. I couldn’t possibly carry all those books around in printed format! I believe this new medium is going to be a huge asset in my certification studies. It is also helping me stay dedicated to the cause and better at studying. I highly recommend this method if you have been put off or intimidated by the sheer volume of the printed materials. 🙂