So I recently took the CCNA Wireless exam (640-721 IUWNE) and passed, not with flying colors but not by the seat of my pants either. I was nervous going into the exam since I deal with wires all day (mostly). There’s plenty of material out there to tell you what you need to study and how to pass so I won’t bore you with those details. What I will tell you about is the hell I went through to take this exam. I know this is an associate level exam, and I make it seem really dramatic, but I’ve taken (and failed) the CCIE written and the TSHOOT beta (tough to study for that kinda thing with no study guides or even a syllabus but I was close I swear). This was much harder, I may not have known the material on those tests, but at least I knew I didn’t know it. Wireless is a tricky beast with so much fluff. Anyway, here’s my story.
Time to Renew: I received an email in December from Cisco, the notification that my CCNA was going to expire March 9th, 2012. First thing I did was decide I wasn’t going to take the CCNA again and waste a test on something I already have. I was going to renew the certification by getting a different one. At the time I was neck deep in a wireless deployment using Cisco WLC, NCS, ISE, and the 3500 series access points so it only seemed rational to choose the CCNA Wireless. Fast forward to February after many, many issues with our ASR (previous post outlines one that was solved, but there are still 2 ongoing issues which I may blog about later), ISE licensing problems, and various other projects sucking up every last minute of my time. I was completely burnt out and I was now about 4 weeks out from CCNA expiration. Crap. I started studying a bit from my Official Certification Guide and just kept getting side-tracked. I still hadn’t even scheduled my exam, and I knew if I didn’t I would never get to it. My wife made it very clear to me that this was not an option. She’s so inspirational sometimes.
Study Time: I scheduled my exam for March 2nd, "That gives me a week before expiration, just in case" I thought. Not exactly confident but not pessimistic either. I scurried to study whenever I could but time was a premium so it was two days before the test before I even finished the book (I went slowly to hopefully absorb as much as possible). I took notes in duplicate and triplicate to be sure to remember all those modulation techniques, protocols, frequencies, blah blah blah… So there I was two days before the exam and finally reviewing my notes that should’ve been started a month before. At that point I read through my notes then watched a movie. If I didn’t know it then, I wasn’t going to know it on test day. I psyched myself up and reassured my wife that it was going to be a breeze. She knew I was lying and pumped me up even more by showing me the "failure bed" – a.k.a. couch. She really is a sweetheart.
Test Day: I got a good night’s sleep just like you’re supposed to, I had resigned myself to not being sure. Nothing I could do about it except take the test. I had taken the morning off work so I could eat a good breakfast and take my time before heading on my way. The test center was about 25 minutes away and as I usually do, I left so that I’d be 20 minutes early. I was about 5 minutes out from the test center, listening to some Skrillex (anything that goes wub-wub is, in my opinion, the best study music ever) and running through information in my head when all the sudden my pager vibrated. My emergency only, only Nagios has the number, pager. Then I received an email. Then another page. Then another email. Soon there was a flood of pages and emails from Nagios. Crap. Our new $ISP had just gone in the week before and the installation process took almost a year. I knew it was going to give me problems. Why did it have to be today though? I got to the test center, called into the office and got on the phone with my engineer. He had no clue what was going on. From a parking lot 30 minutes away neither did I. "Kill it, cut the interface and let BGP reroute to $OLD_ISP." Two minutes later and we were back up. I told him to open a ticket and not to touch anything until I got back. Smoked a cigarette and chilled out, slow breathing… Ready? Sure.
I went inside and got my picture taken, signed the tablet, got escorted to the test station, and got signed in. Except, it wouldn’t sign in. Repeated attempts, calls to company engineers, calls to Pearson Vue. I was not happy. I go outside and check up on the office to make sure all is good and do some more slow breathing. When I went back in I was told "Sorry, you can’t test today. Our system is down. Here’s the incident report. Call Pearson Vue and they’ll reschedule you." I go out to my car and in my head I ripped everything apart. After I collected my imaginary self, I called Pearson Vue support. "The incident won’t show up in our system for 5 business days, you will receive a call after the investigation to reschedule your exam." Investigation?!? After I threw a fit and explained my situation (I was 5 business days away from no more CCNA), they did absolutely nothing for me. Not a damned thing. Now I was livid.
I spent the afternoon fixing our $ISP connection and yelling at Pearson Vue reps. Finally I got through to a wonderful gentleman, I would put his name here if I had written it down, and he was able to reschedule me for the very next day at a different testing center. It’s amazing what a person with a soul can do for you when they listen. I didn’t study that night.
Test Day #2: My test was on a Saturday now and we already had plans to go tour a new pre-school for my son, so I scheduled for 11:30am, last slot of the day. The drive was uneventful, more wub-wub, no pages. All was good. Until I walked in and was greeted with, "Didn’t you get our message? We close at noon and wanted you here at 10:00am." My response was simply, "I’m taking this test now unless you want a problem in your lobby." She asked if I could do it in 30 minutes, I agreed even though I wasn’t sure and didn’t care. I just wanted to take my test. My CCNA took me about 45 so it would be close enough, she could deal with it. She began checking me in, took my picture, etc. You know the opening survey and tour? Yeah, she breezed through that and would have started the test had I not asked her to leave the room. This test had a lot more questions than I thought. I was expecting 50ish, turns out it’s 80ish. Oh well, she can wait.
I breezed through the exam. There were some stumpers, but my super powers of super deduction helped me out. I was amazed at how well everything was flowing from my brain. I actually knew the content even though I slacked off so much. After 20 minutes, the woman came in again to check on my progress, ask me if she was able to run down to her car, and just plain interrupt me. 9 minutes later I was done. 29 minutes, 80ish questions. I was nervous when I hit that "End Exam" button, but it came back and said passed. I was ecstatic. I also, quite by accident, kept to my word of 30 minutes or less.
Afterwards: I’ve never cut anything this close and I don’t know how Pearson Vue and/or Cisco would treat the certification if my CCNA expired before my "pass" had cleared the system. I didn’t want to find out though. Actually getting my passing grade into the system still took a few days of yelling and crying to people on the phone. Since it was still tied to the "investigation" it was going to take up to 5 more business days because I had them reschedule it before the "investigation" was done. Finally got someone on the phone, again with a soul, and almost instantly my "pass" went through.
The moral of this story is don’t drag your feet, make sure your wife is super supportive and mildly threatening, and above all else have a crazy lady check you in and demand a fast test time.
My wife really is wonderful and supportive. She was much more confident in my skills and knowledge than I was. She even surprised me with a new Kindle this evening as a present for passing which is completely awesome considering what we have going on right now (preparing to move into a new house). See, I own the Kindle version of Brandon Carroll’s (@brandoncarroll) Official Certification Guide and my original Kindle finally died, two days after Valentine’s Day. That also happens to be the day I surprise my wife with a new Kindle, and promptly had to borrow it for a month of studying.