SMS Company Highlights

A CCIE Certification Journey

For Miles Simpson, certifying as an Expert with Cisco was a decade-long process come to fruition. Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) is the premier networking certification, achieved by less than 3% of all network engineers, putting them into an elite group. For SMS, Miles’ journey was more than significant professional accomplishment and proof-of-concept for the Enhanced Training Plan (ETP), which is one of the new initiatives of the Office of the Chief of Technology (OCTO); it was a crucial certification that helped maintain SMS’ Cisco Gold partnership, which started 19 years ago.  

Miles currently works as a network engineer at the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA). Miles serves as the Chair of Engineering Review Board, and his job is to review, improve, and approve all Engineering Implementation Plans and associated configurations to ensure they follow the overarching architectural design and standards. He also serves as a Director in the SMS’ Technology Leadership Program (TLP) to cross-pollenate knowledge from SMS’ best and brightest technical leaders across the different contracts and geographically across the US. The TLP is a growing program where those with high technical potential can make a difference across SMS. 

When Miles applied to SMS seven years ago, he already began studying for the CCIE. After passing the written portion of the CCIE certification in 2020, he found himself in a unique situation that he couldn’t take the lab portion of the CCIE certification because of the COVID lockdowns. Additionally, not only had Miles been studying and now unable to test in the lab, but Cisco was also rewriting the exam to update material, meaning that Miles would have to study new material, a substantial 40% of the lab, without testing his knowledge on the written exam. In the summer of 2022, SMS’ Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Chuck Luedke asked for a volunteer to test the ETP program, and Miles volunteered to finish his CCIE. Chuck agreed and tapped Ryan DeBerry, already a CCIE, to be Miles’ mentor through the process. Chuck gave Miles a framework training plan and asked Miles to complete the details, asking for commitment to follow the training plan. They agreed that Miles will study for three hours per day to prepare for the lab. In Miles’ mind, he signed up for 21 hours per week – the equivalent of a part-time job, for the next eight months. With this commitment Miles had to prioritize his studying over spending time with his fiancé and English Bulldog, over going out with his friends on the weekends, and over doing his own hobbies like fitness and bodybuilding. From August 2022 until March 2023, he fully invested and maintained his 21-hour studying routine until he could take the CCIE lab exam. 

The CCIE lab exam is very exact and demanding. It is eight hours of supervised configuring and troubleshooting in a networking lab. Some of the exam questions are multi-task questions, with each task getting more precise. If the question is worth X points, and you miss the fifth task in the question, then you lose all X points on the exam. In addition to the extreme technical challenge of the test, labs are only offered in select locations, so an examinee usually flies across the US to another state to take the lab, adding a psychological stress of timed and evaluated testing environment. With an estimated pass rate of 26%, the lab is grueling to undertake. Miles flew to Dallas, took the lab, and was in the airport to return home when he was notified that his CCIE account updated. While sitting in the airport terminal, Miles read that he passed the lab, earning the coveted CCIE certification.  

How did Miles accomplish this? He says come up with a plan and set study goals. Twenty-one hours per week for eight months was barely enough for someone who had already passed the written test, so be realistic in your plan. Find support groups of others with the same CCIE goal; go to a CCIE bootcamp; actively participate in study groups; join Discord and Slack chat groups to help hold each other accountable and encourage each other. You have to say you are going to do it, because once you “put it out there, then it’s real” Miles reflected. 

What is next for Miles? “I want to learn more Cloud, DevNet, and Platform Engineering” as well as help spearhead some of the technology initiatives. He looks forward to being a mentor for someone else who wants to undergo the CCIE journey and help mentor them. But for right now, Miles is still breathing a sigh of relief at passing the lab and planning to catch up on some overdue rest and relaxation. 

Congratulations, Miles, on your hard-earned accomplishment!