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Teaching Cisco Courses is Like Motivational Speaking: An Interview with Jeremy Cioara

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Jeremy Cioara tells Linda Leung whether Cisco courses are getting harder, what certifications new IT professionals should think about pursuing, and why he thinks Juniper is cool.
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There aren't many Cisco instructors whose students have created an appreciation society in their name but then Jeremy Cioara isn't your average instructor. As owner of AdTEC Networks, Jeremy, CCIE No. 11727, splits his time doing IT consulting and teaching in-person and online (when he's not writing books for Cisco Press). Former students say he's an entertaining trainer who has a unique training style, and one said that they love all things Cisco because of Jeremy. That's some compliment.

Jeremy is author of CCNA Voice Official Exam Certification Guide and Cisco IP Telephony (CIPT) (Authorized Self-Study), 2nd Edition, along with numerous other certification books.

I caught up with Jeremy at Cisco Live in San Francisco and asked him about Cisco certifications, whether Cisco courses are getting harder, what certifications new IT professionals should think about pursuing, and why he thinks Juniper is cool.

Linda Leung: Cisco in May 2009 announced changes to the CCIE R&S certification to focus on the network engineering job role and put less emphasis on equipment operation and concepts. Cisco says candidates with less job experience may find the exams more difficult. How much of this is a move to cut out exam cheating and so-called hired gunmen who cheaters pay to take the exams for them?

Jeremy Cioara: When it comes to exam cheating I would find it amazing if someone could go to a CCIE exam and memorize every command. There are unique interview questions [that the CCIE R&S lab exam candidates take before the exam], and they are weighted heavily enough so that if you don't know the answer you won't pass. But they're not extremely difficult questions. If you know Cisco and have been around Cisco for a while you should know the answers. If you don't have the job experience you won't do well. The questions are things that you would have encountered.

LL: Do you think this is Cisco's way of separating the academic serial studier and exam taker from the people who work out in the field with real-world experience?

JC: When I got my CCIE, before I went into consulting, I was an academic studier. I passed the CCIE — you definitely have to know what you're doing to pass — and when I first went into consulting, I got nailed. It's like a doctor who's gone to school and has never done surgery. I really think Cisco is trying to isolate it. The number of new CCIEs is actually going down. There are only six CCIEs being certified every day [in years passed there were about 10 a day]. I have a CCIE that I will forever renew, but I see Cisco is making the CCIE more challenging and more real-world.

LL: Cisco exams get harder each time the company updates the program. You said as much in 2007 when the company split the CCNA certification into two exams and introduced the entry level CCENT (Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician). Do you think there will come a point when even the CCNA is unattainable?

JC: For mature students who are changing careers and going into IT, it will be difficult for them. In some classes I see young people coming in and I'm thinking, what are you doing in this class? Here's an 18-year-old who took a Cisco certification in high school, but these young people really get it. I could put them up against any experienced IT professional with 20 years of experience. It's easier for young people to pick things up; it's like they have a natural talent for this.

LL: Why do you think Cisco introduced the CCENT, and do you think it has been popular? I'm guessing employers recognize and ask for CCNA more than the CCENT. Why is it worth pursuing? Why not just go for the CCNA?

JC: I would say the path to entering the technology world is getting more difficult, and there would come a point when there's so much in a CCNA I don't think students could do it. The difficulty Cisco encountered was having two training classes and not have a milestone in between. It wanted to compete with other entry-level certifications, such as CompTIA's Network+. Some people probably wouldn't go for Network+ if they've got a CCENT. CCENT was a good idea by Cisco because you can catch people as they're getting into networking: here's the networking standard, and this is how you apply it in Cisco.

At the training centers where I teach, they completely stopped Network+ classes when the CCENT came out. Network+ is a week long course about theory and concept, whereas in CCENT, you get the concept but also you're shown how to do it. The evaluations [from the classes] went through the roof compared to Network+, which doesn't have a way to implement [because it can't show students a vendor's product].

LL: Are employers asking for the CCENT more so than for Network+?

JC: Without doing a survey my guess would be, yes. For what it's worth (and I have Cisco tattoos on various body parts), if I were an employer and someone came in with a Network+ and someone else said I have a CCENT, I would hands-down employ the CCENT. The Network+ would probably know a lot more of the history of networking, but the CCENT is someone I'd be able to throw a problem at and have it worked out. I wouldn't expect much of them, but I would have more confidence that they would know what they're doing. I've done both Network+ and CCENT exams, and the CCENT is a tough test; you've got to know what you're doing.

LL: There are no prerequisites for the CCNA exam, but candidates for the CCNA specialists, CCNA Security, CCNA Voice and CCNA Wireless, require the CCNA certification. Do you agree with this rule?

JC: I have to say, no, I don't agree with it. I think you can get into CCNA specialist level stuff and not need CCNA knowledge behind you. For example, CCNA Wireless is so radically different to the CCNA that having a CCNA doesn't really help with that compared to a CCENT, other than having more experience. If you just had CCENT and came in to do a CCNA Wireless course, you'd be just as prepared as if you were a CCNA coming to do it because [CCNA and CCNA Wireless are] very different fields.

LL: In your blog you mentioned that you might be tempted to study for Juniper certifications through its Fast Track program aimed at Cisco certification holders. Is this a recognition by you that Juniper is significant competitor to Cisco?

JC: When I first heard about Juniper offering free vouchers for people to cross over from Cisco, I thought it was just a marketing ploy. But I've talked to people who know Juniper and who also know Cisco, and they say Juniper is very a different way of doing things, but once you get it it's so much easer than Cisco. I've probably spoken to five or eight people who say the things that Juniper does are just steps ahead. Everyone has the same hardware, but some things in Juniper are steps ahead. I've tinkered with Juniper and I've seen Cisco's new OS, the IOS XR, which is really Cisco's answer to Juniper's JUNOS. It's almost as if Juniper is Apple. It came out with something that's really cool and really sweet and some people are jumping over to it because once you've got it you realize it's so much better.

LL: So as a Cisco networking professional with Cisco tattoos on various body parts, what does this say about you?

JC: I have been saying I'm interested in Juniper, but until I get to a customer who says all it has is Juniper and it's not adding anything else, I've got to stick with Cisco. If I'm going to learn Juniper I'm going to need more than some free vouchers thrown at me.

LL: On the subject of other vendor certifications, you are a Microsoft MCSE. How do Microsoft certifications compare to Cisco's in terms of the coursework and exams? Are there more employment potentials for entry to mid-level IT pros who have certs in both vendors, or should you focus on one and work up the certification ladder?

JC: Certification-wise I wouldn't be able to speak to Microsoft certifications, as I got my MCSE back in 2000. But for someone getting into the industry, becoming Cisco certified is definitely helpful. Getting a Microsoft certification alongside that is extremely valuable. Most companies aren't looking for a dedicated Cisco person unless it's a massive company like American Express or Qwest, where there are people who do nothing but Cisco. But if you have a Microsoft cert to complement your Cisco cert, or vice-versa, that's always valuable.

LL: I came across the Jeremy Cioara Appreciation Society Facebook page, and people there seem to love your teaching style. Fans recount their favorite metaphors that you've used in your classes: "ARP is like a dog shouting ARRRRRRRRPPPPPPPPPP." Someone else said that he loves all things Cisco because of you. That's a huge compliment. How do you make your classes entertaining?

JC: It's all about having a story. People in today's world have lost their story. They go to work, come home and their kids are screaming. It's the same thing again and again. The whole point of life is to have a story. My main goal is to weave together a story during class. I love action hero movies — Spiderman, Batman. These movies have stories to them. That's what I try to do when I teach — weave a story. Life is more than pushing buttons and being in a cubicle; there's a bigger story. Make it fun. I'm a Cisco trainer, but it's almost like I'm a motivational speaker. My goal is to convey enough information to get people inspired and entertained enough and say, "I can do it."

LL:Final question: What will you be doing at Cisco Live?

JC: For the last seven years I've taught the same session (BRKCRT-2201 CCVP Prep: Cisco IP Telephony Essentials). My main focus is just meeting people. There's a bunch of people on Facebook whom I've never seen or met because I do a lot of online training. Networkers to me is a time to talk to people and shake hands.

Linda Leung is an independent writer and editor in California. Reach her at leungllh@gmail.com.

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