Anthony’s IT Certification Tips – 4 of 10 – Hands on Practice

March 21, 2014 at 4:09 pm

Remember from an earlier tip article that when you see words like “configure”, and “verify”, and “troubleshoot”, it is a really excellent indication that your certification features some good, old-fashioned, hands-on simulations.

Fortunately, especially at the earlier levels of Cisco certification, there are many affordable options to gain this valuable hands-on practice. Some students love to purchase used equipment and build their own home test network. These adventurous souls love the thrill they get out of “racking and stacking” the physical gear and then initially configuring the equipment. I know plenty of Microsoft students that also set up small pilot labs in which to actually experience the technologies.


But today there are other options for experiencing hands-on. There are simulations, like in the exams themselves, that look to duplicate the behavior of the actual operating system environment. One of these that I had the privilege of editing was done by Wendell Odom and is a simulator for the CCENT and CCNA levels.

There are also several emulators available. Emulators seek to run the actual OS in a virtualized environment right on your desktop. Some students absolutely swear by this approach since they know they are dealing with the actual operating system. I can recall the day when CBT Nuggets own Scott Morris finally made the jump to emulation for testing some off the functionality of Cisco routers.

Speaking of CBT nuggets we have also entered into this important area of certification practice by providing virtual labs on such critical subjects as big data, SQL Server, and SharePoint. Yes, you will see the list of virtual labs grow.

How much hands-on practice you need varies from candidate to candidate. Some students already possess a tremendous amount of hands-on practice, perhaps from their job or some other certification they have been studying for. These students need less hours in a particular subject area. Just remember to use your tracker and be honest with your assessment of yourself as you go through and master the material of your certification exam. Hands-on practice not only provides a deeper and richer understanding of the material, it can also mean the difference between a passing or failing mark.

Anthony’s IT Certification Tips – 3 of 10 – Track Your Progress

March 6, 2014 at 6:08 pm

Progress tracking with my endeavors is now so important to me, I really cannot imagine life without it. Whether I am trying to run a 15K, gain a certification, or win at online poker, tracking my progress is a necessity. I would suggest you consider this strongly as well.



Specifically, for your pursuit of a certification, I recommend that you start with the study blueprint. In fact, you can even copy and paste the blueprint contents into a program like MS Project or Excel. Now develop a tracking system that works for you as you seek to master each item on your list. I like to assign a number to each item that rates my knowledge. I use the following system:

1 – I have never even heard of the technology, I have no idea what it does.

2 – I have heard of the technology before and I can provide a brief overview of it.

3 – I can describe the technology in great detail and I understand its configuration and verification, but to perform these, I need the assistance of documentation.

4 – I can perform an implementation of the technology with ease and without documentation guidance.

5 – I can troubleshoot the technology effectively.

Notice that for some certification topics – level 3 might be all you need. These blueprint items tend to begin with the word “describe” and then a particular technology. For the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) exams, this is often the level of competence we need for the written exam.

No matter what tracking system you use (and some go as far as to track actual hours of study in Project Management software), doing so can greatly increase your effectiveness and reduce stress.

Until my next tip – study with passion!

Anthony’s IT Certification Tips – 2 of 10 – Know Your Exam

February 26, 2014 at 7:45 pm

Welcome to the second of ten tips (in no particular order) that I am featuring on Certification success. In this tip, I need to remind you to become an expert in the particular exam you are seeking to conquer. Be sure you gather every ounce of information that you can regarding the exam prior to scheduling it and even preparing for it.

Cisco does a better job than many vendors at making information available. Let me provide a quick example. Let’s you and I pretend that I am going to try the DCUFI 5.0 exam from Cisco. This is one of the exams that maps to the CCNP Data Center Certification – and it can also be used for a Cisco Specialist Certification. The first thing I will do is locate the “home page” for the exam at I do this using the Training and Events menu at There is a Certification section and you will find DCUFI tucked neatly into its CCNP Data Center category. Here is the exam home page structure:

Screenshot 2014-02-26 13.35.47

Notice how much information we have just here. We now have the official exam number 642-997, we know the specific Certifications this exam can help fulfill, we know it is a 90 minute exam and will be 65-75 questions, we have a link for registration, and very importantly, we can review and practice with the types of questions we will actually face in the exam. This is critical because it is a timed exam and you do not want to waste any of that time in the actual test trying to determine how a question type works. While all of us might feel comfortable with simple multiple choice, simulations and simlets in the exam might warrant practice.

Notice that you can also click Exam Topics in order to get a specific lists of the topics you must master. For this exam, here is partial output of this area:

Screenshot 2014-02-26 13.40.45Here we see Cisco makes it clear that 14% of our exam will focus around describing the Unified Fabric products in a Cisco Data Center Architecture. Cisco goes on to list what those specific products are. Note that for each bullet, we are to “describe”. This is not configure and/or verify, but it is just to describe. It is important to read very closely like this with the exam “blueprint” so you have an idea of what technologies you will actually be expected to configure.

In the next tip of this series – I will teach you how to take this exam information you have obtained and turn it into a valuable tracker for your study progress. Until then, as always, thank you so much for reading and keep enjoying those studies immensely.


Anthony’s IT Certification Tips – 1 of 10 – Find Your Purpose

February 19, 2014 at 2:44 am

A dear friend and life coach let me listen to a couple of his Tony Robbin’s CDs regarding Time Management. Tony’s system is called RPM. I quickly returned them and invested in the entire package – including the classically bound planning worksheets. Yes, imagine me planning my days and weeks and projects in a written workbook! What I discovered was that the Tony Robbin’s course made an immediate and profound impact on my life, and not just my work life, but all aspects of my life – family, fitness, fun. I suppose it only fitting that I found such inspiration in the work of Tony Robbins since I have more than once been labeled the Tony Robbins of Technical Training!

What does RPM have to do with my first tip on your IT Certification pursuits? What an excellent question, please let me explain. At the heart of the RPM system you ask yourself three main questions. What do I really want? Why do I really want it, what is my purpose in achieving it? What is my massive action plan to get there? It is amazing how we can decide we want something in life and then start down a path to achieve it without really thinking about why in the world we want that particular thing to begin with.


For your first tip, I want you to always take a moment, hell, maybe even take 60 moments in a row, and think about why you are about to go through the hard work of succeeding in a particular IT Certification goal. Not doing this can really lead to frustration and disaster, and perhaps even an abandonment of the goal after much wasted time, money, and effort (brain power).

Think about it. To really succeed at something and enjoy that journey to success, you need to be excited and passionate about the goal and the journey. How possibly can you be excited and passionate when you have no real concrete ideas on why you want to achieve the goal in the first place.

Here is my own very personal example. In early 2013 I decided that I would achieve my second CCIE designation from Cisco Systems in the area of Security. What a great way to compliment my existing CCIE designation in the area of Routing and Switching I thought. After all, you cannot throw a dart at a newsstand and not hit an article pointing out the great importance of IT security.

So with great excitement, I launched into the pursuit headlong. Watching videos so painfully boring it almost seemed comical, spending hour upon hour staring at rental rack equipment, and reading, reading, and reading some more.

I flew off to RTP in North Carolina USA and failed at an attempt at a lab version. Studied up on the “new stuff” and drove over to Cisco Live Orlando to fail at a newer version of the lab. What in the world was happening? Why was all of this so suddenly hard? Why was I not enjoying much at all of any of the study sessions?

As you might guess at this point, it was mainly due to a lack of purpose. I had never clearly defined my purpose in this goal. In fact, an employer at one point had asked me why I was engaging in such a lofty pursuit and I sat there dumbfounded, my weak response a muttering of something that had to do with industry respect. How lame. Fortunately I had already attained industry respect in my field as both an author and trainer. It was just all I could possibly come up with at the time.

I strongly encourage you, before you launch into that next (or first) IT Certification pursuit, sit down and physically write out all of the wonderful reasons that you have for attaining it. Is it to finally master certain technologies? Is it to boost your resume and acquire that position you keep seeing posted? Is it a way in which to quantify your love of a certain field of IT? We all might have different motivations and that is fine – as long as the motivations are really there and will help drive us. When we focus on the P in our RPM plan, we can literally gain speed and enjoyment of the process.

Did I postpone indefinitely my pursuit of CCIE Security you might ask? You bet I did, and with the added time and resources was able to specialize in mastering another incredibly hot IT area of Data Center for CBT Nuggets. Might I revisit the CCIE Security pursuit? Well of course, and that would be when I can very easily and clearly articulate why I MUST achieve it in the first place! This step may or may not seem obvious, but whatever you do, please do not skip it.

Avoid IT Horror Stories!

October 30, 2013 at 4:06 pm

Want tips from top CBT Nugget trainers on avoiding IT Horror Stories? Check out this video.