CCIE Recert Should Be Like Wilderness Medicine Recert

Last winter I had to recertify CCIE. This time it felt like a negative, adversarial ordeal: reviewing and relearning a lot of stuff that I don’t use in order to justify the sunk costs of obtaining the certification. It’s also a zero-sum game: time spent on recertification is time not spent learning newer, more relevant things. I’ve seen a couple of blog posts (here and here) lately related to this issue. How could recertification be done better?

Outside my professional life, I’ve long been a search and rescue volunteer here in rural Colorado. As part of that, I maintain a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certification. WFR is a certification for remote emergency medical care that starts as an 80-hour class. It’s required for most types of guiding and outdoor education careers.

Unlike with the CCIE, I always look forward to WFR recertification, even though it’s expensive and I have to take vacation time in order to do it. Why? It’s fun, cooperative, progressive, educational, and encouraging. It’s done as a 16-24 hour class that mixes classroom review, hands-on lab practice, and new material that’s been introduced or updated in the preceding years. This allows recertification candidates to interact with their peers, learn new skills, refine old ones, and demonstrate their competency in front of live instructors. By the end of the class, the test is largely a formality: it’s not that hard, and you really have to screw up badly to fail. The instructors might not even let you take it if you’ve gone that far astray.

Although I have little hope of it ever happening, I think this should be the model for CCIE recertification: interaction with peers, review of basics, updates on new technology, and lab exercises.

There are a couple of objections to ideas like this:

  1. It would be expensive, and thus unfair to applicants from different countries or different income levels. I understand this; maybe Cisco could offer this idea in addition to the traditional path.

  2. It “devalues” the certification, presumably by making recertification easier. I don’t understand this objection; it’s not that far from wishing for an artificial cap on the CCIE population. I took the CCIE exam because it was challenging to me, not because of what it does or doesn’t do for other people. I’m interested in being challenged in cooperative and constructive ways, not in excluding other people from the club. Rather than worrying that other people might not be good enough, we could use opportunities like this recertification model to help them get better.

Published: September 17 2015

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