Review: INE Voice Bootcamp, the two week experience

So many of you regular readers have caught onto the fact that I recently attended the INE Voice Boot Camp and I know many of you are anxiously awaiting details on what the experience was like and what to expect should you decide to attend the class yourself. So let’s get to it!

First up – class structure.  This is not a class for the faint of heart. It is not the class for those who work for 4 hrs and then need a nap.  It’s the class for those of you who work an intense 12+ hrs for days in a row and still maintain some bit of mental clarity at the end of it all. Maybe not a lot of mental clarity, but some nonetheless.

Officially class start time was 9am and lectures ended by 4-5pm.  Unofficially, students came as early as 6-7am, at least that’s the rumor. I wasn’t there to verify, because as we all know, morning people are mutants. As far as the evenings went, students always stayed as late, sometimes as late as 10-11pm. Personally I need some sleep to function, so I often called it quits about 8 or 9 pm – just as my brain began to melt out my ears.

On the same subject of structure, I liked the fact that the labs, which were setup pretty much like what I am told you would encounter in the actual lab exam, were open on the weekend and accessible via VPN at all times. It was nice to go in for a few hours on the weekend and work through some of the topics that were giving me grief. Yes, that might just have been all of the topics, but not the point.

Shifting gears, let’s talk about class content. Class was a refreshing mix of lecture and lab and blessedly free from the dreaded death-by-power-point. Of course all the major topics on the blue print were covered, but one of the things I enjoyed about this class was it didn’t stop at just here’s-how-to-pass the exam.  We covered how to think critically about tasks, configurations, and design. Yes, granted, a lot of it was how-to-think-like-a-proctor, but so much more – how to be a better voice engineer overall. This appeals to the part of me who knows it’s not just about certification but about being at the top of your game as an engineer.

So what about the teacher Mark Snow? Well, other that the class consensus that he has really great hair*, I’d have to say Mark knows his stuff cold. With that being said, he didn’t spoon feed students and he didn’t just give us the answers even though that would probably at times have been easier.  He provided a great many helpful lab suggestions and methods for being successful, but I would stop short of calling them tricks or quick tips.  You aren’t going to pass the CCIE Voice lab, or any other CCIE lab with a basketful of helpful hints, it’s hard work and mastery over the topics that will get you there and Mark provided excellent guidance on how to achieve that goal.

Lastly, I’d like to give a shout out to my awesome fellow students who not only provided great feedback in the class but were also great resources to one another, and to myself especially. When working through labs, these guys were invaluable to each other when trying figure out what on earth was going wrong in a configuration that should be working and wasn’t. We’ve all been there. Some of us more so than others.

So there you have it – was it a positive experience? Absolutely! Did it get me closer to my CCIE voice? Definitely.  In fact, I really just embarked on this study quest and I feel miles ahead.  I’m really glad I went when I did, because I now know how and where to focus my study efforts, what my weakness are, what my goals should be, and how I can measure my preparedness level accurately.

So for the INE Voice boot camp experience, I’m giving it two thumbs up, awarding it 5 gold stars, clicking the Like button, marking it as a Favorite, giving it some Klout, etc…

*Yes, records will indicate that this was an actual topic of discussion at one point. And can you really make an argument against it?

**My awesome class comprised of extremely talented voice engineers: Miguel, Mike, Matthew, Justin, Trent, Mark, Israel, Vincent, and Juan. And of course, myself.  I’m pretty sure you can tell which one I am.

***In the interest of full disclosure, INE did pay for my seat in the class and my company paid my expenses, but once again I’ll point out neither paid me to say nice things about them. If the class had been horrible, trust me, I would have let you know, with of course, as much snark as I could possibly fit into one scathing review. I’m talented like that.


Published 10/29/2012

How can I screw this configuration up? Let me count the ways…

In case you ever get to feeling you’re pretty darn good at your job, just go and sit a CCIE boot camp.  That’ll sober you up in no time at all.

While I may be a whiz at voice implementations, troubleshooting phones and gateways, and heaven forbid, fixing that faxing problem you’ve been having, voice boot camp has a way of taking me right back to the starting line. In other words, I have spent the week getting schooled by boot camp. But in a good way. I think.

I’m seriously amazed, and simultaneously alarmed, at how much knowledge and methodology slips away when presented with tasks in a lab exam format. Maybe it’s the sketchy requirements and time constraints, but many of the mistakes I made this week working through the labs I know (or at least desperately hope) I would not have missed in real life.  I’m a professional for goodness sake!

For your entertainment value, and of course, educational value (mostly the former), I present to you some highlights from this week’s lab blooper reel.

I can’t call out from the PSTN phone. I hear dial tone when I take the phone off hook, but I get a fast busy on all calls I try to make.  Maybe there’s some class of restriction on the phone.  Maybe the dial peers are wrong. Or maybe it’s just that it’s a PSTN phone and I should quit prefixing numbers with a 9. Duh!

Inbound calls to the phones are not working. Maybe it’s my SIP trunk.  Maybe it’s my translations and transformations for globalized call routing. Maybe it’s a codec issue. Or maybe it’s just that I created the internal extensions in a partition that I didn’t add to any calling search spaces. Duh!

This one is one of my favorites. Scratching my head, I can’t figure out why calls aren’t matching my CUCM translation pattern: 9.[1-8]……… . I count the wildcards, 9 wildcard dots just like there need to be for the dialed string. 9 wildcard dots. DOTS. DOTS! In CUCM! Yeah, those might be wildcards in IOS, but CUCM has a difference of opinion.  Maybe I should use Xs. Just like ever other translation/route/transformation pattern in CUCM ever! Duh!

I cannot make a 911 call from a branch phone.  I check the translation pattern, I check the transformation patten, I check the route pattern.  I’m looking for all the ways I could have screwed up routing the call out.  What I am not looking for is whether my MGCP gateway is still registered. Which it wasn’t. And thank you Mark Snow for not laughing out loud on that one. And while we are on the subject, why on earth would I have changed the name of my MGCP gateway??!!  That must have been the smoking crack portion of the day...

Okay, I think that’s all the embarrassment I am prepared to own up to in this episode.  You may now go about your day feeling far superior in your knowledge and troubleshooting skills.

If you’ve got some good “well, duh!” moments from class or real life, I’d love to hear them.  It’d go along way to healing my self-esteem, plus it’s always fun to laugh at the other guy.

Published 10/13/2012

Going to camp…

Today I began a two week CCIE voice boot camp with INE*.  Now, I am well aware that CCIE boot camps are really best used as finishing schools. Once you think you’re ready to sit the lab, you attend one of these and polish off any rough edges before the big day.

Well, I am not too proud to admit that I am nowhere near ready to take the exam.  But day one of camp has given me fantastic insight into the ground I still have left to cover, which spans from here to what looks to be eternity as far as I can tell.

I’m reminded of a scene from Short Circuit* where the main characters are frantically trying not to be disassembled all over the place by their pursuers and the robot announces “Strategy!” – to which the response is “what about it?” – answer: “NEED SOME!”

Yep.  That’s about the gist of it.  Clearly no CCIE exam is going to be passable unless you’ve got one seriously concrete strategy for taking an epic amount of work, methodically parsing it out, and proceeding to bang out the solutions despite intense pressure and time constraints.

I also realize I just stated the obvious- the real question is what’s the best time management strategy out there?

Today I was presented with an excellent plan- the details of which you also can get by attending an INE camp (I can’t just go around giving away their secrets for free, they’ve got to make a living as well!), but I recognize that I’m going to have to cater any strategy to the way I think and work best.

The most successful strategy is going to address my weaknesses and capitalize on my strengths.

My two greatness weaknesses when it comes to time strategy I’d sum up like this:

1. Down the rabbit hole – it’s not in my nature to let go of a problem.  If something is not functioning properly, I am inclined to work on it until it’s fixed or the cows come home. And since the cows don’t have my address, there is no dropping a task that isn’t going my way and picking it up later, it’s just rabid obsession until the solution is discovered.

This will *kill* my time in the lab. Since I’m pretty sure I can’t bring in some sort of electric shock device that will pummel me with 1.21 gigawatts if I spend too long on one task, I am going to have to practice letting go, moving on, and coming back later. Easier said than done in my world.

2. OCD, OCD, OCD. When given a list of tasks, it fills me with great joy to start from the beginning and methodically work my way down through the tasks, checking things off in a nice orderly manner.

Yeah, this won’t work for the lab.  No way the proctors are giving an exam that can be implemented going line by line.  Time to rethink how to accomplish tasks in tandem and more efficiently and let go of my love of linear propriety.

Another thing that I hadn’t really considered until it was brought up today: I won’t be using my laptop for the exam.  I know this sounds silly because we all *know* we won’t get to use our own equipment for the lab, but think about how much you are used to doing things using your own stuff. Now think about how different it’s going to be when you don’t have access to those familiar items.

I think about work sites I’ve gone to where they give you some crappy laptop to use because they don’t want you plugging into their network with a laptop that actually works. No, you get to use the laptop with none of your cool tools and awesome buttons and shortcuts. Instead you have to make do with whatever pitiful excuse of software/hardware that happens to be provided to you and still make beautiful things happen.

This drives home the point that I need to practice with a setup as close to the lab as possible.  Even then I know there will be differences, but hopefully minor enough not to throw me off my game.

But the CCIE is not all about time strategy. I think my favorite line from today’s class was when Mark Snow said that “the CCIE doesn’t make you an expert, you are an expert before you go in.”  The test just puts a stamp of approval on what you should already be to pass the exam.

Like any other certification, it should be about gaining the knowledge, not just learning to pass the test.  All the time strategies in the world aren’t going to help if you don’t have the foundational skills and theory to do the job.

**If you haven’t ever seen Short Circuit, put on your parachute pants, get out the AquaNet, and rent this movie. You will thank me for it.
*In the interest of full disclosure, INE invited me to attend this boot camp and paid for my seat, my company is paying my expenses, and neither paid for me to say nice things about them.  My opinions are mine, I’m selfish like that.

Published: 10/08/2012