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General Question About the CCNA Changes

Linda Leung: Wendell Odom said the overarching change that affects all three exams, especially ROUTE and SWITCH, is the testing for planning skills. Engineers needs to be able to develop an implementation plan that tell others working at the weekend what changes need to be made. On top of that, the engineer needs to be able to develop a verification plan that gives other engineers one command that will tell them whether the changes have been successful. Do you agree with this statement and how does an engineer obtain these skills?

Sean Wilkins: One of the weaknesses of these tests in the past was that they focused specifically on the technical details and seemed to leave out the planning, implementation and documentation (unless you took the design certification). These are essential skills and it is better that these aspects of a solution are detailed and well laid out before anything is completed. In the past this was something that was typically learned on the job (if you were lucky) and honed over time. With these now being included in the test individuals will be able to go into a job or project and have a path to follow.

Kevin Wallace: I absolutely agree that an implementation plan is critical. Not only can it help prevent the inadvertent omission of key steps, it can serve as a back out plan in case things don't go as planned. It can also be used as a reference when troubleshooting, because a troubleshooter needs to know how things are supposed to work.

Also, I agree that a verification plan should be a part of any implementation. For example, if an IT staffer swaps out a Cisco Catalyst switch over the weekend, they might consider the operation successful if a client connected to the switch can ping a remote server. However, that staffer might not have considered in-line power requirements for the switch, leaving multiple Cisco IP Phones without power. So, what constitutes a successful operation needs to be clearly articulated prior to the operation.

As to how a network engineer obtains these skills, I'm a big believer in understanding fundamentals. For example, a network engineer shouldn't just know how to configure Spanning Tree Protocol (STP), they also need knowledge of how STP uses Bridge Protocol Data Units (BPDUs) to exchange information between switches, the various STP port states, and how a root bridge is elected. Without a thorough understanding of such fundamentals, network engineers might not correctly interpret what they see happening in a network. Beyond a comprehensive understanding of fundamental concepts, there's no replacement for experience. So, finding a way to get hands-on experience, whether through one's job or via a home lab, adds tremendous value to what a network engineer learns through formalized study.

Jay Swan: I agree with Wendell. One of the best tips I can give for gaining these skills is by classic hypothesis testing: when you're getting ready to set up a network or perform a configuration change, make a prediction about the effect of the change on the output of 1) IOS show commands, 2) IOS debug commands, 3) log output, and 4) active verification tools such and ping and traceroute. When you can predict in advance what the output of these tools will be (and why it will be that way) after a successful or unsuccessful change, you'll be well ahead of the game in this area.

Denise Donohue: I do agree implementation planning and verification are important changes to all three exams, in addition to documentation. I think it's a good change that helps make the certification more relevant to the skills needed in a production network. Verifying the configuration could require multiple commands, however. Candidates need to be able to interpret the results of those commands, also.

It seems tough to study for these skills. Of course, the best way to acquire them is to work in a production network and actually do the planning, verifying, and documenting. Examples of implementation plans and good documentation are available on the Internet. It would help to analyze them to see what they include. In our study guides we have tried to outline important implementation considerations for each technology, also.

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