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Heinz Ulm: Cisco CCIE drill sergeant

Technical certification is the yellow brick road in the Land of Information Technology, leading straight to more money, more respect, and in many cases a promotion. But getting certified is easier said than done. Many of today's technical tests are extremely challenging, requiring considerable study and an almost obsessive focus to pass � and no test is more challenging than Cisco's CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert). Heinz Ulm, himself CCIE-certified, runs a training program for those dedicated disciples who have determined not to settle for anything less than the black belt of the networking world. SearchNetworking talked with him in order to find out what's involved in his program.

Tell us a little about your professional background.
From a German perspective, I started quite early in the networking business in 1981 with a computer shop specialized in selling Commodore PCs. In 1983, I was among the first in German computer stores demonstrating networked PCs in an exhibition (with 3Com cards and 3+Share NOS). In the mid '80s we had already installed 30 LANs in Moscow, and I began international training and consulting for other communication companies as well (mainly AT&T and NCR affiliates). I conducted basic networking, Microsoft LAN manager (equal 3-OPEN), 3Com and Novell classes. Around 1987, I became a certified 3Com Wizard. At that time there were less than 100 wizards throughout Europe, and probably less than 50 in Germany. When hardware prices and margins were falling dramatically in the late '80s, I switched careers and became a full-time trainer and consultant, active in five or six European countries. What's involved in one of your Boot camps?
The main focus is the routing and switching exam. The first 10 days are in-depth exercises (more than 20 very complex tasks), very similar (some even harder) to those at the exam. These 10 days are 90% hands-on, with a morning lecture session. The last five days are for troubleshooting only. As one candidate said, "If you remember the 'evil' and 'dirty' tricks Heinz has built in, you will have no problems succeeding at the lab-exam." This student got 23 out of 25 possible points. My Boot camp is very tough, with almost no breaks and students working until the evening. How did you become involved with Cisco?
In 1992, I was asked if I would like to conduct Cisco classes. I completed the train-the-trainer and examination by Cisco and began conducting Cisco classes from 1993 on. Soon I couldn't conduct Novell, Microsoft or 3Com classes because Cisco was booming. I was among the first 10 to 20 Cisco trainers worldwide with a very special status. Almost every Cisco trainer at that time was employed by the Cisco training partner (called sponsor). I needed a sponsor too, but since I was frequently working for NCR and others as a freelancer, I was a "free man" in that I could train Cisco classes anywhere else as well, as long as it was for a certified Cisco training partner. So I started conducting trainings for NCR (and AT&T GIS Global Information Solutions), slowly widening my horizon into other countries using my connections from the '80s. Tell us what makes the CCIE arguably the most elite and impressive technical certification in the industry.
It's so much more than just configuring a Cisco router. You've got to prove expertise in all the protocol worlds, including (but not limited to) IP, IPX, Apple, IS-IS, DEC, SNA, X25, Frame Relay, ATM, multicasting and voice. When I achieved the 3Com and Novell certificates in the late '80s, I thought they were the hardest exams I'd ever had. (The 3Com Wizard was a 5-day examination.) My CCIE exam in August 1995 proved me wrong, and has become harder over the years. Sitting in on a few classes and reading some books just doesn't do it (as is the case in many other non-Cisco certificates classes). I remember having met people with MCSE status who never had touched an NT workstation, nor installed one. I know many Novell CNEs who just read some books and passed the Sylvan multiple-choice test just like that. A huge portion of what's being requested in the CCIE lab exam is not even taught in the certified Cisco classes. I have had several Cisco trainers in my Boot camps, as well as TAC-people who were deeply surprised about the complexity of the topologies and the exercises. That's why only approximately 20% of the lab candidates pass on the first attempt. Those are the real gurus, and the industry has learned that when you have a CCIE on site, you feel much safer and confident that they will find and fix problems in the shortest possible time. Have you found the demand for Cisco certification training increasing or declining? Why do you think that is?
It's still increasing. The cr�me de la cr�me of Internet engineers are already CCIE. But the next generation comes up, and the industry is trying to get CCIEs like crazy. I know several corporations who pay up to three-quarters of the employee's annual income to headhunters just to get a CCIE. The market is empty and there's a real hunt going on, at least in Europe. Have you found your students interested in any particular areas recently � for example: quality of service policies designed to minimize Napster traffic?
I've seen nothing really special recently. Each student comes from a different branches and customer type (i.e. ISP, industry, government, military) and brings with him that special background. That is what mainly drives interest � students from the forces have a high interest in security aspects, ISP employees are interested in VPNs. Voice integration is becoming more and more interesting to all.

For more information about Heinz Ulm's Cisco training and CCIE Boot camps, contact him at heinz.ulm@heinzulm.com.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON CERTIFICATION: searchNetworking Best Web Links: Training and Certification What do you think is the real motive inspiring your students? Do they want the actual skills more, or the certification itself and the prestige/job pay increase/possible promotion it will bring them?
It's a combination of all. Few do it just to see how skilled they are. The overwhelming majority does it for prestige, job pay or promotion purposes. The financial aspect, in my opinion, is the most driving factor, and why not? I feel if one has worked so hard over several months with almost no private life during preparation, he deserves promotion and/or appropriate increased pay.

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