I have just finished Micronics Training ten day end-to-end “No excuses” bootcamp course. For those of you who don’t know, the word bootcamp comes from the German “bootenkamp”*, meaning “kiss good bye to your family and all hope of a decent night sleep”.
(* this translation might not be correct)
I was originally planning to do a day-by-day breakdown, but to be honest, I didn’t keep the draft of this post updated, so things got a little hazy. But, hopefully, by the end of this post, you’ll understand the haze.
Let’s start at the beginning, the day before class starts.
Sunday started with a hangover. Way too much drink the night before had lead to spending several hours in the bathroom, sometimes being sick, mainly being asleep. Not a good way to prepare for a boot camp. I cooked dinner on Sunday, and we went to the fair that had come to town. One of my sons had complained about a poorly stomach before we left, and he highlighted the point by throwing up on the way to the fair, moments after we stepped out of the car. He then followed this up a while later, this time in the fun house and drenching his brother and my wife. We went home. Hardly the best start to the week. I had a relatively early night, feeling better, but also feeling a mixture of nervousness and gleeful anticipation for the next ten days.
I left early, not having done the relatively short drive from my house to Newport Pagnell in rush hour traffic before. I have driven there many times as I have a friend who lives there, but never during rush hour. The usual half hour drive takes over an hour today. For those who don’t know the area, Newport Pagnell is just outside of Milton Keynes. Milton Keynes is famous for a couple of things, the MK Dons, a decent snowboard center, Pearl jam played there a few months ago, and having a road layout designed by someone with a an obsessive-compulsive disorder, its just full of straight roads and roundabouts. Newport Pagnell is a nice area though, its got some decent pubs and food places.
The bootcamp location is about ten minutes walk from town, its got a little shop opposite and a garage just up the road, so living on sandwiches is easy if you don’t fancy a walk to get something else to eat (pizza, kebab, chinese, pub grub etc).
We start started at 9. We introduce ourselves, saying where we are in our journey to taking the lab exam, and highlighting all our weak points. Pretty much everyone says QoS and Multicast. We do a six hour Cisco 360 practice exam (from the Cisco Learning Network). The 360 assessments are pretty good, and if you have used IOU then it will be pretty familiar. This was followed by lectures on DMVPN and EIGRP, which started late in the evening. Trying to do EIGRP metric calculations at midnight is harsh, I must say that I did kind of shut off before we got to that part of the talk, but from what I remember, it was very good. I just could not focus on the topic after being there for fifteen hours. We left about 12:30 am.
OSPF was the topic of the day, not one of my strongest subjects, but here is where Narbik’s course really shines out. Narbik doesn’t use overhead projectors, powerpoint, or anything like that. He is armed with a board and a pen. If he can’t show us on the board, then he doesn’t show us. Believe me, he can show you anything! Granted, he has been doing this for many years now, but to be able to formulate entire configurations just using a whiteboard, and as we follow on our routers (which all live in his basement), to find that this is all working exactly as he says it should, was pretty impressive. I got home by 10:15 pm
BGP and MPLS, Thankfully, these are my better subjects. It was still a long day, and we were still talking about MPLS at midnight, Someone from one of his previous classes came up with the mnemonic for remembering the BGP decision process as “Who Likes Narbiks Answers Over Mine, Everyone”. It’s very apt. He does have the answers. My wife was sick that day due to a dodgy batch of ginger beer she had bought. I got home around 1am.
This is the day most people are least looking forward to. We have a day of lectures (QoS), followed by a two hour Cisco 360 Troubleshooting mock exam, which started at 7pm. I did this bit in class, but left when it ended so I could go back home ready for the six hour configuration mock exam (again it’s Cisco 360). I started this at ten. By about midnight all I can hear is the sound of one of my cats snoring, my typing and this really weird grinding noise. I know there isn’t anything outside as the motion controlled security lights are not on. So, logic dictates, that the noise is somewhere in the house. Using the flashlight app on my iPhone I track it down to a slug hat has managed to get into the house. He had a stone chip attached to him, which accounts for the noise. He gets ejected from the house and I return to the assessment lab. By half past two my brain is not relaying information and I quit the assessment and go to bed.
I am feeling wrecked, worse than I did on Sunday morning. The good news is that we are due to finish at noon. This actually ended up being about five-ish. I get back, put the kids to bed, have a glass of wine and a beer and went to bed.
The majority of the second week was spent doing troubleshooting and configuration labs. These are designed by Narbik, and we get the print out of the questions/scenarios, followed by the answer sheet being emailed to us by Janet. These are really good, and get progressively harder. Narbik has a scale, these start at about 2-3 and go up to 11. I havn’t completed them all, but look forward to doing so. There are lectures during this time as well.
Post course thoughts
So what have I taken away from the course?
Firstly the workbooks we get (two volumes of the Foundation to bridge the gap between CCNP and CCIE, and two volumes of the Advanced workbook) are really good. They are very clear and in full color, giving a step by step breakdown of everything. My plan is to work through these (and they run to about 4000 pages) after I do my written exam.
Secondly, it has changed the way I am going to approach my studies. As Narbik says, you should have a method for everything, such as DMVPN creation. It will make the exam easier and leave less room for error.
Thirdly, the people in the class were a great bunch, from all over the world and were a pleasure to be with.
Narbik himself is a great guy. He is funny. He has some of the best stories. He talks of the little green men at Cisco (the ones who make up all those funny little rules such as inverting bits in IPv6 addresses), he taught us the best way to open a banana, he made QoS less mystifying, he made us all laugh with a story about multicast, he bought us dinner. He is knowledgeable and approachable. He brought us together as a group and made ten days fly by. He even bought my BGP book from Amazon (I gave him a copy of the MPLS book). I would attend another of his bootcamps in a heartbeat. Whether I can get the pass from my wife is another matter, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
The course is tiring, but its not called the “No Excuses” course for nothing. At one point in the second week my chair decided to start leaning back, and that was it, my eyes were closing and I could feel sleeps warm embrace. If you are used to a 40 hour week, then this is like working three full weeks all in the space of ten days. I did miss my family, I missed seeing my children, I missed seeing my wife, but she spurred me on (at one point telling me to “man-up” and get back to the course), and single handedly looked after our children for the duration. If you have a young child, or children then you know how demanding and tiring they can be. So I think my wife may have had a harder time during those ten days than I did. I can’t reiterate enough how tiring the course is. But it is definitely worth it. Narbik isn’t there to take your money and run, you can resit the course as many times as you want (spaces permitting) – you may have to rent the rack off him, or use your own (IOU is an option), and you will have to pay for the Cisco 360 stuff if you want to do that, but he will welcome you back.
I walked into the class with a pretty good idea of where I was in my journey to becoming a CCIE, and that was a far way away. I walked out closer to that goal, but still not planning to do the lab until March (if seats are available). I still have plenty of time to study, I have the materials in the form of his workbooks, and I have more confidence and better idea of what’s ahead.
If you get the chance, and don’t mind missing sleep for ten days, then definitely attend his course. I hope to see him again, preferably on his 5 day Service Provider bootcamp. If you are reading this, Narbik, then please can I have the ISBN numbers for the SP books you mentioned!
When would you attend the bootcamp? early in your studies? Late?
Because you get the Foundation guides well before the bootcamp, if you are early on then going through all these will make you ready for the classes. Most people were further on in their studies than I am, but I found it excellent for level-setting my expecations. There isn't a "right time" that works for all. It was invaluable for me at the stage I am in the studies, but everyone is different. If I had done the foundation workbooks then I would have been better prepared though.