Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Narbik's Boot Camp

I recently had the pleasure of attending Narbik’s boot camp (well not so recently with how long it has taken me to actually post this). What follows is my opinion of his boot camp. This is not a comparison of various boot camps as this is the first CCIE boot camp I have ever attended.

Before I go into the details of the boot camp I will explain my reasons for attending the boot camp. Work has been really busy recently and so my CCIE studies have been stalled for quite a while, so I was looking for something to help boost my motivation as well as boost my knowledge in areas that I struggled to understand. Now I have a hell of a lot of Video on Demand material and I must say I find it extremely useful even though some of the videos can drag on for a bit. (On a side note if you are a vendor who produces a VoD product please can you start chopping your videos up into more manageable sections? As I do not know anyone who has the time or inclination to sit through a 3 or 4 hour BGP video in one sitting. I just want to be able to sit down and watch a video say just on BGP filtering for 15 to 30 minutes I do not want to have to sit through 1 hour of setting up BGP first or try and scroll through a 4 hour video looking for the section I want. I want a video that is focussed on individual topics that I can easily navigate to and watch whenever I have a little bit of time.) Okay rant over so I was looking to move my studying on a bit. Now booking a boot camp was not an easy choice for me as I would have to pay for myself, so that would include accommodation and travel as well as the cost of the course, so price and location would both be big issues. The next issue was what instructor to choose, now for some reason I had already built up a mental picture of who I would want to teach me. My own shortlist for R&S was the following: Scott, Jared or Narbik. So now I had to look out for a course that was nearby (cost reasons) and would be taught by one of the previously mentioned instructors. Narbik’s course fitted the bill for me it was the cheapest course I could find, the location was good for me (even though it says London it is not really in London which is a huge result for a man on a budget as London accommodation and sustenance is ridiculously expensive.) and it was being taught by one of my shortlisted instructors. So after I bored Janet (Narbik’s wife and the course administrator) to tears with constant emails I booked the course.

Before you attend the boot camp you are sent an E-Book called the “Foundation” which I would strongly recommend you try and complete before you attend the boot camp. When you arrive at the boot camp you are no longer presented with 7 books. Now you just get two workbooks with questions only and you receive the answer book (all 2000 odd pages of it) as a secure PDF. Not all the sections of the workbook were complete when I attended the boot camp but Janet updates you with new versions of the secure PDF file while Narbik finishes the workbook.

First questions first? What is Narbik like well first off he is short and old and fat nah only joking he is much better looking than Scott Morris though :-) I get paid in free rack rentals for saying things like that :-). I read a lot of articles about Narbik being a funny guy before I went on his boot camp and I always thought to myself how the hell can he be funny this is a CCIE boot camp not a comedy class. So I really did not know what to make of him being funny but when I got to the boot camp I found out Narbik was funny he is always cracking jokes and he would have the class rolling around the floor laughing several times every day. With people from all different corners of the globe in the class it was not always easy to make people laugh but Narbik did it and he knew how to crack a joke at exactly the right time to ensure that when things were getting stressful everyone saw the funnier side of life and any tension was successfully diffused. He was helped in the comedy stakes by a great class of characters a few cheeky South African’s, a really funny mad Spaniard and the nicest French Terrorist (he is not really a Terrorist :-) ) that you could ever want to meet. There were lots of other characters in the class and everyone joined in the banter that made this by far the most enjoyable and amusing training course I have ever been on. Now do not get me wrong we did serious work in this class and Narbik does not tell jokes at the expense of his teaching. Basically I believe that people who are good at their jobs and enjoy them always have a smile on their face and an upbeat personality and that is what Narbik is incredibly good at his job and enjoying himself at the same time and that cheerful character rubs off on the class.

Narbik does not believe in using slides and he utilizes the whiteboard for all his teaching. I found it easy to adjust to this and I did not hear any complaints from the class in fact everyone seemed to revel in his teaching style and whenever someone in the class did not quite get something Narbik was able to quickly produce another diagram on the white board (when he was actually able to get his hands on some working markers that were not permanent :-) ) to quickly clarify any issues.

Day 1 was quite an easy introduction to get us into the swing of things. Firstly were the introductions were we learnt we had one real live CCIE amongst the group (he was on a reconnaissance mission to meet Narbik and scope him out as an instructor for his plan to get his second CCIE, as Narbik will be teaching the Service Provider track in the UK next year). We also learnt that there were several people in the room with labs dates in the next month and a half. Apart from the fact that there were quite a few nationalities present and the fact that the vast majority of the people on the course from the UK where self funded there was no other surprises in the introductions. As I sit here typing this with my brain mashed to **** from the intensity of the course I cannot quite remember the format of the day. It involved a lecture on switching where Narbik managed to cover in about 3 hours topics that I had spent months reading several books about. We then moved on to switching labs which we were given a couple of hours to complete. Finally to complete the day Narbik drilled us in all the issues with Frame Relay.

Day two was much more lectures than labs, we were given quite a lot of lab time on Day 1. Personally I was happier with this approach as I tend to think you can lab at home by yourself but the reason for being on the course is to listen to Narbik. The topics I seem to remember we covered were OSPF and EIGRP. Narbik explained where you would expect to see the various LSA’s in an easy to understand manner he made sure everyone understood where you saw the LSA’s could vary depending on which router was the ABR or ASBR. I thought my mind would be blown away by the lectures but surprisingly I was fairly comfortable and my brain did not go into melt down with all the information. I had done a lot of reading before the course over several years and had a pretty good understanding of OSPF before I went, but Narbik still managed to teach me new things. Then the last lecture of the day was on EIGRP and something I thought would be easy was the part that did melt my brain. The section on EIGRP filtering left me feeling completly blown away who knew there was so much to EIGRP filtering.

Day 3 was all about RIP and QoS. Once again it is the simple topics that are the ones that make you realise how much knowledge you are lacking as Narbik showed us how complicated an expert could make RIP. I had quite a bad night’s sleep the previous night so I lost concentration a bit during the last lectures of the day. This was the only time I felt really tired and struggled keeping motivated during the entire boot camp.

Day 4 we covered BGP and MPLS. Both lectures were once again very informative and enjoyable. The MPLS lecture was new for the CCIE v4 and Narbik covered the basics of MPLS as well as the complexities of setting up the various routing protocols to be vrf aware and exchange routes over an MPLS backbone.

Day 5 was the final day where we covered MLS QoS (Switch QoS) including Shaped Round Robin on the 3560. Then we covered Multicast and a topic I thought was really difficult Narbik made really easy.

Before I attended Narbik’s boot camp one of my main concerns would be if I could maintain my concentration and interest throughout the course. Although I have never been on a Cisco course before I have been on several other training courses including some very interesting Microsoft and VMWare courses but during all those courses there were points where I lost interest and the will to live. I just wanted the course to be over. On this course that never happened apart from the end of the Wednesday where I was really tired and lost concentration a bit. I would gladly have sat in class till 2 in the morning listening to Narbik. He is such an excellent teacher that I felt constantly engaged during the course and the week absolutely flew by.

People seem to rave on about Narbik’s unconventional teaching style in that he does not use slides but I do not think it is unconventional to me it is proper teaching and it is a sad indictment of other training courses if not using slides is considered such a big thing. It is not called “Death by Powerpoint” for nothing and the lack of slides is probably one of the major reasons I managed to stay engaged throughout the course. Think about it as well if you think you know something really well just wait till someone asks you a question about it even a CCNA level question, although you understand the concept in your head unless you really know the material inside out you will struggle to explain it to someone else. Now if you were a trainer teaching a course where you were using a slide show the information is right there in front of you, if you were unsure on a section unless you had a real know it all in the class you could probably muddle through. However on the other hand if you are teaching with no props, no slideshow to keep you on track then you need to have a complete mental picture of the material you are presenting in your head. To have that mental picture in your head you need to have a complete mastery of the material you are presenting. That is what Narbik has he can write up IOS commands on the board with all the options from memory, he can make topics that others struggle to explain seem simple, he has that complete mastery of the material.

I guess the acid test of the whole thing is if you had to pay again to attend the course again would you? I can honestly say it was the best money I have spent on my CCIE training so far. It was by far the most enjoyable and interesting course I have ever been on in my life. When Narbik is back in the UK I will definitely be utilizing my option of a free re-take and attending his course again.


Nickelby said...

Amen to that mate :-).

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing. In 2010 I'll do as possible to get a seat on Narbik's course (I've scheduled my written in December). What about IPv6? No mention on the post.

The Ferret said...

No IPv6 on the bootcamp. He just taught the topics mentioned.

Loved Ever said...

Nice blog on Boot Camp.
Work From Home India

Roger @ CCIE Blog said...

Just found your blog and sorry to hear you are not pursuing the CCIE, I can fully appreciate the pressures and my wife is being very good about it all at the moment, and I only have one child, however it has still taken me nearly 3 years and I am hoping to make an attempt this year.
Hope things have changed since this post.
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ccie blog