This is not meant to be a “hooray for me” success story. The purpose of this post is to be a message of hope. I’m not someone who goes out and gets 10+ certifications a year. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, I respect and admire the determination and focus of people that are able to accomplish that, but that is not me. I move slow. Perhaps too slow, but that is the pace I typically adopt when preparing for a certification exam. Recently, I passed the Cisco 350-401 ENCOR exam. Yes, it was on the first attempt, but there is much more to the story. Remember the slow pace I mentioned? I began studying for the ENCOR exam in January of 2020. It took me until November of 2021 to feel ready enough to take the test. It really wasn’t too much of an on again/off again thing either. Other than a few breaks here and there, I studied a fair amount of those almost two years. Now, if you are thinking about or already working toward this certification, this isn’t meant to scare you. There are people out there that have accomplished this in much less time. There is a critical mistake that I feel like I made in that first year that caused me to practically reset my study progress at the beginning of 2021. I’ll get into that in the next section to try to prevent others from falling into the same trap. Back to the message of hope. I don’t consider myself someone who can just jump into anything and absorb/retain concepts right away. What I do have is passion, drive, and determination. I feel like those three things, along with discipline (CC: @TeneyiaW) will get you there when it comes to this certification. The exam blueprint is definitely wide, but I believe in you. I mean this in the most sincere way possible, if I can do this, you can do this.
Alright, now let’s get into the study plan that helped me reach this goal. Therein lies the first step, in my opinion. Make a plan and stick to it. That does not mean that you cannot modify it, but making a plan gives you a guide. I used five main resources to prepare for the ENCOR exam:
- CCNP and CCIE Enterprise Core ENCOR 350-401 Official Cert Guide (OCG)
- CBT Nuggets ENCOR playlist
- Cisco On Demand Learning for ENCOR
- Anki flashcards
- Community, Community, Community
What I have above is not meant to be “one size fits all”, it is just what worked for me, and I should caveat that my employer got me access to CBT Nuggets and the Cisco On Demand learning and I am incredibly grateful. Now that we have the resources squared away, what’s the plan? I started with the the OCG. I would cover a chapter (or grouping of chapters if it made sense), then cover the same topics with the relevant CBT Nuggets and Cisco On Demand learning content. With all three resources I would create Anki flashcards along the way and set time aside to try to review cards as close to every day as possible. Finally, I would leverage CML and EVE-NG to lab up any concepts that made sense to do so. I do feel that getting experience either through on-the-job or labs is very important to really tie concepts together so that they actually make sense in practice. You are probably beginning to see what took me so long to reach my goal. Again, I want to highlight that this is not the only, or even the best way. This was the plan/strategy that I chose, and it eventually got me there. Now, what was that critical mistake that followed me throughout 2020? It was the lack of flashcards and review. Basically, all through 2020 I was just going to content in the three platforms I have mentioned and doing some labs. I was not taking notes/flashcards or reviewing anything. Looking back, what I was doing made zero sense. Because I wasn’t reviewing anything, I was essentially losing things that I learned shortly after going through the content. Thanks to the advice from the AONE podcast, I adopted the Anki application both on a computer and my phone and I absolutely love it. Typically, I would create cards on the PC app while going through content, sync the cards, then review on my phone so I could also walk on the treadmill. The flashcards were really a critical piece of reaching this goal for me. Finally, being tapped into the community as a resource was very helpful as well. There are many bright and encouraging people there that are willing to help. Whether it is providing advice, teaching a concept, or giving encouragement, they are there and they are inspiring.
I’ll admit, this whole process was tough for me, but it was an excellent learning experience. Not just because of what I learned through the content, but I also essentially learned how to learn (and retain). Preparing for the ENCOR exam provided me the repeatable modular plan to prepare for the next challenge. For me, that next challenge will be the 300-420 Designing Cisco Enterprise Networks (ENSLD) exam. My advice to you is that if you are invested in studying for ENCOR, don’t quit, don’t give up. There were multiple times that I felt overwhelmed and just wanted to stop. Seeing that notification that I passed the exam made it all worth it. Reach out for help if and when you need, and try not to neglect your support system. I will definitely be taking some time off to rest and give time back to the ones I love.