Boot Camps: Not for the Faint of Heart

I've fielded many questions about training boot camps over the years, and, because I had no first-hand experience, I based my answers on the negative feedback from colleagues. However, I recently attended a 5-day Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) boot camp and came away with a new perspective. On the first day of class, the instructor said he was going to give us all the training we would need to pass Exam 640-607 with flying colors. But the catch was that we would have 4 to 5 hours of homework each night, after our 8:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. class. In other words, we'd spend 60 to 70 hours immersing ourselves in the material during the 1-week class.

I don't have access to any nonproduction Cisco Systems routers, so I wasn't confident about passing the exam--let alone logging on to a router and making changes. When I studied for my first Microsoft tests years ago, I had set up a small home lab with several Windows NT 4.0 servers and workstations. The lab cost a few hundred dollars for some old equipment, but its value was immeasurable. But the few Cisco 2500 routers I'd need to set up a similar lab would set me back several thousand dollars. So you can imagine my delight when I arrived in class and saw a dozen Cisco routers hooked together. Having access to this much expensive hardware in a classroom setting was exciting.

The instruction was intense. We learned new ways to quickly figure out address ranges and many other great tips. On the third day of class, the instructor wrote a subnet address on the board and asked several of us to divide that address into valid addresses, then get the room full of routers to communicate. He assumed the role of a corporate manager, saying that he couldn't help us but that we should hurry up. A few of us scurried about on the floor, tracing serial and Ethernet cable connections, while others figured out the address settings we'd need on each router interface. We finished nearly 2 hours later and were feeling proud of our efforts when the instructor stepped up to the board, changed a few digits in the address, and asked another team to do it all over again. We worked through similar exercises over the next couple of days until everyone had had an opportunity to supervise a lab reconfiguration. In the end, we were able to complete the task within 20 to 30 minutes.

This class really changed some of my preconceived notions about boot camps. I now believe that the boot camp can be an effective training medium. I'm still not convinced that this format is the best training option for someone who's new to a subject matter, but if you have some basic knowledge in an area and want to learn more quickly, boot camps are a great option. The boot camp I attended gave me access to an entertaining and creative instructor and the chance to work with expensive equipment.

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