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In January, Cisco launched a very important, new high-level certification: the Cisco Certified Design Expert (CCDE) certification. Will it live up to the hype? Find out the specifics of the CCDE, see how it fits in with other Cisco certifications, and learn why you should consider the CCDE.

Before even thinking about security- and VoIP-specific certifications, Cisco offered design certifications: The Cisco Certified Design Associate (CCDA) and the Cisco Certified Design Professional (CCDP). Both entail strictly computerized tests that focus on the proper design of networks.

Since I’ve earned my CCDA certification, I can tell you — and it’s no secret — that the test consists of many long scenarios. The single test can be challenging primarily due to the complex scenarios that you must read, dissect, and understand before you can make the right design choice for that network. I suspect that the CCDP certification isn’t too much different, just more complex and challenging with many more requirements for technical knowledge mixed in.

I’ve heard comments for many years from networking designers that they wished Cisco offered an expert/top-level certification for network design. With last month’s announcement of the CCDE, Cisco answered their call.

What is the CCDE?

The CCDE is the expert-level certification that those network designers have been waiting for. Similar to the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) certification, the CCDE requires passing both a two-hour computerized test and a full-day, hands-on lab/practical exam, which you must complete at a Cisco testing facility.

You must first past the computerized test before you can schedule the lab exam. The exam name for the CCDE written test is ADVDESIGN, and that’s what you need to know: How to design advanced networks. Cisco recommends that you have at least five to seven years of experience designing advanced networks before taking the test.

The exam lasts two hours, and the exam blueprint covers just about anything that anyone could ever think of related to complex networks. In addition, passing the CCDE written exam recertifies any other Cisco certifications you have, including the CCDA, CCNA, and CCIE.

After passing the computerized exam, you can schedule your lab exam at a handful of Cisco offices. However, Cisco hasn’t currently announced specific locations and time slots for the practical exam.

Like the CCIE practical exam, the CCDE practical exam will be an eight-hour scenario-based exam that will “test your ability to identify, manage, and create advanced infrastructure design solutions for large-scale networks.” Having taken more than one CCIE hands-on practical exam, I have no doubt that the CCDE practical exam will be just as grueling.

Why isn’t there a network design CCIE?

Like the CCIE, CCDE candidates will receive a unique number and other benefits. Why didn’t Cisco just create a network design version of its CCIE certification? Cisco was considering it, but the company decided to create a separate expert-level exam for design instead because the topics were just too dissimilar.

The CCIE and the CCDE are now “peer” certifications and are equivalent to one another. Only time will tell if the CCDE becomes as well-known and respected as the CCIE.

Recruiters and managers like to throw around the CCNA and CCIE appellations; you’ll often hear something like “we have five IEs and two NAs on staff.” So can the new “DE” become as popular?

Certainly, other Cisco certifications, such as the CCNET, CCVP, CCSP, CCIP, and even the CCDP, have struggled to become as well-known as the CCNA and CCIE. While not necessarily a popularity contest, network administrators justifiably flock to the most well-known certifications because they what might help them land that next big job or pay raise.

Four reasons to consider the CCDE

I’m considering pursuing the new CCDE certification, and I think you should consider it as well. Here are four reasons to think about it:

Unlike a CCNP, CCDP, or MCSE certification, the CCDE doesn’t have a long list of tests you must take. You only have to take one written and one hands-on exam.
For those of us who enjoy designing complex networks instead of tweaking and troubleshooting complex network routing or security, the CCDE may be something that interests you more than other certifications.
Cisco has done a great job representing, improving, and marketing the CCIE. Because of this, I think the CCDE will become highly recognizable, just as the CCIE is today.
The CCDE proves that you can design some of the most complex and advanced networks in the world today. The documentation of this skill can be invaluable to your career.
However, don’t jump the gun: Make sure you have the recommended design experience on large networks, get ready to prepare for some grueling tests, and make sure you’re willing to pay a much higher price than other certifications — both in time and in dollars.


The CCDE is an exciting, new expert-level Cisco design certification similar to the CCIE. Because it’s brand-new, study material and test information is limited to what’s available on Cisco’s CCDE Web site.

The CCDE is the pinnacle of Cisco advanced network design expertise. Cisco network design professionals have been asking for this certification for many years, and only time will tell how popular it will become.