A quest to prove his ability turned into a full-blown addiction for Nathan Hitchcock.
During a span of just four months, he’s earned five IT certifications!
Hitchcock started by getting VCP5-DCV and VCA-DCV certifications — on the same day — last October. He then earned his CCENT in January and his CCNA in February. Most recently, he earned ITIL® certification in March. If that wasn’t enough, he’s currently studying for the CCNA Data Center exam. He plans to take a certification exam every month.
A senior systems engineer for Aviat Networks, Hitchcock said he’s driven by the high of earning a cert, because it validates the time and effort he puts into studying.
“Not to sound cheesy, but it reminds me of making it to the summit after a long hike,” he said. “The look out over the horizon is very similar. I know it’s just going to compound, the more advanced the certification level.”
What makes Hitchcock’s accomplishments even more impressive is that he never planned to take so many exams. Originally, just wanted to validate his IT skills by showing he met industry-standard benchmarks. He admits his perception of certifications has changed along the way. Previously, he thought of certs as only necessary for getting a new job or satisfying the boss. Now he sees them as a status check to make sure he’s up to date on various technologies.
“A lot of the certifications I’m gathering are based on experience I’ve already been building on,” he said. “I feel like I am playing catch up for all the years I should’ve been certifying along the way. So once this initial push is done I’m sure I’ll slow down my schedule a bit.”
So what’s his approach to training for cert exams? Surprisingly, it’s nothing crazy. He doesn’t spend most of the day studying or try to cram training into every free moment. He said that he usually trains about an hour or two a day.
Rather than having a routine, Hitchcock said what’s important for him is to be in the right mood and mindset to train — which sometimes is during the wee hours of the night.
“One night, I wanted to see what the NX-OS was all about and began by watching a 10-minute video,” he said. “I ended up being awake until 2 a.m. re-deploying my virtual lab and playing around with the different features and commands.”
Hitchcock shared some of his tips for preparing for, and passing, certification exams.
- Give yourself a break: “When your eyes glaze over, it’s time to put the books away, even if you’ve only studied for 10 minutes that day. It’s important to listen to your body and understand when you need some down time.”
- It’s OK to fail: “No one will die if you fail an exam, and it is not the end of the world. I’ve been fortunate so far to pass each of the exams I’ve attempted, but I know it’s only a matter of time until one gets the better of me. I am fine with that and will take it as a learning experience.”
- Make sure your interests are met: “Many people who train are doing it because the company they work for tells them to. It’s important to align your personal and professional goals within your training plan — it will make you study harder!”
- Schedule the exam BEFORE you start studying: “I’m the type of person that needs the pressure in order to allocate the appropriate amount of time. I spent years thinking that I would go for my CCNA one day. Once I actually scheduled the exam, it was done in a month.”
- Focus on ONE exam at a time: “Previously, when I was trying to identify my certification goals, I would immediately jump up to the expert levels and say, ‘I want to be this.’ Then, I would think about how much time that would take and immediately get discouraged. One exam, one goal at a time has allowed me to eat the elephant in small bites and not get discouraged before I’ve even begun.”
- Find your rhythm: “Identifying what works for you is key. I hate taking notes, so I’ll save that phase for last, a week or so before I take my test. The goal of taking notes for me is to stick in my brain only what I haven’t retained with lab work.”
- Keep the momentum going: “So you’ve passed an exam – that’s great! That day is the best time to think about what your next goal is. Running off of those endorphins will help you set an aggressive next exam schedule.”
Hitchcock, who was referred to CBT Nuggets by friends who worked at Cisco, said that he likes the training because it’s very focused, yet not too lengthy. His team at work now uses CBT Nuggets because it allows learners to study any time.
Ultimately, Hitchcock said he’d like to focus more on the design/architecture side of IT. His short-term career goal is to transition into a solutions architecture role.
“I enjoy taking the overall picture of a particular solution and simplifying it down so that it is understandable by all those involved,” he said. “One of my favorite quotes is, ‘If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.’”
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