How To Achieve REAL Success With Or Without Certification – with Darby Weaver

by Mirek Burnejko

Darby WeaverThis is an interview with Darby Weaver. Darby Weaver is a Global Network Architect who serves as a Systems Integration Consultant and Network Planning/Design Engineer for National and International private, public, and government entities. Darby specializes in Network Design (LAN/WAN/Data Center/WLAN) Routing and Switching, Security, and Wireless Technologies.

Darby is certified as a CCNP, CCDP, CCSP, CCNP Voice/Wireless, MCSE+I, MCSA/E + Security/Messaging, Sniffer Certified Master, ITILv2, and a number of other certifications. He has also passed the CCIE Routing and Switching and the CCIE Security Written certifications. He has served as a SME for the CCNP/CCIE Wireless Written Exam certifications and has served as a CCIE Routing and Switching Version 4 Lab Prototype tester for Cisco and Pearson VUE. He has been certified on a variety of Cisco certifications since 2000.

Darby is prolific writer of exhaustive technical and non-technical articles all over the Internet and serves or has served as a Moderator or Admin of several online communities over the last 11+ years or so, including the CCIE Flyer, Sadikhov.com, Cisco.com forums and many others.

In this interview you will find:

  • How to achieve true CCIE level expertise?
  • Does CCIE certification has big value on the job market?
  • How to get a $25-35k raise using proven techniques?


Miroslaw Burnejko: Darby, it is a pleasure to have you here in IT Certification Master. You are a legend in the networking industry. Before we get started, tell me about your beginnings in the IT industry.

Darby Weaver: I received my first computer – a TSR-80 back in 1983 it seems to me. I learned how to program colors and sounds, I then learned to backup on a tape recorder type of device… Then I put it up on a dresser for good. My house burned to the ground and my first computer went up in smoke. I didn’t miss it.

I used computers a time or two but surely not three while in high school. I didn’t miss em. I then went into the US Navy and somehow found myself in the “Help Desk” which incidentally used a lot of 286/386 computers. So I had to learn how to use them. Got another job when I had to have a surgery and I still didn’t miss em. I took over a job where I was responsible for the Disaster Management Division and I was also responsible for the Transient Unit at Mayport. I got a little time on some more PCs and got to work on one of the world’s first Microsoft Windows 3.11 Networks in the world. Time flies. I managed to find myself working at ADP in Orlando before I got out of the US Navy and I was introduced to Novell Networking and PC Repair. Got some good advice and I bought my own first PC in about February of 1994 after I left the US Navy.

I spent a year playing some games and going to classes for more computer topics. I spent another couple of years taking computer classes at night and at college as courses.

In 1995, I started working for “FREE” at a place called Computer Depot and did this for 3 months. I quit and the owner hunted me down and found an e-mail I had back in 1995 (I had e-mail – both from the college and the local user group as I recall – pine/trumpet winsock/chameleon/etc. – he hired me back this time paying me minimum wage. I really didn’t need the money so I worked with him for some 3+ months and then… IT happened!!!

I got my first network gig. I had started consulting. I had a job copying floppy disks and made a quick $300-400 just doing that at about $15 per hour or so and then got the Lantastic Network contract with a local Doctor’s Office for $35.00 per half hour (just like that). I was in. I made some $3000-4000 or so my first month and felt extremely guilty earning money for helping with a $6 mouse… Seriously!!! So then I stopped and let my client go. I like to work for my money.

I started repairing computers, installing operating systems, selling PCs (new or used), recovering hard drives, low-level formatting to recover bad sectors, compressing/uncompressing hard drives, modem setup, and virus removal, etc. Data recovery was my thing and it paid well too. Life was good. I earned over 400+ customers and quite a few local small businesses.

I had some networks here and there and while most were successful, I learned TCP/IP the hard way and even had to refund one guy. Seriously – I couldn’t figure out the problem and deliver the solution fast enough. I bought some $500.00 on books and still no cigar. Let’s face it Windows 95 books were not the place to learn IP easily or completely for that matter. At least not solo like I was trying back then. I refunded the man’s business and took the hit. I learned. I took my gear and went home and mastered setting up networks. That was it. I was in networking now.
I spent the next three years enjoying setting up the TCP/IP Stack up in DoS and juggling memory with NE2000 NIC Drivers, etc. I got experienced in Windows 95, NT Workstation, NT Server, Lantastic (then my own network), and Novell (various versions). Life was good and promised to get better.

By 1998-9, I was buying Cisco CCIE Books and wanting to know more of those hieroglyphics that defied understanding.
In 2000, I studied Cisco and in 3 weeks or so, I was a CCNA. I took my CCNA and found a project with the American Red Cross of Central Florida and setup 4 networks and rebuilt the Microsoft Network for free but still earned some $17,000 or so for the project deploying 4 1600/1700 routers.

Amazing!!! I used Bridges, Routers, and Switches and made it happen – Thanks Bruce Caslow and Val!!! So much for being brief on this one… Let’s move on…

MB: Inspiring story. Let’s talk about certifications. What was your the first and what was your last one?

DW: My first certification exam I attempted was IBM’s Networking Essentials – I failed it. I failed because of SNA. I just didn’t know it. I aced everything else. I worked it every day and was the Go-To guy for it at work within my team for Network Support. I took the first class from the University of Phoenix for the Microsoft Networking Essentials and passed it !!! I learned about using Transcender Exam Simulators. Funding died for the program – I got left in the lurch and I had to complete the MCSE all on my own. I found Exam Cram by Ed Tittel. I was in!!! By the time I passed Microsoft NT 4.0 on a Friday, I landed my first Network Administrator job that Monday. I was in. I was also a bit of a Y2K Consultant. It was February of 1999 and I was being billed out at $1600 per day plus expenses + 20%. My side jobs were netting me about $1000-3000 per day at the time. Not every day but hey… Set up a 3-person network over a day or two and make $5k… Setup a 10-person greenfield network and earn another $10-12k, and 4 Routers and earn some $16-17k, and let’s not forget just working on small networks for some $12k to fix security issues and ensure the integrity of some 20 computers, MS Exchange, Firewall, etc. Just a few examples… I’ve worked larger campus network on the side too… say 3000 users and charge something in the neighborhood of $8-12k and have my client bill the customer around $20k for the same job over say a month or so – mostly analysis… and reports.

My last certification was not one but two exams – I took the CCNP Troubleshooting Exam and the CCIE Routing and Switching Exam at Cisco Live 2010 in Las Vegas and passed both. Just like that. I spent about 4 hours troubleshooting the CCNA Packet Tracer Labs and they were a lot like the CCNP TSHOOT to me as I recall. It helped me warm up. I took the two exams during the brief lunch period and made them look easy. They updated a ton of my other Cisco certifications. I just can’t beat that. The CCIE RS Written was my freebie exam. I paid for the TSHOOT as I recall.

MB: You write a lot about CCIE topics, but you don’t have the CCIE certification. You also attended many CCIE boot camps. Can you share some details why you don’t need/want a CCIE certification?

DW: Hmm…. No one ever said I did not want or need a CCIE Certification. I never said that at all. Just the opposite, the CCIE Certification complements my skills, experiences, education, and certification. There’s no doubt about it, not even a little bit. 🙂

I said I was not willing to lose my integrity by just simply cheating the CCIE RS Lab – since I actually want to beat it and not cheat it. Not an easy task by the way. It’s just not. Today, people use CCIECERT and tell about it in their blogs… It’s not considered cheating any more I suppose… I guess the philosophy is a pass is a pass and any CCIE is equal to any other CCIE.

I work with at least 6 CCIE’s on my immediate team and many others daily. Literally hundreds of other CCIEs hired by the same employer and not even a Cisco Gold Partner either. No one looks down on me or doubts my technical acumen at least not that I know of. I work pretty hard and persistently to be in this field and anyone who works with me knows it. I’m paid on the same scale and in the same range as each CCIE and in some cases – maybe more – who knows?

I get a lot of offers.

Darby Weaver LabI write CCIE Materials for Vendors, review Materials for Vendors, write CCNA/CCNP/CCIE Exam questions for the Drake exams for more than one track from multiple testing providers (think about that for a moment). I was invited to the Prototype of the CCIE v4 or v3 or version something before the OEQ were announced. I know how to procure lab seats when there are none for most other folks… The CCIE Program Managers know my name, so do the proctors, they seem happy to meet me when we meet. I’ve shared conversations with the guys who develop the CCIE Labs, the CCDE, and the CCAr before.

I’m probably the only person to very get kicked off of Groupstudy.com at least 3 times and the only person whose posts were rooted out and deleted for a couple of years at one time over comments that were not deemed healthy to a budding Cisco 360 Program (which I actually like very much by the way). Apparently some people thought my written words were very loud in the CCIE Community.

Check it out. I hold more endorsements than the majority of the CCIE Trainers on this little planet and you’ll be hard pressed to even find a CCIE with as many as 7 CCIE titles holding as many endorsements as I. Check it out and look it up. That may change since I noticed it, but you heard it here first. Strange but true!

Wonder why that it?

Umm… I guess I could add that I am currently engaged with a small team in writing the exam questions for an entire CCNP Specialty track and was engaged to write the CCNP RS track’s exam questions as well. If I write the questions in the various exams… Does it matter if I still take the exam? Maybe I need to make sure I understand the other team members’ questions…

MB: You work as a network consultant. Do clients require from you some certifications?

DW: Do you have Deja Vu? I just got asked today to demonstrate some of my credentials for a client, none other than Microsoft itself for a large network project I’m the lead network planning engineer/systems integration consultant for.

I also got asked this by a training company I was solicited to write their entire CCNA/CCNP curriculum for… And yesterday a recruiter who was referred to me to become the Director of a CCIE Gold Partner and help build their brand also asked how it is I became so well known and respected. He even asked me if I even had to interview any more… I still get interviewed… sometimes… 🙂 No kidding. Sometimes not. I get a lot of referrals by former students, people I’ve helped and people I’ve worked with in the trenches. You get what you pay for. So to answer the question… IT depends…

MB: I know you work with CCIEs and other certified experts, but sometimes they are not real experts. What is your recommendation to become a real expert? Is CCIE required for that?

DW: A CCIE is a credential, a benchmark, and quite achievement even when a shortcut is used to attain it. No doubt.

However, true expertise comes with time and effort – mostly persistent effort over a period of time with a lot of sustained energy and positive outlook. It’s kinda like hacking. You try all options until there are no more – just like hacking.

Back in the day a person became recognized as an expert by their deeds, hard work, and achievement – even a few got lucky for one reason or another and were recognized as an expert – some got motivated and made it so, now they are the experts.

“Persistence will prevail where raw intellect may not suffice” – Darby Weaver

MB: How about you’re learning process. You know many vendors and many technologies. What’s your secret?

DW: Whew!!! I like to read. I love notes. I use question banks that are on either paper or test simulators for hours at a time – I can master about 50-60 questions on any topic in just one hour. Simple as that. Got it down to a science. I digest 20 pages of technical material every hour or so. Got this down to a science too. I then re-read it casually and a lot of times I’ll thumb the material to be mastered first. I find after the QA, then reading for mastery, I’m now well versed enough to suffer the CLI and configuration phase of learning. I use whitepapers and vendor materials to perform the various designs or exercise I find I want to perform. No shortcuts.

MB: Do you have a preference for real or virtual hardware for learning and preparation for certifications?

Darby Weaver RacksDW: I love real hardware. I own about 12 racks of Cisco equipment. I have owned more over the years, a lot more. I’m warming up to emulators and simulators too. They work for what they are designed for. The IOU is interesting to say the least and I can hardly wait to meet VIRL. I think my favorite will always be real equipment – I’m not adverse to virtual but I am old-fashioned a little bit. SDN may change this for me at some point. Not today. Hold your horses. I am working with a product called AFM for Active Fabric Manager and am the SME (Subject Matter Expert) for AFM for a team of consultants on a global basis who deploy AFM to the Enterprise. It’s a lot of new acronyms for Cisco folks but hey… We all have to improvise, adapt, and overcome IT.

MB: Do you recommend trying to achieve the highest certifications from one vendor (Cisco, Juniper) or maybe trying to diversify our portfolio?

I think there’s an argument for both options. I know the CCIE is hard to achieve and some never will, so diversification is probably the best route for most till at least the CCNP level or so. Then go for a CCIE track for mastery. Enjoy the process – either way.

Never miss an opportunity to research an issue or look up a problem you don’t understand.

MB: What is your recommendation for people who don’t have any experience and want to start their career in the networking career? Is an entry-level certification a good starting point?

DW: I actually wrote a very well cited article on the matter and posted it on the Cisco Learning Network, Linkedin.com, and my own blog – it’s called – How CCNA’s Get Hired Without Experience. I also wrote a CCIEflyer.com article called: Total Quality Networking – I guess these are two of my favorites.

I help people out from time to time and with startling results – I have many cases of $25-35k raises after using just a few of my own techniques, and I have a couple that sound like a 6 digit increase in salary after only a couple of months of working my techniques.

I’m starting to think it may not be a bad idea to offer a class for folks in our field on how to get a start/opportunity or how to get that $50k/$100k raise in salary resulting in maybe up to over a couple of million dollars over a 20-30 year career that may never be realized otherwise.
Just a thought… but why not? Who wouldn’t want to learn how to make more using the skills each person already has or with some minor upgrade – a CCIE may not be for everyone, however, a $100,000.00 plus job can most certainly be – if one knows what I know about the industry. Interesting concept – but now you got me thinking…

No, I’m not a recruiter – not even close. I recommend one get introduced to Eman Conde for that kind of thing.

MB: The last question. What are your certification goals?

DW: I’ve been re-taking all of my Cisco certs about every 2-3 years, whether I need them or not. It’s expensive and not many would do it, as none have to do it this way today. It’s just me. But few if any doubt my credentials and expertise – if you don’t have that problem one test will work. I’m working on my CCIE, of course – RS/Security/DC/SP/SAN (retired)/DC/CCDE/Wireless and Cisco Certified Architect – after I get past the CCDE. I keep my lab equipment for each certification and each level from the CCNA to the CCIE via the CCNP/CCDP.

MB: Thank you so much Darby.

DW: My pleasure – Let me know if I can be of further service to our community.

[This is part of the Interviews with IT Pros Series]