Question 1: Am I Going Wide, or Deep, with Cisco Skills?
Back a few posts, we talked about how there are many questions that come to mind when you first start with Cisco certifications. Some of these are questions you need to ask yourself, about the time when you start your CCENT or CCNA journey. Other questions are better answered by folks who’ve been through the process already, so their answers can help you through your own journey.
Today’s blog subject poses an important question that newbies should ask themselves when starting out. In today’s post, I’ll break down the question a little, and hopefully give anyone new to Cisco some food for thought. And I’ll weave in a few opinions that matter to this question as well. In particular, in today’s post, I’ll suggest three branches of a certification plan that you can follow. In the next post, I’ll give you some ideas about how I think your choice impacts how you study.
Three options: Wide Now, Wide Later, Deep Later
The three options to spelled out in this post all relate to how broad and deep you plan to go. This concept of breadth versus depth in IT skills has always existed. Your value as an IT worker will always be linked directly to your knowledge and skills, like it or not. A Cert certainly does not mean that someone truly has the skill – but it is a measurable way that some hiring managers use when looking at candidates. So the question is, when a hiring manager looks at your resume, and interviews you, and you talk about certs, how do you want to be perceived? And for the jobs you think you’d like to pursue, are you better off with broader skills, or narrower but deeper skills?
I’m assuming you plan on jumping into Cisco certs – otherwise, you probably wouldn’t be reading here. But where does that fit with today’s question?
Going Wide in Other IT, Concurrent with CCENT/CCNA
Subquestion: Am I planning to get (or already have begun getting) other non-Cisco IT certs?
First, let’s talk about the idea of being a technology generalist, with either CCENT or CCNA as just one of several IT certs in your resume’. Several articles over these last few years have shown a much larger need for people who can integrate and combine ideas across IT. It is a reasonable strategy to go for knowing something about many pieces of the pie. Maybe get a Microsoft cert, a VMWare cert, a Linux cert, and so on.
I make no pretense at being an expert at telling you which other IT certs to go after. However, if you intend to go broad, for the Cisco part of the puzzle, stopping at CCENT, and not going on to CCNA, may make some sense. With just CCENT, you get a little on routing, a little on switching, a little WAN, some broad concepts, a ton of subnetting, and a ton of terminology. I don’t think stopping at CCENT helps much if you have to do networking work in that first job, but if you have to talk to the networking folks, it’s probably a good enough start.
Going Wide with Cisco After CCNA
Subquestion: Is CCNA my path towards other Cisco certs that are unrelated to routing and switching?
Next, let’s hit a few facts about Cisco certs that may be helpful to newbies who haven’t looked too deeply yet. Almost all Cisco certs require CCNA as a prerequisite. Data Center certs, storage, voice, security, and wireless, they all require CCNA. Figure 1 shows the beginnings of the hierarchy.
Figure 2: Cisco Certs after CCNA
(The one exception on the CCNA prerequisite, due to historical reasons, is that you can jump to the expert level certs, CCIE, without any prerequisites. Realistically, you are better off marching up the cert hierarchy to get to CCIE.)
You do not have to choose your path above up front, but it’s a good question to think about as you move along, because I think it changes how you study a little (in my opinion).
Going Deep with Cisco After CCNA
Subquestion: Am I going deeper in routing/switching after CCNA, straight to CCNP?
The third big option is to keep going with routing and switching. Because this whole series is meant for those just starting out with CCNA, you may not know much about CCNP yet, so here are some related facts:
- The name is “CCNP”, by itself, implies that the topics are routing and switching. The other CCNP certs have some suffix, like “CCNP Wireless”. (Many people call CCNP “CCNP Route/Switch” just to make sure it’s clear, but the real name is simply “CCNP”.)
- Cisco’s professional level certs include: CCNP, CCNP Voice, CCNP Security, CCNP Wireless, CCDP, CCIP, and CCNP Service Provider Ops.
- All require study and effort, but due to the CCNA pre-requisite, CCNP is the easiest lift.
As you might guess, CCNP tends to be a popular choice, particularly for those wanting to fill the role as a network engineer.
Note: Before I get cards and letters that I said that CCNP was easy, that’s not what I just wrote. It’s easier. It’s 3 exams additional past CCNA, while the others are 4, 5, or 6 exams more (including the need for other CCNA certs in other technology areas in most cases.) It’s just more work to go from CCNA to any other professional level cert other than CCNP, at least in my opinion.
I’ll hit this topic one more time before I’m done, about what to do with your study time depending on your choice. In the mean time, which are you going for? Weigh in here:
Also, I did some related posts back in my old Network World blog a while back.