There is no doubt that obtaining CCNA certification is an important first step for anyone aspiring to create a career in IP networking. In this post I describe how to get CCNA certified and boost your earnings as you climb the ladder.
All it takes is a little planning and commitment. Commitment is the motivation to keep going after the initial rush of enthusiasm wears off.
When I first passed the CCNA exam in 1999 it was a test that proved a basic understanding of IP networks, subnet addressing, the OSI Reference Model and several other core subjects. In the years since the CCNA has evolved to reflect the rapid changes in technology and there are now nine different types of CCNA.
Unless you are already certain of your path you will probably choose the CCNA Routing and Switching exam. This is the original CCNA updated for modern times.
Passing the CCNA exam takes effort, time, and expense, so why bother?
The CCNA certification is an industry recognised benchmark. It demonstrates an appreciation of the fundamentals of IP networking and proves to any prospective employer that you have the necessary knowledge in this area.
Not everyone who passes the CCNA becomes a Network Engineer who configures and troubleshoots Cisco devices on a daily basis. It is also the certification that opens doors for Network Administrators, Customer Managers, and many other roles.
Obtaining this certification is an assurance to the employer, the company’s customers, and yourself that you have reached a level of understanding that will enable you to do your job.
It gives you an advantage if you’re competing with others for a position. It is also leverage for a pay rise if you’re already employed.
Let’s assume you’ve elected to go down the Routing and Switching route. There are no prerequisites and you can take the exam whenever you feel ready.
Alternatively you can take two entry level exams which combine to give you the certification.
Cisco themselves offer several e-learning options. There is free content to get you started but to view the full courses and all the videos you will need to pay one-off fees or subscriptions. It’s high quality training material straight from the people who provide the certification path so you know you’ll be getting the best tuition.
Independent online training is available from companies like INE.com. They have online courses for most Cisco certifications right up to CCIE. However, I see that another long standing provider has gone out of business. IP Expert is now offline.
Global Knowledge provide classroom courses all over the UK and in many other countries.
Personally, I find there is nothing better than the tried and trusted method of having a book in my hands. Let’s assume I was about to take the CCNA Routing and Switching exam again (I last did so in January 2014).
The above method works if you are renewing your certification or if you already have plenty of experience on Cisco IOS devices but you might be approaching the CCNA exam for the first time with little experience. In that case you will probably benefit from some training. I’ve listed a few options above.
You can self-sponsor or you might be able to persuade your employer to pay for a course, either external or online. External courses are the most expensive option. As well as the course fee there may be accommodation and travel costs as well. However, there are advantage to classroom study that cannot be obtained from e-learning. Being able to put questions to an instructor and have things explained until you fully understand them is invaluable.
Everybody loves taking an exam, right? OK, maybe not but there are some ways in which you can reduce the stress levels.
I know the feeling. Been there, done that, got several t-shirts. Over the past 17 years or I’ve taken many Cisco exams. I don’t like to count how many I’ve failed. The important thing is that eventually I’ve gone back and taking the exam again and passed it.
That’s true of most of them. There are a few that I didn’t re-take due to changes in funding, position, and other circumstances.
Failure is disappointing. There is no way of sugar-coating it but as the old saying goes, it’s not how many times you fall down, it’s how many times you get up again that counts.
If you fail your Cisco exam take break from the studies and do something you enjoy. Don’t be too hard on yourself and don’t give up, but take time to relax and have some fun. Forget about studies for a little while but don’t leave it too long. Take a short break but not so long that you lose momentum.
When you’re ready, pick up the score sheet and go over the feedback you received. It will give you some idea of where your knowledge was weak and you will probably know yourself which questions and what subjects you found difficult.
Work on those areas while checking that you are still comfortable with all the other subjects. Eventually you will feel ready for another attempt at the exam.
Passing the CCNA exam could be the first step in an IT career that lasts decades. With the evolution of networking technology there’s never been a better time to achieve this goal.
Please share this post with anyone you think might benefit from it and leave your experiences, feedback, and study tips in the comments section below.
Good luck with your exams!
The fact that you are reading this at all is proof of how commerce, entertainment, information, and a long list of other activities have come to rely on IP networks that connect us to each other and a huge amount of the hardware and software that forms the infrastructure of those networks is designed and produced by Cisco Systems Inc. Thousands of network engineers are needed in order to install, maintain, upgrade, support, and troubleshoot these devices. Engineers move on to other roles and new engineers are needed. In addition to the public networks there are innumerable private networks that connect company offices in the same country, across continents, and globally.
The CCNA is still widely regarded as the entry level exam for network engineers. The concepts and subjects it covers form the foundations of IP networking and a firm understanding of them is invaluable to anyone planning for a career in this field. Over the years the exam has evolved to match the changes and the evolution within the industry and the technology on which it is based. In my opinion the exam has become more demanding. The last time I renewed my CCNA exam I considered it as tough as the CCIE written exam if not a little harder.
When I first read about the OSI’s 7 Layer Reference Model it was completely alien to me. I had to read descriptions over and over again and study the training guides page by page for the idea to sink in and take root, but eventually the effort paid off. Using a combination of study, class room training, and the use of metaphors I eventually began to understand the basic concepts of IP packets, Layer 2 switching, and Layer 3 routing. The most useful metaphor to me at the time was the idea that the packets were like small parcels with a destination address and a sender’s (source) address in them, and the routers were like sorting offices, checking each packet as it came in and sending it out of the correct interface to its onward destination.
If your employer (or potential employer) is not technically minded then the production of a certificate proving that you’ve passed a particular IT exam is some reassurance that you do know what you’ve boasted about on your CV. The certification becomes a goal, a benchmark, and successive exam passes and certification can mean that the IT company will be able to negotiate a better discount on the purchase of hardware from Cisco. Companies who have CCIE, CCNP, CCIP, and CCNA certified staff are given a more favourable price when they enter into partnership with Cisco. The minimum requirement for Gold Partnership with Cisco at the moment is four CCIEs.
The point is that for IT companies it pays them to train their network engineers. It’s an investment that will pay off in better productivity, better service for their customers (and therefore the more likely possibility of renewed contracts), and in the long term a stronger partnership with Cisco and all the benefits that such a relationship can bring. You can use this information to build a business case to persuade your employer to sponsor your residential CCNA training course!
Once you have achieved CCNA certification several options open up to you. You can specialise in Voice or Security, or just stick to the well worn path of Routing & Switching. You will be in a position to negotiate a pay rise, promotion, and further training. Employers need justification to agree to a rise and if you can provide them with that then they are more likely to agree to it. At the very least you could work out a longer term training plan to obtain one of the CCNP or CCIP certifications. By doing so you will add to your knowledge and experience, and be in an even strong position to boost your earnings in the years ahead.
N.B. Check the Cisco website for details of the current exam numbers and make sure the study guides you buy written for the current exams and not an expired exam.