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.