Mapping your Cisco Certification Strategy
Cisco certifications remain synonymous with competent and well-versed professionals who have a firm grasp on their networking skills and knowledge and are still considered to be a game-changer as far as selection in the recruitment process is concerned. Many students choose a Cisco certification as their starting point when looking to break into a career in networking and the longevity of Cisco’s popularity speaks volumes as to the quality of training that they provide.
Gaining a Cisco certification, however, needs careful planning and consideration in order to map the certification strategy that will give you the best chance at success. Below we will have a look at what you can do to ensure that you choose the Cisco certification that suits you best and how to effectively prepare for your exams.
Once you have decided that a Cisco certification is the way forward, whether it be as a career change, a means to further your networking career or you are looking for your first job in networking, start as soon as you possibly can. The sooner you start studying and practising on labs, the faster you will become certified and be able to begin your networking career.
Start by doing the legwork that will lead you to a reputable and trustworthy course provider and request any information that you may need in order to start studying in earnest. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, no matter how mundane they may seem. It is, after all, your future that you are investing in.
Undertake a training course
There are those individuals who will be able to pick up a few books and gain the necessary knowledge to pass their exams through self-study. That is, however, not the norm and most students will benefit greatly by undertaking a training course from an authorised Cisco training provider.
These courses are specifically designed to impart the knowledge needed to pass the exam related to that course. The material is presented by a seasoned professional with years of experience under their belt, ensuring that the course content is presented in a way that is easy to understand and digest. The Cisco Networking Academy, for example, utilises instructors with a minimum of a CCNA certification.
Many training providers also offer extra services while you complete your studies, such as student support, training exams and career advisors that can guide you in the right direction if you are undecided as to which courses to undertake. With a training provider, you will also have the added benefit of being able to study your chosen course online from the comfort of your own home
Set clearly defined goals
Once you have the study material that you need and have made time to begin learning, set out goals and timelines of accomplishment and try to stick to them as closely as you possibly can. If you are unable to keep up the pace or suffer a setback, adjust accordingly and soldier on.
If you are an entry-level student, you may, for example, set a goal to achieve your CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate) certification within a reasonable amount of time. This is a great place to start as you will have fulfilled a prerequisite to many other areas of Cisco certification. It will also give you a great idea of how Cisco systems function and will lay a solid foundation of knowledge from where you will be able to build your networking career.
While short-term goals are certainly important and necessary, never lose sight of your long-term goals. If your chosen profession involves the security of networks, be sure to gain the CCNA Security certification, rather than choosing a qualification that would be redundant further down your study path.
Look for feedback and experiences
There are many websites that outline the study journey of specific students that have already gained their certification. These can give you a good idea of what to expect when you start studying your own courses and can give helpful insight into the intensity and difficulty of any given course.
Do not, however, rely solely on these as each student’s experience is unique. Rather use them as a guideline of what to expect and follow your own path to certification. With the thousands of professionals that have chosen Cisco as their certification, you will be able to find a wealth of information at your fingertips.
Combine study materials
The key to passing your Cisco exam lies in gaining a thorough understanding of the concepts, terminology and processes that you will be faced with when sitting the exam. It is often the case that the study materials used by one student is not as effective a study tool to another, who may find a better learning experience from different books or even online.
Don’t try to study every book that you come across, as the sheer volume of information can be overwhelming. Once you find a study medium that suits you, it is best to stick with it and add additional resources where you need to gain a better understanding.
Examples of these are the Cisco community and Cisco User Groups. Here you will find helpful information from individuals who have already gained their certifications and who aim to lend a helping hand where they can in an inviting and friendly environment. You will also be able to gain insights from professionals that have been in the networking field for a number of years and the information that can be gleaned from them can prove to be invaluable.
Practical experience is imperative when writing your Cisco exam. This can be done by utilising practice labs that allow you to operate routers and switches that emulate Cisco devices. It is always a good idea to practice on these labs as much as you can, as you will be tested on these during your exam.
If you are unable to build your own labs, something that can be very expensive, they should be provided by your training provider. If this is not the case, however, you can also utilise programs such as the Packet Tracker simulation program which will give you a good understanding of how Cisco systems work. This program is perfectly suited to the CCNA certification.
If, however, you are studying the CCNP (Cisco Certified Network Professional) or CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert) certification, the Packet Tracker program will not be sufficient. The GNS3 tool is an emulator, rather than a simulator of networking devices. This will provide you with the exact functionality and operation of a Cisco device which will ensure that you become comfortable with the applicable equipment before sitting your exam.
Remember the basics
No matter how far along you are in your career, neglecting your basic training could cause your work to suffer and, ultimately, deteriorate beyond repair. This will mean that you would have to backtrack and study these all over again. The basic concepts that you are taught during your Cisco certification studies will remain relevant throughout your networking career.
Now that you have a clearer idea of what it will take to prepare for your training and exams, you will need to decide on the direction that you wish to study towards. There are multiple paths that you can take, depending on your choice of specialisation. The different specialisations that you can choose from are as follows:
- Cybersecurity Operations
- Data Center
- Routing and Switching
- Service Provider
Read on to discover which courses and exams you will need to complete in order to obtain the specialisation that you have opted for.
The Cisco Cloud Certification remains an in-demand feature on the CVs of potential employees, due to the fact that an increasing number of organisations are moving their operations to the cloud, providing them with enhanced security, disaster recovery options and increased collaboration to name but a few advantages.
The Cisco Cloud certification track consists of two courses that can be studied, namely the associate level CCNA Cloud and the professional level CCNP Cloud. You will need to have gained your CCNA certification before attempting the CCNP course.
This certification path will ready you for careers such as Cloud Engineer, Cloud Administrator and Network Engineer.
Collaboration is an important part of business as it enables employees to be more productive, simplifies the process of information sharing between employees and helps employees to work from anywhere. It also simplifies communications not only between employees, but also between the organisation and it’s clients.
There are three levels of certification in the Cisco Collaboration certification track. The first is the associate level CCNA Collaboration. This is followed by the CCNP Collaboration, which is a professional level certificate and, lastly, the CCIE Collaboration, which will see you certified as a collaboration expert. In order to study the CCNP and CCIE certifications, you will first need to pass your CCNA exam.
This certification track is perfect for aspiring Network Video Engineers, Collaboration Engineers and IP Network Engineers.
In today’s day and age, cybersecurity is at the forefront of the minds of just about anyone that uses a device that may be susceptible to a cyber attack, such as PCs, mobile phones, tablets and laptops. In order to keep your organisation safe from these threats, it is imperative that they employ a professional that has a thorough understanding of all things cyber ops.
There is only one level of training available in the Cyber Operations specialisation from Cisco. This is the CCNA Cyber Ops certification, which is an associate level qualification. This certification will ready you for a career as a Cybersecurity Analyst.
An organisation’s data center needs to function at an optimal level in order to provide connectivity through the unifying of storage and data networking. This certification also provides architectural flexibility and reliable networking in not only physical, but also cloud and virtual environments.
There are three levels of certification to choose from in the Cisco Data Center certification track. You have the option of gaining your CCNA, CCNP or CCIE certificate, depending on whether you are looking to become an associate, professional or expert level certified professional.
The CCNA certification serves as a prerequisite to the CCNP and CCIE certifications. Follow this certification track if you aspire to becoming a Data Center Network Administrator.
The Cisco Design certification track will enable you to easily deploy newly designed systems in your organisation while ensuring that you utilise the latest available technologies.
You will have the option of studying five different levels of certification under Cisco Design, starting with the entry level CCENT (Cisco Certified Entry Network Technician) certification, which will cover the fundamental knowledge that you will need to start this certification track.
This is followed by the associate level CCDA (Cisco Certified Design Associate), professional level CCDP (Cisco Certified Design Professional), expert level CCDE (Cisco Certified Design Expert) and CCAr (Cisco Certified Architect) which is the highest available level of Cisco training. The CCDE certification is a prerequisite to the higher levels of training. This certification track will suit those looking for a career as a Design Engineer or Design Architect.
Routing and Switching
One of Cisco’s more popular certification tracks, the Routing and Switching certifications will enable you to work with routed and switched networks and includes network security and wireless concepts to name but a few.
Choose from four levels of certification ranging from entry- to expert level with the CCENT, CCNA, CCNP and CCIE Routing and Switching certifications. The CCNA Routing and Switching exam must be passed before attempting to undertake the CCNP or CCIE certifications.
This certification track will interest those with aspirations of becoming a Network Administrator, Network Consultant or Network Engineer.
There can be no doubt that network security professionals are amongst the most in demand in the networking field, given that so much sensitive information is sent and stored by organisations on a daily basis. Keeping that information secure is something that cannot be overemphasised and needs to be taken very seriously.
When following the Cisco Security certification track, you will have the option of four levels of training. Entry level knowledge starts with the CCENT certification, followed by the associate level CCNA. The CCNP certification will see you certified at a professional level while the CCIE will provide an expert level certification. The CCNA certification is a prerequisite to the professional and expert level of courses.
Undertake this certification path in order to start a career as a Network Security Specialist, Security Analyst or Security Engineer.
This certification will suit those that are looking to start a career in areas that provide internet, cloud, video, mobile and voice services. All of these are services that are used by thousands of organisations around the world on a daily basis.
You will have the option of advancing from the associate level CCNA Service provider, through the professional level CCNP to the expert level CCIE certifications. In order to study the CCNP course, you will need to pass the CCNA exam first.
These certifications are aimed at aspiring Service Provider Network Engineers, Technicians and Designers.
The world is increasingly utilising wireless networks and devices as it provides a convenient way to stay connected. It also provides organisations with the option of increased mobility, increased access to information and better customer service, making it an important part of day-to-day operations.
During the Cisco Wireless certification track, you can opt to study the entry level CCENT Wireless certification, the CCNA associate level and if you choose to do so, follow through to the CCNP professional or CCIE expert level certifications. As with the other certification tracks the CCNA is a prerequisite to the higher level certifications.
Those with an interest in a career as a Wireless Network Engineer, Wireless Consultant or Wireless Network Specialist will benefit from this certification track.
BY gaining an internationally recognised Cisco certification, you will be investing in a future as a professional that is highly sought after and you will dramatically improve not only your potential at being hired, but you will enhance your earning potential. Many certified professionals earn a decent salary, but becoming certified by a tried and tested company that is considered to be the leading authority in networking will see your career reach the heights that others can only wish to achieve.