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What you need to know about Cisco's CCNA certification

The CCNA is a valuable certification, but the level of value definitely depends on whom you ask. And, of course, certification is only as valuable as the experience it accompanies. Find out what you need to know about the CCNA.

TechRepublic members' response to my last article, "Four reasons to earn Cisco's new CCENT certification," really wowed me. Everyone had a lot to say about the CCENT, certification in general, and the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certification. This week, I want to highlight some of your comments and discuss what you need to know about CCNA certification.

#1: What's the value of a CCNA?

Before we discuss the value of the CCNA certification, let's talk about the value of certifications in general. Member myers_2004 asserted that the CCENT and CCNA are just ways for Cisco to make more money and that it doesn't prove that you know anything about networks. Of course, this member isn't the only one who believes certifications are useless. Member c.stockwell staunchly refuted this belief and argued that "the value of the certification is what you put into it." I couldn't agree more. To me, this applies to any degree or certification program you choose.

The value of certifications programs is not in the "piece of paper" you receive — it's in the knowledge you gain in the process. Unfortunately, not everyone who completes a program gains the same level of knowledge and skills.

In my opinion, here's the value in pursuing CCNA certification:

  • Prove your knowledge to yourself, and prove — and document — that knowledge to your boss or a hiring manager.
  • Use your CCNA to stand out from others applying for the same job.
  • Justify asking for a raise.
  • Challenge yourself.
  • Learn more about networking in general.

#2: Who should pursue CCNA certification?

In my opinion, anyone interested in networking should go for the CCNA. Obviously, anyone working with Cisco equipment on a daily basis is also a good candidate.

However, sometimes it isn't that obvious. Here are a couple examples:

  • Windows and Linux network administrators: Why not understand the network and learn how to solve problems more quickly? Learn to communicate with the "network guys."
  • Technology salespeople and project managers: Member malbadr asked how certification could help an IT salesman. Knowledgeable salespeople and project managers who really understand the Cisco router they're selling or the Cisco network they're managing the implementation of go a long way toward gaining my trust.
  • IT managers: Learn how to better communicate with your network administrators, fill in for the network admin, and understand how the network works.
However, as member wbaltas pointed out, "don't expect this certification to get you a job" if you don't have the experience to back it up.

#3: How do I get a CCNA?

This is the easiest question of them all. To earn a CCNA, you have two paths to choose from:

  • One test: You can just take test 640-802 — a single test that incorporates both parts of the ICND course material.
  • Two tests: You can take tests 640-822 and 640-816. By passing test 640-822, you would earn the CCENT. Then by passing test 640-816, you would have both your CCENT and your CCNA certifications.
Note: Cisco exams 640-801 CCNA, 640-821 INTRO, and 640-811 ICND all expire on Nov. 6, 2007. While the study material for those tests is still very much applicable, you should watch out for topical differences that have changed.

#4: Can I pass the CCNA?

Absolutely. Before the recent introduction of the CCENT, the CCNA was Cisco's introductory certification.

Next to Microsoft's MCSE certification, the CCNA is the single most popular certification when it comes to available training material. There are router and switch simulators, test preparation applications, books, study guides, flash cards, training videos, Web sites, and more, available from both Cisco and third parties. The resources are immense! Sometimes the more difficult question is "where do I start?"

#5: What resources should I use to prepare for the CCNA?

People ask me this question all the time. Here's my short list:

Summary

The CCNA is a valuable certification, but the level of value definitely depends on whom you ask. And, of course, certification is only as valuable as the experience it accompanies.

Weigh in with your opinion! What's the value of the CCNA to you and to your company? What are the best resources available to prepare for the CCNA?

David Davis has worked in the IT industry for 12 years and holds several certifications, including CCIE, MCSE+I, CISSP, CCNA, CCDA, and CCNP. He currently manages a group of systems/network administrators for a privately owned retail company and performs networking/systems consulting on a part-time basis.

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