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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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32 comments
ouellettem
ouellettem

I believe any certification in your field proves valuable that you understand and know the material being tested on. The other question is the ability to now apply this knowledge which some times proves that not all individuals that can pass these exams can actually apply this knowledge. I do partly agree with myers_2004. What I do not understand is why not study and pass these exams and instead of having to retake the full exam and pass it again, all you need to do is go to a course get continuing education units on the new information out there. In every other professional field this is how it works. Imagine if lawyers, doctors, physical therapists, nurses..the list goes on had to re certify. The IT world is a large leech when it comes to testing and certification. It is about time for some change.

maraqib
maraqib

Its nice to have a CCNA. But what after that? I have passed the exam last July and did not manage to get any job yet. Is there any prospect? Even with CCNA without experience you can't get a job I believe.

joe
joe

With all the boot camps, any certification that can be obtained by a boot camp, just proves you can memorize, it does not mean you know what to do or where to look for a solution.

Rand777
Rand777

Simple. If you get your CCNA without experience, it's a "paper certificate". This means you know the concepts but have no hands-on. I won't hire anyone without testing them on a real setup if they claim to have a CCNA and little or no experience. That doesn't mean I won't give them a chance. So... So do one of two things: 1.) Get your own setup of routers and switches. You can buy them for about $300or so, and practice at home all you want. 2.) Rent a setup. You can do this online and access the setup anytime you want. For this, go to a place like http://www.ccie4u.com/ or http://www.cconlinelabs.com/. There's plenty of places you can rent from, just Google them. Practice like your life depended on it. Try different scenarios. See if you can get a simulated problem and fix it. After you feel that you can subnet, program a switch or router or answer at least 80% of the CCNA questions without fail, take the exam, pass it, and apply. Mention on your resume that you have worked on whatever Cisco devices you practiced on. No foul, you didn't lie on your resume and you can prove it. Good luck amigos! Sean

nacht
nacht

What you have here is a chicken and egg problem: you can't get the experience because you don't have the certification, but the certification doesn't help when you don't have "enough" experience. "Looking over the network guys' shoulders" and "build(ing) your own lab at home" are fine, but 95% of employers want hands-on work experience. And unless you've got a really cool IT boss, if your job isn't networking to begin with, you won't be allowed to gain the experience you need to go along with the certification. So I don't think it's accurate to throw all of the onus on the person seeking the Certification that "it's what you make it." I had some network hardware experience, and I got a perfect 1000 on the CCNA, and it still took me over 3 months to find a job -- and that wasn't even in networking! (Here's a hint: "not enough networking experience.")

dave
dave

I work about 85 percent with Microsoft products and 15 percent with Cisco. I believe that you really need a home lab to hone your skills on Cisco equipment. I completed my CCNA in 1999 and CCNP in 2001. I'm currently studying for a second attempt at the CCIE lab, having passed the CCIE written in 2006. IMHO one can pass the CCNA with no hands on and the CCNP with minimal hands on. In no way will you pass the CCIE written or lab without solid experience on Cisco equipment. If you practice for the CCIE lab on production equipment, you'll end up abruptly unemployeed. I strongly suggest a home lab with the latest IOS. Incidentally, I've never had anyone ask me for my CCNP card execept Cisco when I made a first attempt at the CCIE lab. I only study for certs as a motivator to learn.

dave.row
dave.row

I passed my CCNA a month or so ago after working in 3rd line and Infrastructure departments for the past 7-8 years dealing with mainly Microsoft and Cisco based environments. Only now have I decided to pass the exam as it provides the only way to progress onto the more useful Professional level (CCNP, CCSP..etc) certifications that are more indiciative of someone's true competance with Cisco equipment/technologies. If you're looking to get into the networking field at the grass roots then the CCNA is a perfect starting certification. However, without the real-world experience you're going to be a much weaker candidate than many others going for the same roles.

llapi2000
llapi2000

After reading the article by David Davis, I noticed that he mentioned one key point - the experience! My question is this: how do you get the experience when it is pretty difficult to find an employer who will take you in because you have the CCNA cert. but no experience? I value certifications just like many other people do, but there are many other people that do not. I have been turned down for jobs that required experience and not just certifications. I have been turned down even by the company that I currently work for when I applied for a job that became available in the networking department. I work in IT now but not in networking side - I deal with desktops and servers. On the same token, there are people that work in that same network department that have no certifications but they have the experience. So, what should one do? Any tips are appreciated! Thanks!

PhilTkgh
PhilTkgh

I passed the CCNA about eighteen months ago. I have been to numerous interview for Cisco jobs since and nobody is interested because I don't have the commercial experience in Cisco equipment. In the place I work we use Nortel equipment. Having the CCNA has never done me the slightest bit of good in terms of getting a job in Cisco. I would say, therefore, to anyone thinking of doing it without the hands on experience, don't bother.

bart.thoen
bart.thoen

I got my CCNA certificate last year, and i can tell you, my experience sure helped me a lot !! In fact, when i was preparing myself for the test, i found several tips which stated that if you've never seen a switch/router or never came in contact with networking in general, it would be very hard to pass the exam. And it's true. Thanks to my daily work with (mostly) switches, a great part of the test was easy for me.

lindamarie
lindamarie

There was a day when you could almost write your own paycheck if you had a CCNA or better, but these days, I interview CCNAs for jobs paying only about $35,000. Sure, it helps me determine a person's networking ability, but do I hire people based on their certifications? The first thing i look for is the ability to work with others. The second is their technical ability. Here is my full take on the subject: http://www.helpdesknotes.com/2007/08/_how_much_money_is_your_ccna_c.html

rossbecool
rossbecool

What you also might want to do is to see if you can do an unoffical practicum or unpaid internship at a local business. A practicum or internship will allow you the opportunity to gain hands on experience with correction and advice. Find some business in your area and develop a relationship with the IT department. Let them know that you need guidance and experience in the IT field. Most of the time people will be glad to help you. Who knows, if you do well they might hire you as a full-time employee.

curtisnwokeji
curtisnwokeji

i just graduated from college still with no job ,please help me i need to get into cisco job am willing to do any thing

n.stockwell
n.stockwell

go to a Cisco Network Academy. While some of the labs may be seen by some as easy and not realistic they do have the equipment and realistically depending on the course and the labs there are some serious errors which require troubleshooting skills and applying the knowledge that the books write about. What I was addressing when I spoke about a certification being what you make of it is that there are people which absorb material quickly and others who have to pound their way through the material. For those who have no problem working through the material the challenge is to not go through it fast enough that it becomes a paper cert because they don't take advantage of the equipment. For the pounders - like me - the challenge is to get though the material without having the semester end. I go to school everyday and spend at least an hour to seven straight hours working with the equipment or helping others with questions and what not. Now, is this job experience? No, because we have access to every part of the network and while the some labs get into some good stuff they fall flat with the application. However, that doesn't mean our labs are perfect and that I just make stuff up because there are cases where Cisco messes something up, something else is going on with the equipment, or you do a lab correctly but get different results then another group. Do you work thought those differences to find out how they came about or do you just live with it? A student in the program doesn't need to do the labs and certainly doesn't have to show up outside of class. In fact, my class had an owner of a small ISP who had been working with networks for over 30 years, so he was just there to brush up and then did the labs on his own equipment. Nevertheless, the opportunity is really great for a person who both has the time and the drive to figure out routers and switches and explore the possibilities.

bpate
bpate

Getting a job has alot to do with what market you are in also. You aren't going to get a job in the Detroit market with little to no experience today. If you were to go to Raliegh, NC or Phoenix where the job market is booming and their is alot less competition for jobs then you would be able to find a position.

michael.brodock
michael.brodock

I've been through what you are stating. It actually took me 9 months to get a job and that was a little shop with only 4 people, but that is where I got to do programming, desktop and general support on a very small network making $6.50 an hour. From there I went to another company as an Operator while I was going to college part time. Then I worked into Customer Service, Desktop, Networks and finally System Management. During that time I have gotten an AAS and a BS, as well as certs in Novell, Microsoft and Cisco. I am currently updating my certs and the cycle continues. In my mind, you need both experience and certifications, and it takes awhile to get both. You can't just start at the top or even where you want to be, you just have to take your opportunities when they come and make sure that your boss knows what your goals are and help everyone when and where you can. You will get your chances. :)

Andy The IT Bloke
Andy The IT Bloke

Ok, so you have no experience of a proper networking job, where do you start? CCNA of course. You've proven yourself to a certain level and show your networking knowledge is somewhat better than just plugging cables into a switch and running a ping command. I did mine some years ago when I was still a first-jobber. I didn't have an awful lot to put on my cv at the time, so the CCNA was definately a big help in getting job number 2.

wade.alexandro
wade.alexandro

I was in a similar situation to some of you who posted on this website. Simply put you have to go out and get experience by experimenting and building your own network. You can pickup up a 2500 series router for about $25.00 at alot of used stores in the bay area ( ie.. Wierdstuff). Additionally, they have free online packet sniffers all over the web( they even have free software based routers downloadable.) Once you get your networking gear. Start building your own network. After your network is setup start sniffing traffic and start understanding what to look for in packets. *** One huge caveat *** If your going to pursue a networking career, become intimately familiar with packet sniffers and identifying traffic on the network. This is one area of weakness that the CCNA fails to address. After you have some experience building some networks, if you have a solid understanding you may want to list what you were successfull doing on your resume. This is one way to smoothly transition from being a paper CCNA to a CCNA with experience. I hope this information helps.

j.s.davis
j.s.davis

Get to know the guys in the network group. Look over their shoulder whenever you get a chance. Have them set you up w/ access to a piece of test equipment so you can maintain your day-to-day skills. I got my initial exoposure to and experience with Cisco gear while I was a PC Technician, looking over the shuolder of a co-worker who was the Network Engineer.

bpate
bpate

The best way to gain experience is typically to build a Cisco lab at home. This does require purchasing Cisco equipment so that you can work with the equipment without fear of breaking something. The CCNA is a great way to "highlight" your skills and to show others you have the cert to prove it. Any good manager/recruiter is going to give a technical interview. If you can't pass a technical interview then the certification is worthless. I have had a CCNA since 1996 and I was able to break into the networking market by working project/contract jobs that no one else wanted because they were short term. However after doing that for two years and earning my CCNA I was able to get a job as a full time network admin for a good sized company. I would also recommend looking for a Cisco Academy possibly at a community college. I took my CCNA classes back in the day at the local community college. The instructor was excellent and I actually got a job offer from a hiring manager in my class. Obviously if you really want to stand out and you want to become a network guy go for the CCNP/VP/DP/SP/IP...or if you are really good go get a CCIE. A certification might get you an interview for a job depending on the market you live in. It is up to you to sell your self during a personnel interview and during a technical interview. Bill Pate CCNA/CCDA/CCNP/CCVP/CCDP

klbs
klbs

he bel.... give me some information about the courses available there in your country

Too Old For IT
Too Old For IT

... but it seems as if I'll study, pay for an exam, and then have to interview for jobs paying about $7,000 a year less than what I'm making now. No thanks!

vanila_sky
vanila_sky

check this out and find what you looking for... SAP Basis certification sap abap certification microsoft certification CICSO certification exam SAP Interview questions

cisco ccna
cisco ccna

there is free Cisco CCNA Training Certifications for us, and I think It is 1st choice for your Cisco CCNA study http://ciscoccna.net

Puppet9
Puppet9

********Major revelation for someone trying to land a job. I work for a major telecommunications company and got three of my previous classmates hired into good jobs. I was not the hiring manager but recommended the candidates strongly. I have to say that some of the top performers in the program (not ccna) I did not recommend because I didn't want to work with them, others were late, argumentative in class (always looking to contradict the instructor), and others were not focused or immature. Treat your class time as a potential job interview, network, go for coffee with classmates, and keep in contact after school. Look around a ccna course, its only full of people that are already working in IT or will be in the future, it is the best way to get a job. Last advice, try to do well in the course, the people I recommended were not only the ones I liked but were in the top of the class.

bbutler
bbutler

one of the ways for experience is the CNAP or academy program. it consists of at least 60% of time on labs, incl. vlans,stp,frame,pat, etc. also a great resource is packet tracer in leiu of equipt. it's just as if you have the equipt there.

EEnglish34
EEnglish34

I couldn't agree more with you in the fact that you should hire someone based on how well they can work with others. However, I truely believe CCNA is worth having under your belt. I have several friends that have a CCNA and a college degree and they all have great jobs. But you get out of it what you put into it.

link470
link470

Thanks everyone for populating this thread and adding more information! I've always wondered about going for a Cisco certification. I currently hold MCP [Microsoft Certified Professional] with Network Security and am almost at MCSE, but was wondering what it would be like to have a Cisco certification as well. I'm only 19, but I really love this stuff. I'm the Network Administrator and Infrastructure Design developer for the school district I attended just a little over a year ago for high school, but I'm always looking at expanding. CCIE looks like something I may work towards one day. But wow, the cost for that day long exam hands on, over a thousand bucks. I'd definitely want to make sure I studied for that one. I think many of you are right though, in that the best way is to obtain Cisco hardware yourself and configure a network at home. That's how I got interested. I was the only kid in high school 15 years old with a rack of servers in his bedroom. My mom loved the power bill [no].

bbutler
bbutler

cudos. there is a difference between a paper CCNA and an academy graduate if program done correctly. i am a CCAI who does it right and spends almost all class time in lab. i often mess with their heads by a little creative configuration adjustment at night.

wbaltas
wbaltas

I've been working with Cisco equipment for about 10 years. What a lot of people don't understand, espicially Cisco instructors, is that working on network equipment is usually considered a senior IT job. Our junior network staff have a lot of experience on servers and desktops. I worked on servers and desktops for over seven years before I was able to break into the network environment, and I got the job because I found ways to work with the network team. If a new facility is coming on-line, go with the network team to see what they are doing. After a few trips, ask to have your hands on a console while the network staff supervise. After a few of these ask if you can install the equipment and test it. The last junior analyst we hired did this for over 18 months, but he is now working on cisco equipment - and he got the job without a CCNA, he had experience (he did pass his CCNA while on probation for this job.) Another way to get in and make a really good impression is to get experience in protocol analysis. Pick up a good book on TCP/IP, and download wireshark, and start analyzing protocols. Alot of CCNA certified people cannot do this, and it will make you really stand out. Laura Chappell has some good stuff you can get so does Priscilla Oppenheimer. Good luck

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