Cisco began the CCIE program back in 1993 as a way to single out those professionals who had the ability to support their solutions. Originally there was only the CCIE certification, and it was earned by taking a written exam and then a two-day lab in San Jose. The original proctor, Stuart Biggs was awarded the second CCIE number 1025 after the first number was awarded to the room the lab was held in, in San Jose. So #1024 is part of a plaque which was moved from the original lab to a newer lab in the same campus.

The first CCIE was Terry Slattery, #1026, an ambitious and energetic network engineer who was at the time working with a team to develop the CLI (command line interface) used to configure or program routers. The program became popular as more IT professionals were drawn to the technologies which made data communications work. The prerequisite for taking the exam and lab was experience because there were no commercially available training resources available in the beginning of the program. There was a training program offered at Cisco, but it was focused on those individuals who already had a good degree of experience.

Since those heady days back in the beginning, an industry has emerged to help provide the skilled professionals needed to sell, design, build and support Cisco solutions. Here are the current certifications:

  • CCNT
  • CCNA
  • CCDA
  • CCNP
  • CCDP
  • CCIP
  • CCSP
  • CCVP
  • CCDE

These certifications are valid for three years, but the CCIE is valid for two. Recertification is required to maintain these certifications and to keep them active.

The value of the certification as a measure of skill is debatable and this topic has been kicked around in many forums. The value to the Cisco reseller community is more objective. Cisco resellers are given discounts for the purchase of hardware that they in turn resell based on the number of certified individuals on their staffs.

The Cisco reseller certification ranks these VARs as Select, Premier, Silver, Gold and Global. With each level come rewards and benefits that allow the VAR to earn higher discounts and other incentives. With each level come requirements for technical competency and ultimately as Silver, Gold or Global partner, the ranking requires a staff that includes CCIEs. Because of the pressure put on Cisco Channel Resellers to hire or develop CCIEs ,there have been incidents such as holding CCIE numbers hostage (refusing to release them for use with another employer), incidents of counterfeit credentials, CCIE number association renting, and poaching talent from competitors.

The highest paid Certified IT professionals are CCIEs partially because of the demand for them and partially because of the small population. The CCIE certification opens doors internationally for the network engineer because the skills are portable and in demand in virtually every country on the globe. There have been some great strides in developing talent and Cisco has been right there to monitor and support the hiring of talent through the SRS (Strategic Recruitment Solutions) Program and the Cisco Partner Talent Portal.

The number of CCIEs globally has remained below 21,000 for several years making this population of certified IT professionals truly elite. Becoming a CCIE is easier today with many training options available for career minded networking professionals. Cisco’s Network Academy program is an industry model for developing talent. This program boasts that over a million students have gone through the curriculum at some level, globally. Besides this program Cisco has certified individuals as CCSIs (Certified Cisco System Instructor) and some training companies as CLPs (Cisco Learning Partner) where the Cisco Authorized curriculum is taught. Those companies that do not use the Cisco authorized materials and curriculums are referred to as “Grey Market” training companies. There are many CCIEs who have benefitted from both types of companies and Cisco does not require lab candidates to pass through a CLP. Cisco training is a big industry and there are several giants in this arena that have succeeded in winning a substantial market share. As with any product you can purchase though, buyer beware!

Start at the beginning if you are interested in pursuing CCIE certification as a goal and you do not have the benefit of professional exposure to support this goal. The CCNA certification and subsequent certifications support interests in Routing and Switching, Voice over IP, Wireless and security. The best way to prepare for this certification is to examine the available study and preparation methods, since we all learn differently. There are self-paced materials available in many forms; instructor led classes; and high schools, colleges and junior colleges have networking offered as a degree elective or option.

What aspects of Cisco technology, certifications, or training would you like to learn more about? Leave your questions, topics of interest, and suggestions in the discussion below.