Cisco Certification Guide - Overview and Career Paths (Part 1)
Cisco is a widely renowned name in the world of IT as it’s the primary manufacturer of networking-related equipment that’s used en-masse in all types of networking environments. But what most people don’t know is that Cisco also has its own product line that dedicatedly caters to the diverse needs of data and cloud management centers.
These products require a certain level of technical knowledge to operate so Cisco introduced its own Certification program to ensure that anyone who wills to operate its products or related technologies, can easily do so.
This certification program commences with beginner-level courses and then ramps up all the way to professional and expert level courses, depending on the individual’s experience and work needs.
Some certifications carry on even beyond the expert level and expand further to include the architect level certification.
Individuals who keep clearing levels gain credentials and while some courses individually offer credentials, for others you might need to go through with more than one course to secure a credential.
Pearson VUE, which also runs exams by other certification bodies, handles much of the certification exams offered by Cisco in its career and knowledge paths.
While the most basic certifications don’t have much in terms of pre-requisites, the conditions to meet become ever more stringent as a person progresses through the levels.
Cisco Certification Program Overview
Here is the complete list of all certifications currently offered by Cisco:
- Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT)
- Cisco Certified Technician (CCT)
- Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)
- Cisco Certified Design Associate (CCDA)
- Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP)
- Cisco Certified Design Professional (CCDP)
- Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE)
- Cisco Certified Design Expert (CCDE)
- Cisco Certified Architect (CCAr)
These are not standalone certifications but each one of them is a part of a specific certification path offered by Cisco to allow individuals to gain knowledge over one specific networking domain. Out of these all, two broad certification paths are the ones that are usually followed more by individuals directly involved with networking in an IT environment. The first path tackles network operations and management while the other one covers areas specific to network design.
Individuals on the Cisco certification path conventionally start off their journey with the CCENT certification, which is a base level course. Then they undertake the CCNA certification and continue onwards with the CCNP certification before finally ending the path at the expert level with the CCIE certification. This path is usually taken by those who want to understand network operations in detail.
If you are more interested in network design, CCENT should be the first certification to undertake before proceeding on to the CCDA certifications. For this path, the expert level certifications after CCDA commence with CCDE and then move on to the CCAr certification to end the path.
Cisco doesn’t only offer certifications that are career path specific, as individuals can also opt for certifications that exclusively handle learning gaps in handling technological products and services by Cisco. Here again, there are two broad paths i.e. technical and digital transformation. So, whether you want to run data center services from Cisco or transform your voicemail technologies in the office with Cisco products, there are a total of 15 specializations that you can undertake.
In the technical category, you can choose from among the following six-subcategories:
- Data Center (FlexPod)
- Network Programmability
- Operating System Software
- Service Provider
- Internet of things (IoT)
If you are more inclined towards things like business architecture or customer-centric technologies and their implementation, then Cisco’s digital transformation certification path is the one you should opt for primarily.
Conventionally, to gain each credential you will need to ace particular exams.
For the base level or beginner level certifications, there are often no pre-requisites but as you progress higher on the scale, there are stringent requirements to appear in mid-expert level certifications.
The credence of these certifications have a certain pre-defined period of validity, after which you either have to undergo the exam again or undertake and advanced level certification within the validity period.
Only the CCAr certification has a five-year validity period, while the entry-level certifications have to be re-taken after every three years. The shortest period of validity is for specialist certifications i.e. two years.
Cisco's Entry-Level Certifications
If you are a beginner in the IT industry and don’t have much experience working with Cisco related products and technologies, then you will first need to undertake the entry-level certifications first before progressing onwards on the certification hierarchy.
There are two credentials that you can undertake in this certification level.
First up is the Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician. The course contents of this certification will enable individuals to run basic level networks or implement security protocols at the same level. Some CCNA related credentials require that you undertake the CCENT certification.
The second certification from this level is the Cisco Certified Technician, a credential which makes individuals adept at handling maintenance and replacement related issue from internal or external networks containing Cisco equipment.
There is one exam each in these credentials and there are no pre-requisites required for appearing in either of them.
Cisco's Associate-Level Certifications
Again there are two certifications in this level and the course content they cover is one notch up from the knowledge gained in beginner level certifications.
The first certification in the associate level is the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA). Advanced level knowledge of installing, running and maintaining networks is taught in this course.
After completing CCNA, the number of opportunities for the individual open up in multiple domains. He/she can work in cloud, cyber ops, data center, wireless, network management, and various other fields.
If you want to do the CCNP certification in the Cisco professional level certifications, then you must undertake and clear the CCNA exam prior to this as it’s a pre-requisite to the CCNP.
The solution track you are on or have chosen will eventually determine the exact pre-requisites required for undertaking the CCNA exam. The number of exams for CCNA also vary according to the chosen solution path but there are never more than two exams in the CCNA certification.
Cisco Certified Design Associate is the other certification offered by Cisco at the associate level. As the name itself clearly implies, this certification is part of the design path by Cisco and aims to foster skills related to designing all kinds of network solutions as well as handling their security components. Possessing either the CCENT or CCNA certification is a pre-requisite for appearing in the CCDA exam.
There is one exam in this certification with no other pre-requisites.
Cisco's Professional-Level Certifications
The third tier in Cisco’s certification levels, the professional level credentials are highly sought after by the industry and individuals who manage to obtain these credentials are primed to enter the workforce in mid-level managerial positions.
The Cisco Certified Network Professional is the first certification offered in this tier. The aspects of planning and deploying network environments are explored in detail in this certification. There are a total of four exams that are required to obtain this credential, but if you opt for the solution track for Routing and Switching, you will have to undertake only three exams. Candidates need to either possess the CCNA or CCIE certifications to appear in the CCNP exams. If you ace the CCNP exams, experts recommend that you then take the CCIE exam because it’s an upper-level credential that’s interconnected to the contents taught in this course.
The other certification in the professional level is the Cisco Certified Design Professional or CCDP, which makes individuals learn more about building scalable and multi-layered networks in an enterprise environment.
The Cisco Certified Design Expert is the next certification that you can progress towards after clearing the CCDP credential exam.
Cisco's Expert-Level Certifications
The expert level certifications by Cisco are near the pinnacle of its certifications path. Just like the others, there are two core credentials that you can opt for at this level.
The first certification is the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert or CCIE and the other one is the Cisco Certified Design Expert or CCDE certification.
Cisco’s expert-level credentials have evolved considerably over time as in previous years, they faced a lot of criticism as they failed to take into account the emerging technologies that network professionals had to tackle with including some which used Cisco’s own products.
Now, candidates appearing in either of the credentials will also learn skills related to IoT, cloud and network programmability. This makes these certifications relevant to modern job roles in the networking sector and Cisco also has plans to further update the course contents of these exams in order to continue accommodating other relevant tech domains in order to keep these certifications relevant towards serving commercial industry needs.
Out of these two, CCIE data center certification holds more weight and value since it deals exclusively with the more important networking aspect like data center management, security protection, implementation of wireless networks etc. Most individuals often stop their journey at this certification but if they wish to continue further, Cisco’s architect level certifications are there to allow them to accomplish this goal. This certification is a complex and requires a certain level of technical knowledge to pass, so if you are intending on taking it then its best to opt for CCIE data center training in order to improve your chances of passing the exam,
CCDE is also highly valued and its importance is continuing to grow as large organizations require professionals to design their network environments in the best possible manner in order to achieve optimum results.
There are no pre-requisites for either of these certifications. Read further about Cisco certification guide in the sequel blog post.