Cisco Certifications for Networking Jobs

By Peter H. Gregory, Bill Hughes

Arguably the best-known certifications in the networking biz are from Cisco. Cisco offers 27 kinds of certification. One almost needs a certification to tell what the different Cisco certifications mean.

The first distinction among the Cisco certifications is the level:

  • Entry: For individuals who are interested in getting started in networking

  • Associate: The first level for people with a few years of experience in networking

  • Professional: For people who want to impress the heck out of prospective bosses and in-laws

  • Expert: For those who seek to impress professionals

  • Architect: For those who are just showing off

Entry level

The two certifications at the entry level are

  • Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT): This certification covers the skills necessary for supporting small and medium-sized businesses.

  • Cisco Certified Technician (CCT): A more hands-on certification for people who will perform physical installations and troubleshoot Cisco equipment in the field. Within this certification are specializations for technicians working in data centers, with switches and routers, and with telepresence equipment (used for voice and video).

Don’t assume that these courses are simple because they include the word entry. These entry-level classes require several months of intense studying, lots of hands-on experience, and the successful completion of several rigorous tests.

Associate level

The Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certifications are the next step up from entry-level certifications. The associate level covers skills necessary to administer small or medium-sized networks with one of eight technology specializations:

  • Routing and switching

  • Data center

  • Security

  • Service provider

  • Service provider operations

  • Video

  • Voice

  • Wireless

The individual who earns one of these certifications would be, say, a Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) Data Center or CCNA Routing and Switching.

Just to keep it a little confusing, another certification in the associate level is the Cisco Certified Design Associate (CCDA). This certification is suitable for network engineers and others who specify network environments.

Although associate sounds better than entry, it fails to capture the magnitude of the work involved. First, you need a few years of experience in the field. Then, to pass the exam, you need to devote six to nine months (depending on whether you have no or a minimal social life) to studying and taking classes. This timeframe is if you take a preparation class and spend many hours each day pursuing your goal.

Your mileage may vary, but any of these certifications is a significant accomplishment and shows a commitment of 1000+ hours. Plan to retake this test every three years to keep your CCNA or CCDA certification valid.

Professional level

The professional level certification, Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP), covers the same specializations as the associate level with the exception of video technology. If you happen to specialize in video-networking technology, you may be happy to find out that the certification is only at the associate level.

The test is given in a series of steps, so you don’t have to take all the tests at one time. Each test covers different technology areas (route, switch, and troubleshoot). Some people who have earned the professional-level certification say that they studied rigorously for nine months to a year.

The professional level has that same naming outlier for senior network design engineers, senior analysts, and principal systems engineers who design the networks. Rather than being consistent and, say, calling the certification for design professionals CCNP-Design, the certification at the professional level is called the Cisco Certified Design Professional (CCDP) certification.

Expert level

If the professional level isn’t enough for you, you can get an expert-level certification. Most are called CCIE, for Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert, followed by the specialization. There’s one change to again make things interesting. The step above CCNP Voice is CCIE Collaboration.

The old CCIE Voice was retired as of Valentine’s Day 2014. The CCIE Collaboration terminology reflects the idea that businesses use internal voice communication along with data and video technology to collaborate.

Again, there is the same naming outlier, the Cisco Certified Design Expert (CCDE).

The CCIE variants and CCDE require another year of study and hands-on practice beyond the time spent on the CCNP/CCDP. This level is pretty darn elite: In the United States, there are about 5500 CCIEs of all types.

Architect level

Let’s put it this way. More people have fallen out of planes at altitudes above 10,000 feet and survived (157) than have earned the Cisco Certified Architect (CCAr) certification. More professional baseball players have hit four home runs in a single game (16) then have earned the CCAr. You get the idea.

But if not, more people have walked on the moon (12) than have earned the Cisco Certified Architect (CCAr) certification. Ten folks have earned the CCAr certification. It looks very good on your resume. When you make it, send us a postcard about your accomplishment.