Tuesday, January 18, 2011

What to Consider After Passing CCNA

If you want to work with Cisco, and you want certs, your opening moves are obvious. Although Cisco positions CCENT as its entry-level certification - the "E" even stands for Entry - the prerequisite cert for all the rest of the Cisco cert world is CCNA. However, once you get that CCNA, the choices are wide and varied. Today we'll take a look at some of the things to consider when reaching this point, with related polls.
First, let's take a look at the Cisco cert tree in terms of prerequisites. Here's a basic view of the options leading from CCNA:
You can pick from lots of technology tracks: voice, security, wireless, and route/switch. For Routing/Switching, you can choose the CCNP, which focuses on routing and switching in Enterprise networks; CCIP & CCIE SP, which focus on these technologies in Service Provider environments; and the new CCNP and CCIE SP Ops, which focuses on SP environments from an operational perspective. You can also look at the Design track, which focuses more on routing/switching than the other topics.
Also, there's no requirement to move down a single silo. You could go for multiple CCNA concentrations. You could also move on to CCNP and then go back to some other technology areas.
(Note: Before I get cards a letters about it, technically there are no prerequisites for CCIE or CCDE.)
Now let me briefly give a disclaimer. I'm not a career counselor, or job placement expert - I just make tools to help you get Cisco certified. However, I do get frequent questions about such things, and I've been around the block. Earlier this year, when I asked what kinds of things you might like to see here, several of you mentioned things about career advice. Plus, blogging about the new SP Ops career cert track got me thinking about whether that might be a good career move or not. So, for today's post, let me throw out some advice, and then I'll give you a turn.
Here are some thoughts about choosing your next steps after getting CCNA:
Local job market: If getting the next job is your primary concern, start surveying big job sites weekly, before even completing CCNA. Search in your locale, and search on the names of the certs, and related terms. For instance, I'd search CCVP, and separately search "cisco voice". Write it down and track it weekly. That'll give you some perspective on the job listings at least.
Long-term career path, deeper skills: Let's say your plan is to be an expert at some networking technology area, rather than being a generalist. I'm sure you'd get a lot of different opinions about which technology to choose if you asked people in the industry. Personally, I'd suggest taking the time to ask folks what they do in their job within that specialty. Ask folks online, or at work, or here, what they do if they're a voice person, or security, etc. If you're going for deep skills, in my opinion, it's much more important to choose something that fits your likes/dislikes, rather than just picking the area that you think has the best job prospects. It's a balancing act of course, but just because a topic area appears to have more jobs in it that could even attract a disproportionate number of future job candidates. If you're going to go deep, I think picking what matches your likes/dislikes trumps your read of the job market.
(Note: The Cisco Learning Network (CLN) is a nice place to ask such questions. (CLN is a great place for Cisco cert study - if you've not looked there, I'd highly recommend it.)
Long-term career path, broader skills: If you plan a career that requires more generalized skills, then your next steps inside the Cisco cert space doesn't matter as much. My expectation would be that you'd go for multiples, maybe even down the path towards multiple CCNA certifications. (Check out this old blog post for some interesting discussions around this topic - in particular, a poll asking which is better, multiple CCNAs or one CCxP.) In this case, I'd mainly ask you what CCNA cert you already know the most about, and suggest you go for that one. If it's route/switch, I'd suggest CCNP, or CCDA. Particularly if you're hoping to work on the vendor/reseller side of the business equation, the CCDA might work well.
Monetary resources: I've been reminded recently that getting even CCNA can be expensive enough to be a barrier for some. Looking at the next Cisco certs can be more so. It could be that going for some certs might be more expensive, particularly in terms of lab gear. Knowing that you have already passed CCNA, I personally think that CCNA Security, which deals with security on routers and switches, is the most obvious cheaper choice for lab gear. For CCxP, CCNP may well be the cheapest, again with the assumption that you can use what you bought for CCNA. (Look here for more info on CCNP lab gear, and hear for more info on CCNA Security labs.)
Next, let me turn the question around to our group. I've included two polls in an effort to separate out the thoughts. First off, I have this theory that the #1 reason for choosing the next cert to get after CCNA is to help you get the next job. I don't want to assume that as a fact, but I also don't want to crowd out the other considerations. So, the first poll asks which is your #1 reason to choose what cert to get after CCNA: To help get your next job, or any other reason.
In poll #2, I've asked among all the other reasons for picking your next Cisco cert - besides getting that next job - what's important to you. Pick all that matter to you in this poll. If that was a long time ago for you, answer as if you're giving advice to someone you like. Also, note that I separated the consideration of time investment - how much time it would take you to get a cert, based on your current knowledge and experience - into two categories. Clearly it takes more time to get a professional level cert, with3-5 exams, as compared with the single additional exam required for a CCNA concentration.
Also, please offer up any other advise for those running towards completing their CCNA. Any stories of what you chose and how it worked out, or what mistakes you made when picking the next thing to do, or any other advice you have found useful for navigating the world of Cisco certs. Thanks much.
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