Cisco’s networking certificates are easily the most well known in the industry. The CCNA is a great entry level certificate by any measure. However, other vendors certificates such as those from Juniper and Brocade can also be valuable. Then there’s CompTIA, Microsoft, ISC2, etc. Deciding which is best for your career can be difficult.
Cisco is the most well known name when it comes to networking equipment, and they are the most well known name when it comes to networking certificates. The CCT Cisco Certified Technician is the lowest level cert that Cisco offers, but do not expect to get much respect for holding it. The first real entry level certificate is the CCNA Cisco Certified Network Associate. If you want to go into the networking field, start by getting your CCNA. This will allow you entry into the networking world with a CCNA level salary.
If you don’t have a specific employer lined up, get a Cisco certificate. Cisco is by far the most popular vendor so having one of their certificates will open the most doors.
Cisco’s next highest certification after the CCNA is the CCNP Cisco Certified Network Professional. While it is normal to skip the CCT and go straight for your CCNA, it’s really not recommended to skip the CCNA and go straight to the CCNP if you don’t already have significant real world experience. That would make you seem overqualified for many entry level jobs, and under-qualified experience-wise for jobs that require a CCNP’s level of knowledge. The certification goes a long way, but on the job experience is also required to land more senior roles.
CCNP certification is available in a number of specializations. It’s typical to take the CCNP Enterprise first (the replacement for the old CCNP Routing and Switching) as there is a large amount of overlap between it and the CCNA. It’s not a huge amount of extra work to get the CCNP Enterprise after passing the CCNA.
After that you will have a better understanding of Cisco’s technologies and know where you want to specialize further, such as in Security or Data Center. Focus on the one that most interests you, where you already have some experience, or where it fits best with your current job role. After the CCNP comes the CCIE Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert, but by the time you look at getting a CCIE you will have enough experience under your belt that you won’t need a certification guide to help you out. You will know what you need to advance on your own.
Juniper Networks Certification
Juniper is one of Cisco’s main competitors, and they offer their own set of networking certificates. A common reason network engineers go down the Juniper certification path is if their company uses Juniper hardware. If a company uses Juniper equipment and you hold one of their certifications, you can expect to get bumped above those who hold a Cisco or other non-Juniper certificate. If you already work for a company which uses Juniper then obviously it makes sense to focus on their certifications. A certification looks best when it is accompanied by experience. Experience with Juniper equipment and a Juniper certification is going to look better than Juniper experience but a Cisco (or other) certification.
Juniper certification come in four levels. All but the lowest of these require you to pass the previous level’s exam before being eligible to reach that level. Like Cisco, Juniper has multiple tracks which include Enterprise Routing and Switching, Service Provider Routing and Switching, and Junos Security. Along with these are the Junos Support Tracks and the Product and Technology Certifications. The most popular Juniper cert is the JNCIA Juniper Networks Certified Internet Associate. This is the entry-level certificate, and can be thought of as an equivalent to the CCNA. It should help acquire a job for those with little experience in networking.
Read a comparison of JNCIA vs CCNA
If you already have an entry level certificate from one vendor, it usually makes more sense to get a higher level certificate from that same vendor, rather than getting a second entry level certificate from a different vendor. This is because most of the same theory is covered across the different vendor certifications, and their networking commands tend to be fairly similar. If you understand the basics behind OSPF and other routing protocols, then moving from a Juniper to a Cisco device or vice versa should not be terribly difficult. It’s better to know one vendor really well than to know many vendors a little bit.
Alcatel-Lucent, Brocade, Aruba, F5 etc.
There are a number of other networking vendors which offer different products and services. They also offer their own certificates. If you have no networking experience, and are looking for your first job in the networking field, then you are going to be better off avoiding these certifications. The reason is that they are more specialized and more niche. If you happen to know you want to work with storage area networks, then maybe considering a Brocade certification is not a bad idea. For most individuals it’s better to see what area of networking they end up in before looking for these certifications. On the other hand, if you happen to work for a company that uses these technologies, you will make yourself more valuable by obtaining relevant vendor certifications.
Another reason to be wary of these certificates is the lack of study materials. Because there is less demand for these certifications, there is less study material available. A lack of specific study resources makes obtaining these certifications that much more work.
Microsoft, CompTIA and Other Certs
These types of certificates may be worth looking into for a more general IT setting. If you are considering System administration, a Microsoft or Linux certificate can help you land interviews. There certainly is a large amount of overlap between system administration and network administration type jobs and it is helpful to know aspects of both. One certificate CompTIA offers is the Network+. It is a basic networking certificate, but as it does not cover configuration commands it does not fully train you for the practical aspects of a network engineer job. Most people would be better off skipping it and moving on to a practical certificate such as the CCNA.
Microsoft offers Windows Server certifications, which do require networking knowledge, but the focus is on the server, not the network. Certainly you can never have too many certificates, but if you are looking to enter the networking world you are better off with a networking vendor certification.
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If you want to learn more about networking and get the Cisco CCNA certification, we highly recommend the Cisco CCNA Gold Bootcamp as your CCNA training course. The CCNA is by far the most in-demand networking certification by employers, and the Gold Bootcamp is the highest rated Cisco course online. It has an average rating of 4.8 from over 30,000 public reviews: