Cisco Certification Guide Overview and Career Paths

Cisco Systems Inc. is a leading provider of networking and communication products and services. Cisco Systems Inc. is best known for its business routing and switch products that direct data, voice, and video traffic over networks all around the globe. Cisco offers a range of products and services, including storage networking, unified communications applications, telepresence, and collaboration (WebEx), as well as a variety of support options, from simple product assistance to comprehensive solutions for data centers and cloud management.

The Cisco Career certification program covers all areas to ensure IT professionals are equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to support Cisco and customers’ technology issues on multiple fronts. The program starts at the entry-level, moves up to the associate, professional and expert levels, and, in some certification areas, ends at the architect level.

Each level has one or more credentials. To obtain a credential, you must pass one or more certification tests. Pearson VUE delivers the majority of Cisco exams. Candidates must meet prerequisites to earn higher credentials. The more certifications and prerequisites you need, the higher your level of certification.

Cisco certification program overview

Cisco offers the following certifications:

  • Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT)
  • Cisco Certified Technician (CCT)
  • Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)
  • Cisco Certified Design Associate (CCDA)
  • Cisco Certified Network Professional
  • Cisco Certified Design Professional
  • Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE)
  • Cisco Certified Design Expert (CCDE)
  • Cisco Certified Architect (CCAr)

Cisco’s Career Program offers a variety of certifications and career paths. The two major paths are network operation and design. Cisco’s typical networking certification ladder starts with the CCENT, then moves on to the CCNA and CCNP, before ending with the CCIE. Design-oriented individuals might consider starting with CCENT and moving on to CCDA. Next, they could move up to CCDP. Finally, the CCDE would be the final step.

The Cisco Career Certificate program includes specializations. These certifications recognize a professional’s expertise in a particular Cisco technology such as voicemail, messaging, or rich media. Cisco’s specializations fall into two categories: One for technical specialists, and the other for digital transformation specialists. There are 15 specializations available between these two categories.

Six subcategories make up the Technical Specialists category:

  • Collaboration
  • Data Center (FlexPod).
  • Network Programmability
  • Operating System Software
  • Service Provider
  • Internet of Things (IoT).

The Digital Transformation Specialists credential includes Business Architecture and Customer Success.

In general, passing two or more exams is required to obtain a credential. Certain credentials have prerequisites.

The validity of the entry-, associate and professional-level credentials is three years. The CCIE, specialist, and CCAr certifications are two years. Cisco professionals must recertify to keep their certifications current. This can be done by either passing a recertification test or moving up in the Cisco certification hierarchy.

Cisco Associate-Level Certifications

Cisco associate-level certifications include the Cisco Certified Network Associate ( CCNA ), and the Cisco Certified Design Associate ( CCDA ). Depending on which track you choose, one must pass either two or three certification exams in order to earn a CCNA credential.

The CCNA certifies basic skills for installing, maintaining, and troubleshooting wireless and wired networks. You can select from multiple tracks, such as Cloud, Collaboration, Cyber Ops, Data Center, Industrial, Routing and Switching, Security, Service Provider, and Wireless. The CCNA certification is a requirement for the professional level CCNP certification. The prerequisites for the CCNA are different depending on which solution track you choose, as well as the number of exams required. All solution tracks require one or two exams.

Cisco developed the CCDA in order to identify individuals that can design basic wireless and wired networks and integrate security and voice solutions. The CCDA certification is a prerequisite for the CCDP. Candidates must have either a valid CCENT or CCNA Routing & Switching certification (or any CCIE) and pass a single exam to obtain the CCDA.

Learn more about Cisco CCNA from SPOTO.

Cisco’s Professional-Level Certifications

Cisco’s professional-level credentials consist of two main programs, the Cisco Certified Networking Professional (CCNP), and the Cisco CCDP. The CCDP requires three certification exams and the CCDA and CCNA Routing and switching credentials, or any Cisco CCIE and CCDE certification.

Candidates must pass four exams to be eligible for all CCNP solution tracks except Routing and switching. For the CCNP Routing and Switching credential, only three exams are needed. All CCNP Solution Tracks require either a CCNA or CCIE. The CCNP Service Provider credential accepts as a requirement the Cisco Certified Internet Professional credential (CCIP), which was retired in 2012.

The CCNP credential is awarded to professionals who design, deploy and troubleshoot wide-area networks as well as local networks. The CCNP tracks have the same content as the CCNA except that Industrial and Cyber Ops are not available in the CCNP. It is recommended that you get the CCNP before moving up to the next cert on the ladder – Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert.

The CCDP certifies proficiency in the design and deployment of multilayer switched networks, as well as scalable networks. You can then move on to the Cisco Certified Design Expert after completing the CCDP.

Cisco’s Expert-Level Certifications

Cisco’s expert-level credentials encompass two primary certifications, the coveted Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert CCIE, and the Cisco Certified Design Expert CCDE. The prerequisites for either certification are not specified, but you must pass both a written and practical exam.

In July 2016, Cisco updated its expert-level exams with an evolving technology domain. This new domain targets cloud computing, network programmability, and IoT. It accounts for 10% of the exam score. Cisco may update the topics in this domain as emerging technologies gain enough commercial importance, potential, and prominence to be exam-worthy. This mechanism is described by Cisco as a means to future-proof certifications so that employers can assume that people who have current credentials also know about important new networking technology.

The CCIE certification is a career highlight for many network professionals. A CCIE is a Cisco Networking expert with a deep understanding of Cisco products and solutions.

The CCDE identifies professionals who design infrastructure solutions in large enterprise environments. This includes technological, operational, budget, and business aspects.

Learn more about CCIE Enterprise from SPOTO

Cisco’s certifications for architects

Achieving the Cisco Certified Architect certification ( CCAr) is a wise move for those seeking to be network architects or data center architects. CCAr, the highest certification Cisco offers, is similar to a Ph.D. This credential validates the skills of a senior infrastructure architect who can plan and build IT infrastructures using business strategies. CCAr is often regarded as the hardest tech certification.

You must present your solution before a Cisco panel and explain it.

Jobs and careers related to the field

Cisco certifications can help IT professionals prepare for various Cisco-related careers. No matter what career path you choose, there are many job opportunities for Cisco professionals. SimplyHired and Indeed both had between 7,500 to 9,500 job listings for Cisco CCNA professionals.

The job opportunities are dependent on factors such as your experience, and whether or not you focus on network operations or design. The following list is not exhaustive but does identify some common certifications that can lead to job opportunities.

  • CCENT: Help Desk or Technician Roles
  • CCT: Engineer (field support, network, or application support), or Systems Administrator
  • CCNA is a CCNA certification that allows you to become an engineer (network or telecommunications), a technician (network operations, network), or a network analyst (network operations center).
  • CCDA: Engineer (network design, system, design lead), analyst (interface), Interface developer, or technical specialist
  • CCNP is a network administrator, engineer, (support, networking), or advanced technician.
  • CCDP: Senior roles such as senior network engineer, senior analyst, or cyber protection analyst
  • CCIE: Expert-level roles; network architect, engineer (lead, systems, network), or senior network administrator
  • CCDE: Expert-level roles; systems engineer, senior network engineer, network architect, network design engineer, or IT infrastructure team lead
  • CCAr Architect (lead network, enterprise voice data, and more).

Training and Resources Cisco offers a wide range of self-study and training resources. Links to these resources are available on the web pages of each certification. Cisco Learning Network provides candidates with a basic membership which includes exam topics, IT training videos and study groups. The Cisco Platinum Learning Library offers professionals on-demand training and access to over 400 courses, hands-on vLabs, and the support library. Cisco Press also offers additional training materials.

Leave a Reply