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Cisco Certification
Cisco Certification

By Anne Martinez
Part I: Cisco Certification Overview
Part II: Cisco Career Certifications
Part III: Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert

  • Take CCPrep's Cisco Certified Design Associate sample test

Part I: Cisco Certification Overview

Unless you've spent the last 5 years trapped in a wiring closet you've heard of certification and its value as a career tool for IT professionals, but do you really understand what is and how you can use it to boost your career? Although certification can certainly be a ticket to a higher paycheck, it has many other things to offer as well. Certification can be used as a blueprint for learning, as a doorway into a new career or specialization, as a bridge between you and the particular vendor or organization that brings special perks and privileges, or simply as a way to test yourself professionally and see how you measure up.

There are currently hundreds of IT certifications to choose from. Some are rather obscure, but still potentially useful, while others have gained widespread acceptance and are known to most potential employers. Certifications from Cisco Systems Inc. fall squarely into the latter category, and are worth a serious look by any technically minded individual interested in networking and the Internet.

Cisco is the leading vendor of the magic boxes and circuit boards that carry and direct data within and across the Internet, corporate intranets, and other networks. They claim 65% of the market for routers, and command large share of the LAN switch market as well. Cisco itself employs over 43,000 people worldwide. Conduct a search on a job site like using the keyword Cisco and you'll come up with almost 4,000 job openings seeking Cisco-related expertise. A Cisco certification can be your ticket into this world of opportunity.

Cisco launched its first certification — Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) — in 1993. From the beginning, this designation provided evidence of highly developed technical expertise, and it still does. In fact, this certification requires such advanced skills, that it is only within reach of individuals that have years of hands-on experience with Cisco products and internetworking technologies. These individuals command a premium in the job market - often commanding salaries of $100,000 or more. There are currently only 5,297 active CCIEs worldwide (2,409 in the USA).

In 1998 Cisco recognized the need for certifications attainable by the mere mortals among us, and created a new group of certifications it calls career certifications. Unlike the CCIE, the new designations provide a pathway of increasing Cisco Internetworking expertise, and are coupled with training curriculae and course materials that provide a blueprint for learning.

The newer designations are the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA), Cisco Certified Design Associate (CCDA), Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP), and Cisco Certified Design Professional (CCDP). The associate level requires passing a single exam, while the professional level incorporates multiple exams. Although these designations don't enjoy the star status that the CCIE does, they are still respected and in demand in the industry.

All of these certifications are accompanied by special perks and privileges bestowed by Cisco. CCIEs receive priority technical support and access to special tools, forums, and resources on the Cisco Web site, as well as a framed CCIE medallion and permission to use the CCIE logo. Individuals who earn the lower level designations receive a certification, callet card, and use of the logo associated with their designation.

These benefits can be used to market yourself and/or your employer. The advanced tools and resources the CCIEs receive enable them to complete job tasks more efficiently and effectively. Employers can benefit too – Cisco resellers receive added benefits depending on how many certified professionals they have on staff.

Clearly Cisco certification can be a powerful career tool, but before you can take advantage of it you have to choose the right certification and then earn the right to put those letters after your name. In Part II of this series we'll explore Cisco's career certifications in detail – which one would be best for you, what it takes to earn it and keep it, and how can you prepare. Part III will hone in on the coveted CCIE, the largest jewel in the Cisco certification crown.

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