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 DICE.com
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
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.