This question about whether the CCIE is worth it has been swirling for years with no clear answer. CCIE commands a high salary, but so do many certs. When it comes to prestige, nothing compares.
Whether CCIE is worth it or not comes down to whether it’s worth it to you. It’s an individual decision you’ll have to make before devoting time and money to the certification.
Here are some considerations about why it’s worth it — and why it might not be.
Why it might not be worth it
The most obvious reason the CCIE might not be worth it is that you no longer receive a bomber jacket upon successful completion of the CCIE.
Fun fact: When Cisco first launched the CCIE program in 1993, they wanted to call it the “Cisco Top Gun” program. Though the name was nixed, they still rewarded new CCIEs with a bomber jacket. It’s uncertain when they stopped that giveaway.
It’s an expensive exam. Seriously, though. The exam is spendy, and not just because of the testing fees. The CCIEs are split into the written and lab portions. While the written portion can be proctored at any testing center, the 8-hour lab exam is only available at nine Cisco worldwide locations or their mobile lab facilities. Because test takers are responsible for airfare and lodging, figure doubling the exam price. Then, there’s the practice lab equipment, study material, and the time it takes to study for the exam. All things considered, we figured out that the CCIE certification exam costs between $12,000 and $19,050.
It’s a difficult exam. The volume of knowledge that needs to be consumed, understood, and then tested makes the CCIE a formidable studying goal. Adding to its notoriety, Cisco doesn’t provide objectives for the exam, like the CCNA and CCNP certifications. You’re expected to know everything. It’s not an understatement to say that preparing for the CCIE is life-consuming.
Many people prepare for six months — using any available free time to study. Got any hobbies? Like to read books? Friends? Family? Too bad, you have a new hobby, Cisco documentation is your only reading material, routers and switches are your new best friends and family. Your next 26 weekends are booked solid.
You’re overqualified. Once you’ve earned your CCIE, you end up overqualified in all but the most demanding of job roles. In Cisco’s words, the CCIE is for “expert-level engineers who need to plan, operate and troubleshoot complex, converged network infrastructures.”
With a CCIE, you’re setting yourself up to be a senior network engineer or network architect, running complicated networks. You’ll have your pick of any lower-level jobs, but did you put yourself through all that for less?
Finally, the cloud. Market demand is spiking for cloud engineering knowledge and skill sets, which means some cloud jobs pay more than CCIE-level jobs. It’s a sad state of affairs, but it’s true. Even entry- to mid-level cloud certifications can command higher salaries than a CCIE.
For all these reasons, CCIE should fit into your career ambitions, not be a blind goal.
Why it’s worth it
For starters, any certification signals skill and dedication to an employer. The CCIE brings immeasurable bona fides to your resume because it’s the pinnacle of your certification pathway. Thought of as the PhD-level certification, the CCIE comes with a lot of clout among peers and employers.
As for cost, it’s an expensive exam, costing more than $2,000 to take both the written and labs portion of the exam. Even though the cost is steep, the value of a CCIE certification in earning potential is far greater than the cost of achieving it. Consider the fact that there are 2,049 work hours in the year. If you make $1 more per hour, then you’ve covered the cost of the exam in a year.
And you’ll find opportunities. We’ve heard from our trainers that you get a lot of attention from recruiters (like a lot) for high-level job opportunities.
Unfortunately, you no longer receive a bomber jacket upon successful completion of the CCIE, but there are many other reasons that the CCIE is worth it.
It’s only a matter of which one.
Are you ready for your Ph.D.?
Let’s first review Cisco’s certification lineup to see how they can shape your career — and where the CCIE fits in.
CCENT is the entry-level certification. It’s great for helping land your first job on the help desk or as a junior network admin. Passing the CCENT exam also gets you halfway to a CCNA, the most ubiquitous Cisco cert. The second test needed for a CCNA is a big step up though. Generally, you’ll want a year or two of networking experience before tackling the exam. A CCNA will definitely open up some career options in the networking world as a network admin or engineer.
Next is the CCNP. The P stands for professional — and only true pros need apply. The test material goes way more in-depth and requires some solid experience under your belt. This cert will serve you well when applying for positions like network specialist or team lead at large multi-campus companies.
Then comes the CCIE.
There are six flavors of CCIE offered by Cisco — security, service provider, wireless, collaboration, data center, and routing and switching. These certifications are expert, high-level qualifications that will make you stand out from the crowd, giving you opportunities to grow and advance your career as a Cisco Network Engineer. Any one of these certifications will highlight your intimate knowledge of Cisco Systems in the allotted domain in which each one is based, making these CCIE certs highly desirable.
It’s worth pointing out there is one final tier above CCIE R&S. The holy grail of networking, the CCAr (Cisco Certified Architect) requires a mere $15,000 to take and entails an in-person board examination where you defend a network architecture you designed. Only 10 people have ever been certified — and most of them work at Cisco.
How many CCIEs?
Here’s another relevant question with a straightforward answer (for once). Most people opt for one, but there’s a small subset of individuals who earn many CCIEs. CBT Nuggets trainers Jeremy Cioara, Anthony Sequeira, and Keith Barker are three of them. In a recent Q&A, Jeremy mentioned that many CCIEs usually only make sense for trainers and educators.
Interestingly, the majority of CCIEs start with the routing and switching exam. About 17 percent of CCIEs who pass the R&S exam go for a second (or third) CCIE certification.
Is it still worth pursuing the CCIE?
There is no short answer here, as it depends on some key factors.
Here’s the bottom line: The CCIE will add to your employment prospects, and to your earning potential. While there are many other certifications that will increase your salary, those are irrelevant to your career path.
If you are going to be interacting with Cisco devices, then no other certification will stand up to the CCIE after your name. Although many of the concepts that you will learn in the CCIE are universal, your real value is realized in a Cisco shop.
This is a choice only you can make for yourself.