Career / Career Progression

What’s the Point of the CCAr?

by Team Nuggets
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Published on April 10, 2019

The Cisco Certified Architect certification. There has never been another certification that commands such reverence — and controversy. For mere mortals, the CCAr is perhaps out of reach. Luckily, in the IT career field — everyone can attain the status of network design god. You have to study hard and have the right experience.

The CCAr is attainable, but there's a bigger question: Is it worth it?

In the past, we've argued that the CCIE might not even be worth it. Yet there are nearly 60,000 Cisco experts worldwide who decided it was right to pursue Cisco certification to the max. That's a stark contrast to the number of CCArs walking around. If the CCIE Hall of Fame can be trusted, there are only about 10 Cisco-certified architects.

Most people stop at the CCDE for good reason. The testing requirements for CCAr are grueling and super expensive, but the CCAr exists. And if there's anything we dig talking about, it's certifications, so let's jump into the deepest of deep ends.

Why Does the CCAr Even Exist?

If you're unfamiliar with Cisco certifications, the image below is a good primer. Rows are certification levels, and columns are knowledge areas. The long box at the bottom is the CCENT, the typical starting point for Cisco certifications. The next rows are CCNA, CCNP, and finally, CCIE. Note that the one box occupies a row alone—that's the CCAr.

The CCAr is the pinnacle of the Design knowledge area — a path devoted to designing of WAN and LAN networks. Starting with a CCDA, you learn network design concepts to build scalable and fault-tolerant networks. The CCNA is a prerequisite for the CCDA, so this path isn't devoid of technical knowledge. However, Cisco-certified designers focus on applying that knowledge to the bigger picture.

From the CCDA, the path continues to the CCDP, then Cisco Certified Design Expert (CCDE), before maxing out with the CCAr. While the CCDP and CCDE don't have any prerequisites, the CCAr does require you to hold a valid CCDE first.

CCAr is the cream of the crop in the Design track, but it's much more than technical work. Cisco describes the CCAr as focusing "on understanding the business strategy and translating it into technical infrastructure requirements."

Engineers at this level (CCDE and CCDP) must analyze complex networking problems and business requirements to create design solutions that satisfy both requirements. This is some thorny work, and the need to spotlight the best of the best in the network design world brought about the CCAr.

How to Earn the CCAr

Maybe you have big aspirations and want to increase the number of CCArs to double digits. That's going to be a long road. First, as we mentioned, you must hold a valid CCDE, and that alone is asking a lot.

The CCDE is a challenging exam. Like all expert-level Cisco exams, there are two parts — a written and practical exam. The written exam is two hours long and covers L2 and L3 control planes, network virtualization, design considerations, and evolving technologies. You have to pass the written portion to take the practical exam.

In eight hours, you're expected to work through four complex real-world scenarios, answering 25 to 35 questions for each scenario. Each scenario is 25 to 30 pages long, so that's 100-plus pages of dense, technical material to read. You then have to answer questions addressing the requirements and problems in the material. You get two hours for each scenario, about five minutes per question without reading them. It's challenging but doable, just like the next exam in the series.

CCDE aced? Congrats! If you were a CCIE, then that's it. You've maxed out your Cisco certification pathways. As a CCDE, you still have one more level. If you want that CCAr, submit your $3,750 nonrefundable application fee. That's just the application fee.

Next, the actual application. You must submit your resume, "an application summarizing [your] project experience and other qualifications," and then a phone interview. If you pass all this, you can schedule your Board Exam and pay the $11,250 fee. Yup. That's $15,000 total.

For the Board Exam, you are given a scenario and three weeks to "develop and defend a network architecture that can effectively support a given set of business requirements." Then, you fly out to the in-person exam, where you defend your work before three judges. Easy, right?

Why Would Anyone Go for the CCAr?

At this point, you may think CCDE is enough. That's our working premise, too, but let's give credit where it is due. Imagine the CCAr in the context of a company's org chart.

The CEO makes the most significant high-level decisions. They're less in the weeds. Instead, they spend their time making strategic choices that drive the company. They hand down objectives and decision-making responsibilities to the company. Few are experienced or qualified enough to operate effectively as a CEO, but you don't need a bunch, just one.

In this scenario, the CEO is the CCAr, and the managers are CCDEs (or even CCIEs). The CCAr makes the big decisions on huge projects, possessing all the technical and leadership skills to know what's possible and handing down a master plan for execution.

CCArs typically move out of the technical space. Many of them actually work at Cisco, driving projects for their biggest customers. They may not be on the terminal anymore typing commands to routers, but they are interfering with those customers, translating their needs back to the designers, and running plans through the filter of their vast technical experience to avoid problems before they can happen.

Why the CCDE is Just as Good — or Better

The reality is that most of us will not achieve the CCAr in our lifetimes. It's not that we aren't capable; instead, the CCAr just doesn't make sense for most people.

The CCDE (or even CCDP) is a precious and hard-earned certification that can lead to fantastic career advancement! Both are much more attainable, much cheaper, much less demanding, and in some ways, serve similar enough purposes to meet the needs of most organizations. So, though we might all remain puny humans, the path toward becoming design experts is still bright. Start maximizing your potential with CBT Nuggets training today.


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